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The Governor’s Residence, Yangon, Myanmar

Festivals

The people of Myanmar love to celebrate and throughout the year find endless reasons for frivolity and festivities. Highlight of the calendar is Thingyan, Myanmar New Year. Anyone who has been the target of a hose will understand why it is known as the water-throwing festival. 

At a time determined by astrologers in March or April the whole country stops work for several days and people devote themselves to drenching one another with water from buckets, pots, balloons, whatever is ready to hand. Visits to pagodas, street parades and family feasts also herald the traditional descent to earth of the king of the nats, bringing blessings for the New Year.

Water plays a more sedate role in the full-moon festival of Kason a month later. Kason celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha, and bo trees, the type of tree under which the Buddha attained nirvana, are ceremonially watered. The bo tree at the Schwedagon, reputed to be a descendent of the original in India, is a particular focus. 

The full moon in June or July sees the beginning of Buddhist Lent, traditionally a three-month period which coincides with the monsoon. Even this does not dampen the relish for merriment, and although many monks enter a retreat, Taungbyon, just north of Mandalay, plays host in August to one of the greatest ‘nat pwe’ (festivals) with much eating, drinking and traditional theatre.

The rainy season is also the time for boat races and other water-borne events, the most spectacular of which takes place in October on Lake Inle. The Karaweik, a magnificent bird-headed royal barge, makes a stately procession between lakeside villages and monasteries while the lake’s famous leg rowers hold competitions. 

The Festival of Light heralds the end of Lent at the full moon during September/October. Thousands of candles and lamps illuminate every house and pagoda. This is followed one month later by Tazaungmone, the weaving festival, when young girls make new robes for monks in contests held by moonlight.

December is the month for small, regional nat festivals while January sees a stream of religious events focused on local temples. The Myanmar year ends in February with a joyful harvest festival, when elaborately prepared meals are presented to monks, and families sit down to delicacies served with the bounty of the rice fields.
 

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