If Vesak is significant to Buddhists because it was the day, Prince Sidddhartha was born. Then Esala Poya day also receives equal significance hence it is the day Prince Siddhartha was conceived in Queen Mahamaya. Also if Vesak is symbolic as the day of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment, Esela is equally symbolic as it is the day that Prince Siddhartha left all his luxuries for an ascetic life.
The Esala Poya falls in the month of Esela according to the Sinhala calendar and in July as we call it according to the Gregorian calendar. Several important incidents during Buddha’s days and in the Buddhist history of Sri Lanka have occurred in this poya day.
The conception of Prince Siddhartha in Queen Mahamaya Devi’s womb happened on this day. Prince Siddhartha’s and Princess Yashodara’s son, Prince Rahula was born on an Esala Poya day. It is on an Esala Poya day that prince Siddhartha became disillusioned with lay life, after encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a priest, gave up his lay life, donned the robes of an ascetic and went in search of enlightenment. Prince Siddhartha on that day comprehended the fact that every living being on earth has to undergo the universal truth of senescences, sickness, and death. Finally seeing a priest he realized that becoming an ascetic is the solution to find the truth out of Sansara.
Buddha’s preaching of the first sermon after obtaining Enlightenment also happened on an Esala Poya day. The sermon was “Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta” at Isipathana in India to five ascetics who stayed with Load Buddha for some time during the truth-seeking period. Their names were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji. At the end of the sermon, they embraced Buddhism and became the first thero in Buddhism. The ascetic Kondanna attained the state of Sotta Patti.
It was on an Esala Poya day that Buddha visited Tavtissa Dev lova (Tavtissa Abode of the Gods) and for the first time preached the Abhidhamma to the Maathru Divya Rajaya (who was queen Mahamaya Devi in her previous birth) and the other Gods there. Also, Buddha performed the Yamaka Maha Prathihara on an Esala Poya day to the proud, older Sakya clansmen to show that He was the Budhha.
For Sri Lankan Buddhists the Esala Poya day is very important as several important events took place on Esala poya day.
The first ordination of a Sri Lankan took place on an Esala Poya day in Anuradhapura. Prince Aritta, nephew of King Devanampiyatissa was ordained as a bhikkhu by Arahath Mahinda. It was on an Esala Poya day that the laying of the foundation for the Ruwanwelisaya took place and the enshrinement of relics by King Dutugemunu. Esala Poya also marks the start of the Vas Kalaya (rainy season retreat) for bhikkhus. Vas commences on the day after the Esala Poya. Bhikkhus who were not able to start Vas on this day will be allowed to start late Vas on the next poya day which is Nikini Poya, the poya day in the month of August. It was on an Esala Poya day that the Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha. Dante Pura, (City of the Tooth) in the state of Kalinga, on the Eastern coastal belt of India (present Orissa), was the home of the Sacred Tooth Relic originally. The King, who was also known as Kirthi Sri Meghavarna was very happy to receive the Sacred Tooth Relic and kept it for a few days in a monastery, called Megha Giri, the present Isurumuni Viharaya. Subsequently, the Sacred Tooth Relic was deposited in a building called Dhamma Cakka Geha built by King Devanampiyatissa.
The Sacred Tooth Relic was taken annually to Abhayagiri Viharaya in a grand procession and kept there for three months. It is thought that this procession could be the origin of today’s annual Esala Dalada Perahera held in Kandy and associated with the Dalada Maligawa. The Perahera is held in August.
Buddhist devotees all around the world celebrate Esala poya Day giving priority to religious observances. They engage in various meritorious activities throughout the entire day. This year we celebrate Esala Poya day while the whole world is struggling with the Corona pandemic. So let’s collaboratively celebrate Esala poya day in keeping abide by the safety laws implemented by the health sector and the government.