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Thingyan spirit

MYAN_PK_Thingyanfestival

In Myanmar (or Burma, as it was once known before), March is the time when summer steps in, and summer holidays start. Like in many other countries, summer holidays are the time when families carry out their plans for summer vacation activities.

There are a variety of holiday destinations to choose from, but the most popular spot during summer is Upper Myanmar, where the temperature is much more bearable during summer days than most other parts of the country, where the temperature averages around 32 degrees celsius. Some families choose to spend the holidays at the beach, enjoying a range of seafood while the sunlight splashes all over the sandy beaches.

If you are a true blue Myanmar (Burmese) at heart, March also means that the Thingyan festival is around the corner. Thingyan festival is the official Myanmar New Year. The Myanmar calendar is a lunar calendar and the New Year falls around the second week of April in the Gregorian calendar. You’ll see festive decorations mainly centered around the festival flower pa-dauk across the country and the radio station plays uplifting festival music. It’s something that I’ve dearly missed during my time abroad.

Thingyan festival is a four day long festival, or five if it is a leap year, that is celebrated to welcome in the New Year. The most common belief is that the festival is celebrated in order to wash away the sins we’ve committed in the past year so that we can start the new year with a fresh soul.

During the festival, people happily splash water on each other. In the old days, the water would be infused with sandalwood essence, and several small branches of leaves were tied together, dipped in water, then patted on another person’s shoulder, to wet them with droplets of water. The festival was also the time when youth would show affections toward each other. It was common for Myanmar gentlemen to pour sandalwood water onto the maidens they had their eyes on.

But, that was in the past.

Nowadays, people set up water stations (called man-dat) around the city, especially near lakes where there is easy access to water. The organizers set up sprinklers, water pipes and high-pressured water pipes for people to play with and pour water on people passing by in open roofed cars. These water stations are decorated according to a theme they’ve chosen for that year, and music is pumping throughout the station. It might sound really bizarre  – to willingly getting drenched with water under the blazing hot sun during the day. But you have to experience this festival to understand the essence of it all. I highly recommend that you experience this festival, at least once. You won’t regret it. Be safe though.

Individuals who are seeking eternal peace pay a visit to monasteries. During the festival, it is considered a good deed to visit monasteries and offer rice and other delicacies to the monks. In return, monks deliver speeches and instructions on how to achieve nirvana (eternal peace, as I understand it), which is the ultimate goal of every religious Buddhist.

Speaking of good deeds, people give away free food during the festival too. There is at least one family providing free food on each of the streets of the major cities. The smaller towns are the same but there aren’t as many donations.

At night, if you feel like it, you can walk around the city for street food wonderfulness. If you happen to be in Mandalay, there is a major competition where people decorate their cars and turn their music up load. To help you visualize it, think Rio Carnival, but a totally different culture. There are free concerts across the city and people play pranks by  pouring icy cold water over each other. You just can’t get mad at them for doing so, because it’s the tradition!

Thingyan is also the time when family members from around the country gather together at one of their houses to make and enjoy special festival food. It’s a time when the kids meet up with their grandparents, cousins, brothers and sisters alike to catch up on what has happened during the past year. It is a family-oriented festival, where everyone in the country lends a hand to each other to make everyone happy.

The way Myanmar people celebrate Thingyan varies depending upon which part of the country they’re from, but the spirit is always the same. Nobody should be left in the corner, alone and unhappy. Everyone deserves a little bit of fun during this festival.

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MEET THE LOCAL: PHOO PWINT KYAW

 

Image. Painting of Thingyan festival by Pagan era artists.

 

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