KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — The annual Wesak Day celebration plays a vital role in strengthening unity among the people of diverse races, religions and ethnicities in the country.

Deputy Minister of National Unity K. Saraswathy said the celebration, often attended by about 40,000 people in the capital city, also encourages the community to have a better understanding of other religious cultures.

“This celebration gives the community, comprising people of various religious and cultural backgrounds to unite in respecting the culture and heritage of the pluralistic society in Malaysia.

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“It is also a platform for understanding and appreciation between communities of different religious beliefs and contributes to the spirit of harmony and tolerance among Malaysians,” she said when contacted by Bernama recently.

She added that the celebration, which is usually attended by thousands of visitors, comprising tourists, devotees and also locals, could help contribute to the country’s economic development.

Meanwhile, honorary secretary of the Sasana Abhiwurdhi Wardana Association for the Maha Vihara Brickfields Buddhist Temple Tilak Leslie expects this year’s celebration to be less vibrant compared to previous years due to the uncertain weather conditions.

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“This year, due to the weather, where it has been raining heavily every evening and since it (the celebration) falls on a weekday, we are not sure if we can gather that many people this year but, at Vihara, we are expecting about 10,000 to 15,000 people over the two days, May 21 and May 22,” he said when met at the Maha Vihara Brickfields Buddhist Temple.

He added that on May 21, a blood and organ donation campaign would be held while free food and drinks would also be distributed.

“We also have the lighting of the first oil lamp and a prayer session.

“We expect to give away about seven thousand to eight thousand food packs, such as vegetarian noodles and rice,” he said.

Leslie said they spend about RM25,000 annually for the Wesak Day celebration to prepare the free food, with the cost usually borne by the temple’s devotees.

He also said that 20 decorated floats are expected to take part in the 12-kilometre (km) procession this year.

“This is expected to take four hours, starting at 6 pm from the Maha Vihara Brickfields Buddhist Temple and passing through Little India, Pasar Seni, Jalan Raja Chulan, Bukit Bintang and then back to the temple,” he said.

He added that 80 people, who joined the temple’s volunteer programme organised specifically for the Wesak Day programme, will help with the cleaning up and distribution of free food to visitors.

“Volunteers from all races are welcome to volunteer and help with managing the crowd, keeping the premises clean and distributing food on that day... each shift is about two to three hours per person,” he said.

Wesak Day, which will be celebrated on May 22, is the most important festival for Buddhists to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Siddharta Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.

It is celebrated by lighting joss sticks and lotus-shaped candles, the offering of flowers and the bathing of the statue of Buddha. — Bernama