Oct 052017

Today is the Thadingyut Festival (သီတင်းကျွတ်ပွဲတော်) this year (2017) in Myanmar, and I am fortunate to be living here this year. The festival is held on the full moon day of the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut. The festival comes at the end of what some Westerners call the Buddhist lent (Vassa), which corresponds with rainy season when many monks spend time in constant mediation instead of journeying out of the monastery. One of the religious justifications of the practice is that during the rainy season it is easy to kill insects unaware (by stepping on them, for example) because they are so plentiful.  Thadingyut is a festival of lights and is the second most popular festival in Myanmar after Thingyan Festival (the New Year water festival around April). Thadingyut festival is the celebration to welcome the Buddha’s descent from the heaven after he preached the Abhidhamma to his mother, Maya, who was reborn in the heaven.

Thadingyut festival lasts for three days: the day before the full moon day, the full moon day and the day after the full moon day. Buddha descends from heaven on the full moon day itself. Buddha’s mother, Maya, died seven days after the Buddha was born and then she was reborn in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. In order to pay back the gratitude to his mother, Buddha preached Abhidhamma to his mother for three Lenten months. When he was descending back to the mortal world, Sakra-devanam-indra, the ruler of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, ordered all the saints and evils to make three precious stairways. Those stairways were made of gold, silver and ruby. The Buddha took the middle one of ruby. The Nats (Deva) came along by the right golden stairway and the Brahmas took the left silver stairway. Theravada Buddhists in Myanmar celebrate Thadingyut to welcome the Buddha and his disciples by festooning the streets, houses and public buildings with colored electric bulbs or candles, which represent those three stairways.

During Thadingyut Festival, there are Zat Pwes (Myanmar musical plays), free movie shows and stage shows on most of the streets around the country. There are also food-stalls, which sell a variety of Myanmar traditional foods and shops, which sell toys, kitchen utensils and other stuff. In Mandalay the streets are packed (more than usual) with people just hanging out. Fireworks are common after dark on all three nights, and the sound of fire crackers is fairly persistent.  I’m told that this year in Mandalay things are a little quieter than in past years. Some people send up fire balloons (which reminds me of New Year’s Eve in Mantua, and Christmas in Buenos Aires).

During the festival days, Buddhists usually go to pagodas and monasteries to pay respect to the monks and offer food to them and to the Buddha. A few Buddhists fast on the full moon day itself, but the night before is a big party night with many families gathering for big dinners.. Young people usually pay respect to their parents, teachers and elderly relative and offer them some fruits and other gifts. While paying homage the younger people usually ask for forgiveness for the sins they have done to their parents or other elderly relatives throughout the year. Traditionally the elders tell their youngsters that they forgive any of their wrong doings and continue to bless them with good luck and with gifts of money. It is also usual for younger siblings to pay homage to their older siblings and in return the elder siblings wish the younger ones good luck and give them some pocket money.

You’re on your own for a recipe for today.  I’ll give you a little gallery of dinner last night on the lake south of Mandalay.  You don’t stand a chance of replicating northern Myanmar cuisine unless you live here. Here was my dinner last night and breakfast this morning:

  2 Responses to “Thadingyut Festival”

  1. Hi! I would like to see this festival!
    what is the best place to see it?

    • I was living in Mandalay last year when the festival happened. It has two components — public and private. You can find the public displays throughout Myanmar. I happen to be a particular fan of Mandalay, but there will be plenty of other spectacles in places like Yangon, Bagan, Mawlamyine etc. You need to find a place where there is an abundance of pagodas — so, Mandalay and Bagan will be better than Yangon, for example. I am not expert enough to tell you the “best” place. The third day of the festival is much more devoted to family gatherings and meals than public events (although they still continue), and for that you will need to know locals.

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