Waisek Festival - 2nd June 2015
One of the main reasons we came to Yogyakarta is for the Waisek Festival. Celebrating the Buddhas birthday, enlightenment and death which occurred on the same day - the 5th day of the lunar calendar (2nd June 2015).
When we arrived in Yogya, our hotel was advertising a tour to the Waisek Festival. It is celebrated at the Borobudur Temple - the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Which is around 1hr 30mins drive away. The tour was offering transport to and from Borobudur, a snack and a drink and dinner as well as a programme of events for the day for only 250,000 per person (£12.50). We decided that this was the best option rather than getting a taxi there and back etc. as it gives us a more scheduled day and also we have a tour guide.
Scott from Nusa Lembongan also joined us for Waisek Day signing up for the tour with us. We got picked up at 8.30 in the morning from our hotel and was joined by two girls from Sweden in our car. But there were about 12 people on the tour altogether. We got dropped off at the Mendut Temple where we spent a couple of hours walking around the stalls and the temple, amongst hundreds of people who were also there to celebrate Waisek.
At 12pm a procession started from Mendut Temple where hundreds of monks and Buddhist took the pilgrimage walk to Borobudur Temple (3.5km). Firstly we watched the procession walk past before joining them on this pilgrimage journey. The streets were lined with thousands of local residents watching the procession as well as taking a lot of interest in us - being white and blonde really draws attention. Quite a few people were taking pictures of us and saying hello. We drew quite a lot of attention to ourselves just by being there.
After the long walk we arrived at the Temple. Firstly going to the big golden Buddha to pray. We sat amongst all the Buddhists with the monks seated on the stage while they all said they prayers. The temple itself was beautiful, unfortunately during the festival we were not allowed to go up the temple as it was used for Buddhists and to pray. But we were still able to walk around and take pictures (it also meant our pictures wouldn't get photo bombed by tourist which is a plus).
The rest of the afternoon/evening was fairly chilled, we went and grabbed dinner and again walked around the many souvenir stalls. After dinner we had lost our tour guide and were unsure on our next whereabouts. This is when it got rather crazy and hectic. The president was due to say a speech so we tried to find out where this was - we ended up having to walk all the way around the outside of the temple to be able to enter where the Presidents speech was. Luckily we had purchased a ticket at the Mendut Temple which allowed us special entry into this area with many tourists and locals trying to get in without a ticket. We managed to find the stage and sat and listened for a bit - we were unsure who the president was or what they were saying but it was still nice to be a part of it. We began looking for the others who were from our tour to see what the plan for the rest of the evening was - the lantern release was the part we were looking forward to the most and we didn't even know where or when this was taking place.
To cut a long story short we managed to find the majority of the others and luckily someone had our tour guides number so we managed to contact him. Everyone was trying to go up to the Borobudur Temple after the speech which resulted in chaotic pushing and shoving to enter the small gate up to the temple. Of which we decided against as we had already seen the temple. We made our way towards the area where we release the lanterns. Finding out that this was taking place at midnight. So we found a spot next to the steps to make sure we were quite close to the front and camped out for an hour or so. Also there were hundreds of SLR camera tripods set up near the steps ready for the people who are keen photographers which also made it a bit tricky to negotiate around.
As it got closer to 11 everyone started edging closer to the steps - in the end we decided to start queuing on the steps. Talking to a few local Indonesians that could speak good English and also helped translating what the security guards were saying (they were also embarrassed to admit that all events held by Indonesians are this chaotic and unorganised). We found out that there was only 400 tickets for the lantern release and we felt rather privileged to be one of them. The gates opened and we made our way to our 'seats'. It was practically a large patch of grass that had been carefully set out - everyone was instructed to sit behind a white flag and was given a sheet of plastic as the grass was quite wet. This was the only part of the day that was remotely organised and prepared. When we were finally seated there was a sense of relief as we made it. The view was spectacular looking at the Borobudur Temple all lit up, monks lined up at the front overlooking the crowd. We were on the second row and in the centre - it was perfect. Around the edges there were thousand of people sectioned off by rope and it made us feel very lucky to be able to be part of this wonderful day. Almost feeling famous. Before we released the lanterns we said some prayers and mediated with the monks and fellow Buddhists and lit the candle lanterns along our rows. This made for a beautiful lit 'field' and a perfect setting for this celebration. We were then informed about how the lantern release would work.
There were a total of 1200 lanterns we needed to release - this was done three times (400 at a time) with each lantern symbolising the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. We were all told we would release them together after a count down - the people in charge were very clear on this and were giving out instructions in both Indonesian and English.
Firstly all the lanterns were distributed between us - there were 2 - 4 people to a lantern (me, Curtis, Scott and another lady). This was perfect though. We also were given white stickers to write our wishes and dreams on to stick onto the lanterns. When we were instructed to do so we lit the lantern with the candle - the lanterns were HUGE!!! and luckily Scott had a lighter to help light it. When it was lit we then waited for the countdown to release it. Of corse not everyone did this, letting there's off too soon - they either couldn't speak English or Indonesian or were just plain stupid but oh well. After the countdown the majority of people then released the lanterns into the sky - this was breathtaking, it was stunning and amazing and words can not describe how beautiful this was. Hundreds of lanterns lit up the sky and slowly floated up. AMAZING! Everything we had pictured and was expecting :).
This was then repeated a further two times!! However, during the whole lantern release the bystanders around the outside had pushed through the ropes (not that it was hard) and tried to impose and push through. This was really upsetting as it took away the beautiful, spiritual atmosphere as the people in charge over the microphones were constantly having to ask and shout people to move back etc. I have never heard a monk getting so annoyed. Some people even managed to creep onto the field and then get lanterns to take part in the release as well! A shame really given the importance this festival had and the reason behind the celebration. But I guess some people are just like that.
The next two lantern releases were just as beautiful as the first and I could never get bored of it. It was such an amazing experience and we felt very honoured and lucky to be part of this important day, as well as be amongst the Buddhists and celebrate with them. A massive highlight of travelling and a memory that will last forever!!
By the time we had released all the lanterns and headed back to the car it was around 2am - we were all very exhausted and tired. We got back to our hotel at around 3.30 and as soon as our head hit the pillow we were asleep. It was a very long day but definitely worth it.
The following day was spent catching up on sleep and relaxing, reading our books and deciding on our next destination.
C & E x