Sri Lanka Celebrates International Day of Vesak at UNESCO in Partnership with Member States


The Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO organised a cultural evening themed “Harmony in Motion: Celebrating Vesak through Dance, Music, and Cultural Expression” on 23 May 2024 at UNESCO in Paris in commemoration of the International Day of Vesak.  The event was organized in partnership with UNESCO and sixteen (16) Member States on the 25th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 54/115 on the "International Recognition of the Day of Vesak". 

The Minister of Education of Sri Lanka and Chairperson of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO Susil Premajayantha graced the celebrations as the Chief Guest.  The Assistant Director General / Social and Human Sciences Gabriela Ramos represented the Director General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay at the celebrations as the Chief Guest from UNESCO, while the Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO Véra El Khoury Lacoeuilhe participated as the Guest of Honour.  

The Buddhist clergy from Sri Lanka, Thailand and other countries with a Buddhist heritage, Ambassadors and Permanent Delegates to UNESCO, the diplomatic corps, dignitaries, and a multi-cultural audience attended the event as invitees, thus setting the stage for an evening celebrating cultural diversity through the universal message of peace of the Buddha. 

The celebrations commenced with the singing of Jayamangala Gatha or “Verses on the Blessings of Success” by children of Sri Lankan heritage in France. The Ambassador of Sri Lanka to France and the Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO Manisha Gunasekera delivered the opening remarks extending a warm welcome to all honoured guests as well as invitees.  She extended her deep appreciation to UNESCO led by the Director General, as well as Chairperson of the Executive Board, Member States and organisations for their enthusiastic support and participation in the celebration of Vesak in UNESCO. 

In delivering his keynote address, the Minister of Education Susil Premajayantha welcomed the celebration of the International Day of Vesak each year in UNESCO through the landmark Decision adopted by acclamation by the 219th Executive Board of UNESCO.  He commended the Director General and her team, Chairperson of the Executive Board and all Member States who supported action towards institutionalising the celebration of Vesak in UNESCO, given its relevance to the Organisation’s mandate.  The Minister welcomed the meaningful Vesak Day Message issued by the Director General recognizing the 25th anniversary of the UN General Assembly Proclamation on the International Day of Vesak, as well as her affirmation that Vesak ‘is now celebrated each year at UNESCO’, following the Decision.  He also commended “the remarkable level of multi-national support the evening’s celebrations had garnered.”

The Chief Guest Assistant Director General / Social and Human Sciences Gabriela Ramos highlighted the abiding relevance of Vesak to today’s context, and in dialogue among cultures, peoples and civilisations.  She commended Sri Lanka for their lead role in this very timely initiative, and pledged the support of UNESCO towards annual Vesak celebration.  She also referred to the roadmap that is available to the international community in building “peace through education”, as well as “compassionate leadership”.  She said adherence to “the Buddha’s message means working for a world free of discrimination, hatred and racism.”
Speaking on behalf of the UNESCO governing bodies, Chairperson of the Executive Board Véra El Khoury Lacoeuilhe congratulated the Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka “for the memorable commemoration of the International Day of Vesak” and for their leadership role in UNESCO in celebrating this significant anniversary.  In her address, the Chairperson recalled that “peace, understanding and a vision of humanity that supersedes national and international differences are essential today and always.”

Guest of Honour Venerable Parawahera Chandaratana Thero, Chief Incumbent of International Buddhist Centre in Le Bourget and the Chief Sangha Nayaka of France, in his Opening Remarks at the commencement of proceedings elaborated on the significance of Vesak denoting the Birth, the Enlightenment and the Passing or the Maha Parinirvana of the Buddha, and its relevance to contemporary society. 

Renowned scholar-monk Venerable Udairiyagama Dhammajeewa Thero who graced the occasion as an honoured guest from Sri Lanka spoke of the successful nation-wide Sati Pasala or the “School of Mindfulness” programme launched by the Government of Sri Lanka comprising the introduction of Mindfulness practice into school curricula with a view to inculcating mental wellbeing, and nurturing ethical values among the young generation.  It was observed that Mindfulness or being in the present moment, which lies at the heart of Buddhist philosophy, is a valued best practice which Sri Lanka could share with UNESCO and its Member States.  The Venerable Thero also called for the observance of an International Day of Mindfulness by the United Nations.  

Guest of Honour and Co-President of the Buddhist Union of France Antony Boussemart in his address highlighted “the universal message of Buddhism, with its emphasis on compassion, non-violence, and mindfulness”, providing “a roadmap for navigating the complexities of the modern world with grace and understanding.”

The evening’s celebrations also featured a series of captivating cultural performances, including traditional / classical dance, music and song recitals by the Permanent Delegations of Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam, Sri Lanka and the Buddha's Light International Association in France.  The performances celebrated the rich tapestry of cultural heritage and artistic expression possessed by each participating country, thus inculcating a deeper appreciation of the beauty of diverse cultural traditions.

The cultural programme was followed by a colourful reception featuring sumptuous multi-national cuisine offered by the Permanent Delegations of China, Japan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam.  Over 450 people attended the celebrations enjoying the spirit of Vesak as well as intercultural harmony.  The International Day of Vesak reaffirmed UNESCO’s commitment to promoting intercultural dialogue, mutual respect, and peaceful coexistence.

Permanent Delegation of Sri Lanka to UNESCO 
Paris, France
09 June 2024