The day the Buddha's birth is widely celebrated in countries of Theravada tradition is called Vesak and the anniversary of Siddhartha Gautama is called Buddha Purnima. Vesak is usually celebrated on the full moon between late April and May. It is also known by Visakah Puja or Buddha Purnima in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Visakha Bucha in Thailand, Visakha Pujea in Cambodia, Phat Dan in Vietnam, Waisak in Indonesia, Vesak Day or Wesak in Sri Lanka and Malaysia and Saga Dawa in Tibet. In Laos, the equivalent holiday is Vixakha Boux and in Burma, it is called Ka-sone.
This is not an ancient feast, as it was formalized by a World Buddhist Conference held in 1950 in Sri Lanka, and each country has had its own traditions in commemorating the Buddha Shakyamuni as inspirer and founder of a religious and philosophical movement. Often the monks spend their days reciting mantras in public and bless the devotees, who also offer food to the poor.
People practice religious rites and decorate houses and streets with lights and lanterns manufactured for the occasion.
Buddhism is one of the oldest and most widespread religions the in the world. A buddha, according to Buddhism is a being who has reached the highest degree of enlightenment. Due to some very common misconceptions it should be emphasized that Gautama Buddha is neither a god nor the first Buddha. A Buddha, according to the schools that do not accept the doctrines of Mahayana and related sutras consider only the canonical teachings contained in the Agama-Nikāya, in the Abhidharma and Vinaya.
In the tradition of Buddhism of Nikāya and Theravada Buddhism, but also Mahayana and Vajrayana, recognize six Buddhas of the past that would have preceded Gautama Buddha.
Starting from India, Buddhism spread in later centuries especially in South-East Asia and the Far East, reaching, from the nineteenth century, even in the West. The word Buddhism is of recent coinage, introduced in Europe in the nineteenth century to refer to that which is correlated to the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama as Buddha, who lived between the sixth and fourth centuries BC. In fact a single word to express this concept does not exist in any of the original Asian countries in this religious tradition.
Gautama was born in Lumbini, near Kapilavastu, the city where his father Śuddhodana reigned, located in Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was one of the cities of Shakya Clan, who identified themselves as Kshatriyas. His mother Mayadevi came from the clan of Koliyas, sometimes ally and sometimes adversary of Shakya. Sakya was a warrior tribe that dominated the country and which had as its legendary founder King Ikṣvāku.
The prince married young, at the age of sixteen, to Yashodhara, with whom he had a son, Rāhula. Shortly, he decided to renounce the family life and then moved to the Magadha kingdom to follow the teachings of Uddaka Ramaputta. Initially, Gautama went to Rajgir in the Indian state of Bihar and began his ascetic life. The arrival of the Buddha in the capital city of the Magadha kingdom provoked a wave of conversions, including that of the King Bimbisāra, then the head of the most powerful state in northern India. All traditions agree on the fact that Siddhartha Gautama was a contemporary of the two kings of Magadha, Bimbisara and his son Ajatasattu.
He meditated, sitting under a fig tree in Bodh Gaya. Buddha finally came to Sarnath near Varanasi. In fact there are few historical records about the life of the founder of Buddhism and controversial are the same dates. It is therefore difficult to separate myth and reality and historically locate the events of the life of the Buddha, because the findings were presented to us are not always reliable. Most of the sources are indeed back at least two hundred years behind the events of the life of Siddhartha Gautama. In addition, the Indian historical chronicles are not strict in separating real events in myth and legend.
All traditional sources, however agree that Siddhārtha Gautama lived around eighty years. Although the native language of the Buddha remains a mystery chances are he have taught in one or more varieties of dialects of the Indo-Aryan languages.
Emperor Asoka converted to Buddhism after his bloody conquest of the Kalinga territory in modern day Orissa in eastern India. He spread the Buddhist faith by building stupas and pillars. Perhaps the best example of this is the Great Stupa of Sanchi near Bhopal. Buddhism died out in India, the country of origin, approximately in the fourteenth century.
The decline of Buddhism in his native India, came for a variety of reasons and events even though continued to prosper beyond its borders. Buddhism had seen steady growth since its inception until its approval as the official faith of the Maurya Empire by Asoka in the third century BC. It continued with its flourish during the first centuries of the modern era and spread even beyond the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia via the Silk Road and beyond China.
However, a steady and gradual decline of its followers in India took place during the gupta period, especially following the gradual Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent. At that time, Buddhism rulers became especially vulnerable because it was weakly entrenched in the society as most of its followers were communities of ascetic monks.
Apart from a small community in east of Bengal, which had survived since ancient times and Nepal, Buddhism was practically extinct in India in the late nineteenth century AD.