Grand celebrations in Sri Lanka : UN Vesak Day symposium to call for international holiday | Sunday Observer

Grand celebrations in Sri Lanka : UN Vesak Day symposium to call for international holiday

The celebrations for Vesak, marking the Birth, Enlightenment and the Passing Away of the Buddha, one of the pivotal calendar events for Buddhists the world over, will be celebrated in all its grandeur in Sri Lanka this year.

The country has been selected to host the 14th UN Vesak Day in the tiny island, where 75 percent of its 21 million population comprise ardent Buddhists. Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Affairs Minsitry which has taken the initiative to host the celebrations has lined up a series of special programs from May 11 to 14. Nearly 80 world leaders and 1,000 delegates are expected to grace the Vesak celebrations which will begin with a grand opening at the BMICH on May 12. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pledged to develop Bodh Gaya as the spiritual capital of the Buddhist world, will grace the occasion at the opening. The closing day ceremony will be held under the patronage of Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari .

Sri Lanka took the leadership to declare Vesak a UN holiday and the adoption of the six-coloured Buddhist flag during the colonial era. The declaration of Vesak as an ‘international day of observance’ was made on a resolution passed by former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 1999.

Anagarika Dharmapala, American Civil War veteran Henry Steele Olcott, theosophist Madame Blavatsky, educationist Marie Musaeus Higgins and others were at the forefront to declare Vesak a national holiday.

Today, Vesak is among five other UN floating holidays where the UN staff is allowed to take leave that day on prior notice.

Sri Lanka is currently making efforts to declare it a full international holiday. A plea in this regard is to be made by President Maithripala Sirisena at the international Buddhist Symposium, an item event of the UN Vesak celebrations in Sri Lanka this week.

The official celebrations next week will be spread out at different venues, including the BMICH, Nelum Pokuna theatre, Diyatha Uyana, Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy and the site of Sakya Kingdom in Piliyandala.

The “Sakya Kingdom” built in a vast extent of land in Piliyandala will be the cynosure of all eyes. Built on a concept and design by the Light of Asia Foundation and a project managed by 1:2:4 Designs, it is a holographic reconstruction of the Sakya Kingdom where Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and passed away as well as of the three palaces - Ramya, Suramya, Subha - where Prince Siddhartha lived a luxurious life.

The reconstruction of the site will be done under the supervision of a team of local and international archeologists led by Dr.Basantha Bidari, famed Nepali archaeologist who had been the Chief archaeologist at Lumbini and Kapilawasthu sites for 30 years. Former Director General of the Central Cultural Fund Dr.Nimal de Silva is also associated with the project.

To be completed in four stages, it is a massive Rs.500 million project. The long term project will include a meditation park and halls, ponds, a library complex, communication centre, vegetarian cafeterias, car park and a medical centre .

A mix of modern and ancient archaeology, it will be a showpiece of Sri Lanka’s architectural genius, the organizers said.

During the first phase, to be opened on the eve of Vesak celebrations, the site will depict the Lumbini garden and Ramya Palace of Prince Siddhartha using holographic technology. There will be an international Buddhist film festival, Vesak dramas, songs and decorations among other attractions, at the Sakya Kingdom.

Once completed, the organizers believe this place will attract thousands of local and international Buddhist devotees, adding to popular Buddhist tourist attractions around the world.

The Buddhist symposium, following which the Maha Nuwara declaration will be issued, is scheduled to be attended by nearly 50 Buddhist scholars from all over the world.

The organizers said the Buddhist symposium held in line with UN Vesak celebrations will be the first Buddhist conference of this magnitude to be held in Sri Lanka after the World Buddhist Conference held over 65 years ago on the initiative of Prof. Gunapala Malalasekera.

The program is monitored by the International Council for the Day of Vesak while a national advisory committee, Cabinet Sub committee, National Coordinating and Steering Office and Joint Organizing Committee were involved in the entire program.

The UN Vesak Day was mostly hosted by Thailand and Vietnam.


Program highlights of the 14th UN Vesak celebrations

May 11

Arrival of participants

May 12

(Opening ceremony at BMICH)

Arrival of Chief Guest, President, Prime Minister and other leaders

Welcome address by Minister Wijedasa Rajapakshe

Addresses by

A Chief Prelate, Prime Minister, President and PM Narendra Modi

Issuing of a commemorative stamp

Keynote Address by Emeritus Professor Lewis R. Lancaster

May 13

Symposium at BMICH

“Buddhist Teachings for Social Justice and Sustainable World Peace”

Panel discussions in 4 Committee Rooms

Presentation of panel reports

Cultural pageant and Perahera at Nelum Pokuna

May 14

Departure to Kandy by a chartered Train

Special Exposition of the Tooth Relic at the Temple of Tooth

Welcome Address at the closing ceremony by Diyawadana Nilame

Address by a Chief Prelate

Address by the Most Ven. Prof. Phra Brahmapandit, President of the International Council for the Day of Vesak (ICDV)

Addresses by the Prime Minsiter and President

Address of Chief Guest President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari

Presentation of “Maha Nuwara Declaration” by Minister and Chairperson of Organizing Committee Wijedasa Rajapaksa

Conclusion and cultural procession organized by the Temple of Tooth

May 15

Departure of the international delegates