....... Divertimento: Buddha's birthday and Cheung Chau Bun Festival

Monday, 9 May 2011

Buddha's birthday and Cheung Chau Bun Festival

The Lord Buddha's birthday is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Lunar calendar. This year, it falls on May 10th i.e. tomorrow. It is a holiday in Hong Kong and even if you are not a Buddhist, there are places you can visit to be part of the festivities. There are lots of Buddhist temples in Hong Kong but probably the best known is at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.

A giant statue of the sitting Buddha is set serenely atop the Ngong Ping Plateau. It is the world's largest outdoor bronze statue of the sitting Buddha (there are larger statues of the reclining Buddha). You can admire it from afar or better yet, brave the 200 odd step climb up to the platform where the statue is seated to view it up close and to take in the breathtaking mountain scenery of Lantau Island. From there, it is short walk to Wisdom Path and a vegetarian lunch. Wisdom Path is an outdoor replica of the centuries old Heart Sutra, one of the world's best known prayers revered by Buddhists, Confucians and Taoists alike.

The Bun Festival takes place in Cheung Chau, another colorful outlying island of Hong Kong. Whilst it is celebrated on the same day as Lord Buddha's birthday, it is actually a Taoist festival. As part of the celebrations, a 60 foot tower is erected in front of the Pak Tai Temple. The Pak Tai Temple was erected in 1783 and is dedicated to the popular Taoist God of the Sea. Originally, people scrambled up a bamboo tower covered with sweet buns to see who could collect the most. The race for buns came to an abrupt end in 1978 when the bun tower collapsed, injuring 100 people. After a break of 26 years, the bun climb was re-introduced in 2005. For safety reasons, the tower is erected of metal scaffolding and the buns are plastic replicas. Instead of a free for all, the climb is now limited to 12 finalists. The scramble for the plastic buns will take place at midnight where they race to get to the top-most 'luckiest buns".

Th edible sweet buns with fortune messages printed in red can be purchased from the island's 2 bun makers. Leading up to this day, the entire island's residents go vegetarian for 3 days (even McDonald's) until the parade. The highlight of the parade must surely be the costumed children carried atop poles to look like they are floating.

Cheung Chau parade

Picture courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board website

Have a great day out tomorrow!

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