At the Temple of the Sacred Tooth on Navam Full Moon Poya Day, pilgrims present lotus flower offerings. (Photo: alamy.com)
Bao Tram: Hello, Vajira. Thanks for joining us today.
Vajira Perera: Hello, Tram. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share with Vietnamese people about Poya Day, a special day in Sri Lanka.
Bao Tram: What is Poya Day?
Vajira Perera: When the full moon appears in Sri Lanka there’s a public and mercantile (bank) holiday. Usually there is only one Poya day per month. But this year is a leap year and both the first and the 30th day of this month are Poya days. October 1st and October 30th are Poya Days. I think no other country in the world has a full moon-based religious holiday like this. It is unique to Sri Lanka.
Poson Full Moon Poya day is of great historical and religious significance. It's a festival of great piety. (Photo: ft.lk)
Bao Tram: How did Poya Day begin?
Vajira Perera: It has a very long history. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka about 2,500 years ago. We believe that the day when the full moon shines is a sacred day for Sri Lankans because we embrace Buddhism.
On every Poya day, there are special events related to Buddha. For example, Buddhists believe that the Buddha came to Sri Lanka from India on the first full moon day of the year in January. According to the Sinhala month system, this poya is called ill poya. History also states that the birth, the attainment of enlightenment, and the passing away of Buddha, in India on the Poya day of the month of May, are known as the Vesak Poya.
Out of the twelve Poya days, there are two important Poya days for Sri Lankans: Vesak and Poson. These two Poya days are celebrated by Buddhists in a very solemn manner. They build huge pandals (tents) in the cities and make beautiful lanterns in the house. Even the poorest cottage lights oil lamps. Alms halls are erected in the streets and people are given free food and drink.
An ‘Alms Hall’ or ‘dansala’ is where people are treated to food that is served generously, free of charge. Dansala is associated with the festival of Vesak in Sri Lanka.
Bao Tram: Is Poya Day a public holiday in Sri Lanka? What is the highlight of the day in Sri Lanka?
Vajira Perera: The government has declared Poya Day a sacred day. Therefore, it’s forbidden to keep liquor shops, night clubs, cinemas, and meat and fish shops open on that day. Outdoor concerts are also not allowed. Television and radio broadcast programs such as Buddhist devotional songs, Buddhist dramas, and Dhamma discussions.
Bao Tram: What do people do on this day?
Vajira Perera: The day has been declared a holiday by the government for the public to engage in religious observances. On that day, many Buddhists go to temples and take part in religious rites. A special Buddhist program is conducted in the temples on Poya days. It’s called Sill. It seems like people temporarily become monks. But for many, it’s a good day to relax and unwind.
| Vajira Perera is a TV journalist. He has been working for ITN Sri Lanka, a Sri Lankan state television and radio broadcaster, for 22 years.
Bao Tram: So Poya Day is a holiday for Buddhists. Do people of all religions get a day off or just Buddhist followers?
Vajira Perera: Of course, yes. Poya Day is a public and mercantile holiday so it is a holiday for all religions in Sri Lanka. Those who are very fond of Buddhism go to temples on that day and perform Sill. Sill is like becoming a monk temporarily.
Bao Tram: You say that on Poya Day, people seem to become a monk for one day. Can you tell us more?
Vajira Perera: They wear special white clothes and spend the day religiously from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm according to instructions given by the Thero (senior Buddhist monks and nuns) of the temple. They do not eat meat on this day. The alms offered by donors are eaten. One does not touch money, spends the day calmly, only listens to the Dhamma and meditates. Sill is often observed by the elderly. The majority are women. They believe that spending one day a month in this way makes their soul better, and helps them attain Nirvana sooner.
Bao Tram: Thank you so much, Vajira, for joining us today and sharing with us some facts about Poya Day.
Vajira Perera: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share with the Vietnamese people about Poya Day, a special day in Sri Lanka.