Esala Poya is the night in which the Bodhisattva was conceived in the womb of his mother Queen Maha Maya. Esala Full Moon Poya is also the day in which Prince Siddhartha renounced his royal lifestyle. Esala Poya falls in the month of July and is a very important day for Buddhist devotees. Esala Poya is a holiday in Sri Lanka and families visit the many Temples situated around the island to offer flowers and pay homage to Lord Buddha, who preached many valuable sermons about the ideal way of life for all living beings.
Queen Maha Maya and King Suddhodhana did not have any children for twenty years. One Esala Full Moon night she dreamt that she was carried by Devas to a lake where they bathed and anointed her with perfumed oils. Then a white elephant with six white tusks and carrying a white Lotus flower in its mouth appeared and circled the Queen three times after which he entered her womb from her right side. The Queen awoke then and realized that she had been given a very important message. Ten months later she gave birth to Prince Siddhartha who went on to attain Enlightenment and become the Buddha.
It was on yet another Esala Full Moon day that Prince Siddhartha, at the age of 29, renounced his royal title along with his luxurious lifestyle and left his father’s palace seeking the truth and searching for a means to end universal suffering. Accompanied by some of his followers he led the life of an ascetic and strove to attain Enlightenment. He subsequently returned to the palace seven years later as the Buddha. The day he left the palace was also the day his only son, Prince Rahula was born.
Another important event in the life of Lord Buddha which is commemorated on Esala Full Moon day is His first sermon delivered two months after attaining Enlightenment. Known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta ( the wheel of Dhamma), this sermon was delivered to His five disciples Kondangna, Wappa, Bhaddiya, Mahanama and Assaji at Isipathanaya in Benares (Baranasi). In this sermon He told them that there are two extremes of living – one is a “Life of Pleasure” and the other a “Life of Self-mortification”. The Blessed One advised them to follow the middle path which consists of purity, virtue and righteousness.
Historical significance of Esala Poya in Sri Lanka
The foundation for the famous dagoba, the Mahastupa, also known as the Ruwanveliseya was laid on an Esala Poya day in 140 B. C. Built by King Dutugemunu this Stupa is an architectural marvel and is considered one of the tallest monuments in the world. After the Parinirvana of the Buddha some of his relics were brought to Sri Lanka and enshrined in the Ruwanveliseya by the King.
Esala also signals the commencement of the ‘Vas’ retreat for monks. This practice was begun by the Buddha when he realised that the monks faced difficulties when travelling during the rainy season to preach the Dhamma. He then directed that all members of the Sangha should gather in a single monastery for intensive practice of the Dhamma. This period is spent sharing the teachings of the Buddha with lay people and promoting fervent spiritual practices.
The Kandy Esala Perahera
The Esala Perahera is a unique Buddhist festival which happens during the month of Esala (July / August). It is held in Kandy and is thought to have evolved into a combination of two peraheras held in centuries gone by. The first is the Esala Perahera, which was a ritual performed as a request to the Gods for rain. The second is the Dalada Perahera which is believed to have originated when the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka. Today the Kandy Esala Perahera parades through the streets of Kandy and is indeed an unforgettable spectacle. Dancers, drummers and stilt walkers are just a few of the thousands of performers who participate in this great procession that takes to the streets in order to allow the public to pay their respects to the sacred Tooth Relic. Elephants too play an important part in this festival, decked out in colourful attire and sparkling lights, and the Relic Casket is carried on the back of the Maligawa tusker accompanied by the Diyawadane Nilame, custodian of the relic, in full Kandyan regalia.
Join the celebrations
Visit Sri Lanka during the months of July and August and witness the spectacular Esala Perahera.