Seasonal Festivals of Myanmar Calendar – Part II
In this blog we continue our look at Myanmar’s festivals, sharing their origins and our opinion on the best way to celebrate. Myanmar people are always friendly and welcoming, but the festivals bring out the best in them! If you are in Myanmar during one of these monthly festivals, join in the celebrations for a truly memorable local experience. Read on to find out more about the festivals that fall during the second half of Myanmar’s lunar calendar.
Seasonal Festivals #7: October (Thadingyut) – Lighting Festival
When?: The seventh month on Myanmar’s lunar calendar, Thadingyut, coincides with late September or October. Its eponymous festival is held on the full moon day, but many locals start preparing weeks in advance.
What: Thadingyut celebrates the time when Buddha descended from heaven and follows the end of Buddhist lent.
How to enjoy: On almost every street you will find candles being lit outside of family homes, shops and restaurants. The locals will be happy if you join them in illuminating the streets with small candles or strings of electric lights. There is another tradition of Thadingyut that your younger friends will be sure to tell you about! Elders believe that will have good luck if they give money to their younger friends and family members during this month. So if you really want to partake in the local customs, pass some cash on to those who are younger than you!
Seasonal Festivals #8: November (Tazaungmon) – Ka Htein Festival
When?: November corresponds with the Myanmar lunar month of Tazaungmon. The Ka Htein Pwe festival occurs on the full moon day and evening.
What? Ka Htein Pwe loosely translates into ‘Yellow Robe offering Ceremony’. On the full moon day of Tazaungmon, Myanmar’s Buddhists donate robes and other useful items to monks, an auspicious act meant to bring good luck for the future. These donations take place at monasteries and pagodas throughout the country, with Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon being the largest of such celebrations.
How to Enjoy: On full moon day, step into any pagoda and you will see piles of offerings accumulating. Local worshippers gather throughout the day, so expect a big crowd especially early morning and at sunset. Prepared donation baskets, containing robes, candles and other monk accessories, can be found at most local shops in case you wish to make your own Ka Htein donation. Another tradition during Tazaungmon is the eating of mezali plant. The bitter leaves and buds are believed to have medicinal qualities, especially if eaten at specific times of the month! Ask for mezali salad or soup at local restaurants- the shop keeper will likely be surprised yet happy to serve you this traditional dish!
Seasonal Festivals #9: December (Nadaw) – Sasodaw Pwe
When?: The last month of the Gregorian calendar is referred to as Nadaw in Myanmar. Since the mid-1900s, this month has marked the Sasodaw Pwe which honors the literary community.
What?: Historically, Nadaw was a time to worship nats, 37-spirits revered by many Myanmar residents. This tradition faded out in the late 19th century and was later replaced with the Sasodaw Pwe. Unlike most festivals in Myanmar, Sasodaw Pwe is not rooted in religious beliefs. Instead it is a time to honor prominent writers and authors.
How to Enjoy: Throughout Nadaw, writers travel the country to deliver talks or to participate in discussions open to the public. In bigger cities, full-day or multi-day programs feature the country’s preeminent writers as well as emerging talents. If you cannot attend such events, head to a nearby bookstore and pick up an English-language edition of one of the country’s bestselling books.
Seasonal Festivals #10: January (Pyatho) – Myin Khinn Pwe
When?: While the west ushers in a new year in January, the Myanmar calendar enters its 10th month which is called Pyatho.
What?: When Myanmar was a Kingdom, Pyatho was the time in which the royal family would showcase their strength to the common people. The military would gather for elaborate parades and festivals would display competitions such as lancing, sword fights, equestrian pageantry, elephant parades and more. The soldiers and troops who won such competitions were held in high esteem by the people as well as the military and royal family, making them national heroes of sorts. Since the fall of the monarchy, such celebrations have disappeared and, instead, small pagoda festivals occur on the Pyatho full moon day.
How to Enjoy: Since you won’t find horse jumping or sword fighting these days, your best bet for celebrating Pyatho is finding a pagoda festival in a local neighborhood. Look for a stage set up on the street or listen for loud music- sample snacks from street vendors or join in some of the carnival-like games that are set up near the pagoda entrance.
Seasonal Festivals #11: February (Tabodwe) – Htemanae Pwe
When?: Nearing the end of Myanmar’s calendar, Tabodwe usually falls during the month of February. The Htamanae Pwe is celebrated near the full moon day.
What: During Tabodwe, the crops are fully grown and ready for harvest. The Htamanae Pwe celebrates the season’s bounty through a festival of eating and offerings. Near the full moon day, families and villages start to prepare large pots of rice, sesame seeds, peanuts, ginger and more, essentially combining all of the recent harvest into a delicious snack. The cooking is done communally, just like the process of planting, growing and harvesting of the crops.
How to Enjoy: If you are traveling through the countryside during Tabodwe, keep your eyes peeled for gatherings of villagers around a large pot. The vat is stirred with a huge wooden stick and is certainly a unique site! You may even be asked to lend a hand in the mixing of the rice and other ingredients! Even in the city, neighborhood gatherings occur in the streets or in monastic compounds to prepare this special treat. If you miss the actual preparation of the rice, do not worry- it is available for purchase at most local markets and many street stalls during the full moon days.
Seasonal Festivals #12: March (Tabaung) – Sand stupa Festival
When?: The last month of Myanmar’s calendar is Tabaung which commences at the end of February or early March.
What?: After several dry months, Myanmar’s rivers and streams are at their lowest water levels during Tabaung. Sandbanks begin to appear midstream and, during Myanmar’s time as a kingdom, the royals would create beautiful sand sculptures on these islands. Using bamboo and rattan as a frame, the structures often resembled pagodas decorated with ornate motifs and flowers. While few sculptures are built on the river sandbanks these days, there are many pagoda festivals during Tabaung with a few of them still partaking in this tradition.
How to Enjoy: Near Mandalay’s jade market, the small pagoda of Mon Thisu still partakes in the building of a sand stupa during Tabaung. The construction takes 1 day only (only men are allowed to help!) and, once completed, a big festival kicks off. On the full moon day the stupa is demolished and remains so until the following year. There are other pagoda celebrations at this time, with the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival being the largest and most extravagant.