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Cross-Cultural Communication from Sri Lanka
The Buddhist festival of Vesak: the celebrations of a small village in Sri Lanka.

The majority of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, and for them the festival of Vesak is their most sacred day of the year. Vesak is the celebration of the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of Lord Buddha, and it falls in May each year, during the week of the full moon. This year the Vesak festival took place on the 14th and 15th of May, and children and adults alike started preparing for it at the beginning of the month.

Plan is a child-focussed organisation and encourages the active participation of children in all of our work. We asked the members of the children's club in the remote village of Udadumbara to share their thoughts and experiences from this year's Vesak festival. Plan supports clubs like the one in Udadumbara as it raises the self-esteem and profile of children in their communities, and gives them the opportunity to become active participants in their own development.

Each year the people of Udadumbara and other Buddhist villages across Sri Lanka hang Vesak kudus, or lanterns, in homes, schools and temples during the festival of Vesak. So, during May, families, schools and social clubs spend every spare minute collecting materials to make the most beautiful Vesak kudus.

"It was a great pleasure to see everyone forget about their caste and class and come together to make these decorations. They are made from local bamboo, which is then split and carefully cleaned. We make the frame into the shape of a lotus, or an octagon, and then cover it with bright tissue paper, in reds, whites or yellows. Some people made small lanterns, others made big ones. This year some of them were over two metres across! When they were finished, we put lit candles inside them, and hung them outside the front of our houses, at the school, and the temple. Having lit our own lanterns, we wandered through the village to see those made by our friends and neighbours. At night they all shone beautifully, and it gave us all great pleasure to see our village illuminated so colourfully.

"Throughout the village, clubs and associations set up dansals (refreshment stalls) that served food, soft drinks and sweets - all free of charge. Indeed, as Lord Buddha preached that we should share whatever we have freely, we also give alms and share food with passers-by. We all enjoyed ourselves very much, and didn't get to bed until very late that night!

"As well as the festivities in the village, there were special religious programmes at school. We wore white, instead of our usual unforms, and brought flowers, oil and sandalwood sticks to offer at the shrine of Lord Buddha. A Bhikku (Buddhist priest) came to school, and we listened to sermons and meditated to enhance our spiritual happiness. All the schoolchildren went to the temple to practise religious rituals and to sings songs of the virtues of Lord Buddha.

"On Vesak day everyone came together and collected money for the poor. We also released an ox from the slaughterhouse, and made arrangements for it to be looked after in the temple grounds. Similar good deeds were repeated right across the country."

While the world may be changing - both here and in other countries - these traditional celebrations still have a subtle power to influence the attitudes and values that shape people, and modern society.

Plan is not a religious organisation, but it works closely with all its communities in Sri Lanka, and respects their religious backgrounds. Thus, the relationship we form with local communities, and the time spent listening to and understanding aspects of their cultures and religious beliefs, allows us to encourage and support appropriate development programmes that are compatible with the communities and their ways of life.

Through this relationship, and by recognising the significance of the Vesak festival - particularly in its ability to bring whole communities together - Plan is able to encourage the participation of children, and the spreading of community development messages. This year, for example, lantern-making competitions were held in schools to showcase children's skills in the community. Similarly, at other festivals like this, Plan is also able to raise awareness of crucial issues such as health campaigns and give talks on children's rights.

By writing a short note to the child you sponsor and their family, you can show that people of all ages and from all cultural and social backgrounds are working together with Plan to support generational change.

This page last updated: 19 July 2004

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