A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond      Vol.4   No.4     July September 2005

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Manuha pagoda

Pagoda Festival

By: Khin Ma Lat
Photos: Sonny Nyein

the huge alms bowl

Most pagoda festivals take place after the monsoon and Lenten period, which happens in October. Most pagoda festivals continue for seven days. However the Manuha Temple of Bagan has its annual festival in September, or more precisely, on the day before and the dayofthe Full Moon of Tawtha Lin, in November the month just before October which corresponds to the Burmese month of Thadingyut: which literally means End of Lent. Another amazing aspect of this festival is that homes in the neighbourhood of this pagoda in Myingaba Village, serve white rice cakes and pickled tvinter melon to all comers hey set out trays in front of their houses and serve all passer bys, friend or stranger.          

offerring rice and cakes to monks The elderly at the homage ceremony
This free feeding is a Buddhist tradition called Sadu Ditha, practised at religious celebrations. This snack is unique to this festival. The temple was the merit of a Mon king, and people say it is a tradition that has existed since his time. By the term 'white' rice cakes, it meant that the rice dough had not been mixed with palm sugar, for then it would be called a 'red' rice cake.

Monks from many monasteries are invited and alms bowls full of food are ceremoniously offered to them on the morning of the Full Moon Day. There are devotees from other towns who come every year and the nearby jetty is packed with boats of those who travelled by the Ayeyarwaddy River.

Mai U in the jaws of the tiger
They offer rice at the temple on the same morning that they offer alms bowls to the monks. Previously, the huge alms bowl in front of the main shrine of Manuha Temple was filled with cooked rice, but later, only a small amount is cooked and offered to the shrine and the rest of the rice kept aside to be donated to monasteries, rather than have the cooked rice go bad by evening. Old people of the village are also honoured in a ceremony and gifts presented to them.
Once upon a time, villagers would parade their ox carts with tableaux of figures acting out scenes from the Jataka Tales, Lives of Buddha.Young men and girls of the village would take part as kings or queens, nobles and ministers.

Now that tradition had ceased but it does not mean that they have less fun during the two days of festivities.The most enjoyable part for the young people is when papier mc1che figures are displayed by groups of creative people. The art of fashioning paper figures is called Sut-b'ji, and its uses are varied.Traditionally, the Sut-b'ji figures or pavilions made of bamboo frames over which paper is glued were used in elaborate funeral rites of revered monks. These decorations were burnt when the body of the monk was cremated, but nowadays such occasions are rare: they now take place only with the passing of the most famous abbots in the country. Another mode of this same craft is making temporary pavilions out of paper and gilt for weddings and donation ceremonies.

Spirit Ko Gyi Kyaw comes riding on his horse both made of paper
Here at the Manuha festivities take place in the afternoon until early evening of the day before the Full Moon Day. People march up to the temple holding up bigger-than-Iife- sized papier mache figures. Fashioned in all shapes and gaily coloured, they usually number nearly a hundred. Some are animals such as tigers, horses, crocodiles, or even a gigantic rabbit braving it out among creatures that are more ferocious. Some represent Spirits, who might be riding on horses but in this case the horse is often of made of paper but a real-Iife dressed up child is perched on its back.

One favourite scene is from the story of a country girl Mai U who was sitting at her loom when a tiger pounced on her and took her away.Each village or neighbourhood or even a group of friends try to outdo each other with how detailed and life-like they could make their dolls or what novel figures they could come up with, including figures of people never before seen in Bagan. As Korean soap operas are sweeping across SE Asia including Myanmar to much acclaim, fans would be very excited to know that one actor made his debut at this festival, if only made of paper. He is not known by his name but by the name of the character he was first seen in Myanmar, Director Yin, and the girls of Bagan would surely be happy that he joined them in paying homage at this unique festival.
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Good to Know    |  Events Calendar    |  Making of marionettes    |  Pleasant Pand