Myanmar’s Thingyan Festival: Four Days of Carnival Fun
Like Thailand’s Songkran, Myanmar’s Thingyan Water Festival celebrates Burmese New Year – four days of wild, fun-filled water throwing – that this year takes place from April 13-16th and is particularly popular in the capital Yangon and the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay.
The dates of the celebrations are observed as public holidays throughout the country and make up part of the summer holidays at the end of the school year. The eve of Thingyan is called a-kyo nei and is the start of various religious activities. Buddhists monks are expected to observe the Eight Precepts – three more than the usual Five Precepts – which include having only one meal before noon.
As night falls, the real fun begins with music, singing and merrymaking in anticipation of the water festival the next day. Throughout the city neighborhoods, pavilions and stages made from bamboo, wood and beautifully decorated in papier mâché spring up overnight. Local girls, who have been rehearsing for weeks in the run-up to the event, get ready to perform their songs, dances and chorus lines, with each group uniformly dressed in colourful tops, skirts, flower garlands and tinsel.
The next day when serious water throwing begins is called a-kya nei. Traditionally, like the celebrations in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, Thingyan involves sprinkling scented water in a silver bowl over one’s elders using sprigs of thabyay (Jambul), a practice that is usually followed more closely in rural areas. The ritual is intended to metaphorically ‘wash away’ one’s sins of the previous year.
However, in the major cities, the ritual has become an exaggerated excuse for fun, with large garden hoses, huge bamboo syringes, and water guns – all employed to squirt water on anyone and everyone passing by. As it’s the hottest time of year, a good water dousing is welcomed by most people. Everyone is fair game, however, monks and pregnant woman are spared – as are those who ask not to be sprayed – although you are taking a risk!
In the capital Yangon, the government allows crowds to gather in certain areas, namely, Kandawgyi Pat Lann and Kabaraye Roads. Temporary water stations are set up usually in front of stages, which also double as dance floors for revellers. Stages all over the city also act as water stations with rows of water pipes to hose everybody passing by. On stage, people sing and dance (mostly pop and rock music) while in front of the stage pick-ups and other vehicles carrying revellers, pass through the water.
During the four days of celebrations water throwing takes place from 10.00 am in the morning to 6.00 pm in the evening and these times are strictly adhered to. If you want to join in the fun, bring your water gun and a bucket, but make sure your money and camera are safely wrapped in plastic, while you enjoy the amazing carnival atmosphere!
Thingyan is a great time to visit Myanmar and get to know the hospitality and friendliness of the people. Locals dancing and drinking in the streets really go out of their way to make visitors feel a part of the celebrations.
If you find yourself in Myanmar during this festival and you want to avoid the water, head to the beach, stay indoors at your hotel, or journey out of the city to rural places like Bagan and Inle Lake where it’s quieter and celebrations are more low-key. Khiri Travel Myanmar can suggest a few alternatives to the water festival in these beautiful parts of the country.
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