Travel, Teach, Live in Asia

The Myanmar (Burma) Water Festival (Thingyan)
By:Kevin Hellon

Burma or Myanmar to give the country its official title celebrates the Myanmar New Year in the second week of April each year. The festival is called Thingyan but has become more widely known as the Water Festival. It is similar to the Thai New Year celebrations known as Songkran that occur during the same period. Visit either country during this time and you are certain to get wet!

Originally, water was gently sprinkled on people using twigs as a blessing in the belief that the past year's sins would be washed away and the mind and spirit would be purified in readiness for the coming year. This 500 year old festival which lasts for the 3 days immediately before the New Year has these days turned into a 3 day party where the primary objective seems to be to get as wet as possible, as often as possible. The whole country is on holiday for 3 days and almost no-one except the elderly are spared a drenching during this time. Indeed, the very good natured Burmese seem to be at great pains to ensure that any visiting tourist becomes absolutely free of all sins and leaves with a mind and spirit as pure as driven snow. Walk through Yangon (Rangoon) during the festival and no matter how you try to avoid getting wet you will eventually be doused by a beaming local leaving you no choice but to literally grin and bear it. Fortunately, this festival occurs at the hottest time of the year when the temperature reaches 40 degrees so a soaking can actually be quite welcome and, in any case, it doesn?t take too long to dry. Of course you can guarantee that you are no sooner dry before becoming drenched yet again.

Local organizations, government departments and student associations sponsor what are called 'pandals'. These are temporary raised stages erected on main roads particularly in places where there happens to be a lake by the side of the road that offers a plentiful supply of water. These 'pandals' are usually furnished with high powered water jets with which the occupants proceed to hose anyone and anything that passes by. The Burmese pile themselves into jeeps, pick up trucks and cars, some even with the doors missing, packing as many people into and onto a vehicle as possible. They then tour the city 'visiting' each pandal with the apparent intention of just getting absolutely soaked. They even queue very patiently at each 'pandal', waiting their turn to be inundated with water. The whole experience is accompanied by loud music and dancing and the overwhelming feeling of the festival is that everyone is just having a thoroughly good time. It seems as though not only the sins of the past year are washed away but also all the problems and worries of everyday life too.

As well as the water fun, there is also traditional singing and dancing in the evenings featuring the traditional Thingyan dance. Most Burmese are Theravada Buddhist and the religious traditions of washing the elderly?s hair and and letting loose fish and cattle on the third day of the festival are still religiously followed.

Visit the Myanmar Water Festival or it's counterpart in Thailand and enjoy but be warned - you will get extremely wet but you will also have an awful lot of fun

Visit my web site to see photographs of this thrilling event.

Kevin Hellon

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