Ullambana festival is one of the most important days for celebration in Buddhism, observed on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month (corresponds to August of the western calendar). On this day it is believed that the “Gates of the Hell” are opened and the dead ones pay visit to their loved ones. During this festival, offerings are made to the spirits of the dead and to the hungry ghosts in order to bring good fortune and luck.
Ullambana, a Sanskrit word, means, ‘rescuing those who are hanging upside-down’. Traditionally it is referred as ‘seeking salvation for the anguished souls in hell’. It is the festival of deliverance, and advocates and reinforces the concept of filial piety. According to Buddhist legend, the observance of this festival is based on the story of ‘Mahamaudgalyayana saving his Mother’.
Mahamaudgalyayana (also Maudgalyayana) is one of the disciples of the Buddha Shakyamuni. Upon obtaining the six spiritual penetrations, he uses his Way Eye and meditative skills and finds his deceased mother reborn in the realms of pain and suffering, tormented with hunger and starvation. Deeply sad, Mahamaudgalyayana started a journey to the netherworld to relieve her of her suffering.
Once he goes there, Maudgalyayana finds his mother starving and in a pitiful state. He offers her food, but when she tries to eat it, the food turns to smouldering pieces of charcoal.
Maudgalyayana is distressed and seeks advice and help from his master, the Buddha. Buddha tells him that his mother’s offences are deep-rooted and that he alone will not be able to ease her sufferings. He advises Maudgalyayana to make offerings of five fruits, incense, oil, lamps, candles, beds and bedding to the assembled members of the Order and pray along with them for the liberation of his mother’s soul.
The Buddha also tells Maudgalyayana that by making such an offering, not only his mother but his forefathers and kith and kin will also escape suffering and attain eternal bliss and salvation.
The day on which Maudgalyayana performed the act of compassionate filial conduct and brought salvation to his forefathers is celebrated as Ullambana.
The Significance of the Ullambana Festival:
Ullambana festival chiefly reinforces the concept of filial piety. It signifies the importance of performing ‘good deeds’ to accumulate spiritual merit. Most significant is to share the merit with the departed souls, to help them reborn in good realms and end their suffering.
On this day, Buddhists offer prayers both to their departed fore-parents and to their living parents and elders.
Buddhist Mother’s day:
The Ullambana day is also equivalent to the Western Mother’s day, on which Buddhists around the world pay tribute to their parents. The ceremony varies temple by temple and is often started with the chanting of the Ullambana Sutra. During the ceremony, roses will be given out. Those, who still have both parents, will wear a red rose on the left of their shirts. Those, whose either mother or father has deceased, will wear a pink rose; and those, whose both parents have deceased, will wear a white rose. Songs praising the kindness and sacrifices of parents for their children will be played during the giving of the roses.