- By Sayar Mya (MOFA)
- I am writing this article from Yangon, the economic and business hub of Myanmar at a time when all the barefaced lie about chaotic situations in the northern Rakhine State of the nation, where there is neither genocide nor ethnic cleansing nor war crimes.
“Come April” and see by yourself.
I am a simple senior citizen and a retired government employee, but not from the Myanmar tourism industry.
Thingyan or Water Festival is just around the corner in April in Myanmar, and you and your crowd are cordially invited to join the merry making, while exploring the golden opportunity to invest or to do business.
Thingyan derives from Sanskrit saṁkrānti, which means “transit of the Sun from Pisces to Aries”. It is the Myanmar New Year Festival and usually falls around mid-April. It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days, culminating in the New Year. The dates of the Thingyan Festival are calculated according to the Burmese (Myanmar) calendar. The dates of the festival are observed as public holidays throughout Myanmar, and are part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. Water-throwing or dousing one another from any shape or form of vessel or container that delivers water is the distinguishing feature of this festival and may be done on the first four days of the festival.
You are safe
When many people are celebrating Water Festival, with the slang word “Water Party”, security police are on full alert across the country at every nook and cranny, in order to prevent crimes.
Life of Thingyan in Myanmar is Padauk.
Everybody is happy and joyful to take part and enjoy in every possible way in the water party. It is the eve of Myanmar New Year, and each and everyone is wearing sweet smile and joy in their hearts with the upbeat mood.
We are especially proud of our national flower “Padauk”, filled with strong bright yellow color, sky rocketing into the air with the sweet flagrance. We erect Padauk in the vase and revered in front the Buddha images, while the women young and old adorn Padauk on top of the hairstyle.
During Thingyan Festival, Padauk is the symbol of love of the entire people of the country. One may feel the sweet flagrance of Padauk in the environment as everybody chants “Too Po…Too Po” while they sing, dance, jump and shout.
Cold, clean and clear water is poured among each other with love, happiness and joy.
Myanmar has some of the world’s greatest heritage sites. I hate to use the word “rival”, but our pagodas and temples are not lack in grandeur when compared to other cultural sites in the region. The ancient cities in Myanmar are well preserved and easily accessible to the tourists and visitors.
Thingyan is comparable to other festivities in the region such as the Songkran in Laos, the Songkran in Thailand, the Cambodian New Year, the Sinhalese New Year and the Bihu festival of Assam.
HistoryThingyan is originated from the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. The King of Brahmas called Arsi, lost a wager to the King of Devas or Śakra (Thagya Min), who decapitated Arsi as agreed but the head of an elephant was put onto the Brahma’s body who then became Ganesha.
The Brahma was so powerful that if the head were thrown into the sea it would dry up immediately. If it were thrown onto land it would be scorched. If it were thrown up into the air the sky would burst into flames. Sakra therefore designed that the Brahma’s head be carried by one princess Devi after another taking turns for a year each. The New Year henceforth has come to signify the changing of hands of the Brahma’s head.
Over the years, since a lot of unproven and unconfirmed news on alleged atrocities in Rakhine State are spreading like wild fire in the international media, I am taking the liberty in describing the Rakhine Traditional Water Festival.
It’s alright in Rakhine State
Almost all indigenous ethnic groups celebrate the Thingyan in Da Gu La (April). The Rakhine people also have their own New Year water festival, which is the most noteworthy of all traditional festivals.
The Rakhine people have three unique customs that form Thingyan, namely the nantha (sweet delicate scent) grinding ceremony, the nantha pouring ceremony and the water festival.
On the evening of New Year’s Eve, Rakhine girls assemble to grind blocks of nantha sandalwood (used as a traditional cosmetic in Myanmar) on a kyaukpyin (a flat, circular stone used to grind sandalwood), as part of a competition. The following morning, the Rakhine community visits monasteries and pagodas to offer the ground nantha to Buddha statues for sacred bathing, as a gesture of ushering the New Year.
The author of the article would like to take this opportunity to include some other traditions of nationalities.
As part of Thingyan traditions, the Mon people offer a festive dish called Thingyan rice, which consists of rice, dried snakehead fish, a generous sprinkle of fried onions, a few flakes of beeswax and served alongside a salad of green mangoes.
The Bamar of Dawei and Myeik pay respects to elders and provide free meals to accompany Thaman Kyar (mythical tiger) dance performances.
The Shan people call Thingyan “Sangkyan” and prepare a steamed sweetmeat called khaw mun haw, made of glutinous rice flour and jaggery, wrapped in banana leaf. This is offered to neighbors as a gift of goodwill.
In Chittagong Hill Tracts
The author, while serving as a Myanmar diplomat, had been to Bandarban District of Chittagong Hill Tracts some years ago and had participated Thingyan Festival there. It is in the south-eastern part of Bangladesh.
Maramagyi people organize water pouring stages or podiums in their villages. The main participants are young boys and girls. Apart from water pouring, they also visit the monastery to make special offerings and pray for well-being in the coming year. Maramagyi people commonly follow the lunar calendar produced in Rakhine state of Myanmar.
The very act of splashing and pouring water at each other is complimented with Metta (Loving Kindness), Garuna (Compassion), Upekkha (Neutral Feeling) and Mudita (Rejoice at other’s success).
Water Party or Thingyan is the Festival of rejoice.
“Come April” and get wet.