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In April or May, Buddhists around the world will celebrate Vesak, the festival commemorating Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. In Vietnam, where conservatively speaking over 50% of the population follows Buddhist practices, the holiday is known as Phật Đản and will widely be observed on May 29th.
The lotus flower has a number of different meanings in Buddhism. It represents fortune as it rises through dirt and mud to reach enlightenment, purification of the spirit birthed into the depths, and faithfulness as those who rise can only do so through their devotion. In the religion, there’s great importance given to the color of the lotus, with each shade representing something different. During Phật Đản, the color most often seen is pink, which speaks to the history and legends of Buddha.
In Vietnam, the lotus flower adorns buildings and homes, and influences architecture on a grander scale. One of Ho Chi Minh’s largest buildings, the Bitexco Tower, was designed around it.
In temples, pagodas, and places of worship from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and everywhere in between, the holiday is celebrated enthusiastically. Monks give speeches and lead calls of prayer. Observers aim to bring happiness to themselves and others and are expected to reflect on their own lives. Incense is burned as followers worship Buddha. Fruit and other gifts are placed at the foot of shrines.
Candles are lit on floating lotus flowers and sent out into rivers around Vietnam. Through the spirit of Buddha they aim to bring happiness to everyone, not just observant Buddhists. In many cities, including Ho Chi Minh, Huế and Hội An parades are led by monks and gifts are given to the poor and needy. Colorful Buddhist flags line streets, alleyways and rivers, and lanterns strung between homes hang down over meandering pathways.