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Myanmar Water Festival – Thingyan

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What is Thingyan Water Festival in Myanmar?

Myanmar Water Festival, also known as Thingyan, is considered the most important and expected festival for Burmese people. As it generally falls on the days just before the New Year in Myanmar, it is also believed to be the Burmese New Year Festival. To celebrate the most significant holiday of the year, grand celebrations, activities, and various ritual ceremonies are held throughout the whole country. Generally, the festival lasts for 4-5 days until the New Year following the Buddhist calendar is coming. During the annual holiday, local people just indulge in the delightful moment and welcome the New Year by water splashing and water throwing. That’s why it is called the water festival. Similar celebrations can also be found in other Southeast Asian countries, like the Songkran in Thailand, and Khmer Water Festival in Cambodia. Anyway, if you happen to visit Myanmar in April, then you should never miss this interesting festival. The grand festival is believed to bring peace and prosperity to everybody. Go on to learn more interesting facts and travel tips about the traditional Myanmar Water Festival.

Myanmar Thingyan Water Festival
Thingyan Water Festival

When is the Myanmar Water Festival?

Myanmar Water Festival usually falls in the middle of April. Once there was no fixed date for the festival because it is calculated on the Buddhist calendar in Myanmar. However, in recent years, the dates of the Thingyan water festival have been fixed on April 13th and the public holiday for the biggest festival generally lasts till the Myanmar New Year.

History of Myanmar Water Festival

Thingyan in the ancient Indian language can be translated to ‘Change’, and Thingyan historically represents that the sun moves or changes from Pieces into Aries. Similar to the legend of Thailand Songkran and Khmer New Year, the origin of the Thingyan is in fact from the Buddhist version of a Hindu myth. The old legend of Thingyan Water Festival is about a bet between two gods the king of Brahma called Arsi and the King of the Devas named Sakra over a mathematical problem. The loser of the bet had to cut his own head off and then Arsi lost his head. However, because he is a powerful deity and his head would bring disasters to the world. It is believed that the sea would dry up if the head were thrown into the sea, and the ground would be exploded if the head were put on the land, and it would cause torrential rain if it were thrown into the sky. As a result, the head was then guarded by princesses devi by turns. Then the Thingyan Water Festival has gradually become the changing hands of God’s head.

How Do People Celebrate Thingyan Water Festival? Activities & Celebrations

1. Thingyan Eve

In Myanmar, the Thingyan Eve is also called a-kyo nei. This day marks the beginning of a lot of various religious activities. Almsgiving and offerings to monks are essential. Soaking the figures of Buddha to get rid of dusk and cleaning temples are also very common. Myrtle branches will also be put on the front door by local families, which is said to be able to prevent bad luck and disaster. As evening approached, people will set up well-decorated pavilions and stages for brilliant performances and dances. With song and dance, all the people gather together to enjoy the fun of the festival.

2. Water Splashing

The second day is also known as a-kya nei in Burmese and from this day, the real Water Festival just begins, along with grand water splashing celebrations. This is also the time when Thagya Min comes to earth from the heavens. For memorizing the moment, as the symbolic cannon fires, people just come out and prepare bowls, hoses, and other devices to hold water and make full preparation for the following water carnival. Celebrations are especially crazy in mega cities like Yangon and Mandalay. Someone even uses huge syringes of bamboo, brass garden hoses and water pistols and you should not be so surprised to see water balloons and fire hoses. A lot of water would be poured and everyone on the street is ready to be wet, no matter locals or foreigners. In addition to the interesting water carnival, you cannot miss fabulous performances by puppeteers, comedians, and even modern pop singers during the water festival.

Thingyan Water Festival Myanmar
Tourists enjoy themselves during Thingyan Water Festival

In the countryside of Myanmar, the celebration is less crazy but more solemn. Locals traditionally make scented water by soaking sprigs of jambul in a little silver bowl and then sprinkling the water on people. This kind of water sprinkling is considered to wash away the bad luck and sins of the past year.   

Generally, the water splashing activities keep about 3 days and nearly all the people join the cool water feast to enjoy delight. The last day is known as a-tet neimm which is the time Thagya Min should return to heaven. And most of the water-splashing celebrations would stop. However, on this day, people will prepare a kind of traditional Thingyan food, mont lone yei baw, which is glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar.

3. New Year’s Day

As the whole water festival comes to an end, it welcomes Myanmar New Year’s Day. On this day, alms and offerings can be seen everywhere and people also make food donations in different places to offer free food to people participating in celebrations of the New Year. What’s more, young generations will pay visits to the elders and pay obeisance by gadaw which is a typical Burmese tradition. In this tradition, young people need to pay respect to the elders by kneeling and bowing. Another traditional way to show respect is hair washing. The young generations will wash the hair of the elders with shampoo beans and bark.

On New Year’s Day, Burmese people also have another tradition and that is freeing animals. Generally, people free the fish to large lakes or rivers and release birds into the sky. It is believed that this tradition can bring good luck to people. Temple visits for praying and offering to monks are also very common on this day.

Thingyan Food to Try on Myanmar Water Festival

Delicious food is one of the most expected things to expect at the festival and the followings are the most popular food you should not miss.

1. Mont Lat Saung

This is a very popular traditional Burmese drink and it is mainly made from sugar, small lumps of rice jelly, and coconut milk. Sometimes the sugar can be replaced by palm sugar. This popular drink can be easily found on street vendors.

2. Shwe-yin-aye

Shwe-yin-aye is almost the favorite dessert of Burmese people in the Myanmar Water Festival. A   little similar to Mont Lat Saung, the dessert is made from sago, gelatin, sugar and coconut milk. However, extra bread and sticky rice is its feature.

Myanmar Food - Shwe-yin-aye
Myanmar Food - Shwe-yin-aye

3. Mote Lone Yay Paw

Mote Lone Yay Paw is another classic Thingyan festival sweet snack. The dish is generally made by a lot of people together and thus it is considered a perfect family food. It is the sticky rice balls and with jaggery filled inside. Sometimes fresh coconut will be put on top.

4. Thingyan hta-min

Thingyan hta-min is also known as the water festival rice set. And it is a special dish including rice cooked in scented water and a variety of side dishes like dried fish and fried chilies. Though the dish originated from Mon State in the south of Myanmar, it can be tasted all over the country now.

Travel Tips during Traditional Myanmar Water Festival

  1. As Myanmar Water Festival is the grandest festival in the country and there will be a lot of visitors attending crazy celebrations,it is recommended to book tickets and hotels in advance.
  2. It is very necessary to respect various Burmese cultures and customs.
  3. The temperature during the water festival is generally very high, sometimes reaching 40 degrees Celcius so be careful of sun protection.
  4. Try not to bring electronic products and valuables as you will get wet. If you have to, then put them into a waterproof bag.
  5. Throwing water to someone’s head or face straightly is considered impolite so don’t do that.
  6. Avoid throwing water at the elders, monks, pregnant women, and drivers.
  7. Most banks, shops and restaurants will be closed during the four-day festival so it is recommended to prepare food and cash in advance.

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