HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS IN MYANMAR
Thingyan, the water festival, marks the advent of the new year in mid-April. Buddha images are washed, and monks are offered alms. It is also marked by dousing people with water and festive behavior such as dancing, singing, and theatrical performances. Kason in May celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and entrance into nirvana. The day includes the ceremonial watering of banyan trees to commemorate the banyan tree under which Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. A ceremony is held in July to mark the start of the three-month lenten period and commemorate Buddha's first sermon. It is at this time that young males become novices. Lent is a period of spiritual retreat for monks, who remain in their monasteries. During this time people may not marry. Lent ends in October. Over a three-day period, candles, oil lamps, paper lanterns, and electric bulbs are lit to show how angels lit Buddha's return from heaven. Many marriages are held at this time. A celebration is held in November to produce new garments for monks and Buddha images. People come to complete the production of the cloth within a single day.
Public Holidays (2012); January 4, Independence Day; January 5, Kayin New Year; February 12, Union Day; March 2, Peasants Day; March 19, Full Moon Day of Tabaung; March 27, Armed Forces Day; April 12- 21, New Year Holidays; April 12 - 16, Thingyan Water Festival; April 17, Myanmar New Year Day; May 1, Workers’ Day; May 17, Kason Watering Festival - Full Moon Day of Kason; July 15, Dhammasakyar Day - Full Moon Day of Second Waso; July 19, Martyr's Day; October 12, Abhidhamma Day - Full Moon Day of Thadingyut; November 10, Tazaungdine Festival - Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone; December 1, National Day; Decembe 25r, Christmas Day.
The major state holidays are Independence Day (January 4), Union Day (February 12), Peasants' Day (March 2), Resistance or Armed Forces Day (March 27), May Day or Workers' Day (May 1), Martyr's Day (July 19), and National Day (late November or early December). These are occasions for the regime to promote nationalist sentiments, and some are accompanied by festive events. Independence was declared on January 4, 1948). Union Day marks the Panglong Conference, in which an agreement was made between Burma’s minorities, on February 12, 1947. Armed Forces Day, according to The New Yorker , has traditionally been an opportunity for generals to speechify and goose-step their men through the city. (The opposition once renamed it Fascist Resistance Day.)
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Full Moon Day of Tabaung, the four-day Thingyan (Water Festival), Buddhist New Year’s Day, the Full Moon Day of Kason, the Full Moon Day of Waso, the Full Moon Day of Thadinkyut, the Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone, and Christmas. Government newspapers generally announce the dates for Diwali and Bakri Eid, and both banks and government offices close on those dates.
Burmese have a penchant for theater and festivals. Most festivals called pwe in Myanmar are related to religion and quite often, they are carried out under the patronage of a pagoda or a pagoda trustee committee. Since long time ago, most of the famous pagodas in Myanmar had their paya-pwes (pagoda-festivals) during winter and usually most are celebrated in the month of Tabaung (March). Pagoda festivals are literally glilttering affairs.
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 Pagan 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 Burmese have their own calendar: The year 2004 on the Western calendar was 1365 on the Burmese calendar. New Year (Thingyan) is in April, more than a months after the New Year in other Asian countries, which usually celebrate their traditional New Year in mid February. The Burmese calendar subscribes to both the solar and lunar months. thus requiring an intercalary 30-day 13th month every second or third year. Therefore. the full moon days may change from one month to another in the usual calendar. The Myanmar months and the respective festivals are as follows.
The Burmese calendar (also called Burmese Era (BE) or Myanmar Era (ME)) is a lunisolar calendar in which the months are based on lunar months and years are based on solar years. The calendar is largely is based on an older version of the Hindu calendar though unlike the Indian systems, it employs a 19-year Metonic cycle. The calendar therefore has to reconcile the sidereal years of the Hindu calendar with Metonic cycle's tropical years by adding intercalary months and days on irregular intervals. [Source: Wikipedia + ]
The calendar has been used continuously in various Burmese states since its launch in A.D. 640 in Sri Ksetra Kingdom. It was also used as the official calendar in other mainland Southeast Asian kingdoms of Arakan, Lan Na, Xishuangbanna, Lan Xang, Siam, and Cambodia down to the late 19th century. Today, the calendar is used only in Myanmar as the traditional civil calendar, alongside the Buddhist calendar. It is still used to mark traditional holidays such as the Burmese New Year, and other traditional festivals, many of which are Burmese Buddhist in nature. +
Origin of the Burmese Calendar
The Burmese chronicles trace the origin of the Burmese calendar to ancient India with the introduction of Kali Yuga Era in 3102 B.C.. That seminal calendar is said to have been recalibrated by King Añjana , the maternal grandfather of the Buddha in 691 B.C.. That calendar in turn was recalibrated and replaced by the Buddhist Era with the starting year of 544 B.C.. The Buddhist Era came to be adopted in the early Pyu city-states by the beginning of the Common Era. Then in A.D. 78 a new era called Maha-sakaraj Era (also called Sakra Era or Saka Era) was launched in India. Two years later, the new era was adopted in the Pyu state of Sri Ksetra, and the era later spread to the rest of the Pyu states. The chronicles continue that the Pagan Kingdom at first followed the prevailing Maha-sakaraj but in A.D. 640. King Popa Sawrahan (r. 613–640) recalibrated the calendar, named the new era Kawza Thekkarit, with a Year Zero starting date of 22 March A.D. 638. It was used as the civil calendar while the Buddhist Era remained in use as the religious calendar. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Scholarship accepts the chronicle narrative regarding the North Indian origin of the calendar and the chronology of adoption in Burma up to the Maha-sakaraj Era. Recent research suggests that the Gupta Era (Epochal year of A.D. 320) may also have been in use in the Pyu states.[note 1] Mainstream scholarship however holds that the recalibrated calendar was launched at Sri Ksetra, and later adopted by the upstart principality of Pagan. +
The calendar fell out of the official status in several mainland Southeast Asian kingdoms in the second half of the 19th century with the arrival of the European colonialism. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Burmese calendar in Cambodia in 1863, Burma in 1885 and Laos in 1889. In 1889, the only remaining independent kingdom in Southeast Asia, Siam, also replaced the Burmese calendar and switched to the Gregorian calendar as the official civil calendar and Ratanakosin Era (with A.D. 1782 as Year 1) as the traditional lunisolar calendar. Today, the calendar is used purely for cultural and religious festivals in Myanmar. Thailand has moved on to its own version of Buddhist calendar since 1941 although the Chulasakarat era dates remain the most commonly used and preferred form of entry by the academia for historical studies. The Chittagong Magi-San calendar, identical to the Arakanese calendar, is still used by certain ethnic minorities of Bangladesh. +
Days, Months and Years on the Burmese Calendar
The Burmese calendar recognizes two types of day: astronomical and civil. The mean Burmese astronomical day is from midnight to midnight, and represents 1/30th of a synodic month or 23 hours, 37 minutes and 28.08 seconds. The civil day comprises two halves, the first half beginning at sunrise and the second half at sunset. In practice, four points of the astronomical and civil day (sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight) were used as reference points. The civil day is divided into 8 baho) (3 hours) or 60 nayi) (24 minutes), each baho equaling 7.5 nayi. In the past, a gong) was struck every nayi while a drum) and a large bell, were struck to mark every baho. The civil week consists of seven days. It was also customary to denote the week of the day with by its preassigned numerical value between zero and six. The names Taninganwe (Sunday) and Taninla (Monday) are derived from Old Burmese but the rest from Sanskrit. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The calendar recognizes two types of months: synodic month and sidereal month. The Synodic months are used to compose the years while the 27 lunar sidereal days; from Sanskrit nakshatra), alongside the 12 signs of the zodiac, are used for astrological calculations. (The calendar also recognizes a solar month called Thuriya Matha, which is defined as 1/12th of a year. But the solar month varies by the type of year such as tropical year, sidereal year, etc.) The days of the month are counted in two halves, waxing. and waning. The 15th of the waxing is the civil full moon day. The civil new moon day, is the last day of the month (14th or 15th waning). The mean and real (true) New Moons rarely coincide. The mean New Moon often precedes the real New Moon. +
As the Synodic lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, the calendar uses alternating months of 29 and 30 days. The 29-day months are called yet-ma-son la , and the 30-day months are called yet-son la . Unlike in other Southeast Asian traditions, the Burmese calendar uses Burmese names for the month names. Although the names sound foreign in origin to modern Burmese ears, all but three are derived from Old Burmese. The three exceptions—Mleta/Myweta, Nanka , Thantu —which all fall during the Buddhist Lent, have been replaced by newer Burmese names (Waso, Wagaung, Thadingyut), which used to mean just the Full Moon days of the three months. +
The calendar recognizes three types of astronomical year: tropical year, sidereal year and anomalistic year The Burmese calendar is a lunisolar calendar in which the months are based on lunar months and years are based on solar years. One of its primary objectives is to regulate the lunar part that it will keep pace with the solar part. The lunar months, normally twelve of them, consist alternately of 29 days and 30 days, such that a normal lunar year will contain 354 days, as opposed to the solar year of ~365.25 days. Therefore some form of addition to the lunar year (of intercalation) is necessary. The overall basis for it is provided by cycles of 57 years. Eleven extra days are inserted in every 57 years, and seven extra months of 30 days are inserted in every 19 years (21 months in 57 years). This provides 20819 complete days to both calendars. +
As such, the calendar adds an intercalary month in leap years, and sometimes also an intercalary day in great leap years. The intercalary month not only corrects the length of the year but also corrects the accumulating error of the month to extent of half a day. The average length of the month is further corrected by adding a day to Nayon at irregular intervals—a little more than seven times in two cycles (39 years). The intercalary day is never inserted except in a year which has an intercalary month. The Hindu calendar inserts an intercalary month at any time of year as soon as the accumulated fractions amount to one month. The Burmese calendar however always inserts the intercalary month at the same time of the year, after the summer solstice while the Arakanese calendar inserts it after the vernal equinox. +
The actual calendar year (Wawharamatha Hnit, consists of 354, 384 or 385 days. The calendar used to employ a 12-year Jovian cycle that redeployed the lunar month names and attached them to the years. The Burmese cycle is not the more familiar Jovian cycle of India with 60 years in it. The practice existed in the Pagan period but had died out by the 17th century. It still exists in Thailand and Cambodia with the same names. +
Lifecycle Events in Myanmar
The Burmese love ceremonies and feasts and host them when ever they can afford, or even when they can’t afford it, driving themselves into debt. Births, engagements and marriages are considered to be auspicious occasions or tha ye (tha yei) while sickness and death fall into nga ye (na yei), or sad occasions.
From the time of birth until an individual becomes an adults, Burmese celebrate 12 auspicious occasions. Among these are becoming a monk and getting married.
When a woman has given birth it is usual for her friends and colleagues to give gifts such as feeding bottles and clothes. Gifts should never be given before the baby’s birth as some women are superstitious that this will bring misfortune to the baby. When the baby is 100 days old. a name-giving ceremony is usually held. Monks will be invited to chant prayers and bless the baby and in turn meals will be offered to all participants. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]
Monk Initiation Ceremony
Shinbyu, or the monk initiation ceremony, a rite that mimics the Buddha’s renunciation of secular life and marks transition from worldly to spiritual, is an important rite of passage for young boys. After a feast hosted by his family the boy's head is shaved. He is then given a robe and it is off to the monetary for several weeks or months.
In Myanmar, boys undergoing initiation are introduced to the tenets of Buddhism during a feast that includes bitter bean soup and pork curry for as many as 700 guests. The Shinbyu ritual begins in the morning, when the boy is dressed up in a white robe and gilded crown and is made the center of attention. In the afternoon he and all of the other boys going through the ceremony are taken to a monastery where they are dressed in saffron robes and have their heads shaved.
At the initiation ceremony for novice monks at Shwe Dagon Pagoda, boys between six and ten don silk clothes, golden rhinestone-encrusted crowns and yoke-like shoulder plates and then begin a week or more of special religious training.
The ceremony of ordination and novitiation is one of the noblest ceremonies for Buddhists in Myanmar. It has traditionally been held in Waso month, the fourth month in Myanmar calendar which coincide during July and August and the rainy season in much of Myanmar. Becoming a Buddhist novice involves three steps: 1) shaving the hair, 2) wearing the robe and 3) believing in Buddha. A key part or a monk’s training is studying the Dhamma (Dharma)—the Teaching of Buddha.[Source: Myanmar Travel Information **]
Of the three steps shaving the hair and wearing the robe are straight forward enough. It is more difficult to ascertain a belief in Buddha. As it is difficult to pronounce the Dhamma chants perfectly a novice has to study and practice them for at least one month ahead of initiation ceremony. In the ceremony the novice has to correctly ask for the robe from the presiding monk and properly pronounce the “Three Venerables” with correct syntax in the Pali language. **
Buddhists in Myanmar believe that if their sons have been initiated into novice-hood at least once in their life their parents will not suffer in hell in their next life. Males have become novice monks are regarded as men in a more noble life and thus should be accorded proper respect. These days, Nowadays in Myanmar, the ceremonies of ordination and novitiation are often held especially in the hot months between March and May. **
See Monk Initiations Under Monks, Religion
Weekdays, Birthdays and Names in Myanmar
According to Myanmar traditional astronomy, there are eight days in a week as opposed to seven days in the internationally accepted calendar. In the Myanmar calendar, the eighth day is added in the middle of the week where 'Wednesday evening' is named "Yahu". However, Yahu is not considered as a significant day of week and thus not included on many official calendars. Because the pagodas in Theravada Buddhism are cone-shaped, they form a circle at the base. But the platform of a pagoda is nominally set apart into eight directions, as if it were octagonal, with each direction dedicated to each day of the week as mentioned above. [Source: Myanmar.cm]
Each day of the week can be represented with Myanmar zodiac sign: 1) Monday born- Tiger; 2) Tuesday born- Lion, Myanmar Mythical Creature; 3) Wednesday born in the morning and afteroon - Elephant without a tusk; 4) Wednesday born in the evening- Elephant with a tusk; 5) Thursday born - Mouse; 6) Friday born - Guinea Pig; 7) Saturday born - Dragon, Myanmar Mythical Creature; 8) Sunday born - Garuda Bird, Myanmar Mythical Creature, Ga Lone.
Maung Ba Kaung wrote in her blog: “Myanmar names could be chosen from various types of form; some choose only one single word name, and since four words names are no longer uncommon, but still two words or three words names are mostly preferable by typical Myanmar families. In general, one single word could be one syllable, but there are still a lot of outstanding single words composed into more than one syllable with beautiful meanings. For example, Single words with one syllable are Thant, Win,Tun,...etc; Single words with two syllables are Nanda, Oakar, Ohmar,…etc. Basically the first syllable represents the day of the week that the person was born. Therefore, one could easily find out which day of the week that the person was born just by knowing the name in majority. For example, The first syllable, Tun, of the name “Tun Ba Kaung” represents Saturday born. [Source: Maung Ba Kaung, bakaung.blogspot July 14, 2008]
There are numerical values for days of the week in addition to signs. The value starts with one for Sunday and increments each day.
Zar Tar (Burmese Astrological Record Keeping)
According to Myanmar.cm: “Zartar is a type of record keeping of salient facts about persons at the time of their birth. It includes such things as the date and time of delivery, the astrological features at that time, the names of the parents and the name for that person given by the astrologer. The term 'Zartar' is derived from the Pali word 'Zati', which means "birth." [Source: Myanmar.cm ~]
“But zartar is also applied in documenting certain important events and in setting out specifications of buildings and structures. A zartar is usually made of palm leaf, on which the astrological readings are inscribed or etched with a stylus. After that, the whole piece is rubbed lightly with crude oil, which makes the material insect-proof while giving it a beautiful golden hue with the words standing out in contrast. It can also be made of other materials such as ivory, marble or bamboo depending on the choice of the user. In the National Museum in Yangon has a zartar made of gold, marking the coronation of King Mindon. ~
“Zartar used to play an important role in a person's life as Myanmar people believe the timing, day, date and astronomical signs associated with a person at birth have great influence on the life of that person. For example, each day of the week is designated with a symbolic animal and a person born on a particular day tends to possess certain characteristics: Sunday-borns are usually vain; Monday-borns make ready money; and Tuesday-borns have sweet disposition. Moreover, the names of persons born on a particular day may have some similarity in bearing one of a group of letters from the alphabet. ~
Finally, there are seven birth signs included in the zartar depending on the day and year of birth, which are believed to have influence on one's fate. They are: Adhipadhi, sign of fame; Ahtun, sign of brilliance; Thike, sign of wealth; Raza, sign of glory; Marana, sign of weakness; Bingha, sign of unrest, and Puti, sign of failure.
According to Countries and Their Cultures: “Feasting and sharing food are an important feature of traditional agricultural and religious rites. Often special foods are prepared for those occasions. Htamane, which is served during the rice harvest festival February, is made of glutinous rice mixed with sesame seeds, peanuts, shredded ginger, and coconut. Alcoholic beverages are drunk during some secular festivities but are not drunk during most religious festivals. In urbanized areas, commercial beer and other forms of alcohol are consumed, while in more remote rural areas, locally made alcohol is more common. Alcoholic drinks are made from fermented palm juice and a distilled rice-based solution. Fermented grain-based alcoholic drinks are more commonly consumed among highland groups.” [Source:Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]
Describing a Burmese served up for him at a Burmese restaurant in the U.S., Ben wrote in his blog Chowtime.com: “The first course is called the Lahpet Thoke. This is something you could sometimes get at Bo Laksa. In English it is called the Burmese Tea Leaves Salad. This was a lovely start. The pickled tea leaves to make this is from the hilly plateau of the Shan state in north east Burma. This dish is uniquely Burmese and is one of the national dish. It is customary that this salad is served with tea when greeting visitors. The salad has fried soy beans which gives this salad the crunch. Other ingredients include tomato, chili, dried shrimps, preserved ginger and dressed with peanut oil. This is an amazing salad … it is crunchy, lightly sour and tasted nutty. On the side are raw garlic cloves and Thai chili padi. We were told that the traditional way to eat this is to eat the salad alternating with biting a small piece of the raw garlic … and the really hot chili. The raw garlic and the chili gives the salad an extra kick.[Source: Ben, Chowtime.com September 07, 2010 |||]
“The Pepper Corn Glass Noodle Soup does not look like much if I must say. I mean, it does … look like a jumble of ingredients which took us a while to figure out what it is. It has shredded chicken, cloud ear fungus, fresh lily flower bud and lots of cracked peppers. The flavor of this dish is light with the lily flower bud giving it a little crunch in texture. The freshly cracked black peppers give this otherwise light dish a little heat. BTW, did you know that black pepper originated from India. This is why black peppers are one of the common ingredients in Burmese cuisine. Bo said that this dish is also from the Shan state and is served in special occasions like a wedding or in celebration of the new year. Oh … in Burma, weddings are celebrated for 7 days and 7 nights … with lots of eating. I would love to attend a Burmese style wedding for sure. |||
“The Pork Curry with Butter Rice is something I had tasted several times at Bo’s already. I remember I had this several rounds during the Burmese Water Festival and was by far the best dish I had during that event. The butter rice was introduced by the British from India. A lot of the cooking in Burma is influenced by India … more so than their other East Asian neighbours such as China, Thailand and Laos. The butter rice is another popular food served during wedding celebrations. The butter rice was great with the pork curry. It is sinfully delicious and packed with spices. |||
“This is called the Nge Bie. This is a platter of blanched or baked vegetables which include egg plant, water spinach, green jack fruit, bitter melon, lady finger and winged bean. It seems like many tables did not quite finish this. Maybe it is because of the way it looked but Suanne and I like it. The Pork Curry with Butter Rice goes really well with Nge Bie. Well, I say that the legumes balances up the BUTTER rice and the PORK curry. The vegetables is eaten with a fermented prawn paste which is very salty and pungent. |||
“This dish is billed as the star of the night. This is called Curry Hilsha Fish Egg. The fish eggs are imported from Burma. Bo told us that this fish egg has to be prepared very precisely. He said that all the veins here must be removed carefully. Otherwise it will be fatal to people with high blood pressure. He said people can drop dead eating this adding “no kidding”. I couldn’t believe it but Bo did not blink his eyes when he said that. LOL! I carefully inspected the fish egg for veins. There was none that I could see. The fish eggs was dryish. Bo said that this had to be salted and dried before they are shipped to Vancouver. So yeah, it could have been better if it was fresh, soft and creamy. |||
“Bo’s version of the Spicy Crab is prepared with tumeric and Burmese Masala. Some people were heard commenting that the crab was rather small. Yeah, that is the most common thing people will say about crabs, the size of it. Despite the size, the crab was good. It leaves a lingering spiciness in the mouth. The night ended with a dessert called Shwe Yin Aye. It is made of agar-agar, sago, tapioca pearl and served in coconut milk. |||
“The national beverage of Burma is the Burmese Tea. This is also from the Shan state. I am begining to wonder if the Shan state is the culinary capital of the Burmese cuisine. The tea is strong, really strong and is served with condensed milk and sugar. You know, I can’t drink coffee or tea after 3PM everyday. If I do, I can’t sleep. Here I am being presented a super strong tea at about 9PM. I had to drink it. That night, I slept at 4AM. Suanne can’t sleep too. Bo shipped a whole box of the tea and sold it to us for $5. The regular price is $12. Most of us bought one. |||
Myanmar Traditional Festivals
Full Moon Days in the traditional lunar calender are celebrated every month. Many major Buddhist holidays are linked to these full moon days. Numerous local festivals, hill tribe celebrations and other events are held throughout the year at various locations. Pagoda festivals are also held at various pagodas throughout the year. Burmese equivalents of western fun fairs, these events feature food stalls, toy shops, shops with consumer goods, magic shows, puppet shows and dramas. Different ethnic groups have their own New year celebrations.
Describing a festival in Putao, perhaps Myanmar’s remotest town, Jamie James wrote in Natural History magazine, “ This country fair consisted mainly of dart-throwing gambling games, booths selling beer and fried snacks, and karaoke. The chief attraction was a performance by an inept rock band, Claptonian noodling laid over a thumping pop rhythm of bass and drums. Yosep Kokae was there with his wife; Khun Kyaw and his compadres were flirting with the girls, boasting about their adventure. Perhaps 500 people milled about watching the show. Outside Burma it might have been accounted a pretty poor festival, but after my trip to Rat Baw it seemed like a jubilant saturnalia.”[Source: Jamie James, Natural History magazine, June 2008]
Rice Festivals in Myanmar
The Htamane (glutinous rice) cooking festival is a traditional event in Myanmar that occurs around the Full Moon Day of the lunar month of Tabodwe. which usually falls in late January or early February. During the festival. glutinous rice is crushed and kneaded before it is mixed with other ingredients in huge iron vats using big paddles. The first portion of this delicacy is offered to Lord Buddha and Buddhist monks. while participants in the ceremony and onlookers share what is left over. In some areas of the country a dobat (traditional drum music) troupe performs to encourage the htamane makers. =
Glutinous rice is cleaned and soaked in water for about two hours. Meanwhile, a makeshift fireplace is built by placing the bricks in a triangle on a cleared plot of ground. The firewood is lit under the bricks and the large iron bowl is placed on top. Peanut oil is then poured into the bowl and allowed to heat. The grated coconut is fried in the oil, with care taken not to overcook it. When the coconut is finished it is removed from the bowl and the oil is drained from it. Then peanuts and sliced ginger are fried and the oil is drained from them as well. All the fried ingredients are placed on a plate and set aside. Half the cooking oil used to fry the ingredients is removed from the iron bowl and set aside. The soaked glutinous rice is placed into the iron bowl with the remaining cooking oil. =
At this point. two strong young men wearing loincloths step forward with their paddles and begin kneading, crushing and stirring the htamane with great vigour, encouraged by the shouts and cheers of onlookers. Salt is sprinkled over the rice during this process, which is overseen by the head chef, who directs the men with the paddles to ensure that the rice is well-crushed and the oil and salt are spread throughout the mixture. After about 30 minutes of stirring most of the fried coconut, peanuts and ginger are added to the mix. However, a small amount of the fried ingredients are kept to the side to be sprinkled over the htamane before eating. When the glutinous rice has been thoroughly mixed and cooked, the giant iron bowl is removed from the fire. The big lump of htamane is placed on a wood or metal tray covered with banana leaves that have been rubbed with edible oil, and allowed to cool. Then the delicacy is served on the banana leaves and enjoyed by all. Meanwhile. the festivities are continued by placing the iron bowl back on the fire so that the next team of cooks and stirrers can make a new batch. =
Steamed glutinous rice is well-known as Kauk Hnyin Paung in Myanmar. The seventh lunar month of Thadingyut (October) is a month of many events. It is the time when the southwest monsoon starts to say good-bye to our country after delivering precious showers of rain to our 22 million acres of land under cultivation every year. Thadingyut marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the cold season, signaling farmers to prepare themselves for busy days ahead, tending the ripening fields and the harvest of the precious golden crop. Endless stretches of gold touch the far horizons, undulating as the winds kiss their heavy laden grains, justifying the reputation of the wealth of the golden land and its smiling people. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]
Autumn is the season when the harvest yields fresh grains of numerous varieties of rice. Farmers used to offer the first crop to the guardian spirits for the bounty and pray for good fortune ahead. Today, special festivals for eating the new harvest are organized by the elders in accompaniment with traditional dances to propitiate the gods and please the community. =
Thingyan , a four day festival that ushers in the Burmese New Year, is the biggest holiday of the year in Myanmar. It usually begins around April 13th. In the cities and towns, makeshift pavilions with stages for singing and dancing are erected, and barrels are filled with water. Young people dance and sing on the stages and throw water on anyone who passes by. It is believed that being drenched with Thingyan water washes away one’s sin and bad luck. Decorative floats may also take part in processions. Thingyan is closely associated with the start of the annual rainy season. In Myanmar, India and Southeast and South Asia in general, where rain is associated with happiness and good times. This contrast with West where rain is often associated rain with gloomy days.
Originally a quiet medieval ritual that marked the beginning of the monsoon season, Thingyan today is celebrated today in Yangon by youths in American clothes who go around dousing people with water splashed from buckets and hoses. Thingyan today is the only time of the year that military leaders permit expressions of rebellion. Students don spiked bracelets and punk clothes and ride around in American cars with Heavy Metal blaring from the speakers, dancing and have a good time and attending rock concerts sponsored by English cigarette companies.
Beginning on a date marked by the Burmese lunar calendar, Thingyan begins quietly enough on the morning of the first day, when people visit temples and pour water over Buddhist statues and wash them. Then all hell breaks loose. For the rest of the day people run around with buckets and basins splashing and throwing water on one another. Splashing water is believed to cleanse the mind and body of evil spirits. Some people go out of their way to get doused, even opening the windows of their cars when passing a dousing area. Young men have traditionally doused girls they liked and used the dousing as an excuse to strike up a conversation.
Thingyan is celebrated through Southeast Asia around the same time of the year. It is called Songkran in Thailand, Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia and Pimai in Laos. Throughout the region this water festival is popular, raucous and colorful celebration in which people abandon any thoughts of work—bringing their nations to a standstill—and concentrate on playing around and having fun. On top of the water dousing, people get together and socialize, visit pagodas, make offerings and pay homage to monks, play traditional games and celebrate life with their joyous spirit.
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 on April 13th. Thingyan has been held since the Tagaung Period but it became more prominent in the Era of Pagan Dynasty. As water symbolizes coolness, purity and cleanliness, pouring or throwing water on someone cleans off all the dirt and grime of the old year and brings coolness, purity and peace for the new year.
The entire New Year holiday last for four days. The first day is a holiday for children. Thingyan covers the last three days. The period leading to the holiday is a time when people perform good deeds to gain merit. To gain merit people set cattle, birds, crabs and fish free. People buy them from shops and say, “You are free to go wherever you want now” when they are released and the reflect on what it is like to be captured.
At night there are dance and music performances. Street stalls offer traditional delicacies such as mond lan yey paw (dumplings made from glutinous rice stuffed with palm sugar) and kawt nyin paung (rice cakes filled with red beans). With the exception of these treats there really isn’t the array of foods associated with Thingyan that you find in other countries on their main holidays. Most people have home-cooked family favorites, usually the children’s favorite foods.
In Yangon, major streets are lined with dozens of elaborately decorated wooden water-throwing stands, or pandals. Many of these are clustered around Inya Lake. Pandals sponsored by Western companies like Total and Elf and Schlumberger blast out hip hop music. Ones sponsored by beer brewers and cigarette companies advertise their products.
The second, third and forth days of Thingyan are quieter. People eat special meals, visit friends and relatives, visit the tombs of their ancestors, and give food and alms to monks. Children pay respects to their parents, teachers and elders. Many people welcome the New Year by cleaning the floors of pagodas and monasteries; washing old peoples' hair with "Tayaw" (acacia) shampoo and helping them cut them their nails. Some offer free food and drinks for everyone who visits the pagodas. Some make other donations.
Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon is well-known for the pre-Thingyan festival also called the Zay Thingyan meaning the Market's water festival. It is usually held on the 11th or 12th of April. Youngsters from all over the city come to the market dressed for the festival. The shops donates traditional food such as Monte Lone Yay Paw, Thargu. and Shwe Yin Aye.
Special Thingyan Meal
This special menu is from the Mon State served only during the period of “Thingyan.” It consists of specially prepared rice. crisply fried shreds of dried fish with a generous sprinkling of fried onions and a salad of green mangoes. The Mon people still adhere to this tradition of “Thingyan Rice” as it is called to this day. It is a novel and quaint way of cooking rice. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]
Ingredients: 1) Rice - two condensed milk tins full; 2) Dried fish. (Snakehead or any fleshy fish such as Spanish Mackerel) - 1lb; 3) Oil – 10 ounces; 4) Onion – 10; 5) medium-sized Garlic – a few pods; 6) Sesame – 3 tbs; 7) Fish sauce – 2 tps; 8 ) Pounded dried prawns – 2 tablespoons 3 or so (optional); 9) Green (unripe) mangoes – 3; 10) Sandalwood – a few slivers; ) Beeswax – a few flakes. =
To cook the rice Wash rice thoroughly. put in pot. fill with water and put on stove. When the water boils and the rice is cooked. drain the starchy water. Put in more water and repeat the process twice. This is to get rid of all the starch and to cook the rice till the grains become plump and flaky. Drain the rice for the last time and set aside to cool. (Usually rice is boiled till cooked and the water is drained only once. after which. the rice minus water is put back on stove to steam it to the right consistency). =
Build an open charcoal fire in a small stove. When the charcoal begins to smoulder put in sandalwood slivers and flakes of beeswax and immediately cover with a clean cooking pot set aside for the purpose. This is to infuse the pot with the aroma of the sandalwood and beeswax. When it is judged that the sandalwood and beeswax have burned out remove pot and immediately put in the cooked rice and pour drinking water to cover the rice. Some cover the pot with a cloth before putting in the rice so that the aroma of the sandalwood and beeswax will not escape. The rice is now ready to be served in individual bowls water and all. Some sprinkle a few buds of jasmine on the water for decorative purposes and to lend some added fragrance as well. =
Accompanying dishes: 1) Fried Dried Fish: Boil the dried fish till tender. Remove bones and lightly pound the meat with traditional mortar and pestle. Heat half the oil till cooked and put in garlic lightly crushed; when garlic turns slightly brown. put in pounded dried fish and fry till golden. Slice 8 onions and fry till crisp. Leave half the fried onions for the mango salad and dress the fried fish with crisp golden onions. 2) Mango Salad: Peel and grate the mangoes and wash and drain. Slice raw onions and green chilis. Put in a bowl the grated mangoes. sliced onions. roasted sesame and pounded dried prawns. sprinkle fish sauce (to taste) and mix thoroughly. Put the lot in a serving dish and top with crisp fried onions.
The Thingyan meal is usually served for lunch or even later when the temperature is soaring. It is a heart-cooling meal. The rice is fragrant. Water slakes the thirst and the fried fish and mango salad lends a sharpness to wet the appetite. =
Royal Plowing Ceremony
The Royal Plowing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in Cambodia and Thailand to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season. The royal ploughing ceremony, called Lehtun Mingala or Mingala Ledaw , was also practiced in pre-colonial Burma until 1885 when the monarchy was abolished. The traditional date of the Burmese royal ploughing ceremony was the beginning of the Buddhist lent in the Burmese month of Waso (June to July). [Source: Wikipedia +]
In the ceremony, two sacred oxen are hitched to a wooden plough and they plough a furrow in some ceremonial ground, while rice seed is sown by court Brahmins. After the ploughing, the oxen are offered plates of food, including rice, corn, green beans, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water and rice whisky. +
Depending on what the oxen eat, court astrologers and Brahmins make a prediction on whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman belief, and is held to ensure a good harvest. In the case of the Burmese royal ploughing ceremony, it may also have Buddhist associations. In traditional accounts of the Buddha's life, Prince Siddhartha, as an infant, performed his first miracle during a royal ploughing ceremony, by meditating underneath a rose apple tree , thus exemplifying his precocious nature. +
Burmese chronicles traditionally attribute the start of this rite to the late 500s A.D. during the Pagan dynasty, when it was performed by the kings Htuntaik, Htunpyit and Htunchit, all of whom bear the name 'htun' or 'plow.' However, this costly ritual did not occur annually nor was it performed by every monarch. During this ritual, the king plowed a specifically designated field outside the royal palace called the ledawgyi with white oxen that were adorned with golden and silver, followed by princes and ministers, who took turns to ceremonially plow the fields. While the plowing was undertaken, Brahmin priests offered prayers and offerings to the 15 Hindu deities, while a group of nat votaries and votaresses invoked the 37 chief nats (indigenous spirits). The ploughing ceremony was a ritual to propitiate the rain god, Moe Khaung Kyawzwa in order to ensure a good harvest for the kingdom, and also a way for the king to present himself as a peasant king to the commoners. +
Food Offering Ceremony
In September or October, the Food Offering Ceremony is held at the end of Buddhist Lent in conjunction with the Thadingyut Light Festival. According to traditions, there are many different ways of offering food to the Lord Buddha. Among them is the annual food offering ceremony in Shwekyin Township, Bago Division held on the full-moon day of Thadingyut. Devotees offer fruits, food, flowers, water and light at Ashae Maha Buddha Pagoda early in the morning at dawn on the full moon's day. Devotees from all round the country perform meritorious deeds such as offering food to Buddha.
The Shan of Shwekyin at Alai Paing and Zawtika villages float Thadingyut oil lamps down Shwekyin creek, make traditional food offerings in pagodas and monasteries and plant flags after paying respects to Buddha. At the festival, the Shan celebrate with mythical bird and the Keinnayi Keinnaya dances, Shan traditional martial arts, Tonaya dances and dances by Shan women with Shan long drums strapped on their shoulders.
Festival Banned 20 Years Returns to Myanmar Pagoda
Jocelyn Gecker of Associated Press wrote: “Amid the towering golden spires of Myanmar's grandest Buddhist shrine there was talk of politics and hope for the future as thousands came for the return of an annual festival that was banned for more than 20 years by the former military regime. Gongs chimed at Shwedagon Pagoda as the diamond-studded monument marked what is being billed as the 2,600-year anniversary of the temple, which according to legend houses eight strands of Buddha's hair. More than a tribute to Buddhism, the event was a celebration of new freedom and the latest sign of change in this long-repressed country. "The previous regime, they wanted people to be repressed, suppressed, quiet and stable," said Pyinya Wuntha, a saffron-robed monk who not long ago might have been jailed for saying such things. "Now the government has changed and the system has changed." "They cannot control us by pointing guns at us anymore," the monk said. [Source: Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press, February 22, 2012 ^]
“For nearly half a century, the country was ruled by a secretive, xenophobic military regime that cracked down on any perceived dissent. The junta ceded power last year to an elected but military-backed government that has surprised critics with an unexpected wave of reforms. Fear that was so pervasive among the people of Myanmar is gradually giving way to greater confidence. Under the junta, it was taboo to discuss politics with foreigners and gatherings of more than five people were liable to a ban, due to the generals' fears of an uprising. Smaller pagoda ceremonies that focused on religious rituals were allowed by the defunct military regime. But larger festivals, particularly at the Shwedagon, were seen as holding potential for trouble in this devoutly Buddhist country, where religion and politics have often mixed. ^
“The Shwedagon was used as a rallying point for anti-government protesters in 2007 when monks led a pro-democracy uprising that the army quashed with deadly force. It was against the backdrop of the Shwedagon's golden dome that Suu Kyi electrified a crowd of half a million people in 1988 with a speech that launched her career as opposition leader and Myanmar's icon of democracy. After that, the ruling junta halted the annual pagoda festival at Shwedagon for what they called "security reasons," said Khin Maung Aye, a Buddhist scholar and an organizer of the event. "My son is 22. He was born in 1989, and he has never witnessed the real Shwedagon Pagoda festival," he said. "I have dreamed of this for many years, but I dared not think it would be so big." ^
“Perched on a hilltop, the Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the Yangon skyline, and is especially prominent at night, when floodlights make the golden temple glow brightly. In a country of great poverty it is a lavish shrine; the main spire is said to contain 4,351 diamonds, including a single 76-carat diamond at the top. For the festival, Shwedagon's well-maintained grounds were spruced up with a half million orchids, dahlias and other flowers, organizers said. In front of half a million people, she made her first public address, mixing Buddhist values with Gandhian principles of nonviolent resistance. ^
“The event opened with a morning procession of thousands of people in ceremonial costume walking barefoot along the temple's marble halls. Gongs clanged from all corners of the compound as hundreds of monks chanted and the government's Religious Affairs Minister, Myint Maung, came to pray. A group of 12 monks are to take turns chanting nonstop until the full moon on March 7, when the celebrations will end. ^
FUNERALS IN MYANMAR
Burmese funerals typically last a week, with the body traditionally buried or cremated on the third day. Burial is common, but cremation, more common in the cities, is also practiced by orthodox Buddhists and monks in Burma. The funeral ceremony includes a procession of monks and mourners who accompany the coffin to the cemetery or crematorium, with the monks chanting and performing rites. Funerals for monks tend to be elaborate, while those who have died a violent death generally are quickly buried with very little ceremony, since their spirits are believed to linger as malevolent ghosts.
It is believed that the spirit of the dead remains near the body or near the home for up to a week after death. Therefore a wake is held during this time. If the death occurs before the new year an efforts is made conduct the funeral as quickly as possible so they event will not carry into the new year and bring bad luck.
When a person dies at home the body is bathed and dressed in the person’s best clothes. A monk will be invited to chant prayers. A tent-like structure is raised in front of the deceased’s house and the body is kept in that or in a mortuary. If a person dies in a hospital or elsewhere. the corpse is usually placed in a morgue. However, the wake will still be held at the home of the deceased. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information, Culture Shock Myanmar ><]
The funeral will usually take place three or five days after the day of death. During the interim period a wake will be held. During the wake, the doors of the house are left open and members of the deceased’s family keep vigil during the nights. Visitors who come to pay their last respects to the deceased are often served tea and black melon seeds. People drink endless cups of tea and play card games to stay awake during the all-night vigils. ><
The recitation of prayers by monks is part and parcel of a funeral. If one is informed of the death of the death of a friend it is necessary to send a letter, or telegram if one is unable to visit the deceased’s family or attend the funeral. Failure to do this is insulting to the deceased’s family. Donations are usually given if the deceased ‘s family is financially backward. When you are attending a funeral do not wear bright clothes. ><
A coin, called gadaw ga is placed in the mouth of the deceased person, to pay a "ferry toll" for crossing death. Before the actual interment of the body, an offering of turmeric-coated rice is given to appease the bhummazo , the guardian deity of the earth. During the actual funeral, gifts in the form of paper fans containing the deceased person's name, as well as Buddhist scriptures relating to the impermanence of life (anicca) and samsara are distributed to all attendees. In urban areas, flower wreaths and florals are typically given at a funeral, as well as money, for less well-to-do families. However, in villages, more practical gifts such as food items are given to the grieving family. For seven days, the windows and doors of the house in which the person died may be left open, in order to let the deceased person's consciousness or "spirit", called leippya , lit. "butterfly") leave the home, and a vigil may be kept at nighttime. On the seventh day, called yet le , a meal is offered to monks, who in turn recite blessings, protective parittas and transfer merit to the deceased, concluded with a Buddhist water libation ceremony. [Source: Wikipedia]
Paper fans are still distributed at funerals. The name of the deceased. his or her parents names are printed on one side of the fan and the other side carries extracts from Buddhist teachings. The fan also doubles as an invitation card because it invites the members of the cortege to a morning reception where monks are fed in memory of the dead and then the invitees are treated to a breakfast. ><
Phongyi - Pyan (Cremation of a Monk)
The cremation of a monk is celebrated with great fanfare. The coffin is first loaded onto a gold sheathed carriage. Then in a rambunctious display men with ropes line up on either side of the coffin and push and pull the coffin towards, then away, and then again towards the funeral pyre, as if they are trying to give the monk one more chance at life. At the cremation ceremony for important Buddhist abbots, songs and dances are performed beginning at dawn and the abbots coffin is swung in a hammock while monks perform scenes from life of Buddha while children watch. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]
When the incumbent of a Kyaung (monastery) dies the body is embalmed so as to allow the devotion of several months to the preparations for the funeral. The corpse is swathed like a mummy and laid in a solid dug-out coffin of hard wood. (much less pomp is displayed at the funeral of a sojourner). Then the coffin is covered with the decorative stately bier called Thanlyin. It is made of velvet and richly embroidered with silver and gold threads. Sequins and colored semiprecious stones are also used to portray attractive designs and princely figures. Thanlyin inter woven entirely with gold threads was also once been in vogue. Mercury is poured in at the mouth and honey is applied externally. A support for the coffin is made in the form of a naga, with its head raised and portruding fiery tongue to guard its trust. =
Upon the coffin rests an effigy of the deceased. Beneath the naga is a throne decorated with gilded and colorful decorations. Sometimes the whole structure is of glass mosaic (thayo), and subsequently forms part of the catafalque. Such elaborate tala are not burned. but brought back to the kyaung, where they are kept, but not used again. Over all this is a royal canopy of corresponding magnificence. with the tibyu or royal ensign at the four corners. Thus the coffin lies in state in the kyaung, or in a special building, may be during the whole season of the rains, while the kyaungtaga (the lay patron) is occupied with the preparations for the grand funeral ceremony, which is called phongyi-pyan. =
The expenses are frequently shared and public contributions flow in. The catafalque is of the same design as the ordinary tala, but of greater dimensions—fifty to sixty feet high to the to of the pyatthat. It is solidly constructed and braced and strengthened in every direction. Nowadays. the catafalque is mostly erected on a stout platform on wheels. Long cables proceed from each end of the carriage for drawing it and to enable it to be controlled where the road descends. It is difficult to manoeuvre at the corners of streets and under telegraph wires even though these wires are raised on special posts where they cross the approaches to cemeteries. =
The pyatthat often fails to reach its destination in its original perfection; nevertheless it stands out brilliantly in the grand display in which it is frequently preceded and followed by subsidiary pyatthat erected over carriages which bear the largest offerings to the kyaungs. The Myimmo Daung with its denizens is built up on another carriage. Others are bright with nats and thagya, immense paper models of boats, ships and steamers, and similar freaks of the Thadindyut carnival. Life-size models of white elephants, caparisoned with red and tinsel, move in the procession. =
Uniform costumes are specially made and scores of young men are drilled for their parts in the cortege. The day is fixed long beforehand. and people throng in from all the neighbouring villages in their finest clothes. The streets are lined with gay booths. Pwe (entertainments such as dance, drama etc.) are staged and bands play. At noon the great catafalque begins its progress to the cemetery, drawn by the people, preceded and followed by regiments of masqueraders, endless lines of women carrying offerings, and sight-seers. =
If the idea is to conjure up the greatest possible contrast to the life of the man who is being honoured. the object could not be more completely attained. When the bier has reached the cemetery the coffin is not set on a pyre like that of the layman, but is burned in the catafalque for which purpose the latter has been filled with combustibles. The fire is not lit in the common way; it is kindled from a distance by means of rockets. These are contributed by different villages or wards of the town. Each of them root for the honour of starting the fire with their rocket. =
In the lowland areas of Myanmar the great rockets are sent through the air guided by rattans to the catafalque. But it is one thing to reach and another to kindle. The paoe rockets, with the trunks of hard trees, hooped with iron for barrels, and mounted on stout carriages, are merely aimed at the catafalque. It frequently happens that none of them hits the mark; then the fire is kindled by hand. But the rocket that manages to get the nearest wins the day; great sums of money change hands. As they return home, some people’s spirits are higher than ever. while everybody else puts the best face upon it. De phongyi-byan kaung-de—it was a glorious phongyi-pyan, and the kyaungtaga will be congratulated upon it as long as he lives. =
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014