Colombo (AsiaNews) - With Buddhist flags hanging from government buildings and in public streets, and homes and businesses decked out with old-styled lanterns and traditional decorations in areas set aside for this purpose in the country's towns and cities, Sri Lankans kicked off the week-long festival of Vesak (21-27 May), Buddhism's main celebration, which marks the key moments in the Buddha's life, namely his birth, enlightenment and death.
For the occasion, the government called on Buddhists to hang Buddhist flags from their homes and create a festive atmosphere in the streets and public places. Big and colorful pandols (gateways), illustrating the Buddha's life, dot the country.
Vesak will culminate on 25 May with a festival in Yudaganawa Rajamaha Viharaya, Buttalla, Monaragala district (southeastern Sri Lanka).
Prime Minister D M Jayaratne, Uva Province Chief Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa and Religious Affairs Ministry officials are expected to attend. Similar celebrations are scheduled in Colombo, Kandy and Anuradhapura.
In this period, most Buddhists go to a temple to take part in planned religious ceremonies, as well as cultural events and spiritual gatherings. Many go on their own to practice meditation.
Non-Buddhists are also welcome to share in the celebrations, often eager to watch youth choirs perform Bhakti Geetha, typical religious chants, in the streets.
The practice of Dansala, in which people share food or drinks in the open air, is strictly regulated by the on Buddhism Affairs Commission in cooperation with local temple and village leaders. One rule that all must obey is not to play loud music or show images that may in any way distract people.
On the occasion of Vesak, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon sent his greetings. His message stressed the importance of non-violence at a time of "widespread poverty and conflict" in the world.
According to the 2011 census, 70.2 per cent of the Sri Lankan population is Buddhist.