By Gamini Jayasinghe
Esala festival had been celebrated in ancient India –Dambadiva- even before the time of Gautama Buddha. Mention is made in Buddhist literature about a festival called “Giragga Samajja” which relates to Hinduism and Jainism, a sect that denies supremacy of Hindu gods, the authority of Vedas and the distinction of castes.
In Buddhist literature mention is made about this festival in connection with the conception of the Bodhisattva in the womb of queen Mahamaya. According to what is mentioned in the history of Buddhist literature in the year 623 B.C., exactly ten months before the birth of Bodhisattva – prince Siddhartha queen Mahamaya having observed sil to engage in religious duties according to the religious observances of the day had gone to bed.
At night she had dreamt of a white baby elephant with a white lotus in his trunk was conceived in her womb from the right side after pomenading three rounds around her bed. When consulted in the morning of the following day King Suddhodhana’s sooth Sayers declared that it was the conception of a blessed son. This incident took place on an Esala full moon poya day.
Prince Siddhartha was brought up in absolute luxury in King Suddhodhana’s palace. He was well educated and being a scion of the warrior race he must have been specially trained in the art of warfare. At the age of sixteen he married his beautiful cousin princess Yasodhara who was equal in age. After his happy marriage he led a luxurious life, blissfully unaware of the vicissitudes of life outside the palace gates. However, with the march of time truth gradually dawn upon him.
Realizing the worthlessness of sensual pleasures highly prized by ordinary men and the value of renunciation in which the wise seek delight he decided to leave the world in search of the Truth and Peace. On the Esala Full Moon Poya day at the age of twenty nine years and two months he renounced the world in spite of the news brought to him that his son was born.
Normally an ordinary father would have welcomed the joyful tidings but prince Siddhartha, the extra ordinary father exclaimed “An impediment”- Rahu has been born. The infant son was accordingly named Rahula by his grandfather, king Suddhodhana. He only cast a glance on the wife and the child and left the palace and rode away from the kingdom on the back of his horse, Kanthaka with his companion, Channa. After crossing river, Anoma and at the bank of the river he ordained himself. He gave all his possessions to Channa to be handed over to King Suddhodhana. From then onwards he had no permanent abode and had only robes just sufficient to cover his body and a bowl to collect whatever was offered to him by the people when he went on begging.
He strived hard with some religious teachers such as Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra but he found that nobody was competent to teach him what he sought.
Six years of suffering
Accordingly for six long years he made a super human struggle practicing all forms of severe austerity, as a result of which his delicate body was reduced almost to a skeleton. The more he tormented his body, the farther his goal receded from him. Thus, strict asterity did not pave way for his goal, Nibbana. He was now fully convinced, through personal experience of the utter futility of self mortification and adopted an independent course- Majjima Patipada- the Middle Path. There are two extremes (Antha) which should be avoided by a recluse.
The constant attachment to sensual pleasures- Kamasukhallukanuyogaya- and constant addiction to self mortification – Attakilamathanuyogaya he recalled how when his father was engaged in ploughing, he sat in the cool shade of the rose apple tree, having attained to the first Ecstasy.
He thought – well, this is the Path to Enlightenment. He realized that Enlightenment could not be gained with an exhausted body. So he decided to take some food. The five ascetics who attended on him, disappointed at this unexpected change of method, deserted him and went to Isipathana, saying that the ascetic Gotama had become indulgent, had ceased from striving and had returned to a life of comfort. At a crucial time when help would have been most welcome, his only companions left him but he was not discouraged.
After a substantial meal offered by Sujatha, a generous lady, he made a firm resolve not to rise from his seat until he attained Buddhahood. At night on a Vesak full moon poya day as he was seated under the famous Pippala tree at Buddha Gaya with mind tranquilized and purified, in the first watch he developed that supernormal knowledge which enabled him to remember his past lives Pubbenivasanussati Nana – Reminiscence of Past Births. In the middle watch dealing with the death and rebirth of beings Catupapata Nana- perception of the Disappearing and Reappearing of Beings. In the last watch of the night he developed the supernormal knowledge with regard to the destruction of passions.
Seven weeks after attaining Buddha hood the Enlightened One was on the lookout for some one who could understand the Truth.
His earlier teachers, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta came to His mind but they were already dead and gone. Then it occurred to Him that His previous associates- the Five Brahmin ascetics” “Pasvagamahana”, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji would realize the profound Dharma. Kondanna was the youngest of the eight Brahmins who were invited for the naming ceremony of Prince Siddhartha and who alone foretold that the prince would definitely become the Buddha.
When the Buddha went, the five Brahmin ascetics were reluctant to pay respect to Him as they had been disappointed when He gave up fasting and penance. However, when they came to know that the Thathagatha had been enlightened they paid respect and listened to the Buddha. He expounded Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which the Tathagata had discovered on His own by avoiding the two extremes, the Middle path -Majjima patipada which promotes sight, knowledge, peace- Vupasama, Higher wisdom- Abhinnaya, Enlightenment – Sambodhaya and Nibbana. This excellent Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta which could not be expounded by any other ascetic, priest, god, Mara or Brahma was expounded by Gauthama Buddha on the first Esala Full Moon poya day, two months after His Enlightenment.
Preaching of Abhidharma in
Seven days after the birth of the Bodhisattva his mother queen Mahamaya died and was born as a Deva in the Tavatisma heaven. This is because a second child should not be conceived in the womb of a mother who has given birth to a Bodhisattva in his last birth. During the rainy season –Wassana Kala of the seventh year after the Enlightenment Guthama Buddha preached the Abhidharma to the Devas of this celestial place headed by his mother Deva. Present Abhidharma Pitaka is supposed to be this detailed exposition. It is stated that on hearing these philosophical discourses the mother god had attained Sowan –the first of the four stages to Nibbana.
Sojourn during the rainy season by Buddhist monks- “ Pera Vas”
Another ritual observed on the Esala Full Moon Poya day is the commencement of the rainy season sojourn by Buddhist monks. The rainy season in Dambadiva commences during the month of Esala and monks were allowed to sojourn for the rainy season during the three months of Wassana Kala from Esala Full Moon Poya day.
– rainy season- which commenced on the Esala Full Moon Poya day.