Burmese new year, also called Thingyan (from the 13th to the 17th of April):
I had the great opportunity to attend this event in Yangon during one of my first stays there, and the less we can say about it, is that it is really impressive.
Seeing all the Burmese people participating to a gigantic water battle is not something everyone has the chance to do.
And here, there is no pity, whether you are dressed casually or in a suit, everybody pays the same price, which is watering, watering, watering until you are fully wet.
So you’d better leave all your electronic equipment at home (laptop, cell phone…) and if you need to carry your wallet around, be sure to wrap it up safely in a water tight bag cause that would be the last straw if your cash would be useless, especially in Myanmar.
So I go out of my hotel wearing a pair of jeans and a fashionable T-shirt, and I pray to be spared. I look over my left shoulder and I see a group of people throwing water at each other, on the right side then, I just see a kid with a bucket full of water.
I decide to wait wisely for a group to pass and as one would expect they are watered, as the youngster is filling his pail again, I have enough time to run through.
I walk for the few meters to the supermarket proud to be still dry (my intention was to buy some food) and suddenly I feel an awkward sensation of cold running through my body, I just got thrown a bucket full of iced water from the passenger of a car that was passing.
I understood that I had no choice but to be part of it, so I enter the shop to get myself a bucket as well and I leave the food for later.
In the end I spent the afternoon spraying people and having a lot of fun, until exhaustion.
I highly recommend you to attend at least once in your life to this awesome festival, which marks the beginning of the Buddist year, according to the lunar calendar. The ambience is just astonishing and everybody seems to be very happy.
In most countries, getting watered and watering everybody without differentiation, would most likely lead to conflicts and quarrels, but Thingyan is so anchored in Myanmar traditions and the people are so nice that it is always done with good humor.
The water is supposed to clean you from all the sins you’ve done in the past year, so that you can start the new year as pure as the snow.
The Tabaung full moon, festival happening in Mars from the new moon to the full moon :
I am lucky enough to be in Yangon when the celebrations of the Shwedagon pagoda occurred on the 26th of March 2013.
Arriving at the paya, it takes me at least five minutes to reach the top and the magnificent golden stupa. Once there, I’m already all sweaty and I pay five US dollars for the entrance fee (preferential treatment only awarded to foreigners).
I learn from a local touristic guide that it is one of the most sacred festivals in Burma.
During the month of March, most of the Myanmar temples have their own celebration for this religious revival, considered to be the most beautiful of the country.
I am also taught that this festival used to have a festive atmosphere with vendors and events all around the pagodas.
But what I notice has nothing to do with that. I can see thousands of indigenous praying, some of them even pouring some water on the hundreds of Buddha images circling the monumental Shwedagon stupa. Monks are singing and praying.
Astrologists are here too, and people are queuing up to listen to their good fortune. I am observing these age-old rituals and I feel at peace.
Ananda pagoda festival in Bagan, which generally occurs in January :
If you are in Bagan during the month of January, you shall not miss these ceremonials. It celebrates the famous Ananda pagoda, which is one of the most important in Bagan. If you want to know more about it, I recommend you to check this link http://mingalapar.com/bagan/ .
Since I am in Bagan with my old friend Florent, who dreamt of visiting Myanmar for years, we decide to take part of the festivities for the full moon.
While leaving Amazing Bagan, our hotel, we grab bikes, made available by the hotel for free and we start pedaling by night to cover the ten kilometers to Ananda.
But nothing less easy, our bicycles don’t have lights, so we ride with a flashlight in the hand in order to see in front of us, the road not being lighted at all, and to signal to the motorized vehicles on the way that we would like to stay alive.
After twenty-five minutes of an intense effort we finally reach our destination and it is simply breath taking.
In the middle of the ink black night, the pagoda appears as an oasis of light.
We leave our mount on the side of the road and start checking the dozens of stalls offering at us. We found food, beverages, handicrafts, souvenirs and everything that one would be looking for, all of that in a festive atmosphere, even if it is a bit messy.
We enter the temple and we see hundreds of people praying, there are go-ing and fro-ing everywhere.
While I enjoy a Burmese cake, Florent is bombarding the place with pictures; he will later confess that he had spent one of the most beautiful evenings of his entire life.
The lights festival, also called Tazaungdaing, in November :
I have to confess that it is one of my favorites.
It occurs during the month of November, the day of the full moon during Tazaugmone month, the 8th month in Myanmar calendar and it marks the end of the rainy season.
On this occasion, I found out that Yangon really put on its most remarkable feast fineries, and like for any other celebrations, where else to go but the Shwedagon.
On the forecourt of the temple I am witness of an unexpected robe weaving contest, one of the guides present there tells me that it started yesterday already and will continue during the night as well.
I’m not patient enough to see who will be the winner, so I wander around the stupa and I see hundreds of people presenting offerings to the monks. It looks like Christmas for them; indeed, the believers are bringing all sorts of gifts, news robes, food, toothbrushes and many more…
Then I decide to go back to the city and I am in awe when I realize that all Yangon is illuminated, numerous inhabitants are slowly walking in the streets with paper lanterns in hand, an otherworldly atmosphere reigns…
I have heard later that maybe the best place in Myanmar to attend this festival is Taunggyi where they hold a probably much more interesting hot-air-balloon contest, I may go there next year.
A Burmese wedding:
It’s not really a festival but I wanted to talk to you about it as it an essential part of the culture and it touched me.
My friend John, who leaves in Yangon for about 2 years already, invited me to his wedding with Burmese woman he met at work.
Before this day, I didn’t have the chance to met his future spouse, but I know he had the greatest difficulties to be accepted by the bride’s family.
So, I go to the celebrations that begin in the morning and in a room rented for the occasion I see my friend and his future wife magnificently dressed in a traditional Burmese outfit, offering gifts to a group of monks.
John explained me later that the intent of this tradition was to elevate their Karma but also to ask the monks for their blessing.
The date of the wedding was preliminary chosen by astrologists.
Subsequently, John took place on a cushion right next to his fiancée, a Brahman coming forward on the stage and starting to recite sentences beyond understanding for my more than limited Burmese.
The bride’s parents climb up on stage then and shake John’s hand as well as their daughter’s. Then come my friend’s parents, Elizabeth and Mike, I know them since my childhood, but they seem to be lost, the scene is quite surrealistic. Mike, moved to tears gives his son the alliance and Elizabeth gives her alliance to the bride, who bows low to show her respect.
Once the ceremonials are over, it’s time for the meal where countless dishes are served. I enjoy the food very much and I realize how lucky I am to be here, for this unique day in the life of one of my friends.
For those who would like to attend to a wedding in Myanmar, it may be possible to do so for a price, perhaps one of our dear readers would know more about it.
I remember that I was granted access to a Greek wedding in exchange of a small fee.
- IronLady, TS33, Max and 8 others like this