Mahayana Buddhists Sunday celebrated Nirvana Day, the annual festival commemorating the death of the Buddha. According to Buddhist tradition, the revered religious figure’s death came while he was in a state of meditation and marked his achievement of the highest form of Nirvana, the release from the cycle of rebirth that is seen as one of the ultimate goals of most Buddhist traditions.
This form of Nirvana is known as Parinirvana, which is why the holiday is sometimes also referred to as “Parinirvana Day,” according to the BBC. Some Buddhists spend the holiday reading passages from the Parinirvana Sutra, an ancient text that chronicles the last days of the Buddha, but most celebrate by meditating or going to temples or monasteries. While celebrations vary around the world, in monasteries Nirvana Day is typically treated as a social occasion when people can bring presents and food to share with others.
Mahayana Buddhism is most prominent in North Asia, including China, Tibet, Mongolia and Japan, according to the religion site Patheos. Mahayana Buddhism is most distinctive for its focus on the compassion inherent in enlightened beings who are thought to postpone the ultimate goal of Nirvana to guide other beings who continue to struggle with the cycle of death and rebirth.
While most Buddhists flock to temples and shrines to celebrate Nirvana Day, many also travel to Kushinagar, the Indian city believed to be the site of the Buddha’s earthly death. The city becomes a major pilgrimage destination on the holiday, according to Emily Taitz and Lee Worth Bailey in their book on major world religions. Stupas, sacred monuments that often contain relics of the Buddha, are also major destinations for Buddhists on Nirvana Day.