What Vesak Day means for me?

I am not a Buddhist. So what is means when my country, Indonesia, the largest muslim country in the world celebrate Vesak as national holiday on 16th of May? A lot of reminders of who I am and who my ancestors were.

So based on Wikipedia, vaiśākha comes from Sanskrit for the lunar month of Vaisakha, which is considered the month of Buddha’s birth. It is a celebration that commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. I read that Buddhist are encouraged to consume only vegetarian food for the day as to follow one of his dharma (teachings) of no killing, non desctructive, and non violence. Being no Buddhist doesn’t mean Buddha’s dharma means nothing. In fact, his life, dharma, and death shape the lives many people, including myself. And I realized it since I learned about the history of becoming Indonesia.

Indonesia today is a home of largest population of muslim, approximately 220 millions or 86% of its population. Most of them are residing in western part of Indonesia because trade played a significant role in the process of Islamization. Islands closer to the main trade routes encountered much more Islamic influences since the 13th century. There are varieties of Islam practices in Indonesia and it’s closely related to the influence of past religions, Buddha and Hindu. I remembered so fondly to be mesmerized by Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia when I visited it in 2013(?). It was built as a Hindunese temple in 12th century for Visnu but in 14th century it shifting into Buddhist temple. I read that Angkor Wat was built to replicate Hinduism’s holy Mount Meru and as any Indonesian knows we have Mount Semeru located in East Java province, a place where my parents and ancestors come from.

I have no doubt that my ancestors are Hindu or Buddhist as it was a widely known religion in their times. This knowledge and awareness are important part of my growing up as a muslim woman. Especially when in my early 20s, I was drawn into muslim fundamentalist teaching. I didn’t feel at home, it just didn’t sit well with my understanding of the past. The struggle of my ancestors are important to be passed on because my present is one of their achievements. Buddha has been my ancestors meaningful belief as Islam to me right now. I respect that much.

I learned that border of a region, county, or country first and foremost are not visible and concrete-based. There is something about the invisible border consist of cultural, religion, and language. That’s why there is colonialization based on culture, religion, and language as to control one’s identity. What I like in visiting temples like Borobudur, Prambanan, Jawi, and Angkor Wat are somewhat a pilgrimage to story of the past, a story of my becoming Indonesian, and the becoming of Nusantara. I want to cherish that memory during Vesak Day on the 16 May.

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