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Skybound Lights: The Buddhist Festival of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā in Bangladesh

Fanus Festival of Bangladesh, by high school student Moumita Barua. The Fanus festival is usually observed during Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā. Image courtesy of Moumita Barua

Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā, also known as Aśbinī Pūrnīmā, is one of the most significant events in the South Asian Buddhist community. The term “prabāraṇā” entails the relinquishing of evils, whereas “pūrnīmā” signifies the day of the full moon. From the Buddhist perspective, Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā refers to an auspicious full moon day for recalling one’s errors and committing to good deeds for all sentient beings.

This day is recognized as a blessed day, commemorating the occasion when the historical Buddha intervened in a major monastic dispute and reasserted peace and harmony among the community. Buddhist monks observe this bright full moon day for successfully accomplishing their three months of religious retreat during the monsoon season (vassa). As a cultural hallmark beyond Buddhism, Aśbinī Pūrnīmā is celebrated by Bengalis of all races, religions, and communities through the beautiful sight of flying sky lanterns, or fanus, into the air.

On the eve of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā, Bengali Buddhists faithfully observe the fanus festival. Each year, the Association of Buddhist Solidarity flies colorful fanus (sky lamps). Image courtesy of the Association of Buddhist Solidarity

Approximately 2,600 years ago, when the historical Buddha was a resident of Kosambi (present-day Prayagraj, India), he ended a quarrel between two groups of monks on the eve of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā. Due to a misunderstanding of the minor monastic rules, the monks started to disagree with one another, which gradually turned into a severe quarrel about the Vinaya, which is critical for guiding the monastic lifestyle. Initially, the Buddha made an effort to bring the monastic communities back together by keeping them from splitting and fighting. When the Buddha discovered that the disciples had not put an end to their disagreements, he left the monastery for a deep jungle called Parileyyaka Forest. Subsequently, the disciples realized their wrongdoings and went to the Buddha to beg for forgiveness, requesting him to come back to his former residence. After arriving at the monastery, the Buddha remarked to his fellow monks and addressed them that people who understand the reality of the impermanence of the phenomena must not quarrel among themselves and live in harmony, peace, and compassion with one another.

Buddhist devotee Ruma Barua Chowdhury and her son Sanjoy with a sky lamp on the eve of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā. Image courtesy of the author

Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā also marks the closing of the three-month rainy retreat (vassa) for Buddhist monks. For the monastics, the retreat’s purpose is to seek seclusion and reflect on their regular rules and duties while also pondering deeply on the path to ultimate liberation. Similar to Buddhist monks, lay devotees also observe the eight precepts sincerely for the duration of the three-month retreat period. Following the Buddha’s subtle and profound teachings, both monastic members and lay practitioners recall their pathway of refraining from all evils and wrongdoings, cultivating wholesome and good acts, and guiding their minds to inner rapture with a heart of joy and compassion. The monks’ and adherents’ successful monsoon-season retreats are honored on the day of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā.

Bengali Buddhists commemorate the auspicious Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā in distinctive ways, one of which is by launching sky lanterns, or fanus, into the air. Due to the enormous number of sky lanterns blowing into the night sky, this festival is also known as the day of “fanus festivals” in the communities. To make a fanus, one must first shape a cylinder out of wax paper that will serve as the framework for the lantern’s outer shell. Next, people glue a piece of wax paper to one of the paper cylinder’s ends. After glue-processed papers have dried, one needs to bend some metal wire into a circle, which will function as the frame holding the fuel source for a fanus. Buddhists believe that the Buddha’s holy hair relics are restored in heaven. Devotees launch fanus into the air as an expression of reverence for the Buddha’s hair relics.

Buddhist devotee Sukanta Barua (Remon), with a sky lamp on the eve of Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā at Unainpūrā Laṅkārāma. Image courtesy of Sukanta Barua (Remon)

In addition to Buddhist carnivals, Bangladesh’s non-Buddhist communities—Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and other ethnic religions—also join in the fanus festival in the monasteries throughout the country. For Bangladeshis, Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā is a day of communal harmony and celebration of the nation’s rich diversity. The auspicious Prabāraṇā Pūrnīmā is a remarkable festival dedicated to fostering love, compassion, harmony, and peace from person to person, community to community, society to society, and ethnicity to ethnicity. Apart from commemorating a Buddhist religious observance, it is a reflection of universal compassion, just as the Buddha taught seekers to offer to all living beings.

Sabbe Sattā Sukhi Hontu (May all living beings be happy).


Barua, Shimul. 2012. Bānlāra Baud’dha: Itihāsa-Aitihya O Sanskr̥ti. Chattogram: Anōmā Sanskr̥ti Gōsṭī.

Barua, Sukomol. 2017. Bānlādēśē’r Baud’dha: Itihāsa-Aitihya O Aitihya. Dhaka: Bangladesh University Grand Commission.

Chowdhury, Sanjoy Barua. 2021. “Buddhist Transmission in Bangladesh: Past through Present.” Amitabha (Issue No. 20), 49–52.

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