Vesak Lanterns (kudu) and Buddhism

4 May 2010

Vesak lanterns are lit in most of the homes in Sri Lanka on Vesak Poya day. Vesak is the most significant day for practical Buddhists all over the world. We celebrate this day by amisa  (material or hospitality offering) and prathipatthi (practicing offering) puja.

While Theravada Buddhism promotes prathipatthi puja as the supreme offering, amisa pooja too plays significant role in promoting saddha (the initial acceptance of the Buddha's teachings) for individuals as well as for the society.

Symbolic meaning of Vesak lanterns
The lighting signifies an offering to the memory of the Buddha who delivered the message of Dhamma. By practicing damma, we all live in happiness and harmony today. Being practical Buddhists, we have no fear of fall into hell or other miserable births.
In ancient times, people used their clay oil lamps and candles for illumination. Buddhists use to light simple oil lamps in the temple to show their gratitude to their supreme teacher, the Buddha.
On Vesak day we practice the same with more elegance to celebrate attainment of Buddhahood. More colourful lanterns are made in different shapes and eliminate those in the night to celebrate the most significance attainment of human history.

Vesak Lantern in capitalist society
The capitalist society introduced in Sri Lanka since 1977 has drastically deteriorate the values of Vesak celebration of Sri Lanka. Capitalist lumpant urban society is full of competition, unrest and suffering. Vesak has been exploited by capitalist comprador business mafia to promote their marketing campaigns and political helm and so called religious leaders has been playing in to their hands for over decades.

Politicians use “Vesak Kalapa” to promote their vicious political campaigns. Multinational companies fund those with marketing interests. Then all sort of distortions creep into these mega vesak celebrations. Vesak lantern (kudu) is one of the key victims of this vicious agenda.

Vesak kuduwa in competitions
Illuminating a Vesak lantern is no longer part of amisa puja that promote sadda. It has now become a part of a marketing campaign of business mafia. That is why they promote lantern competitions during Vesak day. Those who enter these competions invest on their mega Vesak lantern expecting a win. They do their best to make it attractive to the judges who are mostly comprised of Film stars or other business savy personals. In some cases some of these judges of Vesak lantern competitions are not even Buddhists. They have little idea of real purpose behind lighting of Vesak lantern.

Celebration of ‘light’ or ‘dark’?
It is a tragedy that vesak lantern that used to symbolize the wisdom of Buddha and significance of damma, has lost its very meaning itself. Traditional Vesak lanterns used light in effective manner with simple color combinations relevant to the occation. Domination of cool colors like white and yellow fit into Vesak full moon poya day. However most of the modern day commercialized vesak lanterns are dominated by dark colors with less significance for light.

From Vesak Kuduwa to Hanasu kuduwa
We used to build Vesak lantern with great saddha in our hear and mind. That’s why it reflected the values of Buddhism. Lanterns with varying shapes like atapattam, lotus shape etc had some religious meaning. However most of the modern Vesak lanterns reflects the confusion and unrest of the society itself more than anything else. Now people create lanterns ranging from pol katu (coconut shell) to thrown away sags. They give various funny reasons ranging from use of native natural materials to modernization or innovation. But one thing they have forgotten in the hustle and bustle of capitalist life cycle is does their Vesak kudu reflects the original meaning of Buddhist Vesak lantern?

In next Vesak Poya day you may use your Vesak lantern to reflect your gratitude to Buddha and his teaching (Damma) or else show your innate emptiness and unrestfullness by creating a dark monster.

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