Wesak Day, or Vesak Day, is a public holiday in Malaysia, marking the most important Buddhist festival of the year. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, and is sometimes called “Buddha’s Birthday”. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar, which in most years is the full moon day in May. In 2017 it will be celebrated on May 10th.
Taoists also celebrate Wesak Day, and the large Buddhist and Taoist communities in Penang celebrate in grandiose style. The day is spent visiting colourfully-decorated temples to pray, meditate, offer flowers, and light candles and joss sticks and reaffirm the principles of Buddhism. Devout Buddhists recollect that just as flowers wither and die and joss sticks and candles burn to ashes, life on earth is also transient. They also pour perfumed water over statues of the Buddha to remind themselves to purify their minds from greed and lead good lives. Apart from these rituals, many temples also organise charitable events such as blood donation drives, the distribution of free vegetarian meals to the poor, and visits to orphanages.
The highlight of the festival is the seven kilometre long float procession through the streets of George Town, which has been held every year since 1949.
It starts at 6pm from the Malaysian Buddhist Association at 182, Burmah Road, and makes its way along Jalan Pangkor, Jalan Kelawai, Lorong Burmah, Peel Avenue, Jalan Macalister, Jalan Anson and Lorong Madras before returning back to Burmah Road. The procession usually includes around twenty colourful and illuminated floats that are accompanied by children singing traditional songs and monks chanting prayers and sprinkling holy water on the up to 15,000 people lining the streets to watch.