The Traditional Value of ‘Pwe’ in Myanmar Culture
The term pwe in Myanmar describes any kind of activity where people gather in order to celebrate an event. Therefore, any Buddhist festival is a pwe. Similarly the word “pwe” is used on license plates of official cars of the United Nations in Yangon to indicate the collective nature of the UN organization and assemblies.
Full moon days are the most common time for pwes, usually celebrated in the vicinity of a Buddhist temple. Each temple (also called pagoda) also has their own annual festival, such as on their founding anniversary. One of the biggest pagoda festivals in Myanmar is that of the Shwesandaw Pagoda in Bago, some 60 kilometers north of Myanmar’s former capital city, Yangon. Legend has it that in 2014, the ancient Shwesandaw Pagoda will celebrate its 2159th festival of this kind.
On such a special occasion, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will travel from their villages with their entire family and household goods packed into ox carts to camp on site at the pagoda. The visitors will participate in the events being held on and around the main pagoda platform, enjoying the games, food and various shows for a couple of days up to one week before they return home.
The pagoda festival is not just for merrymaking, however. The journey is also a religious pilgrimage that is important to make and celebrate as a family. Understanding the meaning of pwe, therefore, indicates the cultural importance of recognizing the value of conducting important activities as a collective body whether in the sense of religious rituals, festive gatherings or in the function of a worldwide organization such as the UN.
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