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Friday, April 8, 2011

Hana Matsuri: Buddha's birthday blossoms

Sakura of Fukushima (By: Kropsoq) 
Although the actual date of Buddha’s birth is somewhat unknown, the Japanese celebrate it each year on April 8.  This coincides with cherry-blossom (sakura) time, and “Hana Matsuri” means “Flower Festival.”

According to Barbara O’Brien, blossoms have played an integral role in Buddha’s birth stories for 25 centuries.  In “a land near the Himalaya Mountains,” Buddha’s earthly parents – Queen Maya and King Suddhodana – were told by 64 Brahmans that their son would either be a world conqueror or a Buddha.  This was their interpretation of
Queen Maya’s vivid dream that a white elephant, bearing a white lotus, struck her right side and then disappeared inside her.  O’Brien reports that the white elephant is a symbol for fertility and wisdom – and the white lotus a symbol for enlightenment and purity.

When the time of birth drew near, Queen Maya (with her husband’s blessings - as was the custom) began traveling to her childhood home.  She was carried on a palanquin, and was accompanied by a thousand courtiers.  As the procession passed by Lumbini Grove, the queen was so entranced by its blossoming beauty that she ordered the procession to stop there.  Just as the queen reached up to touch one of the blossoms, Buddha was born.  Mother and son were then sweetly showered with flowers and sparkling water.

The Japanese emphasize this flower symbolism within their Hana Matsuri celebrations of Buddha’s birthday.
Kristy Jensen reports that those who visit a Japanese shrine on this day bring with them an offering of fresh
cherry blossoms.  Many females wear headdresses with flowers on them.  The streets are decorated with streamers designed to mimic cherry blossoms.  At least one of the parade floats has a white elephant with a small flower-covered house on its back.  Inside that house is a replica of the infant Buddha.  He is showered with hydrangea tea by the little children – somewhat reminiscent of the sweet showers within the Lumbini Grove on that long-ago day.


Copyright April 8, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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