Glimpses of Myanmar’s New Year
Sammatha Cheng
March , 2016

Myanmar celebrate Thingyan Festival to mark the beginning of the New Year. “Thin-gyan’ means ‘change’. This is often symbolized with the change of duty from one celestial daughter to another to hold the severed head of the ‘Brahma’ lest it might fall into the sea or on land and cause a complete dry-up in wherever it happens to fall. That belief may have originated from Hinduism. Handed down by ancestors, it is the most significant festival of the entire nation.

During Thingyan, people celebrates by throwing or dousing water onto each other. Myanmar people believe that Thingyan water has the power to wash away past year’s sins and misfortunes as well as prepare to purify for spirit in coming new year. Thingyan or the Water Festival is the most unique, colourful and merriest occasion in Myanmar. This is also the time where all social and cultural barriers break down in this conservative land.

Thingyan festival usually falls second week of April (the Myanmar Calendar month of Tagu, lasting four to five days). Tagu is the first month of Myanmar calendar. The exact dates of the festival change every year and the exact number of festival days is calculated using the traditional Myanmar lunisolar calendar which is based on the movements of the sun and the moon.

According to legend, it also marks the time when the King of Nats ( “Tha-gya-min”) descends to human world for a visit to check on the moral conduct of humans. He carries with him two books – one covered with ‘dogskin’ and the other bound with “gold”. He records the names of those who have committed sin into the ‘dog-skin’ book, while he enters the names of do-gooders in the golden book.

The first day of Thingyan is called A Kyo Nei. A Kyo means welcoming the “Tha-gyamin” and Nei mean days. The second day of the festival is A Kya Nei and means the day “Tha-gya-min” makes his descent from his celestial abode to earth. The next day is A Kyat Nei (there may be two consecutive days in certain years). The last day of Thingyan is A Tet Nei and it means Tha-gya-min returning to the heaven.

That has been the tradition since Bagan kingdom (from eleventh century A.D). The oldest recorded history of the celebration of Thingyan was in the 13th century. Water was sprinkled with springs of Eugenia (Thabyay Pan) out of gold bowls, back then. Eugenia spring is regarded as a triumphal flower, in Myanmar.

In one event, the King of Bagan, Nara Thiha Pathae instructed the royal ladies to throw water at one of his wives to soak. Considering that the celebration was new, only a few people knew that throwing water at one another is part of the celebration. The wife took this as an act of humiliation and planned to assassinate the king as her revenge. The King found out about her plans and immediately executed her along with all her relatives by burning them alive.

Present Day Thingyan

For young people, there are three primary ways to celebrate and enjoy Thingyan festival. They can rent a car and roam around the city to get wet or receive the water-throwing, going from one pendal (temporary waterspraying station, also known as mun-dat) to another. This is an all-day affair with a short break for lunch.

The second choice is sitting at pendal set up at the side of the road especially near lakes where there is easy access to water. People build pendals for the purpose of throwing or spraying water using hoses at passersbys and cars. People drive in slowly specifically to get soaked. To add to the fun factor, there is always live shows and performance by artists or lively music by DJ where everyone can dance their way on and off stage, or even down the street. Pendals can found all around the city. The popular ones are usually the City Halls in Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw and other major cities. The most crowded place in Yangon are Kan Yeik Thar Street (also known as Kandawgyi Park Lann ) around Kandawgyi Park and Kabaraye Pagoda Road.

The third choice is going to meditation center to seek the calmness of inner mind and eternal peace. At meditation center, men and women’s accommodation is separate, clean and simple, complete with bed linen and mosquito nets and sometimes aircons. Meditation centers accept all young or old, locals or expats. The only requirements is to be in good health for effective meditation. Meditators must observe the eight precepts in Buddhism.

Local people mark Thingyan in a variety of ways. For the young, it is the time to have fun but for older ones who want to do good deeds, they pay a visit to monastery and take the five precepts. After Thingyan days, the long-waited new year day comes. On the New Year day, everyone does good deeds such as going to monasteries, temples and pagodas and cleaning the places. Young people do good deeds by bathing the elderly people, traditionally washing their hair with shampoo beans (Acacia rugata) and bark and cutting their nails. People also visit and pay respect to elder people and make food donations called satuditha at various places. They usually provide free food to those participating in the new year’s celebrations.

Season flower

Typical season flower of Thingyan is the golden Padauk or flower of Thingyan. Padauk is symbol of Thingyan because it blossom only during Thingyan days. The Padauk is waiting for the first rain showers to burst into bloom with its tiny fragrant yellow gold flowers. The first rain of April starts during Thingyan days, bringing Padauk to bloom.

Typical food of Thingyan

The typical food of Thingyan is Mote Lone Yay Paw (Sweet Floating Rice Balls). We can see food donations during Thinyan days with traditional Mote Lone Yay Paw. It is cooked by throwing the rice balls in a container with boiling water and taken out of the container when they finally surfaced. We can see palm sugar inside rice balls. But sometime, some youngsters, stuff hot chillies in rice balls instead of palm sugar to play prank. Mote Lone Yay Paw is used to served with grated coconut while hot.

Mon Thingyan rice (a traditional Water Festival rice dish) is one of favorite Thingyan typical food. During Thingyan Festival, people used to give away as a donation especially in Mon State.

 

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