Today, Sunday May 15, is Visak Bochea, a holiday traditionally observed by Buddhists and some Hindus across Asia (although some countries celebrate on different days) The festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment (Buddhahood), and death (Parinirvāna) of Gautama Buddha in both Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism.
The name of the observance is derived from the Pali term vesākha or Sanskrit vaiśākha, which is the name of the lunar month used in ancient India falling in April–May. In Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the holiday is known by its Sanskrit name (Vaiśākha) and derived variants of it.
On this day, devout Buddhists and followers assemble in their various temples before dawn for the ceremonial and honorable hoisting of the Buddhist flag and the singing of hymns in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples).
Devotees may bring simple offerings of flowers, candles and joss-sticks to lay at the feet of their teacher. These symbolic offerings are to remind followers that just as the beautiful flowers would wither away after a short while, and the candles and joss-sticks would soon burn out, so too is life subject to decay and destruction.
Birds, insects and animals are often released in what is known as a ‘symbolic act of liberation’ of giving freedom to those who are in captivity, imprisoned, or tortured against their will.
In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on Uposatha Day, the day of the full moon typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month.