Article by Myat Kyi La Thein (Myanmar)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
The word, Thingyan, is derived from the Pali, sankanta, which means “transit” , that is transition from old to new year. It is the New Year festival and usually falls around mid-April (Burmese month of Tagu). It is celebrated over a period of four to five days in the new year. The former festivals were calculated according to traditional Burmese luni-solar calendar but it is now have fixed according to Roman calendar (from 13th April to 16th) The dats of the festivals are observed as the most important public holiday. The festival is comparable to other new year festivities in Therabava Buddhist areas of Southeast asia, such as Laos, Cambodia, and Songkran in Thailand.
The earliest celebration in Myanmar was discovered in the ancient paintings of Bagan Dynasty. At that time, water was sprinkled to the shoulders with leaves called Thabyay. The tradition was done in order to purify the sins that was made in the previous years.
Ancient Bagan painting illustrating Thingyan
There are altogether 5 days, namely Akyo, Akya, Akyet, Atat and New Year day. People do not usually throw water on Akyo day, instead preparing platforms to throw water, foods to give away to the visitors. It is also believed that the god from Heaven, Thagyar Min comes down to earth every year. It is a tradition to welcome Thagyar Min with a pot with seven kinds of leaves or flowers on Akyo day. Every year there would be a prophesy, predicting the year ahead, based on what Thagyar Min will be riding on his way, and what he may carry in his hand. Children are usually told to be polite by the parents stating that Thagyar min will note them on Dog leather book with they are naughty, and will mark them in Golden book if they are being good.
Starting from Akya day, the water festival begins in all parts of the country. As it is the hottest time of the year, it is welcomed by most. Everyone is a fair game except monks, pregnant women and those who are taking sabath. In major cities such as Yangon, garden hoses, huge syringes made of brass or plastic, water pistols, even fire hoses are used in addition to gentler bowls and cups. Larger crowd of revelers, on foot, bicycles and motorbikes, and in open-top jeeps and trucks will do the rounds of all mandats, some making their own music. At night, Floats, gaily decorated and lit up, also with festive names and carrying orchestras as well as dozens of people in each of them, wearing same clothes, will roam the streets stopping at every mandate exchanging Thingyan songs. One of the Thingyan classics not to be missed is called Than-gyat. It is similar to rapping but one man leads and the rest bellows at the top of their voices making fun of and criticizing whatever is wrong in the country today such as inflation, consumerism, inept politicians etc.
There are mainly 2 thingyan snacks, one is “shwe yin aye”, made with chilled sweet coconut milk, bits of sticky rice and another one is “mont lone yay paw”, boiled glutinous rice balls with jiggery inside served with grated coconut. Everyone is welcomed to take part in making and everyone can join the feast. Sometimes, instead of sweet jaggery , a chilli is placed as a prank. The flower for the season is Padauk, a sweet scented flower and the reason is because it only blossoms in Thingyan New year time.
On the new year day, it is the time to do the good deeds. Some people visit pagodas, and some go to monasteries to receive the teachings of Buddha, Dhama. Some take sabaths while some perform hairwashing for the elderly. Some go to lakes and release the caught fish. Being a country of Theravada Buddhism, the new year is filled with doing good deeds, and donations so that outcomes of those things done on new year would be supporting the rest of the year as well as the rest of life.