International Vesak Day- Sri Lanka’s Contribution

Prof. G.P. Malalasekera (8th November 1899 – 23rd April 1973)

Prof. Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera initiated and inspired a meeting of global Buddhists in 1950 CE (Buddhist Era 2493) in Sri Lanka resulting in the inauguration of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) on the 25th May 1950 (2493BE) at the Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy.  This meeting was attended by 129 Buddhist delegates from 27 countries in Asia, Europe and America.  At this meeting the Buddhist Flag was formally accepted and Ven. Piyaratana recommended that Vesak Day should be accepted globally as a Buddhist celebration, a proposal which was accepted and followed by the Global Buddhist fraternity.  Buddhism during its existence over two millennia had developed into 3 schools – Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna, all disciples and believers of the Sakyamuni Buddha.  Prof. G.P. Malalasekera could unite all three schools of Buddhism within the World Fellowship of Buddhism and became the first president of WFB from 1950 to 1958.

Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar (12th April 1932 – 12th August 2005)

Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs tabled a proposal at the United Nations General Assesmbly (UNGA) in 1999 requesting for the adaptation of “Vesak Day” on 23rd September 1999 and at the 79th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on 15th December 1999 this resolution was discussed as the Agenda Item 174 which was sponsored by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Grenada, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iceland, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Seychelles, Slovakia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and United States.  Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, a born Tamil Christian of Sri Lanka, a proponent of common features of all religions, portrayed his great talents at diplomacy in getting the support of the Christian, Islamic and Hindu countries to support the Vesak Day resolution at the UN.  The Vesak Day resolution was adopted as 54/115 on 15th December 1999 and implemented for the first time in the year 2000 at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York with the representatives of 34 countries.

In 2016, the Vesak Day was declared as an ‘Optional Holiday’ at the United Nations for the first time under its resolution 69/250/

Further Reading

  1. Sri Lanka’s Role in the Spread of Buddhism in the World” by Prof. Ananda W.P. Guruge, (http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma14/srilankahistory.html)