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Myanmar Festivals.


No matter what time of year you come to Myanmar, there are sure to be number of lively festivals occurring throughout the country during your visit. The most common type are pagoda festivals, which centre on paying respects to the Buddha through offerings and prayer but also include traditional singing and dancing performances, as well as colourful markets where local goods can be bought. Also popular are boisterous nat festivals, where believers pay homage to animist spirits and consult spirit mediums for advice. Ethnic New Year festivals provide visitors the opportunity to experience Myanmar’s rich cultural diversity at its best, with ethnic dancers and musicians performing to crowds brimming with holiday cheer.

Festival dates change from year to year as these events are scheduled according to the lunar calendar and usually occur around the time of the full moon. Listed below are some of the most famous festivals held each year.

ANANDA PAGODA FESTIVAL Bagan (December/January )
Ananda Pagoda hosts one of the biggest and longest festivals of the year around the full moon of the lunar month of Pyatho. Groups of farmers from upper Myanmar travel in bullock-cart caravans to Bagan, where they camp under the shady trees and starry skies for the two-week duration of the festivities. Bowls of alms filled with recently harvested crops are offered to long lines of robed monks, while the cool evenings feature dance, song, dramatic and comedic performances. There is also a huge market where vendors sell everything from handmade crafts and clothing to food and farming tools.

NAGA NEW YEAR’S FESTIVAL Khamti, Chin State (January )
During this festival, the Naga people of northern Myanmar dress in colourful and exotic traditional clothing and gather in the town of Khamti in Sagaing Division to celebrate their New Year. During the daytime, exciting and hard-fought sports competitions are held, while at night traditional dances are performed to the thunderous beat of drums. Celebrants gather around bonfires to ward off the winter cold while they feast on roasted meat and rice wine.

MAHAMUNI PAGODA FESTIVAL, Mandalay ( January/February )
Thousands of pilgrims travel from all over the country for the annual festival at Mahamuni Pagoda, which is one of the most important Buddhist sites in Myanmar. Visitors can enjoy dance and music performances, as well as plays of long or short duration. During the day, snacks are sold at long tables. Contests are held for the cooking of glutinous rice, a favourite delicacy among people in Myanmar. On the full moon day, fragrant incense is burnt as an offering to the famous Mahamuni Buddha image.

GOLDEN HILLTOP FESTIVAL, Thanlyin (January/February )
Kyaik Khauk Pagoda is just across the river from Yangon, but the atmosphere at the festival is like a small-town county fair. The pagoda is surrounded by hundreds of stalls selling food, thanakha logs, clay pots, clothing and much more. Revellers can spin through the air on small Ferris wheels, or watch entertaining stage shows or movies. traditional marionette performances are also held throughout the festival.

INDAWGYI FESTIVAL, Hopin, near Myitkina ( February/March )
This festival takes place at Shwe Myitsu Pagoda, which is located on an island in the middle of picturesque Indawgyi Lake in Kachin State. Two causeways made of sand surface during the festival. One of them allows pilgrims to walk from the lakeshore to the pagoda. The other, which is incomplete, is reserved for use by spirits. The two sandbanks disappear into the lake shortly after the festival.

KEKKU PAGODA FESTIVAL, Taunggyi ( February/March )
Kekku is a 17th century pagoda complex consisting of more than 2000 small shrines tucked away in the hills of Shan State, not far from Inle Lake. During the festival, the Pa-O people, dressed in their traditional black outfits, spend three days praying, offering alms to monks, listening to sermons, dancing, singing, feasting and shopping at the festival market.

PINDAYA CAVE FESTIVAL, Pindaya ( February/March )
This festival at mysterious Shwe Oo Min Pagoda Cave in Pindaya attracts thousands of devotees from the numerous ethnic groups living in the area, including the Taung-yo, Danu, Pa-O and Shan, many of them wearing colourful traditional outfits. Vendors at the festival market sell local foods and Shan handicrafts.

SHWEMAWDAW PAGODA FESTIVAL, Bago ( March/April )
Easily accessible from Yangon, this event at the towering Shwemawdaw Pagoda features a festival market and evening entertainment typical of many other pagoda festivals throughout Myanmar. One difference is that the performances are often attended by festival organisers from all over the country who already starting to plan entertainment for next season’s events. As a result, traditional theatrical troupes perform at Shwemawdaw to the best of their abilities, to catch the attention of these organisers.

THINGYAN WATER FESTIVAL, throughout Myanmar ( April )
This is the most popular and widespread festival of the year. During the four days leading up to the Buddhist New Year, people of all ages take to the streets to soak one another with water to wash away the misdeeds of the past year. Stages are set up where youngsters spray water from hoses, while others drive around in open cars dispensing water from buckets or water guns. Due to the religious nature of the festival, however, many people in Myanmar forego these revels and instead retreat to monasteries and pagodas to perform meritorious deeds. Thingyan also requires some planning ahead, as many restaurants, shops, markets and other businesses are closed for the duration of the festival.

SHITTAUNG PAGODA FESTIVAL, Mrauk Oo ( April/May )
This annual event in Rakhine State is similar in many respects to other pagoda festivals in its offering of song and dance performances, but it also includes mock boat races on land and real boat races in the canals of Mrauk Oo. Another attraction is the traditional wrestling tournament, which takes place at the foot of the pagoda. The final bouts occur on the full moon day of Kason.

KASON WATERING TREE FESTIVAL, throughout Myanmar ( May )
This festival, which occurs on the full moon day of the lunar month of Kason, marks the day on which, in different years, the Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment and died. In commemoration of these events, water is offered to sacred banyan trees at pagodas throughout Myanmar.

CHINLON FESTIVAL, Mandalay ( June/July )
Held in the compound of Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay, this month-long festival attracts chinlon (cane ball) performers from throughout the country. Hundreds of teams gather to dazzle audiences with their skill in keeping the rattan ball in the air by using any parts of the bodies except their hands.

TAUNGBYONE NAT FESTIVAL, Taungbyone, near Mandalay ( July/August )
This is the most famous and important nat (spirit) festival of the year, bringing together nat kadaw (spirit mediums) from all over Myanmar to perform dances and dispense advice from the spirit world to believers. Shrines are erected to the Taungbyone brothers, who in ancient times were unjustly killed by their adoptive father, King Anawrahta, and therefore became powerful spirits who must be appeased by followers with offerings.

PHAUNG DAW OO PAGODA FESTIVAL, Inle Lake ( October )
During this festival, four Buddha images from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda are taken by golden barge on a tour of the 20 villages around Inle Lake, spending one night in each. The barge is pulled by a procession of dozens of boats powered by men using the unique leg-rowing technique commonly seen around Inle Lake. Hundreds of other boats also travel in the entourage, adding to the festive atmosphere. Leg-rowed boat races are also held throughout the festival.

ELEPHANT DANCE FESTIVAL, Kyaukse, near Mandalay ( October )
Kyaukse, just south of Mandalay, is the site of the annual elephant dance festival, in which two-person teams wearing colourful elephant costumes made of paper and cloth on bamboo frames perform dances to the accompaniment of traditional music. The performers must maintain perfect rhythm and timing to stay synchronised with one another inside the costumes.

KYAUKTAWGYI PAGODA FESTIVAL, Mandalay ( October )
Kyauktawgyi Pagoda is located at the foot of Mandalay Hill and holds a famous Buddha image hewn from a single piece of alabaster in 1864 under the guidance of King Mindon. Traditional entertainment is offered day and night, but many visitors are attracted by the market at which many locally produced goods are for sale.

THADINGYUT (FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS), throughout Myanmar ( October )
The full moon of Thadingyut marks the end of Buddhist Lent and the start of the pagoda festival season. Pagodas, shrines, houses, public buildings and parks all across the country are illuminated with candles, lamps and electric lights. Young people pay homage to monks, teachers, parents and elders, asking to be pardoned for any misdeeds they might have committed. The month following the full moon of Thadingyut is known as Kahtein, a period in which donations are collected on wooden frames called padetha trees and then offered to monks at monasteries

BALLOON FESTIVAL, Taunggyi ( November )
This Pa-O festival, held in Taunggyi, the capital of southern Shan State, features the release of hot-air balloons that compete for beauty and flying ability. Balloons flown during the day are often shaped like animals, while at night paper lanterns are released, ascending into the sky in groups like glowing constellations in motion.

TAZAUGDINE LIGHT FESTIVAL, throughout Myanmar ( November )
On the full moon day of the lunar month of Tazaungdine, candles are lit in homes and pagodas throughout the country, and paper lanterns are launched into the sky. Treasure hunts are organised for children. Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, a huge golden rock that balances on the edge of a cliff on the peak of Mt Kyaikto in Mon State, is particularly beautiful as 9999 candles are lit on the platform at midnight. Also on the eve of the full moon day, many pagodas host robe-weaving contests, in which teams of women race throughout the night to complete saffron-coloured robes, which are offered to Buddha images at dawn.

SHWEZIGON PAGODA FESTIVAL, Bagan ( November/December )
Evening performances are held throughout the three weeks of this festival. Also at night candles and fireworks are offered to the pagoda. On the full moon day of Tazaungmon, about one week into the festival, offerings of food and domestic supplies are made to monks from nearby monasteries, who line up to accept the donations.

MT POPA NAT FESTIVAL, Mt Popa ( December )
Mt Popa near Bagan is considered the most important nat (spirit) worshipping centre in Myanmar, so this joyous festival attracts pilgrims from near and far. Particular reverence is paid to the nat Min Mahagiri (Lord of the Great Mountain), who before becoming a spirit had been a powerful blacksmith who was burnt alive by a fearful and jealous king.

KAYIN NEW YEAR, Karen State and elsewhere ( December )
The Kayin, one of the major ethnic groups of Myanmar, celebrate their New Year with a “new crop” ceremony featuring traditional costumes, dances and songs, and climaxing with a performance of the lively don folk dance. Good places to see performances include Hpa-an in Kayin State and Arlein Nga Sint Pagoda in Yangon.

 

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