The Burmese people of Myanmar are deeply religious and take their festivals very seriously. The entire year is filled with festivities and celebrations. Most of the colorful festivals are all linked to the lunar calendar so the dates may vary year to year, but not the spirited celebrations. A visitor can visit Myanmar any time of the year and be treated to cultural and religious events linked to the cycles of the moon. Every full moon light is celebrated as a gift from the almighty.
One can experience, like most South east Asian celebrations, a riot of colors, processions, rituals, traditional dance and of course food celebrating nature.
This ancient land well-known for its temples and pagodas never miss an opportunity to celebrate nature and the heavenly spirits. Most of the festivals are celebrated nationwide but some have their root in local customs and traditions but are no less exhilarating. The following three festivals show off the vibrant life and culture of Myanmar.
Thingyan New Year Festival – Water festival
This festival celebrated in the month of April based on the lunar calendar is by far the biggest festival of Myanmar. The people of the land welcome the new year with water, which symbolizes Purity. They believe that pure blessed water will wash away all sins, diseases and bring good luck to the community and the country.
The Burmese word “Thingyan” literally means change, and during the celebrations, which lasts over four days, people splash water on each other to cleanse their souls.
The people believe that the God Thaya Min descends from heaven on to the earth on these days. The followersfaithfullywelcome the God with booming of local drums and initiating traditional rites. It is easy for any newcomer to get into the spirit of the festival after the initiation rites and rituals. Stages and platforms are erected on streets with ample supply of water in various pots and buckets. One can splash people with pots, cans and bottles of water to initiate them into the festive mood. One can even find decorated carts being driven around full of pots and buckets of water: to splash on the faithful and get drenched in return.The people in the bigger cities like Yangon, take a step further and use garden hoses and hydrants to drench everyone in sight. Jeeps and vans can be seen ferrying loads of water for people to use on each other. Children use water pistols and balloons to make the occasion even more memorable.The festival is just more than splashing water, meals and snacks are served, with respect to seniors and elders. The Buddhist monks encourage the celebrations, but people spare them when it comes to splashing water.
The festival is celebrated in the following order:
- AkyoNei (The eve of the Thingyan festival)
- A-Kya Nei
- A-Kyat Nei
- A-Tet Nei- The finals
- HnitHsan ta Yet Nei or the New Year’s Day.
The uniquely Burmese celebrations is a joyous and vibrant event. Burmese women and girls apply thanaka on their face, adorn themselves with fragrant yellow padauk flowers and joyfully dance on the street. As part of the tradition young people celebrate their seniors. Fishes and birds are released into water bodies and forests with a wish and slogan: “I release you once, and expect you release me ten times.”
Water rightfully symbolizes everything pure and clean, and like many festivals in many parts of the world, the people expect to please the spirits and cleanse themselves of everything harmful and bad.
The best venues and the popular places are the Kandawgyi Pat Lann and Kabaraye roads in the capital Yangon. Even the region of Mandalay takes their celebrations very seriously with crowds and crowds of people playing with water on the streetsduring the period of the festival
Buddha Day- Kason Maha Bodhi Tree Watering Festival
This day being the most important day in the Buddhist calendar, the people of Myanmar celebrate it in the month of May with pious spirit. Again, the theme of the festival is water- all pure and cleansing. This period, which again follows the lunar calendar, falls on the hottest day of the hottest month.Faithful’s gather around ponds, lakes, rivers and creeks and carry water to water the Maha-Bodhi trees.Faithful’sof all ages pour water for the roots of the holy tree, to help it survive the hottest days of the month. This following the lunar calendar falls on the full-moon night of Kason.Grand processions can be seen all over Myanmar with people of all ages carrying scented water to offer to the most important symbol of Buddhism, the Maha Bodhi tree. Maha Bodhi is the scared tree under which the hermit Siddhartha meditated and achieved enlightenment to become the one and only Gautama Buddha.
The day signifies important events related to the life of Gautama Buddha:
- The birth of Gautama Buddha
- Hermit Siddhartha becoming Gautama Buddha
- The day he achieved Enlightenment
- The day he left the world or Parinirvana
Visitors can participate in the rituals and festivities by pouring water under the holy tree or take river cruises to watch celebrations all over the region. On this day, the holy Pagoda are also cleaned and sprinkled with scented water. The celebrations of the most holy festival of Buddhists in Myanmar is an experience of a lifetime.
Full Moon of Tazaungmon (Tazaungdaing or Festival of Lights)
This important festival of lights is held during the eight month of the Burmese lunar calendar and usually falls in the month of October- November. This day also marks the official start of the rainy season, a very important season for farmers.
The tradition of celebrating this festival was influenced by the Hindu religion of the Indian sub-continent. Long before the introduction of Buddhism, the festival celebrated the arrival of Lord Vishnu, or the God of lights. This event also marks the important event of introduction of Buddhism into Burma, the old name of Myanmar.
It is said that the spirit of Gautam Buddha returns to Tawadeintha on this day to visit his mother, and the faithful illuminate the path for him
This is marked by many unique events. The countrymen can be seen lighting and releasing multi-colored lanterns and balloons into the night sky. It is followed by spectacular fireworks. The countryside, towns and cities are adorned with lamps and multicolored lights to mark the auspicious occasion.
The main event, to note, is the robe-weaving competitions held all over the region. Competition is held to weave a special yellow robe named Matho Thingyan for the monks. This event goes on for two consecutive nights, ending on a full-moon night when contestants work from night to sunrise. The most popular contest being held at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda. The robes are then ceremoniously offered to the monks during the Kahtainceremony.
The tradition of robe weaving comes commemorates an interesting story from the life of Gautama Buddha. It states that Gautama Buddha’s mother, Maya, knew that her son would soon pass over to the other world and she spend the whole night weaving yellow robes for him. After that the tradition was kept alive by Goutami, Gautama Buddha’s aunt, who offered new robes to the monks annually.
The best place to see the festival of lights ceremony is in the state of Shan. In places like Taunggyi people march on the street carrying traditional lotus flower lanterns. In the evenings hot air balloons made from bamboo and mulberry paper are released into the air, hoping it reaches Tavatimsa, the heavenly abode according to Buddhist mythology. The lights also symbolize the destruction of evil spirits back on earth. Other than the Shan region, this annual tradition is spectacularly celebrated in Naypyidaw and PyinOo Lwin.
The occasion sees people travelling back to their homes and ancestral lands to pay respects to their elders. Activities like charity, almsgiving and feeding the poor are common all over the country. The grand Sautuditha feasts are conduced all over the nation.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go, pack your bags and travel to this beautiful country to experience these festivals in person. But before you leave, make sure to check out the German website from Backpackertrail, there you will find more detailed information about what to expect on your journey. Have fun!
List of other major festivals of Myanmar
- January: Kachin Manao Festival (Kachin)
Ananda Pagoda Festival (Bagan)
Naga New Year (Sagaing)
- February: Full Moon Day of Dabodwei (Nationwide)
Htamane Festival (Countrywide)
Mahamuni Pagoda Festival (Mandalay)
Salone Festival (Tanintharyi Region)
- March: Shwe Dagon Pagoda Festival (Yangon)
Kakku Pagoda Festival (Inle)
Full Moon Day of Tabaung (Nationwide)
ShweUmin Pagoda Festival (Shan State)
Sand Pagoda Festival (Nationwide)
- April: Mann Shwesettaw Festival
Thingyan Water Festival (Nationwide)
Thanakha Grinding Festival (Rakhine)
Full Moon Day of Tagu (Nationwide)
Shwe Maw Daw Pagoda Festival (Bago)
Myanmar New Year Festival (Nationwide)
- May: Buddha day or Kason – MahaBodh Tree Watering Festival (Nationwide)
- June: PariyattiSasana Examination
- July: Full Moon Day of Waso
- August: Taungpyone Festival
- September: Phaungdawoo Pagoda Festival (Shan State)
Manuha Pagoda Festival (Mandalay Region)
- October: Full Moon Day of Tazaungmon or Tazaungdoing – Festival of Lights
Dancing Elephant Festival (Kyaukse)
Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda Festival (Mon State)
- November: MathoThingan (Yangon)
KahteinThingan Offering (Nationwide)
Hot-air balloon Festival (Shan State)
Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone
- December: Kayin New Year Festival