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Feast of Bathing for the Lord Buddha

Introduction

Feast of Bathing for the Lord Buddha (on the eight day of the fourth lunar month) is an important event for Buddhist worshipers in China to commemorate and celebrate Gautama Buddha’s birthday, so it is also called “Buddha’s Birthday Festival”. It is said that more than 2,600 ago, Gautama was born with one hand pointing at the sky and the other pointing at the earth, saying “Up to the Heaven and down to the Earth, no one is noble but me!” This remark immediately shocked the whole world and nine dragons spit water to wash His body. Thus Buddhist worshipers in different countries and ethnic groups often bathe the Buddha statue as a ritual for celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

More than 2,000 years ago, there was a place in the ancient Shakya (now Nepal) called Kapilavastu. King Suddhodana had two wives, one named Maya, and the other  Mahaprajapati. Suddhodana was kind and merciful, and was capable of handling the country’s affairs. Yet he had no heir for many years. One day, his wife Maya dreamt of an elephant with six ivories which got into her body, and she got pregnant afterwards. In the tradition of ancient Shakya, gravida should go back to her mother’s home before delivery, and Maya followed this tradition. When she passed by a Bodhi tree in Lumbini, she was extraordinarily happy. At that moment, Maya had abdominal pain and then gave birth to a baby under the tree. The newly born prince knew how to walk, with one lotus under each of his feet. He pointed at the sky with one hand and pointed at the earth with the other, saying “On the Heaven and Earth, no one is noble but me!” That day was the eighth day of the fourth lunar month and people regarded this day as “Buddha Gautama’s Birthday”. Every year on Buddha’s Birthday, Buddhists in different countries and regions would gather at temples and have the ritual of bathing the Buddha statue. The Lord Buddha statue is placed at the hall for worship and his followers, in an order, bathe its body in holy water with a small copper spoon. Relative worship rituals will take place after the bathing ritual. This event is called “Feast of Bathing of the Lord Buddha”.

Theravada Buddhism also places great importance to the Feast of Bathing the Lord Buddha. The Dai people, who believe in Theravada Buddhism, will go to every temple in the early morning for worship, offering and bathing Buddha statue in clean water as the rituals for welcoming a new year. After the rituals, they will start pouring water to each other, chase each other for fun, light and discharge bamboo tubes, have dragon boat race, have major events or group activities, etc. The Feast also refers to the famous Dai Water Festival. (There is a myth about seven girls fighting devils that depicts the origin of Dai Water Festival.) 

Tibetan Buddhism also attaches great importance to the Feast known as “April Assembly” that will last for a few days. Activities include chanting, Tibetan dance (a unique religious dance with colorful dresses and masks, accompanied by chanting and music), and worship at temples. The water pouring ritual is only applied to the young monks.

 

Origin

Every year on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, a Buddhist ritual is held to commemorate the founder of Buddhism Gautama. The festival is called the “Buddha’s Birthday” which originates from a kind of religion that people pray for bliss and averting disasters. The ritual could only be practiced at monasteries in the Eastern Han Dynasty, and later the religion was spread to the folks in the Period of Disunity. According to some historical records, the date for bathing the Buddha statute is different. Mongolian and Tibetan regard the fifth day of the fourth lunar month as Buddha’s Birthday, that is the day Gautama achieved Buddhism and Nirvana, so it is set as the day for bathing the Buddha statue.

During the Northern Dynasty, the Han people had the Buddha bathing ritual on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month. As time goes by, the date of bathing Buddha has been changed to the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month in the Northern regions (known as “Laba Festival”, while the date in the South remains the same. On the other hand, the Dai people’s Water Festival is held on the fourth lunar month (the sixth month in the Dai Calendar). All Dai people will take showers in the early morning and put on clean clothes, and then head for the temple to worship Buddha. This ritual has a sense of bathing the Buddha statue. 

Feast of Bathing for the Lord Buddha

Feast of Bathing for the Lord Buddha (on the eight day of the fourth lunar month) is an important event for Buddhist worshipers in China to commemorate and celebrate Gautama Buddha’s birthday, so it is also called “Buddha’s Birthday Festival”. It is said that more than 2,600 ago, Gautama was born with one hand pointing at the sky and the other pointing at the earth, saying “Up to the Heaven and down to the Earth, no one is noble but me!” This remark immediately shocked the whole world and nine dragons spit water to wash His body. Thus Buddhist worshipers in different countries and ethnic groups often bathe the Buddha statue as a ritual for celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

More than 2,000 years ago, there was a place in the ancient Shakya (now Nepal) called Kapilavastu. King Suddhodana had two wives, one named Maya, and the other  Mahaprajapati. Suddhodana was kind and merciful, and was capable of handling the country’s affairs. Yet he had no heir for many years. One day, his wife Maya dreamt of an elephant with six ivories which got into her body, and she got pregnant afterwards. In the tradition of ancient Shakya, gravida should go back to her mother’s home before delivery, and Maya followed this tradition. When she passed by a Bodhi tree in Lumbini, she was extraordinarily happy. At that moment, Maya had abdominal pain and then gave birth to a baby under the tree. The newly born prince knew how to walk, with one lotus under each of his feet. He pointed at the sky with one hand and pointed at the earth with the other, saying “On the Heaven and Earth, no one is noble but me!” That day was the eighth day of the fourth lunar month and people regarded this day as “Buddha Gautama’s Birthday”. Every year on Buddha’s Birthday, Buddhists in different countries and regions would gather at temples and have the ritual of bathing the Buddha statue. The Lord Buddha statue is placed at the hall for worship and his followers, in an order, bathe its body in holy water with a small copper spoon. Relative worship rituals will take place after the bathing ritual. This event is called “Feast of Bathing of the Lord Buddha”.

Theravada Buddhism also places great importance to the Feast of Bathing the Lord Buddha. The Dai people, who believe in Theravada Buddhism, will go to every temple in the early morning for worship, offering and bathing Buddha statue in clean water as the rituals for welcoming a new year. After the rituals, they will start pouring water to each other, chase each other for fun, light and discharge bamboo tubes, have dragon boat race, have major events or group activities, etc. The Feast also refers to the famous Dai Water Festival. (There is a myth about seven girls fighting devils that depicts the origin of Dai Water Festival.) 

Tibetan Buddhism also attaches great importance to the Feast known as “April Assembly” that will last for a few days. Activities include chanting, Tibetan dance (a unique religious dance with colorful dresses and masks, accompanied by chanting and music), and worship at temples. The water pouring ritual is only applied to the young monks.