Sri Lanka celebrates a low-key Vesak because of a spike in coronavirus cases
by Melani Manel Perera

Buddhist leaders urge the faithful to stay away from temple, celebrate at home, and follow health guidelines. Archbishop Ranjith of Colombo and Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa express their wishes to the faithful. Since the pandemic started, some 172,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the country with 1,269 deaths.


Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankan Buddhists are currently celebrating the two-day Vesak festival. The event, which ends today, commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha.

Like last year, ceremonies are subject to strict health restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic –  such as social distancing and a ban on gatherings – in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Several leading Buddhist monks recently addressed the issue, urging the faithful to keep celebrations low key. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also called on Buddhists to celebrate Vesak symbolically.

According to tradition, the event includes trips, meetings, and get-togethers with people, sharing food, making offerings, and throwing coloured lanterns.

However, due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases following last month’s Sinhalese New Year celebrations, the authorities are asking people to avoid gatherings, displacements and large family get-togethers. 

Prominent Sri Lankan Buddhist leaders like the Venerables Thibbatuwawe Sri Sidhartha Sumangala Thero, Warakagoda Dhammasiddhi Sri Pannanada Gnanarathana Thero, Ganthune Assagi Thero, and Makulaawe Vimalabhidhaana Thero have issued a joint statement urging people “to carry out activities at home” because of “the coronavirus pandemic, which is spreading around the world”.

For this reason, they note that “in temples and elsewhere we must avoid activities that involve gathering people such as almsgiving, Sīla, Bhāvanā  (meditation)”; instead, people must “follow health guidelines, stay at home, and perform religious observances”.

The statement ends with Buddhist leaders blessing all those suffering from the virus and wishing them a speedy recovery.

On behalf of Sri Lanka’s Catholic community, Archbishop Card Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo released a message wishing Buddhists good tidings for Vesak “in these troubled times” due to COVID-19 that “is afflicting our nation”.

In an emergency situation, “it is important for us to think about our life options in the light of the teachings of the Lord Buddha and live a life based on the spiritual principles of self-denial and dedication to the well-being of one another.”

The prelate ends his statement by wishing a blessed Vesak celebration to his fellow citizens, especially the members of the venerable Maha Sangha.

According to health guidelines, during the two-day celebration Buddhists can conduct religious activities at home, and must avoid meetings and gatherings in temples or shrines.

According to the latest count, Sri Lanka reported 2,377 new cases and 29 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours for a total of more than 172,000 cases and 1,269 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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