With the month of Vesak having approached us, the entire island has been adorned in a décor of Buddhist flags, Vesak lanterns, buckets and lights. Buddhist disciples, both young and old, are hustling along the streets to shop for Vesak lanterns and most of the streets in Colombo are filled with stalls and tents selling lanterns. The lantern sellers not only lighten up their lives during the month of Vesak by making Vesak lanterns and selling them, but in this process they help lighten up the hearts and homes of the many Buddhists and believers of other religions who purchase these lanterns to celebrate Vesak. But all good things must come to an end, and eventually, Vesak will be over and soon it will be time for the lantern stalls to pack up. After Vesak, how will these people make ends meet? Is the month of Vesak the only time they make some money? What would a day in their life be like? Do they share the happiness they bring to Buddhists everywhere through their lanterns?
The Daily Mirror scoured through the busy streets of Colombo, speaking to the lantern sellers amidst throngs of people including little children and their parents choosing lanterns to take home. Many claimed that selling lanterns during Vesak was not enough to keep them going for the r
est of the year, and in order to make ends meet, they have to engage in full time jobs as well. Some of them said that times were hard and they barely managed and Vesak brought them an opportunity to earn a little extra. We also met some happy go lucky people who were doing it as a hobby and for the immense satisfaction that it brought them by displaying their Vesak lanterns. Requests were made out to the government to issue permits for Vesak stalls ahead of time so they could get their stalls ready on time. All in all, what was common among every person we spoke to was that no matter how hard up they seemed to be, they all embraced the spirit of Vesak and said that they planned to continue selling lanterns even in the future no matter how hard times get, in the true faith of Buddhism.
“I have been making Vesak lanterns and selling them since my childhood”
My brothers, uncles,everyone in the family gets involved. Compared to last year, this year business has been successful. We make our own lanterns and sell them.To open up shop on time, We have to start working by January. This takes about 5 to 6 months. But the money I earn is barely enough to survive. So I have to do a permanent job. I am also engaged in the steel business. I do this every year to earn some extra money.
“Compared to last year, this year’s sales look better”
Last year there were floods. We buy these lanterns from some others who make them and keeping a profit, we sell the lanterns at a reasonable price.We open up stalls and sell Vesak lanterns during the month of May. For the rest of the year, I stay at home. I don’t do any job.
“Making Vesak lanterns brings me immense happiness”
This year, business is fairly good. Last year the rains affected the sale of Vesak lanterns but so far so good, this year. I have been doing this for 4 years. My whole family gets involved in it. I work in a company. I just sell Vesak lanterns for fun every year. I really enjoy doing it. Every year, before selling my lanterns I donate some of my lanterns to my neighbourhood temple. Making Vesak lanterns brings me immense happiness and that is why I’m doing this.
People are not financially sound; how can they afford to celebrate Vesak?
Business is not progressing so well this year. Right after avurudhu, it’s Vesak. People spend a lot during the season. Since all the holidays fall close to one another, people find it hard to cope with all the expenses. People are not financially sound. So how can they afford to celebrate Vesak? I have been doing this for 5 years. I won’t lie, but back then the business was good. But with the prices of items rising alarmingly, nobody is in a position to spend as they wish to. It is absurd staying all night and keeping the stall open. So we close around 11.30 pm.
“Still premature to predict profits from sale of lanterns”
I make my own lanterns. Every detail down to the bamboo and crafted paper were results of our own labour and efforts. To finish one lantern, it normally takes 4 hours. So we put a lot of heart into what we do. This year business has been good. I can’t still say anything about the profit because we have some more days to go until Vesak and we haven’t sold all our lanterns. During rains, lanterns get perished then we have to make up for the loss. Apart from this, I do painting and designing work. For Vesak I take a break and commit myself to this stall to add some money for living.
Business is pretty dull this year
Last year of course business went down because of the floods. This year, I don’t know what the reason is. I buy lanterns on wholesale from people who make and sell them. I only do this during Vesak. There are people who open stalls for New Year and Christmas. Obviously the money we earn by selling lanterns will not keep us going for long. We have to do jobs to survive. During Vesak I spend some time to do this.
“I don’t buy from elsewhere, I sell my own lanterns”
So far, selling Vesak lanterns has been successful. For now, I have managed to sell 300 Vesak lanterns. I sell my own lanterns, that is to say I’m the one who makes these lanterns. I don’t buy from elsewhere. To be able to complete Vesak lanterns for my stall by May, I have to start making them from January. We have to rent out tents to open up shop and we require a permit from the Municipality to do this. The problem is we don’t get the permit on time. So my request to the government is to enable us to get the permit ahead of time, so we can do better in our businesses and display our skill through the lanterns. My problem is the limited time, not money.