Vesak is a Buddhist holiday that celebrates the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment all of which happened on full moon days. The most special of these full moon (poya) days happens in May. Vesak is celebrated in many Buddhist countries. In Colombo, it means the following :
a three day weekend (Friday off)
the government recommending that employers give an extra day of holidays on Thursday so people can prepare for Vesak
no alcohol or meat for sale
fantastic light displays and lanterns
a huge influx of people from the countryside to Colombo, which means I get even more stares and strange comments
gaggles of young men walking through the streets arm in arm
people are actually out well after dark
dansalas offering everything from tea to ice cream to rice and curry for free (if you are willing to line up)
annoying noise makers
strange Halloween like masks and horror houses (this is a commercialized attempt to make money out of the holiday)
even stranger conversations such as this one my friend Thomas and I had with a food vendor
Sri Lankan Food Vendor (SLFV): Where are you from?
Thomas: West Africa (He’s really a Londoner, but his family is from Sierra Leone. Because he is black this just confuses everyone so he says West Africa to cut to the chase.)
SLFV: Ghana is very bad.
Thomas: Oh?? . . . .
SLFV: I was ripped off by a black man in Singapore. Lost 32,000 USD.
Thomas: (not knowing what to say) That sucks.
SLFV: (to me) Where are you from?
SLFV: (smiling) Canada is a very good country. People are very friendly. I like it very much. I tried to get into Canada but they would not grant me a visa. Do you think you can help me?
Me: It’s not quite that simple.
SLFV: What to do? You know these days I have diabetes. I used to have biceps that were 19 inches. Now I’m just fat.
Me: Uh-huh. . .
* * *
Without further ado, here are some pictures so that you can get into the Vesak spirit wherever you are in the world.
The Sams and Kenula enjoy some free iced tea at a dansala. This kicked off my tour for the evening.
It was so nice to see so many people out and about in Colombo. Vesak lanterns line the streets and people are out enjoying the sight and of course, taking pictures.
Some of the lanterns are extremely elaborate – rotating and changing colours.
More beautiful lantern creations.
This creature appears to be guarding the lanterns. I’ve long ago learned not to try to make sense of it all!
Beautiful displays were in all areas of the city.
This is vesak through the eyes of a school child. Seems like after hanging a lantern that mans neck will be paining him.
Recently the old colonial horse racecourse building has been renovated. It looks great and of course has a McDonald’s inside. I haven’t looked but I’m pretty sure they serve McRice and McCurry.
Vesak pandols are throughout the city depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.
These children were performing for their proud parents.
Now this modern pandol actually showed movie clips about the Buddha’s life.
One of the best parts of Vesak is the people watching. The young guys walk down the street arm in arm sporting fantastic mullets and bright shirts. They often will be drumming and singing or blowing on a noise maker.
Of course, what would a festival in Sri Lanka be without a random elephant.
If there is one thing Sri Lankans like even more than the light displays, it is the free food. People would line up for miles to get a free cone or two.
I thought the ice cream line was bad until I saw the line for the free rice and curry.
I believe there are police assigned just to make sure no one jumps the rice and curry queue. Otherwise pure chaos might erupt, because you won’t want to stand in the way of a Sri Lankan hungry for free rice and curry.
The newly established Lotus Theater (gift from China) was all lit up.
My favourite lights were definitely these flowers on the pond.
It almost seemed magically to have the streets so lively. It is my third and final Vesak and I’m going to miss it.