On Stage in Myanmar: Thingyan Water Festival
Thingyan is the name for Water Festival in Myanmar. Celebrated in mid-April, the Water Festival marks the beginning of the Buddhist New Year. For traditional holidays, Myanmar uses its own calendar system based on the lunar calendar. 2014 for instance, will mark the end of the year 1274 M.E. (Myanmar Era).
Aside from the relatively modern practice of water being thrown without warning, the ceremonial part of Thingyan marks the descent of Thagyamin, the King of the gods, from the Tavatimsa or heavenly place. Legend has it that Thagyamin will note the good deeds of the Buddhist population in a golden book, shwe-parabeik, while the bad deeds will be noted in a book made of dog’s skin.
Thingyan lasts from 12-16 April and all offices in Myanmar are closed. In urban areas, the younger generation rides around on the back of trucks carrying large drums of water and playing loud music. Streams of water are cascading through the air between vehicles and pedestrians. The most common food during the festivities is from Indian restaurants, which remain open, selling biryani chicken in takeaway boxes.
The modern meaning of Thingyan in Myanmar is “a few days of freedom”, especially for the youth. Often times, young women put aside their traditionally conservative blouses and longyi (sarong) to wear more modern fashions such as mini-skirts and tight tops. Also, while almost no one in Myanmar drinks alcohol, these days are an exception. Along the main roads in Yangon, one can see stages on which young people are dancing and constantly being showered by water was thrown at them from the audience below.
A word of warning: never bring any electronic equipment outside the hotel on Thingyan. Everything gets soaked, even with travelers trying to be careful. Some cash in a plastic bag is all that is needed. Happy New Year in Myanmar!
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