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Virtual Vesak Diwas celebrations 2020 and Global Prayer Week

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The International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) organised on May 07 Virtual Vesak Diwas to celebrate the Vesak (Buddha Poornima), considered one of the holiest day by Buddhists the world over. It marks the day of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and maha parinirvana. A Global Prayer Week was launched on the same day for the victims of COVID-19 and to honour medical professionals/ first responders in the frontline of humanity’s fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.

The earlier plan of IBC to organise simultaneous Vesak celebrations at multiple Buddhist sites in India could not materialise because of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic situation. Therefore, IBC in association with Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee (BTMC), IBC chapters and several partner organisations took the initiative to organise the Virtual Vesak Diwas and Global Prayer Week, which received much appreciation and support from Buddhist devotees all over the world. The event also received crucial support from the Indian Ministry of Culture and the PMO. The event was divided into three sessions – morning, afternoon and evening. The morning session started with chanting and prayer ceremonies streamed live from Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya. This was followed by the keynote address of Indian Prime Minister, who congratulated Buddhist devotees worldwide on Vesak Day and dedicated the Global Prayer Week organised by IBC to medical professionals and first responders leading the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. Following this, addresses of Supreme Buddhist religious heads from various countries such as Russia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Malaysia etc were broadcast. A written address from the Dalai Lama was also read out.

The afternoon session focused on the significance of Vesak from a cultural context. Specially curated performances by the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador & President Nepal Nuns Welfare Society Ani Choying Drolma and the famous Malaysian singer-composer Imee Ooi were highlights of this session. The daylong celebrations culminated with live streaming of prayers/ chanting ceremonies from Mahabodhi temple, Bodhgaya and other important Buddhist monasteries. The event was live streamed through Facebook, YouTube, Mandala App, Instagram, twitter etc. It also received wide publicity in the prominent Indian electronic and print media. The IBC-sponsored Virtual Vesak Diwas was very well received internationally, with a viewership of millions.Devotees from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Czech Republic, France, the US etc logged in to watch the celebrations. The International Buddhist Association of America and Light of Buddha Dharma Foundation International, USA, collaborated with IBC to launch the US edition of the Virtual Vesak on May 10. The IBC curated programme, including the address of the Indian PM with English subtitles, along with some additions by prominent Buddhists scholars from the US was relayed again for the benefit of Buddhist followers in the US and Canada. The Global Prayer Week was also a success because of the generous support received from both India-based and foreign Buddhist leaders, institutions and entities. Prominent among these were Central Tibetan Administration, Ladakh Gompa Association, Tawang monastery, Himalayan Buddhist monasteries in Kinnaur & Spiti and Tibet House in Delhi etc. Outside India, important Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, the UK and Australia responded favourably to the initiative. This will conclude with an interfaith event, wherein addresses of prominent religious leaders of various faiths will be streamed for the benefit of humanity struggling with Coronavirus.

The Virtual Vesak Diwas, 2020 has received very encouraging response from Buddhist followers worldwide, who lauded IBC’s efforts to bring Buddhist devotees together despite obvious limitations and challenges posed by the pandemic. It has not only lifted their spirits but has also achieved a very significant strategic aim of challenging China’s self-proclaimed monopoly over the UN declared International Day of Vesak. Thailand-based and Beijing-supported International Council for the Day of Vesak, which traditionally claims monopoly over the celebration of the UN International Day of Vesak, was seemingly caught off guard and did not organise any significant event on this auspicious day. It has also come to notice that monks from the Chinese monastery in Bodh Gaya expressed surprise how an event could be organised in the Mahabodhi temple amid a strict lockdown. The event has undoubtedly helped in spreading goodwill for India as the original land of Buddhism as well as for the IBC. Apart from reinforcing centrality of India in the Buddhist world, the event has also added to the acceptance and credibility of IBC as a premier international Buddhist organisation.

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