Celebrating Binara Full Moon Poya Day in Sri Lanka
Binara Full Moon Poya Day recognizes Sri Lanka’s first female Buddhist priests.
Sri Lanka has a vibrant culture, and this is quite evident during the country's many national holidays. One of the most important dates on the Sri Lankan calendar is Binara Full Moon Poya Day, a public spiritual celebration observed across the country in September during the full moon.
A Time of Reflection
Although Sri Lanka is a society that encompasses many faiths, Buddhism is the most prevalent religion in the country. To Sri Lankan Buddhists, the Binara Full Moon Poya Day is a time of celebration, reflection and contemplation. A "poya" day refers to a date upon which a full moon will be visible, and the Binara Full Moon Poya Day is celebrated in September. During this national holiday, Buddhists observe the disciplinary code first laid down by Buddha, and Buddhist monks, known as bhikkhus, spend much of this time in prayerful meditation.
A Historic Moment
The celebration marks the first time that women were permitted to join the Buddhist order. It is said that while Buddha was residing at Nigrodharamaya in the city of Kapilavastu, Queen Mahapajapati approached him and requested that women be allowed to adopt a monastic lifestyle in temples across Southeast Asia.
However, the Buddha rejected Mahapajapati's request three times. Undeterred, she assembled a group of 500 wives of noble princes before they shaved their heads and donned yellow robes to signify their commitment to monastic ways. Upon seeing this demonstration, Buddha granted Mahapajapati and her compatriots permission to become bhikkhunis (fully ordained female priests), and this momentous decision is recognized on Binara Full Moon Poya Day.
A Country United
Although Binara Full Moon Poya Day is primarily observed by practicing Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the government formally recognizes this day as a national holiday. As such, most businesses are closed, and many customs are forbidden, such as the sale of alcohol and meat.
All over Sri Lanka, celebrations are held to commemorate this important day. Lanterns adorn the exterior of many buildings, and traditional ceremonies take place to honor the Buddha and his teachings. Most importantly, Buddhists do their best to undertake and meditate upon the five precepts of Buddhism: to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, and the consumption of drugs and alcohol.
Although every month has its own poya day, September's is one of the most important, and it serves as a reminder not only of the basic tenets of the Buddhist faith but also of the struggle of Queen Mahapajapati and the very first bhikkhunis.