On April 8th, Japan celebrates Buddha’s Birthday, Hana Matsuri (花祭り – The Flower Festival). According to Buddhist tradition, Prince Siddhartha Gautama (Sakyamuni Buddha), the son of King Suddohana and Queen Maya, was born on 8 April 566 B.C. in the garden of Lumbini, in Nepal.
On this day, in Buddhist temples, an interesting ceremony takes place, Kanbutsu-e (潅仏会 – The Bathing of Buddha). Originated from China, Kanbutsu-e was first attested in Japan in the year 606, in Nara. On a flower decorated altar (hana mido), symbolizing the Lumbini garden, a small statue of Buddha, Tanjoubutsu (Buddha’s Birth), is placed in a shallow metal bowl.
The statue represents the infant Buddha, immediately after birth, when, according to legends, he raised, and took 7 steps forward and while pointing his right hand to the heavens and left hand to earth, he said: “I alone am honored in heaven and on earth”(Tenjou tenga yuiga dokuson – 天上天下唯我独尊).
The ceremony recreates the legend that at birth, Buddha was sprinkled with perfume by two Dragon Kings, ryuu. Another version of the legend is that a gentle perfumed nectar rain bathed the baby Buddha. So, the temple visitors are invited to pour on the statue sweet tea,ama-cha, made from hydrangea leaves.
And, in conclusion, here’s a haiku by Matsuo Basho, inspired from a baby deer born on Buddha’s Day.
hi ni umare-au
ka no ko kana
happening to be born
on Buddha’s birthday
a baby deer!