Each country has its own unique festivals imbued with its culture. If Thailand is famous for the Songkran festival, Cambodia its Chaul Chnam Thmey festival, and Myanmar has Thingyan. It is an annual water festival, that welcomes the coming new year with religious ceremonies and interesting activities. It’s a sight to behold and not to be missed if you visit the country in April. Let’s learn about the water festival in Myanmar in today’s article.
What is a water festival in Myanmar?
Water festival in Myanmar is also known as Thingyan festival or annual festival, held from April 13 to 16 every year. This is the most anticipated festival of the people of Burma and is similar to Songkran in Laos, Songkran in Thailand, Cambodian New Year, Sinhalese New Year and Assam’s Bihu. The festival signals the end of the hot dry season as well as an opportunity to let go of the previous year’s worries or bad luck. During the four days before New Year’s Day, tradition holds that people in Myanmar will splash water on others to wash away bad luck.
The history of the Thingyan festival
The history of the Thingyan Water Festival in Myanmar dates back a very long time, dating back to the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. Thingyan, in Sanskrit (the language of ancient India), means “the movement of the Sun from Pisces to Aries“. Legend says that the Thingyan Festival is an event from now on that marks the change of hands of Brahma’s head. The story goes that the King of Brahma, named Arsi, lost a bet with the King of the Devas, Sakra (or Thagya Min as he was known in Myanmar).
After losing the battle, Arsi was beheaded and placed the elephant’s head on him (turning him into Ganesha). The god Brahma is so strong that if he threw his head into the sea, it would dry up instantly. If it were thrown into the air, the sky would burst into frames. Therefore, Sakra ordered that Brahma’s head be carried by a Devi princess and another princess taking turns for a year. The New Year since then marks the mastery of Brahma’s head and is celebrated by the Thingyan festival.
How does the water festival in Myanmar take place?
Thingyan Festival lasts from three to five days and each day has its own activities.
Day 1: a-kyo nei
On this first day, a series of religious activities will be held. During the day, people will go to temples and pagodas to make offerings, wash Buddha statues and clean temples. Every family puts myrtle branches in front of the house with the desire to avoid disasters and bad luck. In the evening, many beautiful booths and stages were set up, and people began to sing and dance in neighborhoods across the country.
Day 2: a-kya nei
In the rural areas of Myanmar, locals soak the branches of thabyay (jambul) in a silver bowl to create fragrant water and gently splash it on others. In contrast, in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, in addition to traditional bowls and cups, people also use hoses, giant syringes, and water guns to shoot water at each other. More than just splashing, visitors will have lots of fun with performances by puppeteers, orchestras, dance troupes, comedians, movie stars and singers, including pop groups. The street is flooded with water.
It is believed that water can correct mistakes, banish bad luck, and bring health and happiness. The more water you get, the better next year you will be. During your break, you can get food at stations found everywhere. Some must-try dishes during this festival are Mont Lat Saung – A traditional Burmese Drink, Shwe-yin-aye & Mont-lat-saung – Burmese favorite dessert, Mote Lone Yay Paw – A traditional sweet dish and Thingyan hta-min – Another typical Burmese dish.
Day 3: a-kyat nei
On the last day of the festival, the activities are the same as on the second day, some people still splash water on each other until late afternoon.
Day 4: a-tet nei
On this day, young people do good deeds such as bathing, washing hair, and cutting nails for the elderly to show gratitude and respect. In addition to washing their hair, people donate food known as satuditha and often provide free food to those attending New Year’s celebrations. People also offer food to the monks and bathe Buddha statues. Besides, there is a custom to buy live fish and release them in the open waters of rivers or lakes. On this day, people eat a traditional snack called mont lone paw (sticky cake with palm sugar).
Do’s & Don’ts things during the water festival in Myanmar
- Wear suitable clothes and shoes: Choose clothes that are light or can be easily dried.
- Protect your belongings: Put your valuables like money, and phone in a waterproof bag. You can easily buy it on the street. Always put it in front of you so you don’t get pickpocketed. You can leave your passport at the hotel reception for safety.
- Get your water gun or bucket ready to join the festival. You can splash water on anyone whether they are friends or strangers.
- Protect your skin with sunscreen, a hat and suitable clothing as daytime temperatures here can reach 40 degrees Celsius.
- Make sure to withdraw enough cash and buy some snacks in case you have problems with street food.
- Learn the phrase happy new year in Burmese to communicate with the people: “hnit thit ku mingalar pa“
- Do not splash water on monks, the elderly, pregnant women, children
- Do not throw water at the temple, where people come to pray for peace and prosperity
- Do not wear clothes that are inappropriate or too revealing
- Don’t drive while drinking: Because of the fact that a lot of people get drunk and a lot of accidents happen during this time.
That’s all you need to know about the water festival in Myanmar (also known as the Thingyan festival). This is an extremely important festival for the people of Burma and if you have the opportunity, you should not miss it. Choose the ideal time to visit Myanmar and learn about the hospitality and friendliness of the people as well as soak up the unique cultural space here.