mig1.jpg (13466 bytes)

THINGYAN, the Myanmar New Year Festival

EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IS SPLASHING each other with water from hoses, buckets and anything else that'll hold water, screaming and shouting, all in good humored merriment. All are drenched, and no one cares. A splash is meant to be a compliment and water will continue to fly in every direction until dusk.
Whether you're a local or foreigner, let yourself get soaked and stay healthy in the happy year ahead; as the auspicious water of the Thingyan Festival is the Myanmar way of ushering in the New Year.
The Thingyan Festival is observed with much job and merry making in all parts of the country, from the remotest hamlet to the bursting cities like Yangon, the capital and Mandalay.
Thingyan comes from the Pali (spoken Sanskrit) word Thinkanta which means a "changeover," referring to the transition from the old year to the new year. The timing of New Year's day, based on the Myanmar Lunar calendar every year. It occurs at the end of the first month of the Myanmar calendar, called Tagoo, which usually falls within the month of April in the Western calendar. Thingyan, the water festival is customarily celebrated for a period of three or four days up to the New Year's day. Since it is the hottest time of the year in Myanmar, just about everyone-the young and the not-so-young, the pious and the not-so-pious, local and foreign alike - take part in the water-dousing ritual with fun, enthusiasm and abandon.

DESCENT OF THE HEAVENLY KING

According to the tradition, the astrologer compute the start of Thingyan by studying the positions of the various constellations. Burmese believe that this is the time of Thagyamin, the King of Celestial Gods, descends to earth. Myanmar Buddhists consider him as the caretaker of the Buddhist religion and revere him greatly.

On the eve of Thingyan, just about eve Myanmar household prepares an earthen pot filled with seven flowers representing seven days of the week, and places it in front of the house to welcome the descending Heavenly King. The period of Thingyan is determined by the length of his stay, i.e. the day of his descent, an intervening day (or two days in some years) and the day of his ascent.
For centuries Burmese have been celebrating Thingyan by dousing each other liberally with water. Water which symbolises cleanness, is supposed to wash off the impurities of the old year while, at the same time, serving as a welcome coolant amid summer heat and humidity. In the old days, the proper-custom was to carry the scented water in silver bowls and sprinkle each other gently using sprigs and eugenia.
Buckets and hoses may have largely replaced the silver bowls today, but the spirit remains the same. During Thingyan, revellers throng the main streets of Myanmar's cities. Here and there, beautifully decorated pavilions and stands are erected for water dousing and entertainment.
Hydrants, which have been carefully serviced over the preceding few weeks, are at their full power to supply hoses aimed at merrymakers. Sprays of water and shouts of Thingyan good wishes seem to fill the air. No one escapes. In fact, everyone is anxious to drench and get drenched as dousing is considered an act of compliment.

ORIGINALLY NOT A BUDDHIST FESTIVAL

In recent years, an increasing number of foreigners, including tourists, businessmen and members of the diplomatic community, take part in the merriment with utmost enthusiasm.Although Thingyan days are public holidays, most hotels, restaurants and shops stay open to cater to the revellers. Apart from the dousing, it is also a Thingyan custom to set up marquees for offering food to one and all. A typical Thingyan delicacy is Montloneyebor, which can be translated loosely as "floating dough balls," They are dumplings made of glutinous rice stuffed with brown sugar and served with grated coconut. Thingyan, like some other festivities celebrated in Myanmar, is not of Buddhist origin, but comes from traditional beliefs and customs. But as Burmese became devout Buddhists many centuries ago, they were no longer satisfied with treating it purely as an occasion for merry-making and amusement, and began to seek spiritual merits in it in the Buddhist context.

During the festivities as well as on New Year’s day itself, many Burmese thus visit Buddhist monasteries to offer alms to monks and observe Buddhist rites. Some gather at pagodas to wash Buddha images and clean the pagoda compounds. Commonly observed merit-making customs at this time also include the "saving" of fish destined for the market and cattle destined for the slaughter house.

Young people also accrue merits by paying homage to old folks of their town or village, manicuring, then bathing them and washing their hair. Some young people temporarily join Buddhist orders; young men and boys become monks while girls become nuns.

One widespread belief among the people is that the aforementioned Thagyarmin descends to the earth bearing two parchment books. In one made of gold, he is said to list the names of those doing good deeds, while in the other made of dog skin, he supposedly lists the names of evil-doers.

It is also believed that good deeds performed on New Year’s day, i.e. the day after Thagyarmin’s ascent, will bring good luck for the whole year. So the people stop their merry-making and concentrate, instead, on deeds that are considered meritorious, such as cleaning their houses from top to bottom, laundering all their dirty linen or washing their heads with traditional "shampoo." In the evening, they invite monks to their homes to have them recite sacred Buddhist verses in Pali to ward off evil spirits.

Min Swe Oo