The Burmese Water Festival (Thingyan is the “change over”) symbolizes the Burmese New Year. The event generally takes place over a four-day period every April in Burma/Myanmar.
One of the distinctive features of this festival is the act of throwing water at one another or dousing one another with it using any device that delivers water. It celebrates localized religious ceremonies, country wide songs and cheerful dances. All these celebration are with every single person and at everywhere throughout the land. But 2022 is different with dry streets as Myanmar Boycotts water festival to protest junta.
Here is a little bit of history. Thingyan is a Hindu myth retold in the Buddhist tradition. Arsi, the King of the Brahmans, fought a wager with Sakra and lost to the king of Devon (or as Myanmar known him, Thagya Min. Arsi was decapitated after losing and had the elephant’s head attached to his body (turning him into Ganesha). This god’s power was so great that it was able to dry up water immediately upon being thrown into the sea. If thrown into the air, it would destroy the sky like an explosion. As a result, Sakra ordered Princess Devis to carry the Brahma’s head in turn for a year. Since then, the new year celebrates the changing of Brahma’s head, which is celebrated through the Thingyan festival.
The Days of Thingyan
Since April is the hottest month of the year in Burma, it is more of a blessing than a curse to be splashed with water, and any clothes you wear will dry quickly under the scorching sun. In general, Thingyan is celebrated for four days.
As part of the festival, Ah-Tar-Oh is essential part for each household. It is a pot of a set of flowers and leaves to welcome a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. Traditionally, seven flowers or leaves are put together to represent seven days of a week. Each flower, leaf and name of a being represents its particular day of a week.
Alms are given to the monks.
Then the day 1 event is followed by evening performances. It is common to see floats with orchestras and enthusiastic Thingyans singing classical songs!
It’s time to get out the pipes, water pistols, and buckets. On Day 2, the celebration honors the descent to earth of the Burmese deity Thagya Min. In addition, there are prophecies given by the Brahmans.
There are temporary bamboo stages, called Man-Dats, in the streets to play water and dance together. There are free traditional Thingyan food and snack stands (Sa-Tu-Di-Thar) everywhere for everyone. The water pistols are fired, music plays, and everyone is sprinkled with water. Fun awaits everyone!
As the festival draws to a close, Thgya Min returns home, but the water festival keep going on with dances, songs and water sprays. People keep sharing traditional foods and snacks.
Myanmar also places a lot of importance on festival foods throughout the Thingyan Festival. Jelly mixes called Shwe-Yin-Aye, with sticky rice, coconut milk and flesh, bread, caramel sauce etc. The jelly might be different colors depending on the area; it is also possible for the sauces to differ. One of the oldest traditions is MONT-LONE-YAY-PAW, sticky rice balls made of palm sugar that is placed in a huge pot of boiling water. People of all ages take part in making them.
The first day of the New Year is a time for quiet reflection. It is not uncommon to see the Burmese washing their elders’ hair and cutting their nails, feeding the monks, visiting pagodas, bathing Buddha statues, donating flowers and lights/candles, keeping 5 or 8 precepts, and doing all merits that ones can.
The Difference in 2022
The new year coincides with the “blessings” related to water in Burma, a source of great pride. Traditionally, water is thought to be a way to cleanse the mind, body, and spirit. During the Buddhist festival, one can also rid themselves of the bad luck and sins of the previous year – helping to lighten the burden and reduce stress. Therefore, everyone are likely to get wet when they are enjoying this wonderful celebration of Burmese culture and heritage. However, in 2022, Thingyan is very different.
Due to a huge blood sheds made by junta on people’s protest for democracy since Feb 1, 2021, there are so many civilians running away from junta, thousands of families losses their loved ones and their businesses, millions of people lost their education, their hope and eventually their destiny. Regardless of people’s suffering, Junta keeps attacking civilians and burning down small towns and villages throughout the country.
Currently, Myanmar is in catastrophic free fall. Thousands of protestors were killed. Tens of thousand are in jails. There were piles of dead bodies from COVID. The whole economy collapses. And it is in the mist of the biggest civil war. Myanmar people are in need of your help to get back to Democracy.
Before Feb 1, 2021, the country was full of hope and happiness. Here are some shares of joy and happiness of Myanmar people in the past. Lovely music, songs, dances and water spray at this time of the year!