MYANMAR TRADITIONAL FESTIVALS
During these festival entire towns and village; take part in these events, people from all walks of life from neighbouring districts set up temporary stalls to sell the wares from their hometown and local foods. As is typical of folk events, they are usually very noisy and crowded.
Most of these festivals last a week or so, but the Ananda Temple Festival in Bagan is feted for one month. Besides the pagoda festivals in some places there are nat-pwes (spirit-festivals) out of these, Taung Pyone (near Mandalay) is the most eminent and believers in nats, especially mediums from various parts of the country congregate at Taungpyone. Full moon day of each month of Myanmar calendar has its own festive occasion. Following is the list of well known festivals (arranged chronologically) in Myanmar.
The Tagu Festival (March/April)
Tagu is the first month of the Myanmar calendar and usually it falls in March and April on the Gregorian calendar. “Thingyan”- Myanmar New Year Festival is held in Tagu, generally it falls about 13th April or environs. Thingyan was held since the Tagaung Period but it became more prominent in the Era of Bagan Dynasty.
As water symbolizes coolness , clearness and cleansing of dirt and grime, by pouring or throwing water on one another is regarded that cleanness one and all of the dirt and grime of the old year and bring coolness and pacify the minds of the people for the new year.
The most significant characteristics about Tagu is a merry making festival not only for Myanmar but also for any person who also wish to take part can enjoy the happiness just like Myanmar . Another aspect in connection with Tagu is commencing from the olden days up to the present time is during this period old and aged persons hair were washed and manicured with typical Myanmar shampoo called “Tayaw” ( acacia).
The Kason Festival(April/May)
Kason is the second Myanmar month and comes in April-May.It is also a sacred month for Myanmar Buddhists. The full-moon of Kason is a day of threefold significance:-Firstly,is the day that Buddha was born, secondly Buddha attained Enlightenment on this very day , and thirdly this is the day of his Demise. Therefore, this day is commemorated as Buddha Day by Buddhists. Kason is the last period of scorching summer season, so it is very hot. The main activity on this festival day is pouring water at the Bodhi Tree. Pouring clean and cool water on the Bodhi Tree is done as a symbol of veneration to the Buddha who attained Enlightenment by meditating under the Bodhi Tree.
The Nayon Festival (May/June)
Nayon is the third month in the Myanmar calendar, in summer, and fall in May-June. With the aims of propagation the Buddhism, especially Pariyatti Sasana the practice of holding examinations in religious scriptures in Nayon was held in the second Innwa period, when King Thalun reigned.
Nowadays, the State sponsored Examination were held every year for Pahtamabyan, Dhamma Cariya, Abhidhama, Visudi Magga and Tipitaka .Titles and Certificates for the flourishing of the Theravada Buddhism presentations of prizes and certificates are conferred on the Sayadaw, revered monks and nuns every year. Moreover, in commemoration of Lord Buddha’s preaching of Maha Samaya Sutta to celestial beings from ten thousand solar systems, Maha Sayama Day was also observed in this month .
The Waso Festival (June/July)
Waso is the fourth month in Myanmar calendar falling between June and July which is partially summer and partially rainy seasons. The full-moon day of Waso is very significant, because this is the day Buddha was conceived, the day that He renounced the worldly pleasure , and the very day that He preached the first sermon of Dhamma Cakka and the day that He performed the miracles of super natural powers.
The day also marks the beginning of the Buddhist lent of three months when members of Sangha go into the rains retreat. A significant and meritorious deed of Buddhists in Waso is offering robes to members of the Sangha for use during the lent, and so these robes are called Waso robes. Moreover, there is a practice of young men and women going on outings of gathering flowers to be offered at Buddha images at pagodas and at homes.
The Wagaung Festival (July/August)
It is the fifth Myanmar month. It is in July-August, wet days of torrential rains, when rivers are in spate. In the time of Buddha, when the lord was staying at Weluwun Monastery in Yazagyo, some disciples supplicated to him the matter of individual disciples having some difficulty to donate meals and alms for all the Sangha at the monastery at the same time, whereupon Buddha laid down a way of disciples drawing lots to determine which monk to offer meals and alms.
The Tawthalin Festival (August/September)
Tawthalin is the sixth month in Myanmar calendar (August- September). Tawthalin being around September, the sun’s path is approaching the equator so that it one of the times when the location of the country ( between 10 N and 28 31’N) places its on the belt nearest to the sun. Therefore the dark, weeping clouds are often swept away to be overtaken by bright and clear skies reflected in the smooth vast expanse of the flooded fields and rivers, accented by stately palmyra showing off serried ranks of sun-ripened shiny jet-black fruits.
sometimes continuous days of sunshine warms the water in the paddy fields so much that another saying connected with this month says ” The sun in Tawthalin kills off land crabs “. As there is no rain and not windy, the surfaces of water in the rivers are very still and smooth, it is figuratively compared as smooth as the mats used in Myanmar houses. Thus, in ancient times, during the reign of Myanmar kings it has been a tradition to hold regatta festivals due to favorable weather conditions.
While the regatta was in procession, the king surrounded by his entourage watched the event from his royal barge called “Pyi Gyi Mon Barge”. Regattas were held not only for fun but also as a test for improving the skills of the Royal Marines. The flower of the month is the fragrant “Yin Mar”, blooming in sprays of pale yellow blossoms with red -tinged stalks on the tree Chukrassia tabularis, the tawny golden hardwood from which is ideal for carving and turney.
The Thadingyut Festival (September/October)
Thadingyut is the seventh Myanmar month in (September- October) towards the end of rainy season. Lord Gautama Buddha preached The Abhidamma to His reincarnated mother in Tavatimsa , abode of celestial beings for three Lenten months and returned to the abode of men on the full- moon day of Thadingyut .
The King of the celestials created three stairways, gold, silver and ruby for him. Buddha took the middle ruby stairways radiating six hues of aura. The celestials came along by the right gold stairways and the brahmas by the left silver stairways . On account of that, Myanmar Buddhists celebrate Tavatimsa Festival on the full-moon day of Thadingyut by lighting multi-coloured illuminations. For the Sangha it is the time known as Pawayana, which means inviting, entreating, urging. In practice, since the times of the Buddha, it is to beg on another monks for forgiveness of any deed that might have displeased any other among Sangha. Like wise, there is also the practice among the laity of paying obeisance to parents and elders.
The Thazaungmone Festival (October/November)
It is the eighth Myanmar month ( in October-November) time for offering of Kathina, Matho Thingan , Panthagu offering , lotus offering and lighting . Kathina monk’s robes are offered at this particular time of the year. It is held most communally . In connection with the offerings of monk’s robes for a Buddhist , the donation of this kathina robe at this particular time is regarded as the most meritorious , as the monk who received this robe was chosen in accordance with the unanimous decision of Sangha after the plenary session of Sangha were held . There is also a practice of eating salads of Mezali leaves with the belief that it is medicinal if it was taken at this special time (i.e. at mid- night ) on the full-moon day of Tazaungmon .
The Nadaw Festival(November/December)
It is the ninth month in Myanmar calendar at the onset of the cool season, with misty mornings in November-December.In ancient times, the seasonal festival was offerings of Nats, but this tradition had vanished in 1885. In the year 1944, a special kind of festival emerged, i.e. a celebration in honour of the literati (Sarsodaw). In the history of Myanmar literature, a day which is dedicated to U Pon Nya, who was a very famous, prominent and renowned writer, post and playwright in Konbaung Dynasty was held annually in this month. So, the present Sarsodaw or literati day has some connections with this past event. At the present day, it is the time for presentation of National Awards by the State for the writers, poets and translators in various fields for their talented and superb tasks.
The Pyatho Festival (December/January)
It is the tenth month in Myanmar calendar during the cool season (December-January). Pyatho, formerly was a time when Myanmar royalty displayed its strength with military parades. Nowadays, however, this particular period is reserved mostly for local pagoda festivals. During the reign of Myanmar kings it was the month for the equestrian festival held for virtually the whole month. Indeed, this festival is closely related with military affairs or martial arts, because various kinds of competetions in horsemanship, sword fighting, lancing, bowman-ship and manoeuvring with elephants are involved. Indeed it is an occasion to select heroes for the defence of the country. A few major paya-pwes (pagoda festival) are held in Pyatho. The famous Ananda Temple festival of Bagan falls at this time.
The Tabodwe Festival(January/February)
Tabodwe is the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar, as this is the last period of cool season it is very cold, in January and February. The month of Tabodwe is the harvest festival, all the products of the farm and garden go in to make ”htamane”a concoction of glutinous rice, sessamum seeds, peanuts, shredded coconut, flavoured with ginger and mixed with cook oil.
Tamane feast is either celebrated communally or done just in the private circle of family and friends. The nature of the feast is such that, in whatever way the feast is celebrated, it means a big gathering because many hands are needed. In a communal feast people come around with contributions of glutinous rice and other ingredients. It is an option though; one can just give his service, if not anything else.
The Tabaung Festival (February/March)
It is the twelfth Myanmar month and the last month in the Myanmar calendar and usually falls in February-March. It is the time of transition from the cold to the hot season. It get hotter during day time while the mercury drops down at night , so that a saying comments ” Hot days and chilly nights, making way ward Tabaung month”.
Meanwhile, deciduous trees lose their foliage to be taken over by tender leaf-buds, their waxen glossiness contrasting against the delicate tracery of twigs and branches. Gossamer clouds drift over clear blue skies and streams and rivers have changed over from their rolling boisterous role in monsoon to a sedate , limpid demureness in accordance with their losses in volume and rates of flow. Thus, it is no wonder that poets through the ages have waxed eloquent in praising the scenic beauty associated with this month. With the fall in the water levels of rivers and streams, sand banks appear on this pristine sand.
In the ancient times of Myanmar Royalty, as there were a lot of splendid sand banks emerged during this period and as the weather is very pleasant and favorable for recreation . The king , queens and their entourage surrounded by guards went to these lovely sand banks in the rivers and create Stupas which are made glittering white sand.
The raising of stupas made of sand and festivities surrounding this activity used to be a prominent feature of this month. This consisted basically of moulding river sand into the shape of a stupa using concentric rings of bamboo matting or rattan cane to form the outline and decorating with various religious motifs such as pennants, banners, real and artificial flowers.
Today, this festivity is to much more likely to be celebrated in song and literature rather than in actual fact. Now, the practice is on the wane, except in some cities and towns in upper part of Myanmar., but the time is still held sacred for holding of Buddha Pujayanti ceremonies, that is , occasionally for rededication of the pagodas. The most salient fact about this very month is that most of the prominent Paya-pwes ( Pagoda Festivals) are held during this month, for instance, Shwedagon Pagoda Festival at Yangon ( Capital City of Myanmar ).