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Ode to Thingyan
Holiday wishes from the great poet Zawgyi
Why we throw water at water festival
Marking a mid-April new year
Plus, Myanmar's local spin
Your complete guide
Hot spots to cool off, and what’s still open
Speaking truth to power
These artists aren't just kidding around – they're busy keeping a vital tradition alive
Your thoughts on skimpy holiday fashions
The secret rules of pandal-building
Plus, a quick language lesson for the holidays
Celebrating Thingyan where it all began
In focus: The decisive moment
Get right in the middle of the action!
Like a newspaper, but in reverse
Meet the man who decides the country's future. Plus, a look at the celestial side of the calendar
Take a deep breath
Reflections on a meditation retreat
Playing by the rules
Thagyamin isn't the only one checking if you're on your best behaviour
Break it to us gently, doc
A trip to the emergency room, and tips for staying safe. Plus, why we need to reclaim the reason for the season
Memories of a long-lost Thingyan toy
The beat of a different drum
Kengtung offers Thingyan with a rhythm
A new direction
Award-winning film director U Kyi Soe Tun talks about changing times
Our astrologer gives you the inside track for the year ahead
Contributors Zawgyi, Sandar Lwin, Nandar Aung, Phyo Wai Kyaw, Su Hlaing Tun, Kyay Hmon Win, Mya Kay Khine, Aye Nyein Win, Wade Guyitt, Shwegu Thitsar, Aye Thidar Kyaw, Aung Kyaw Nyunt, Myo Lwin, Zon Pann Pwint, Myat Nyein Aye, Ei Ei Thu, Douglas Long, Myat Noe, Hein Htet Aung, Aung Myin Kyaw Editors Myo Lwin, Wade Guyitt Sub editor Mya Kay Khine Soe Cover art and caricatures Thein Tun Oo Design Ko Khin Zaw, Ko Htway Photography Kaung Htet, Aung Htay Hlaing, Boothee, Thiri Lu, Ko Taik, Douglas Long,
Zarni Phyo, Phyo Wai Kyaw
For feedback and enquiries, please contact
Come! This is our custom, This is New Year, Behold, Padauk’s showy gold The date has told – Let the water be clear, and throw it! Let us be happy, and show it! Now the soul of the nation Is abroad in all the land.
Ode to Thingyan
– by Zawgyi; translation by "K" But come, This is New Year, This is Festival! Splash the water round, Let our mirth resound, And charity abound Today. That’s the Burmese way. This, the pagoda-land, The loud-laughter-land. The year is new, The month, Tagu, New leaves in old leaves’ places, South-wind with North-wind’s graces, Now sings Summer’s songster – Koel! Koel!
Haste! Here comes a procession, A merry throng With drum and gong. Down Pagoda Hill – How sweetly speaks the shawm! Singers and dancers, Ah, ah, the bullock Set free from yoke and plough; A carpet for its back, Its head smeared with unguent, Its horns bedecked with Padauk blossoms, Could I but enter into its spirit – How jolly! We love to set things free Would that our race can be similarly free.
This 1928 poem by Zawgyi was printed in his 1960 anthology Selections. Zawgyi was the pen name of writer, librarian and historian U Thein Han (1907-1990). English translation by “K”, the pen name of U Khin Zaw (1909-1989), writer, musicologist and head of the Burma Broadcasting Service. Photos (clockwise from left): Yangon, by Aung Htay Hlaing; Mandalay, by Phyo Wai Kyaw; Bagan, by Thiri Lu; Nay Pyi Taw, by Staff; Rakhine celebration by Aung Htay Hlaing.
Why do we throw water during Thingyan?
Like other new-year water festivals, Thingyan emerged from ancient Hindu traditions but has long since taken on a character of its own
efore Theravada Buddhism took hold in Myanmar in the 11th century under King Anawratha, Hindu beliefs and cultural activities held great sway, with astrology being one of the major traditions to take root. According to the Association of Myanmar Translation’s Encyclopedia, traditional Hindu belief says that events such as weather, politics and economics can be predicted based on the movement of the sun and stars. Not that everyone's entirely star-crossed. Astrology also offers a kind of free-will escape route: an elaborate set of beliefs and rituals developed to avoid impending misfortune (see pages 18 and 30 for more on this year’s predictions). Around the 10th century, royalty in the Bagan era began holding ritual hair-washings, called thingyantaw kor, to cleanse and purify their bodies, minds and spirits for the new year. Should you want to do the same, an account of the holiday called Myanmar Traditional Thingyan and published by the Ministry of Information lists some time-tested formulas for a proper royal rinse. One calls for a mix of melted snow, coconut water, well water, pond water, lake water, rain water, river water, water from a mountain, water that jewels have been dipped in – even water from neighbouring countries! To this potent mix must
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
then be added 28 – or, in another formula, 76 – scented medicinal herbal concoctions. The book says water-throwing remained exclusive to the royals for centuries. But the style of modern Thingyan pandals – the fresh bananas and coconut leaves – is derived from the decorations used then. So how did the splashing spread? One theory says that, in gathering the water from the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin rivers and from an island in the Gulf of Martaban near
Mawlamyaing, the servants got wet also. From there it’s a small step to splashing each other on purpose, teasing one another with the same holy water later used to cleanse the heads of royalty. Since the new year comes during the hottest time of the year, it doesn’t take much to imagine the habit then spreading to ordinary people outside the palace, as it seems to have done during the Konbaung dynasty around 1800. Some historians also link the tradition of throwing water to a Hindu tradition in which people
splashed each other with specially prepared red liquid during the transition to a new year. “As the new year Thingyan festival of the Myanmar people is derived from Hinduism,” the Encyclopedia says, “in ancient times there was a custom in which Myanmar people splashed parents, teachers and elders with scented water using the sprouts of the thapyay [Eugenia tree].” Despite its royal beginnings, the much-beloved democratic style of Thingyan really came into its own only later. Having diverged from its Hindu origins and taken on Buddhist and traditional animist concepts of its own (see facing page), the dainty private hair-washing has turned into an all-out festival of public dousing. But all activities during Thingyan and on new year’s day are traditionally meant to be done with love and goodwill. The goal is to end an old year and start a new one with bliss, and by splashing water on each other, we make one another feel cool and refreshed in the hot weather, and we wash away the spiritual dirt of the preceding year. Rakhine people do their splashing from long boats placed on land and ﬁlled with water (see photo above and in collage on page 3), while those in Kengtung celebrate to the beat of a different drum (see page 26). But wherever it happens, splashing water and doing good religious deeds are the common threads nationwide.
Other activities include partying at pandals (see page 12); parading with ﬂoats (see page 13; music and dances at night (see page 6); and sharing seasonal food and drink (see page 21). Thingyan is a time of merriment – sometimes to excess – and blowing off stress has also become a big part of the Thingyan spirit in the modern day. Especially in big cities, free ﬂow of alcohol, licentious activities, accidents, quarrels and other acts are becoming worrisomely common (see pages 10, 20 and 22 for thoughts on this). For those wishing to avoid the crowds and focus on the spiritual side, mass noviciation ceremonies; collective cleaning of pagodas, Buddha statues and monasteries; keeping sabbath; and entering meditation camps are popular (see page 23). Thingyan means “transition”, and derives from the Sanskrit Thinkanta, or Sinkanta; you can see the later version reﬂected in the name of Thailand’s Songkran festival, among others (see facing page). Thingyan days are actually new-year’s-eve days: They normally number three, but every four years during a leap year, an extra day is added (see calendar page 18). Then, on new year’s day, all thrilling activities stop and various good deeds are done in order to start the year off right by earning merit. Hair-washing and nail-cutting for the elders; setting living beings free, especially ﬁshes and birds (though oxen and cows are also freed in some places); various donation ceremonies to monks; and ceremonies of Buddhist recitation are all common on new year’s day. However you choose to mark it, all of us here at The Myanmar Times wish you a happy and memorable Thingyan and a wonderful 1376!
The legend of Thagyamin
Sikhs in the Punjab region and elsewhere celebrate Vaisakhi, an important religious festival as well as a time to give thanks for the start of spring, while Hindus mark the annual descent of the goddess Ganga to earth by ritual bathing in the Ganges River.
CHINA | Yunnan Province
Dai new year Vaishak Ek
Under Nepal’s official calendar, the solar new year begins at this time, while its unofficial lunar year begins in November.
Pi Mai Lao
At the famous beauty contest held in Luang Prabang to crown Nang Sangkhan (Miss New Year), the seven finalists who parade through the streets are meant to symbolise the seven daughters of an ancient king.
Among the Dai ethnic people, new year’s water-splashing recalls the washing of blood from the clothing of a girl who had been tasked with holding the severed head of an evil demon for the preceding year.
In the northern areas of the country, people bring sand to monasteries to replace what they carried away on the soles of their feet during the rest of the year, and construct small sand pagodas from it.
India’s diversity shines through at this time of year, with many states celebrating new-year festivals, including Ugadi (Hindus in Deccan region), Gudi Padwa (Marathi Hindus in Konkani), Bohag Bihu (Assamese new year, in Assam state), Mahavishuva Sankranti (Oriya new year, in Odisha state), Sajibu Cheiraoba (the Meiteis people of Manipur), Vishu (Malayali new year, in Kerala state), Bisu (Tuluva new year, in Karnataka state), Puththandu (Tamil new year, in Tamil Nadu state) Jude Shital (Maithili new year, in Mithila), and many more.
Chaul Chnam Thmey
Cambodians save their “water festival” for Bon Om Thook, a three-day event in November marking the end of rainy season and the reversal of flow of Tonle Sap River – but they’ve celebrated new year in April since around the 13th century, when a king decided it should coincide with the end of the rice harvest.
Bengali New Year emerges from the time when businesses would put away their old ledger books and take out new ones, with the shoshtik mark drawn on their covers by priests, and in Dhaka celebrations always begin with a performance of a song by Rabindranath Tagore under a banyan tree.
Sometimes Thingyan lasts an extra day, to make up for a leap day falling in the previous year.
SINGAPORE and MALAYSIA
Tamil new year is celebrated in several countries, with the first financial exchange of the year being the gift of money from elders to the young for good luck.
Images courtesy of astrologer U Min Thein (Hlaing publishers); see page 18
In between the end of the old Sinhalese year and the start of the new is a few hours called “nona gathe” (neutral period) when one avoids work and dedicates oneself to religious activities.
BY SANDAR LWIN
HE main celestial players in Thingyan folklore are Thagyamin, who is king of the nats (spirits); a brahma named Ahthi; and some female nats. Also, a severed head that’s passed around at each new year. But don’t worry – everything turns out well. As background, though, it’s important to know that scholars say Thagyamin’s story is copied from Hindu mythology. However, Buddhist literature in Myanmar also incorporates celestial beings, including the existence of Brahmas, whose lifespans are said to be thousands of times longer than those of humans. And Myanmar’s nat beliefs come from pre-existing local animist beliefs. So the Thingyan story really represents an intertwining of many strands, resulting in two related stories involving the same ﬁgure, Thagyamin. In Thingyan myth, brahmas are superior to nats and inhabit a higher celestial region. Thagyamin belongs to the abode one step lower: the second of seven devoted to nat inhabitants. One day, Thagyamin and the brahma Ahthi were arguing. One version says it was over when he should visit the human realm (in other words, when the sun should begin the transition period from one year to the next); another says they were gambling and that Ahthi lost and refused to pay; another says they were debating a matter of mathematics and each wagered his own head on being right. Whichever it was, Thagyamin cut short the discussion by cutting off Ahthi’s head. Because the head of a celestial being could blast open the earth if it fell on it, Thagyamin asked his nat attendants to hang on to it for safekeeping. Each year, the head is passed from the one who held it last year to this year's bearer. According to writer Aung Nyein Chan’s book Myanmar Traditional Thingyan, Thagyamin became associated with the transition from one year to the next during the Amarapura era of the Konbaung dynasty (around 1800 AD).
The sun – or, as it’s known in Hindu astrology, the Sunday planet – ends a year-long circling of the earth on the day of Thingyan a-kyo, or Thingyan eve. (This cosmology, of course, doesn’t locate the earth as being the one orbiting the sun.) A Hindu astrologer from the Konbaung dynasty, Sanda Shein, wrote that on the next day, a-kya, Thagyamin arrives on earth. He stays for the next day, a-kyat, and an additional a-kyat day if it’s a leap year. The next day is A-tet, when the transition ends and he departs, leaving us alone again for
When you mark the new year reveals a lot about how you measure the passage of time
n ancient Rome, the new year started the day new consuls took office. Before 222 BC, that meant May 1; then it was March 15; and from 153 BC onward it was on a date more familiar to most of the world today – January 1. After Rome crumbled, some Western countries re-aligned the start of their new year to match the dates of signiﬁcant Christian holidays such as Christmas or Easter. While the English public continued to think of a new year as starting January 1 – the date became integrated into the “12 days of Christmas” marked at Yule – until the switch from Julian to Gregorian calendars in 1752 England’s official legal calendar year actually began on March 25. It was March 25 because this day marked the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin – Lady Day, for short. One of four quarterly harvest festivals falling close to religious festivals as well as equinoxes or
solstices, Lady Day traditionally marked the start of spring. But since there was no harvesting to be done at that time of year, March 25’s harvest festival became known instead as the day that landowners, workers and tenants renewed their contracts and leases, and those wishing to move to different farms did so prior to the start of a new planting season. To this day, many companies and governments still use April 6 – Lady Day’s date in the post-1752 calendar – as the time to start a new year of budget planning. Now you know why the ﬁscal year differs from the calendar year – and why tax time comes in April instead of January! Other countries and cultures use their own reference points to work out when the year turns over, many of which are linked to the movement of the moon or sun. The Chinese new year falls on the ﬁrst new moon of its ﬁrst lunar month (sometime between January 21 and February 21). Vietnam marks the same event, and celebrations occur in Korea, Mongolia and Tibet
during a similar period. Nowruz (meaning “new day”) is a celebration of the new year observed in dozens of countries in the former Persia between March 19 and March 22. This is the equinox period – the “equal night” period – when the sun appears directly over the equator and daytime lasts exactly 12 hours. The new year in Myanmar and several other countries in Southeast Asia is based on the ancient Hindu calendar and marks the sun's shift into the constellation Aries. Myanmar’s traditional lunisolar calendar associates this with the full moon of the 11th month, called Tagu, but now the new year falls on a ﬁxed date of the Western calendar (see page 18 for a day-by-day guide). For Myanmar and its neighbours marking Northern Spring, the fact that the new year comes just before monsoon season adds a special resonance to the celebrations. And the fact that this is the hottest time of the year makes people all the more eager to get their feet wet – along with everything else!
a well-behaved new year’s day the next day. (See page 18 for more on Thagyamin’s visit this year.) Why does he come? Well, in Thingyan myth Thagyamin is described as a gambler and a murderer. But in Buddhist belief he is thought to be good-hearted and a devoted Buddhist. When visiting the human realm, Thagyamin takes a look at whether or not the moral standards of human beings have deteriorated. The names of those who do good deeds are written on a gold sheet, while those who do bad are recorded on a sheet made of dog leather. By doing so, he reminds people that their deeds are being watched and that they should be careful what they do. He’s also said to appear during extraordinary events, such as those related to morally high-class people such as would-be Buddhas. So while Thingyan seems at ﬁrst glance to be an excuse to behave badly, it’s actually the opposite. So watch out! You never know when Thagyamin might be watching you.
Where to go
is an official government holiday, and most shopping centres will also be closed, as will many restaurants. It’s always best to call ahead to avoid disappointment. City Mart will be closed April 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, so stock up on whatever you need before the holiday starts.
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
Royal palace moat
When Mandalay’s city planners arranged for the royal palace to be surrounded by a moat, they were probably more interested in self-defence than fun and games. But today, as a source of water right in the middle of the city, the moat provides a perfect scenic area for revellers. This year there will be 33 large and medium-sized pandals around the city moat. Last year had 40, but this year there will only be one on 12th Street on the palace’s north side, and two on the west, leaving 15 on south-side 26th Steet and 15 on east-side 66th Street. Don’t just stick to the south and east sides, though: There will be plenty of street-level bucket-dousing happening elsewhere. If you’re looking for rock, check out SIR on 12th Street, as well as the ever-popular Alpine stage on 26th.
HE country’s largest city is set for a busy Thingyan. A total of 119 pandals are planned for this year, double last year’s number. The largest pandals (those longer than 100 feet, or 30 metres) will be, as always, closest to the biggest water supply. For the biggest parties, then, head to Inya Lake on Pyay Road and Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, or Kandawgyi Lake. Traffic will be at a standstill; music will be pounding; everyone will be too busy dancing to go anywhere else. There will also be a big stage in front of City Hall next to Sule Pagoda where the official opening ceremonies will take place. Of course, Thingyan happens everywhere – it’s on every corner, along every street, and some of its most memorable aspects are the quieter places, where splashers really are glad to see you. But if you want to see the big shows, here’s a rundown of a few options. Note that partying in these places will require you to buy tickets ahead of time – but there’s no charge to wander by and check out the scene.
Kabar Aye Pagoda Road If you want to taste traditional Thingyan food, head to Black Culture, which is serving up a traditional menu. Full passes cost K37,000, or buy a day pass for K12,000, K15,000 or K18,000. Beer and punch will also be available. Tickets: 09450055918, 095051545, 0973828888
and get private restrooms and waiters at lunch. Food and punch is free for all dousers. Tickets: 095148210, 095024479, 09421084928
Kabar Aye Pagoda Road A full pass to Project X cost K45,000; dousers can play with 700 pipes and 6 water cannons on a huge space measuring 160ft by 40ft. Free flow of punch and beer will be offered and dousers can move with the music by Pioneer. Tickets: 09420177032, 0973209184, 095128692
Kabar Aye Pagoda Road Hit Man offers 500 pipes and 5 water cannons. Full passes cost K45,000; singleday options are available for K15,000, K20,000 or K25,000. Shake with Juize Muzic DJ School under the watchful eye of over a dozen bodyguards. Lunch and punch will be served all four days. Tickets: 095019293, 0943051873, 095126409
Kandawgyi Gardens Tired of the moat loop? For a change of scenery, head instead to Kandawgyi Gardens in Chan Mya Tharsi township. Last year was the first year pandals have been allowed here, and before that low water levels were said to be the culprit. But evidently the experiment was a success, as the location is open again this year. U Bein Bridge
Grand Royal Thingyan 2014
Kandawgyi For a great time you don’t need to pay for, try the four-day free show put on by Grand Royal Whisky. Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, Chit Kaung, Lin Lin, Soe Tae, Wine Su Khine Thein and others will be entertaining along with Dream Lover. A foam party, dances and other program will put on, while tunes will be provided from 9am-6pm by DJ Fred Jungo from Switzerland, DJ Shane Ob from Australia and DJ Thaw Thaw from Myanmar.
– Nandar Aung
Kabar Aye Pagoda Road If you don't care about price and just want a memorable experience, try 14 Club. A full
four-day ticket will cost K50,000, including lunch, free-flow punch and paid bar. A VIP ticket will be K120,000, including a lunch table, security and rest room access. You can also buy a ticket for specific days only if you want to drop in on more than one scene. DJ Roll One and DJ Htoo Htoo will serve up non-stop sound; 500 pipes and 8 water cannons will serve up non-stop water. Tickets: 09502270, 0973059373, 09420728106
Kabar Aye or Kandawgyi For a blizzard of water, try Blizzard pandal, with 600 pipes and 6 water cannons. Full passes are K45,000, or go VIP for K70,000
One of the country’s iconic locations and photo spots, U Bein Bridge in Amarapura township is held up by 1000 teak logs. It’s also 160 years old, dating back to around the time of the founding of Mandalay itself, and some of those logs have become dangerously rotted. In advance of Thingyan, officials have started a much-needed repair program, and officials have announced that the bridge will be read to go in time for the hordes of people who will be packed in along its 1.2-kilometre (0.75-mile) span.
– Phyo Wai Kyaw
Warriors of wit
Slogan-chanting is a reminder to the government that its people are watching
BY ZON PANN PWINT
HINGYAN isn’t just about young people splashing cold water, serving traditional snacks and doing good deeds. There is another tradition, equally loved but less often discussed, in which artists tour from one pandal to another in decorated vehicles, chanting slogans that ridicule the government in witty and entertaining ways. The tradition dates to the Bagan era, when counselors addressed the needs of people and the weakness of laws in a clever but formal way to the king during water festival at court. As the time-honoured practice developed into an art form, the commentary become sharper. These artists provided powerful commentary on the government and ministers, pointing out any unfairness of their actions and urging them to correct. Called thangyat, the performances became a ﬁrm favourite with citizens, with the best troupes given awards
for the cleverness of their wordplay. During the socialist era, however, it wasn’t what authorities wanted to hear. Many thangyat troupes were banned and troupe leaders were thrown into prisons. Out of about 50 troupes, nearly none were left by the time the practice was once more permitted, political commentary and
disadvantage. I acted as a poor boy who didn’t receive formal education,” U Cho Gyi said. His father, U Tun Shein, was a member of Padauk Tasay (Padauk Ghost) and later founded his own troupe called A Kyee Tan Lu Ta Thike (Ugly Group) in 1970. “Every year, I accompanied my
gather and take off their watches and gold rings and I collect them and go to the pawn shop. That happens every year. ’
– U Cho Gyi
‘ Whenever Thingyan gets closer, the members
all, by the government in 2013. One troupe which continues to risk arrest by touring around Yangon is called Kyunnote Doh The (We Are). Troupe leader U Cho Gyi, whose real name is U Kyaw Kyaw Tun, inherited the love of thangyat from his father. “At the age of ﬁve, I started to accompany my father’s troupe on the trip during Thingyan and took on smaller parts. At the time they were satirising the dismal education system that put children at a
father until I was a teenager,” U Cho Gyi said. But the troupe was barred from performing in 1974, and U Tun Shein was arrested for chanting antisocialist slogans. U Cho Gyi bravely started his own troupe in 1978, taking up his father’s cause. It was a tough time to get in on the act. While it used to be that pandals would give awards to the best troupes, from the 1980s onward the number declined as authorities threatened to ﬁne any
pandal organisers who supported the troupes. From then on, U Cho Gyi said, it was a struggle to survive. He also said it has been a struggle he has never questioned. “I have never sprayed water during Thingyan,” he said. “Whenever the festival arrives in April, I want to chant slogans and perform.” He and his fellow performers have paid a heavy price for their commitment. “The year 1989 was the worst year. The only competition was organised by the National League for Democracy and many performers were arrested for competing. My troupe took part and I had to ﬂee from my home for nearly six months to escape being arrested,” he said. Afterward, he got back to work. “I can’t bear the thought of suppressing my hunger for thangyat during Thingyan. Therefore, my apartment was often pawned every year to hire the band and a vehicle." When the generous donations from supporters weren’t enough, U Cho Gyi sold his apartment to continue the practice.
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
“I have to live in this little wooden house because of Thingyan,” he said, from his small rental on Kyaung Street in Thuwana. He sells a variety of goods at trade fairs held throughout the country to earn his living and get him through until next year’s festival. Others are sacriﬁcing too. His
‘The troupe is a vehicle for their dissatisfactions about
the government, but we express it in a comical and artistic way. Therefore, the people feel more relaxed and relieved.’
– U Cho Gyi
troupe consists of 80 members. Half are performers; the rest are musicians and stage designers. “Whenever Thingyan gets closer, the members gather and take off their watches and gold rings and I collect them and go to the pawn shop. That happens every year,” U Cho Gyi said. He starts writing slogans two
months ahead of the festival. “Normally we write slogans that are based on people’s feelings that they are not pleased or satisﬁed. The troupe is an vehicle for their dissatisfactions about the government, but we express it in a comical and artistic way. Therefore, the people feel more relaxed and
relieved,” he said. While political slogans have been allowed again since 2013, censorship is still one of the most serious challenges they face. “We have to submit written slogans,” he said. “We have to tear out the parts of the book that they don’t like.”
But he said censorship is relaxing now, compared to how it was under the previous government, and ﬁnancially things are getting a bit easier as well. With the re-emergence of permitted thangyat performances in 2013, sponsors have re-appeared as well. Last year a competition named Ludu Pae Tin Than (The People’s Echo) for thangyat troupes was organised, with prizes given by Sky Net television channel, and prizes of K3 million for the ﬁrst-prize winner. Kyunnote Doh The, U Cho Gyi's troupe, won second place, receiving K2 million. The win is putting them back in the streets where they belong. “This year, Sky Net and Shwe FM radio station will provide two vehicles. We will tour around Yangon with them,” U Cho Gyi said. In the past, members of the troupe were poets and they didn’t use musicians for backing, so great was their sense of timing. Later, troupes started to use bands to help keep the audience’s attention. It’s unlikely, though, that anyone will be turning away when U Cho Gyi and his performers step up to the
microphone this year. They’ve been rehearsing this year’s performance for a month. It will tackle bribery and corruption, and particularly the ill-treatment of citizens. Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development U Ohn Myint’s remark that he would slap anyone who opposes government policies will be a particularly juicy target for comment. So long as that kind of talk continues, U Cho Gyi and his fellow thangyat artists will be listening – and coming up with still snappier rejoinders to unleash with a splash come next April.
Photo: Phyo Wai Kyaw
How much is too much?
Ma Ohnmar May Maung
18, student HE festival itself is called the traditional Myanmar new year festival and girls should be dressing decently according to the culture. But I don’t mean they should be very traditional and formal. I just think they should be dressing up a little bit. When my mother got married, she wore her longyi covering down to her ankles. No one at that time wore shorts – not even pants. Now, if a girl is wearing very traditional dress, she will be thought of as a bit eccentric. Last year there were many photos on Facebook of girls wearing shorts. They should be more careful in their dress.
Daw Nan Wah Wah Maung
42, orphanage chair WAS very happy when I was young. We did a traditional Yein dance every year during Thingyan. My mother was a school teacher. She gathered her students at home to perform the dance. Up to matriculation level, I danced at township and ward pandals every Thingyan. Starting from 20 years of age, I stopped throwing water and dancing at the pandals and started meditation at centres. During our younger days, we wore clothes decently. Later on, I was shocked to see the way young girls in Myanmar wore skirts so short and appeared on the internet. I don’t like it. I can’t believe the girls on the internet are Myanmar girls. I look down on the girls. I criticise them. By wearing scanty clothing they not only damage their own reputations but those of their relatives.
U Kyaw Win Hlaing
26, engineer E will be seeing girls in shorts this year just like last year, I think. Many girls in Myanmar are imitating how their counterparts in western countries are behaving. Foreign fashions have been dominating in Myanmar. Many girls now come to ceremonies in Western dresses. I don’t think they should be wearing things like this. Personally, I think they are inviting danger. In the old days, women participated in Thingyan in their traditional dresses. That is very decent. There was no internet here at that time. Now, the change is not only in dress. Many girls are holding beer mugs in one hand and a cigarette in another hand. It’s like a fashion. In order to get rid of these bad customs, it will take time. Parents play an important role. If the parents are encouraging their daughters to dress in the so-called modern fashion, it will be diﬃcult to teach the daughters to be modest and keep their culture.
Daw Win Kyi
59, technician HEN I was young, we went around town in the car with family and relatives. There were no accidents. We threw water at each other like sisters and brothers. We made jokes and teased each other, and saw many thangyat slogan performances. There were many car ﬂoats around town. These scenes are now fading fast. It is good to see a Myanmar girl in modern dress. But if a girl dresses too modern, many want to tease or shout to see how she will respond. There are not many people who are honest. Boys are also aggressive. It is not a good sight to see girls in short jeans. It becomes worse if a girl’s conduct is unsightly. Myanmar people need to be careful in the way they dress and the way they act.
– Aung Kyaw Nyunt
All the world’s a stage
Anybody who says “anything goes” at Thingyan has never tried building a pandal
WHat do you call those Thingyan stages where people stand and spray water on passersby to celebrate the new year? Depends where you come from, actually. If you’re speaking English, it’s probably “pandal”. If you’re speaking Myanmar, it’s “mandat”. But hold on – in what way is “pandal” considered an English word? To most new arrivals, “pandal” sounds just as foreign as “mandat” does. In fact, if you took a poll of most foreigners, they’d probably tell you they assumed that “pandal” is a Myanmar word! These cultured travellers would never call a longyi a sarong, or order mohinga by asking for ﬁsh soup. So why do they prefer “pandal” to “mandat”? First, a bit of background. As many Myanmar words do, “mandat” comes from a Pali word “mandapa”. The Thai word “mondop”, referring to altar shrines, comes from the same source, as does the modern “mandapa“ or “mandapam” of India, which describes an area of a Hindu temple. ”Pandal”, in contrast, comes from the Tamil "pantal". It means “marquee”, and is used in Indian English to refer to a structure set up during a religious festival, or for wedding stages, and in Sri Lanka for a similar reason. Here are some of the earliest examples of recorded usage in English, from the Oxford English Dictionary: From 1692: “Open pandall Chappel”. From 1800: “I would not enter his pundull, because he had not paid the labourers who made it.” From 1893: “The town was gaily decorated in honour of his visit, twenty pandals having been erected along the route to Government House.” How did this word come to be used among English-speakers in Myanmar? Well, when Burma was still governed as a section of India, the British would have used the same word to describe festivals here as they did there. Here’s an OED listing from 1929: “Her mother, the Kalawoon’s wife, was running the pandal or festival pavilion for Thibaw.” Myanmar is not India, of course, and fortunately most colonial vocabulary used for describing locals and their traditions has long since fallen by the wayside. Yet somehow “pandal” has stuck, long past the age of empire and after 50 years of tourism nearly at a standstill. So who keeps teaching visitors that this is the word to use? Are all tourists being issued copies of The Burman: His Life and Notions when they get oﬀ the plane? Well, it’s not really as bad as all that. Today “pandal” is an interesting example of the small vocabulary of what might call Myanmar English. It probably survived the last 60 years courtesy of those who, growing up in the post-Independence era, continued to learn in a British-modelled education system. Now foreigners who come here learn it instead of “mandat”, because that’s what it’s always been called in English; while who were born here say “mandat” to their friends but switch to “pandal” when talking in English, because they assume their interlocutor won’t be familiar with the Myanmar-language equivalent. “Pandal”, then, an interesting example of an outdated word that has found a new place in current English usage – albeit in a narrowly restricted area. But since both words are two syllables, six letters and diﬀer only in their ﬁrst and last letters, why not make it your new year’s resolution to expand your vocabulary a bit? Support bilingualism: try “mandat”!
– Wade Guyitt
Construction in progress at the Mayor's pandal in 2013. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
BY SHWEgU THITsAR AYE THIDAR KYAW
HILE anyone can set up a hose in their front yard, you can’t just built a 100-footlong, multi-level structure without official permission. In Yangon, that responsibility falls to the Yangon City Development Committee’s engineering department, and its mandat location subcommittee (for more on the “mandat” versus “pandal” issue, see the sidebar). First comes the bidding – and it’s ﬁerce. This year in Mandalay, 270 applied for 33 spots. Yangon will host 52 large (over 100 feet) and 36 medium (50- to 100-foot) pandals last year, plus 26 small (less than 50-foot) pandals spread across the townships. In all, Yangon will have 119 pandals, more than double last year's total. “In positioning the pandals, we gave better positions for those who followed the rules and celebrated Thingyan systematically last year,” said U Myo Lwin, vice president of YCDC’s engineering department. “The rest are decided by lucky draw.” The large pandals will be located on Pyay Road, Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, and Kandawgyi Road. Their organisers must deposit K7.5 million with YCDC’s engineering department, while medium size requires K4.5 million. Up
to K3 million can be taken as a ﬁne instead of returned as agreed April 22-26, should rules be broken. All building must be completed ﬁve days prior to April 13, the ﬁrst day of the festival. Any structure not located according to the subcommittee’s instructions will have its licence revoked. Pandals 10 feet longer than their permitted lengths are ﬁned K500,000. Steel structures require H-beams and I-beams instead of hollow supports, and everything must be fully welded. Each pandal must display its name using “Myanmar 3 Font, Size 504”, or face a ﬁne of K1 million. Prefer a different size? YCDC will charge you between K500,000 to K800,000. You can also be ﬁned K1 million if you don’t display, on vinyl in size 25 font, the names and phone numbers of the main and secondary officials, the pandal manager, and the primary and secondary traffic managers. For safety, CCTV cameras must be in place before noon on April 12, and the CCTV records must be given to the analysis department before 8pm. What about the water? “As we have stored appropriate amounts of water with the government’s main water systems through dams for the coming summer season, there is no need to worry about the Thingyan period,” said U Myo Lwin, assistant chief engineer
of YCDC’s Water and Sanitation Department. In all, the city’s 119 pandals will share 159 water supply hoses, he said. Pipes from YCDC cost K100,000 for a 1-inch diameter, K200,000 for a 1.5-inch pipe and K300,000 for a 2-inch pipe. To draw from Inya Lake or Kandawgyi, larger 3-inch, 4-inch or 6-inch pipes are required, and cost K300,000, K500,000 and K800,000 respectively. Prices for a connection are about 20 percent higher than last year. All pipes must be removed on April 17, the ﬁrst day of the Myanmar new year, U Myo Thein said, and failure to abide by YCDC’s regulations will lead to a tripling of the charge. In crowded areas such as Tarmwe, Mingalar Taung Nyunt, Pazundaung and Botahtaung, 24-hour water supply will be provided. Yangon’s downtown – Kyauktada, Pabedan, Latha, Lanmadaw, Bahan and Dagon townships – will receive a double quota, 7-11am and 3-6pm. Ahlone, Kyeemyindaing and Sanchaung will have water 7-10am. Regular supply will be available in suburban and outskirts townships such as Mingalardon, Insein, Mayangone, Yankin, Kamaryut, Hlaing, Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, North Okkalapa, South Okkalapa, Thingangyun, Thaketa, Dawbon, North and South Dagon.
– Translation by Hein Htet Aung
A finished pandal, er, mandat waits for the fun to start in 2013. Photo: Boothee
A traditional Mandalay Thingyan
BY KYAY MONE WIN
OUNG people begin talking about the water festival in the third week of March. Water Festival Club and Antiphonal Chant Club advertisements are seen everywhere at the top of the streets and wards. At night, people gather at the compounds to rehearse the songs and dance they will perform. At least, that’s how water festival was celebrated in Mandalay in the late 1970s. Today, the mood has changed, but everyone still loves to tell and listen to these old stories, and yearns to have such times back again. “In our younger days, the day after the matriculation examination, we used to see signs at the top of the streets. In these signs, the clubs advertised to ask people to join them. In the morning, we discussed at tea shop what would we do during the festival days. At night, we gazed at the belles who rehearsed dances at the compounds. It was so fun, starting about a month beforehand,” said author Sue Hnget from Mandalay. “In Mandalay, there was no splashing water on the ﬁrst day of festival in the past. And a lovely tradition of water festival then was a line of festival ﬂoats which made
Girls wait to perform in Mandalay during last year's Thingyan. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
obeisance to Mahamuni Pagoda on the ﬁrst day of festival. Audiences who wanted to watch these ﬂoats waited near the Zaycho clock-tower and Phayar Gyi Pagoda,” he added. Although then Mandalay was not as large as it is today, the spirit of how much the people loved the festival was widely known. “Mandalay city was small to go around in the past,” Sue Hnget said. “There were no places to visit south of Phayar Gyi Pagoda or north of Mandalay moat. And there was just
a ﬁeld to the east of Aung Taw Mu Pagoda. Because of this situation, the number of clubs – Antiphonal Chant Club, Festival Dance Club, Float Club – which were formed for the festival rose to at least 150.” A main water-spraying pavilion was set up and other stages were built in each township. Back then, everything wasn’t centred around the moat as it is now. Instead, pavilions were set up on main roads such as 84th, 26th, 30th and 80th streets. There, dances and musical performances of
the clubs were judged and awarded. “Splashing water was not important for Mandalay people during water festival. There were only water-spraying pavilions which were made from coconut fronds and people used to splash water with cups. There were also many pavilions which entertained with music and dances. By nightfall, the real fun began, with music, song and dance. People didn’t want the festival to end.” One club, the Myoma club, is inseparable from Thingyan in Mandalay. “Floats began perform in the year of 1927-1928,” said U Hla Khaing, the club’s current chair. “Myoma club had been founded in 1925. During one decade – from 1965 to 1975 – actor Win Oo who was the most popular actor at that time performed together with Myoma club,” he said. At that time, he said, so much was happening you needed a whole day just to walk around one township. But although Mandalay’s water festival teemed with participants by the early 1970s, by the middle of the decade the country had fallen into a recession, and it had had an impact on city’s economy. The clubs couldn’t perform as before. A further struggle came in 1978, when only government departmental pavilions were allowed. That’s when the moat started to become the
centre of celebrations, U Hla Kyaing said, for security reasons. Myoma also went through hard times. It was suspended in 1976 and resumed performing only in 1996. While those times are past, some local people who remember Thingyan in its glory days worry about what will happen in the future. Some say they’re disgusted at the way celebrations are carried out. Suu Ngut, who held a monographreading event about Mandalay water festival in February 2013, said it’s important to cherish Thingyan, as it is an important national tradition. “I understand the changes as time goes by. But these four festival days out of 365 days are important. The world focuses on water festival. So we should use these days to build interest in and respect for our race and nation. We should highlight our ancient heritage buildings within festival days, the moat and city walls, instead of covering them with vinyl advertisements.” “I used to look forward to water festival days,” he said. “Now I don't even know how the festival will turn out. I want to see a return to the Mandalay water festival of the old days. I hope we can control the destructive actions happening in the culture and in people’s minds.”
–Translation by Win Thaw Tar
In Focus: Glimpses of Thingyan. Photos: 1, 2 Phyo Wai Kyaw; 3 Staff; 4 Aung Htay Hlaing; 5 Staff
In Focus: Glimpses of Thingyan. Photos: 1 Aung Htay Hlaing; 2 Zaw Naing Soe; 3 Staff; 4 Aung Htay Hlaing; 5 Zaw Naing Soe
Sunday, April 13, 2014 13th waxing of Tagu, 1375 A-kyo-nay (the pre-day) Feasting, religious observances, but hold oﬀ on throwing water! (Don’t get upset if others don’t.) Flowers to represent each birthday of the week should placed outside to welcome Thagyamin.
Monday, April 14, 2014 Full moon day of Tagu, 1375 A-kya-nay (the descending day) The descent of Thagyamin signals the start of the festival. At precisely 10:18.39am, the transition begins. Prepare to get drenched!
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 1st waning of Tagu, 1375 A-kyat-nay (the intervening day) On leap years there are two a-kyatnay days, stretching out the festival an additional day to keep the calendar in sync.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014 2nd waning of Tagu, 1375 A-tet-nay (the ascending day) At 2:23.20pm, the transition period ends and Thagyamin departs, so make sure you get your ﬁll of splashing before this time.
Thursday, April 17, 2014 3rd waning of Tagu, 1376 Hnit-hsan-ta-yet-nay (new year’s day) Happy 1376! Hang your shorts to dry and put on your best pressed longyi. It’s a day for quiet contemplation and paying respect to elders.
Telling the fortunes of the coming year
BY MYAT NYEIN AYE
AKING claims about what will happen in the new year dates back to around the 9th century, in the Bagan era. For many
centuries these predictions were made by brahmas and delivered ﬁrst to the kings, who then shared them with the people afterward. By the time the colonial era rolled around,
the royals had been turfed by the British, but by then the printing press meant the middle man, royal or otherwise, was no longer needed. Printed predictions started in the 1800s and have continued ever since. Today, Thingyan-sar, or Thingyan predictions, continue to be published each year a few months before the new year and are advertised by venders at bus stops and crowded places. They bring news of the future to the public and are consulted by those who wish to know more about what their business, politics or social lives will hold in the coming year. U Min Thein, who descends from the brahmas of old, has been a Thingyan-sar astrologer for the past three decades. He says most of the famous Thingyan-sar astrologers have come from Mandalay Region, and that his predictions are based on the 3000-year-old Thuriya Siddhanta
He said the predictions remain popular among the people, and they’re read by everyone from farmers to businesspeople to politicians. “Some farmers read the Thingyansar and they judge whether they should plant the crops or not. Also brokers are reading and deciding whether they need to store up more goods this year,” he said. People believe the celestial being Thagyamin comes to the earth every Thingyan. By looking at when he comes, what animal he rides and what he holds, people believe details of the coming year can be predicted. For this year, Thagyamin arrives on a Monday. He will therefore ride a snake and be holding an arrow and an iron hook in each hand, and will be wearing a suit of the colour of fresh milk. Following the traditional story
A woman consults U Min Thein's official predictions for the year. Photo: Ko Taik
scripture from the Indian culture. From 2001 to 2012, predictions were only published by the Ministry of Culture, because they needed to be checked over carefully by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Board (PSRB), who didn't want to ﬁnd any unwelcome surprises in their own future. “Private publishing started in 2013 following changes in the government,” U Min Thein said. “We can now publish my predictions privately and we don’t need to put them to the Ministry of Culture and the PSRB. It is better than the past.”
associated with his annual visit, the head of a brahma will be passed this year between Kaynar Devi and Danthi Devi (see page 5 for how and why). Kawartha Devi will greet Thagyamin wearing of a dress of ﬁve colours: white, red, green, blue and yellow. Based on this and many other factors, U Min Thein this year predicts the monsoon may end early but that there could be heavy rain during mid to late rainy season. Illness may rise, snakes may be common, and businesses may face hardship, but the country will grow.
A sense of serenity at meditation centre
BY EI EI THU
S water festival approaches, Thingyan songs grow louder, plastic padauk ﬂowers spring up for sale at shopping centres, and government offices and private businesses prepare for 10 days off. Young and old, everyone looks forward to the freedom that starts on April 12 and lasts until April 21. Even thinking about where they will go and what they will do during the holiday makes them happy. Last year, though, I decided to think about something else instead. I resolved to do seven days of meditation at Yan Aung Myae Monastery inside the compound of Wut-Kyway-Daw-Pyae Pagoda in North Dagon, about 45 minutes’ drive from the downtown area. Upon arriving, right away I
realised I hadn’t brought personal things I would need like a cup, a toothbrush and toothpaste. But I had brought one important thing: patience. That mindset helped me a lot. I’d be sleeping in an open hall with other women of differing ages, and even sharing a sleeping mat. But even though it was a meditation centre, the rules weren’t very strict, so everything worked out okay. For the week I stayed, we were all vegetarians. We got up at 3:30am and we had to enter the meditation area by 4am for the ﬁrst of our sixtimes-daily sessions. That was my ﬁrst experience of sitting quietly for half an hour at a time. After the ﬁrst session, we took a break to have breakfast. As the centre had not many people to help prepare meals, I helped out. At the end of the day we attended a teaching session with a monk and then did meditation again before
returning to our sleeping area at 9pm. Some were talkative at night, and I found it difficult to sleep in the new environment. I had to draw on the patience I was learning, to tame or control myself. After two or three days, though, I became accustomed to my routines and could adjust my biological clock. I had to try not to be singing while taking a bath which I normally did at home. Singing is a taboo at the meditation centre. But hearing the distant sound of Thingyan songs sometimes made it difficult. Sitting quietly and concentrating only on breathing so that the mind was not going from one place to another every split-second was also hard. Many times I lost concentration and would ﬁnd. I had been thinking about something else when I was supposed to be sitting with my mind quiet. But I felt a kind of happiness once I realised I was
Hair-washing as a way of paying respect to elders is a holiday tradition. Photo: Staff
able to achieve what I had come to do. I was happy when I could control my mind while sitting and even when mixing with other people of different personalities. On the last day at the meditation centre, I washed the hair of some elderly people who were about the same age as my grandparents. We offered rice to all the monks
at the monastery. We thanked all the monks who taught us how to meditate and control minds. And then we rejoined the rest of the world once more. I will be returning this Thingyan for another session. I invite other young people to try it too. I am sure they will be wanting to go back. – Translation by Myo Lwin
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
Yangon to deploy 900 traffic police for Thingyan
BY AYE NYEIN WIN
ITH up to 15 people packing in to the backs of jeeps, drinks ﬂowing and nobody keeping their attention on the road, Thingyan is a particularly dangerous time to be out and about. “There will be more pandals this year than last year and we will be busier,” said Police LieutenantColonel Linn Htut of the Yangon Region Police Force. “So, we will use our whole force fully.” Last year, he said, officers worked in shifts, with some getting days off. Not so this year: “This year we will all be on duty from 7am to 8pm during the water festival,” Pol Lt-Col Linn Htut said. “We will deploy the full strength of our force at the corners of the main roads like Pyay Road and Kabar Aye Pagoda Road, and some busy places like Inya Lake and Kandawgyi. We have arranged to have pandals on one side of the road rather than on both sides of the roads,” he said. “Everyone is active and overjoyed during Thingyan,” he added, “but it is important not to be risking danger. We cannot break rules and regulations merely because it is Thingyan and we are all free.” Like every year, the traffic police have made announcements and requests ahead of time to plead with the public to keep safe and follow the law. “We have erected billboards at the corners of main roads and junctions. We have made announcements of dos and don’ts through television.” He said the police will have to take action if people still insist on breaking the rules.
He also listed other things people can do to help Thingyan run smoothly. “Cars need to be well maintained and prepared. They should not carry extra people which is very dangerous for passenger safety. The main thing is safety and mechanical reliability. If a car breaks down it will block the entire line of cars.” Police will have tow trucks on standby at major intersections, Police Lieutenant Moe Thiha Kyaw said, such as Theinpyu, Parami junction, Bahan junction, Maha Bandoola Park, Kokkine and Myaynigone junctions. Costs will be paid by the owners, but non-Thingyan-related cars will not be towed. “There will not be traffic police at every pandal but we will have our force at the pandals of the Yangon City Development Committee and the government pandals. The security at the pandals is the responsibility of those who are running the pandal. This instruction has been given by the authorities in advance,” he added. While it’s impossible to deter groups from drinking while in the cars, he said, people should use their own conscience and avoid overimbibing. He said the driver must be the most responsible person in a group. “We will use breathalysers to test the drivers and action will be taken against those drivers who have been drinking. This needs to be done really carefully.” Other activities police will watch out for include removing mufflers from cars to make them noisier and extra honking. A force of 600 officers will be out on patrol in Yangon, while 300 will be on standby. – Translation by Myo Lwin
Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing
Sweet surprises and intriguing ingredients
BY MYA KAY KHINE
ENTION traditional Thingyan food and the ﬁrst thing most people will think of is likely mont-lone-yay-paw (“small ball from boiling water”). It’s a mixture of ground sticky rice and jaggery (hta-nyat) – and sometimes, for a surprise, a bit of chilli, just to give someone a teasing jolt. It’s given away to anyone who wants some, and at least 15 people must work together to feed the crowds. Preparation starts about 9am; if all goes well, it's ready to eat about 3pm. First, ground-up sticky rice is rolled by hand into a ball. With experience it’s easy, but for beginners it’s a challenge to get the balls looking just right. Then small cut-up pieces of jaggery are inserted, and the balls are put into boiling water. When they ﬂoat up to the surface they’re done.
They’re taken out, put on plates and sprinkled with shaved coconut. “Now we don’t need to go to the rice-grinding factory; we can just buy the bags of ground sticky rice,” said Ma Sandar from Bahan township. “But if we are donating it, it’s better to grind the rice ourselves.” Another popular food this time of year is Mon Thingyan hta-min (Mon Thingyan rice). It’s so popular you can get it year-round in shops in Mon State for K500 a plate, said U Kyaw Swar from Dine-won township in Maylamyaing. “For 50 people, it costs K15,000 to K20,000,” he said. ”But during Thingyan, we give it away.” Making Thingyan hta-min is a tricky business. Let's start with the ﬁsh jerky. Boil the ﬁsh until it’s soft, fry it, remove the bones and divide it into four pieces. Put these out in the sun to dry, then take the pieces and combine them with garlic in boiling oil. “The taste of ﬁsh jerky is the main one," U Kyaw Swar said, "so it’s
Women roll rice into balls for mont-lone-yay-paw, a traditional Thingyan holiday snack. Photo: Staff
important to prepare it well. Only when the jerky is good will Thingyan hta-min be tasty.” He said you only want to fry it until it’s half-hard, and be sure to add fried onion and garlic on top before serving. Once your jerky is ready, cook some rice then drain off the boiling water. Wash it in regular water and mix in some ice to cool it down.
Then – and here’s where it gets challenging – you take a clay sheet (usually roof shingles, but don’t use metal or it will be too hot to handle!) and put it over a ﬁre. Put some wax – yes, from candles – on top until it melts, and then hold a pot upside down overtop to capture the wax vapour. Carefully ﬂip the sheet and the pot so that the clay becomes a lid,
then remove the sheet, pour boiling water into the pot, and seal with a wet cloth. Okay, now take your ﬁsh jerky, your rice and your pot of steamed, waxvapour-infused water. When someone is ready to eat, serve them a plate of rice, mix in the jerky, and sprinkle some water overtop. Done! – Translation by Hein Htet Aung
astER BEwaRE. Street food is even more widely available during the festival, but ask yourself how clean this is before you bite in. iDE YOUR VaLUaBLEs. Keep your phone and money sealed in plastic, so they’ll be there when you need them. f UnDER fiRE, CLOsE YOUR mOUtH. Swallowing water piped directly from the lake will have you starting the new year oﬀ in the hospital. EED a BREak? takE it. Don't neglect the quieter moments of Thingyan, or you'll ﬁnd yourself dealing with heat exhaustion in a hurry.
Has Thingyan divided us?
Some people say the rowdy crowds have made the holiday less enjoyable for others
MYA KAY KHINE
A rider is blasted off a motorcyle in Mandalay in 2013. Photo: Phyo Wai Kyaw
N G Y
N mid-March, doctors, nurses and staff in the emergency ward at Yangon General Hospital receive the written order: No holidays during Thingyan. While all government workers are supposed to have 10 days of holidays April 12-21, Thingyan is the busiest time of year for those in emergency medicine, and days off just aren’t an option. “If you want to see the condition of the emergency department in Yangon Hospital, come see us on a-kya-nay [April 14, the ﬁrst day of Thingyan proper],” says Dr Soe Min, a consultant surgeon at YGH. “Then you’ll see for yourself.” On second thought, you may not want to. Because if you do, it probably means you’re hurt, or accompanying someone who is. But even if you don’t visit yourself, odds are that someone you know will end up there instead.
LOB On tHE sUnsCREEn. Water keeps you cool, but won't keep you from getting burned.
MYA KAY KHINE
OU DOn't want tO gEt DEHYDRatED. That means plenty of water. It also means avoiding alcohol and never drinking to excess. LwaYs PROtECt YOUR EYEs. The sun can damage your eyes, and so can high-powered hoses, if you get a direct blast. Keep a towel to shield yourself from the spray. And lastly… EVER DRink anD DRiVE. And don’t get in a car with someone who has.
“Car accidents are the most commonly occurring incidents during Thingyan,” says Dr Pa Pa, head of the trauma and emergency ward at YGH. “Injuries caused by ﬁghting are the second.” She said the last day of Thingyan is usually the busiest, but last year it was the ﬁrst day. “The number of wounded people that came to Yangon Hospital in 2012 was 482, including one who died. In 2013, there are 518 people with the death of 3 people,” says Dr Pa Pa. Those numbers, remember, are just for one hospital. All told, 32 people died last year during Thingyan. Do those numbers make Dr Pa Pa lose faith in the holiday? Not at all, she says. “It’s the biggest, happiest, and the most magniﬁcent festival, welcoming the Myanmar New Year. Unlike the other festivals, it gives enjoyment and peace of mind.”
-Translation by Hein Htet Aung
hen I was 11, I remember my brother on the second day of Thingyan loading up with a bag holding 25 viss of water and a water gun, just like a soldier going for a war at the front. Me and my 13-year-old sister each carried a water bucket, and we wore necklaces of Thingyan ﬂowers as we went out to celebrate with our father. That was in the 1990s. I kept going out for Thingyan until 2004. But at that time I found all the boys and girls would be drinking in open cars. Some brought boyfriends. Some were married couples. When I was young, I thought that during Thingyan I would throw water and I would be happy throwing water.
fun so easily. “This year, I came here to the monastery because of my mother. Next year, I’m going to go out,” I remember one 13-year-old girl saying last year. But one man in his early 30s said, “As I’m older, I don’t want to go out anymore. Thingyan is not as enjoyable as the early days, anymore.” Did he resent the change? “Let the teens be happy by themselves,” he said. “We own our own lives, don’t we?” I admire his forgiveness, but I don’t feel that we should give Thingyan up entirely to those who want to be rowdy. This year there are more pandals than ever. But people who only want normal amounts of happiness dare not celebrate because of the ones who want extreme happiness. If we want to celebrate Thingyan
Celebrators walk past discarded garbage on the banks of Inya Lake. Photo: Staff
When I saw the girls drinking alcohol in the car, I could not get over my surprise. I wondered if it was because I was under my parents’ control that I was so surprised. But since then, my passion for going out at Thingyan dissolved. In the following years, following the example of of my grandmother, I went to a meditation centre during the holiday. There I found boys and girls even younger than me, there for the same reason – to avoid the rowdiness. “Thingyan is not the same as it was in our day,” I heard their parents gossip to one another. “There are drunkards everywhere. I won’t allow my children to go out too.” Not all the children give up on the
as in the old days, with lots of people, and safely, those who are hiding in their houses deﬁnitely have to come out and celebrate together, like the characters in the greatest Thingyan movie, Thingyan Moe.
-Translation by Hein Htet Aung
The metal pump-action water guns of yore are being outgunned by today's cheap plastic imports. Myat Noe Oo reports and Myo Lwin remembers
Y father died two years ago, but what remains in my memories of him all throughout my life is two small things he bought for me – a wristwatch called Eureka and a very powerful water pump for Thingyan. The wristwatch story will have to wait for another time: During water festival, what I think about most is the metal water gun he brought back from Yangon
to Thanlyin for me 45 years ago. I don’t know where he got it, because I never saw another as good. I am sure it was imported from Thailand, not brought from China or made here. My father was very good at building and repairing machines, so he must have known it was a special one when he bought it. I was about eight years old, and having a better water gun than anyone else around made Thingyan the best time of year. Like all water guns at that time, it was made of metal, but on this one the outer part was as bright as steel. The red wooden handle at the back screwed on, and was attached to two very strong washers which were used to draw the water in from the nozzle when you pulled back on the handle, and to shoot the water out when you pushed it forward. The washers were made of leather, which was very expensive at the time, instead of the cheap rubber used in other water guns. I know this because, every year before the festival, I used to open it up to clean it. I’d take it down from the place where I carefully stored it away and I’d screw the rod off from the pipe and sink it in the water so the leather washers became swollen and ﬁt tightly inside the pipe again. Sometimes I’d add a bit of lubricant, to make the pump slide more smoothly, but too much and the seal wouldn’t be watertight and it would backﬁre, sending a spray backward instead of forward, so I had to be careful not to use too much. There were two interchangeable nozzles:
one thin one, for sniper-like accuracy, and a three-headed one, for a general shotgun-like spray. I’d screw on my nozzle of choice and carry the other one with me in my shirt pocket, in case the situation called for an adjustment in the ﬁeld. Like a garden hose, it was the narrowness that made the pressure. Sometimes the nozzle would fall off, and then the wide opening meant it wasn’t nearly as good and I’d have to hunt for it at my feet. But once it was screwed on again, a good shot would go 20 feet easily if I pushed hard. Sometimes I could squeeze out a shot then stop quickly and still have enough in the barrel for a second shot before reloading. Crack shot that I was, I always aimed for the face, and when I got a direct hit I was overjoyed. If my target was closer, I’d aim at the armpit and press strongly. The doused victim couldn’t help but laugh. And of course, at that age, sometimes I’d make girls my target, but their reactions weren’t always so good. Sometimes they’d scold me. “Hey,” they’d say, “it’s itchy. Go away, stupid boy.” Each year at the end of Thingyan I’d put the water gun away in a plastic bag for next year. But after four or ﬁve years, I went to look for it one year and couldn’t ﬁnd it. It got misplaced in the house somehow. To this day I still don’t know what happened to it. But I’ll always carry it with me in my memory.
– Myo Lwin
FROM splashing softly with Eugenia leaves to pouring water modestly with bowls to throwing it from buckets to ﬁring it with water guns, Thingyan continues to change. And while water guns used to be made from metal and looked like giant novelty syringes, now that there's a new challenger to the title of the fastest piece in the East. Plastic, made-in-China models are what sell today, says a dealer at Lae Thazin toy shop, adding that the price of a plastic water gun ranges from K300 to K7000. Like most plastic things, they're rather disposable. “People buy water guns only for this festival," said Ma War, a toy shop retailer from Nay Pyi Taw. "If the water guns are not all sold, you have to store them and sell them next year.” With each year bringing new designs, dealers are loath to fall behind. “The children like the strange and new designs," said Ma Htay from a shop in South Okkalapa. "The water guns are sold mainly for the children. The nearer the water festival, the better the business.” It’s not just an urban trend. Last year other regions demanded more supplies than Yangon did, said shopkeepers at wholesale markets. While one wholesaler at Yuzana Plaza said a few people still buy the old metal designs, most shopkeepers said they sell only plastic now. Seems like this ﬁght's over.
– Myat Noe Oo
Kengtung drummer ensures New Year isn’t a bummer
Head to Shan State for a unique take on the holiday
N the surface, the Thingyan water festival in Kengtung, Shan State, appears similar to celebrations throughout Myanmar: Temporary stages are set up around Naung Tung Lake in the middle of town, and locals spend a few days driving around and around, revelling in the opportunity to splash and get splashed. But Kengtung also has its own
unique way of marking the festival that dates back to 1410, a year during which the area around Kengtung suffered from extreme drought and brushﬁres that decimated crops and livelihoods. According to legend, the crisis prompted the region’s saophwa (Shan leader) to approach a famous astrologer named Oak Ta Ra in search of a remedy. Oak Ta Ra calculated that Kengtung was, according to Myanmar astrology, a “Monday” region and was therefore
Photos: Douglas Long
aligned with the moon. The town’s ethnic Yun rulers, on the other hand, were under the inﬂuence of Rahu, the mythical planet associated with the second half of Wednesday. The conﬂict between these
two celestial bodies, the astrologer said, was the cause of the drought. To solve the problem, Oak Ta Ra suggested that 24 ethnic Tai Loi from Moung Yang village be summoned to Kengtung, where they were dressed in red and white robes. At 1pm on the second day of the water festival leading up to the new year, the Tai Loi were told to place a sacred instrument called the Nanda Bay Ri Heavenly Drum at the Sao Loang Kart nat (spirit) shrine at the centre of town and play it for 24 hours straight. The astrologer further instructed that a clay sculpture of a frog (representing Rahu) with a crescent moon in its mouth be created at Long Kope near Nam Khun Creek in northeastern Kengtung. A stupa made of sand was also built at the site. After the drum had been played nonstop for 24 hours, it was taken from its place at the nat shrine and carried by procession to Long Kope, where the town elders recited the Mingalar Sutra and paid respects to the frog and the stupa. After the villagers followed the astrologer’s instructions, steady rain fell throughout the region, reviving crops and restoring the farmers’ livelihoods. The saophwa therefore ordered that the ceremony be repeated every year. To this day the water festival in Kengtung begins with a ritual at the Sao Loang Kart shrine. The special Mingalar Conch is blown, and speeches are delivered by local authorities and the chair of the festival committee. This is followed by a series of songs and dance performances by representatives of local schools, religious organisations and ethnic groups, including the Tai Loi who centuries ago had been charged with playing the sacred drum. The next day the crowds reconvene at the Sao Loang Kart shrine, where at
1pm sharp the Nanda Bay Ri Heavenly Drum is placed on the stand where it will be played for the next 24 hours to expel evil spirits and welcome the auspicious New Year. Once the drum is in place, a township official sprinkles it with scented water and strikes it seven times. Each beat is accompanied by an invocation, given in the following order: May the authorities of the nation be blessed with grace and prosperity May the authorities and the citizens be joyful and prosperous May the nation be victorious and unharmed May the nation be wealthy and commercially successful May there be development and mutual understanding within the nation May all be blessed eternally May the sound of the drum echo throughout the universe The drum is then handed over to a leader of the Tai Loi community for continuous playing until 1pm the following day. At that point it is removed from its stand and carried in a procession along the Loimwe-Mong Yang Road to Long Kope, where each year the clay frog sculpture and sand stupa are created anew for the festival. The Tai Loi musicians continue beating the drum along the way, while others in the procession carry colourful ﬂags. Bystanders sprinkle scented water on the walkers for good luck as they make their way to the ceremonial grounds, where respects are paid to the frog and sand pagoda sculptures. At the end of the festival, the drum is taken to Mahamuni Pagoda in Kengtung. Once there, four monks from Wat Som Kham Monastery – located near a banyan tree believed to house the guardian spirit of Kengtung – sprinkle the instrument with scented water and recite an incantation, after which the drum is then sent to its storage place at Wat Kengzan Monastery until next year’s festival.
I remember Thingyan in the old days
Award-winning film director U Kyi Soe Tun, 69, talks to reporter Ei Ei Thu about growing up in Shwe Bo in Central Myanmar, how people are falling for the temptations of the season and the lessons it continues to teach him today
Photos: Zarni Phyo
ATER was scarce in my town when I was young. There was hardly anyone in the street to throw water, not like today. Even if there was a girl I liked to throw water at, if that girl didn’t come out, there was no chance to do it. Though I was not able to throw water in my town, I passed many pleasant times there. My parents usually took me to the monastery. I was happy to be at the monastery as there were many donation ceremonies because of the Myanmar new year, and lots of food. I began to understand the meaning and essence of taking sila [the ﬁve Buddhist precepts]. I got used to the habit of taking sila. That’s why I really liked my childhood. I like seeing young women in longyis with ﬂower designs. But I am afraid of the way young girls my niece’s age or my daughter’s age are dressing these days. I am more worried their dress could even become worse. Today there are so many attractive material
things to buy, but they only arouse the temptation of the people. They are stimulating the greed of people. If people cannot control their greed, it could worsen the impressions of Thingyan in Myanmar and next year could be worse than last year. As more visitors come, it would be nice if the host people are nice and gentle. It is shameful if local people are not behaving well in their way of speaking, dressing and living. Shame and fear are the two religious matters looking after this society. So if there is no shame and fear, society will be ruined. If one is religious, there will be less indecent dress during Thingyan. I think many kids are not familiar with religion. Myself, I think I can work better during Thingyan. It is a good time to read books. It’s also good to learn by looking at the padauk tree. There will be lots of ﬂowers blooming, but in a short time, all the ﬂowers will fall down and its branches will break down on to the ground. Life is like that. – Myo Lwin
What's in the forecast for 1376?
Aung Myin Kyaw 103 Thameinbayan St, Tarmwe township, Yangon Ph: 0973135632, 09450029183
a-di-pa-di (respected) yaza (powerful) a-tun (self-confident) thaik (carefree) pu-ti (prominent or ridiculed) marana (unhealthy) binga (pessimist)
Good Good Good Weak Heart Contagious disease Cerebral Eye Good Good Good Good Throat Blood poisoning Weak heart Good Good Good Good Flu Contagious disease Indigestion Constipation Swelling Tongue and teeth Stress Stomach Diarrhoea Chronic Good Good Good Constipation Gastritis Stomach Cerebral Good Good Urinary problems Diarrhoea Blood pressure Blood/urine Dysentry Lack of urine Flu Heart Swollen intestine Gout Contagious disease Piles
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Marriage Overseas travel
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Being cheated Heat/electricity Flood Internal enemy External enemy Internal enemy Being cheated False friend Being cheated Thief External enemy Being cheated External enemy Internal enemy External enemy Internal enemy Being cheated Fire False friend Animal Thief External enemy Internal enemy False friend Flood Internal enemy Storm Internal enemy Fire External enemy Internal enemy Thief Being cheated Flood False friend Flood Internal enemy External enemy Internal enemy Fake friend Being cheated External enemy Internal enemy False friend Storm False friend Strange risk Strange risk
Donate water and fans Donate rice Release fish Donate fruits or blood Donate umbrella Maize, beans, feed pigeons Offer lights to pagoda Donate soap and towel Donate biryani Donate toothpaste Help with funeral services Donate shampoo Donate drinking water Clean at pagoda and monasteries Donate medicine and perfume Donate flowers and slippers Donate mat and carpet Donate fans Release fish Donate to the poor Donate rice Donate fans Donate blood Avoid using rough words Release birds and fish Donate pure water Donate umbrellas and towels Donate to elderly people Donate golden robes Donate biryani Donate mango pickles Donate eye drops Donate CD of Buddha teachings Donate butter rice Donate for roads and bridges Release birds Offer lights and donate umbrellas Provide food to dogs Donate umbrella/slippers/flowers Donate lights/coconut rice Help with funeral services Donate to monasteries Donate nine kinds of sweets Donate carpets or mats Donate to the poor Donate robes and paint Offer golden umbrellas Offer rice milks
a-di-pa-di (respected) yaza (powerful) a-tun (self-confident) thaik (carefree) pu-ti (prominent or ridiculed) marana (unhealthy) binga (pessimist)
a-di-pa-di (respected) yaza (powerful) a-tun (self-confident) thaik (carefree) pu-ti (prominent or ridiculed) marana (unhealthy) binga (pessimist)
a-di-pa-di (respected) yaza (powerful) a-tun (self-confident) thaik (carefree) pu-ti (prominent or ridiculed) marana (unhealthy) binga (pessimist)
Natural disaster Offer golden robes
April showers bring padauk flowers
A child uses a pole to cut down padauk blossoms in downtown Yangon. Popular legend says that the tree flowers for only one day a year, and that during Thingyan. The blossoms are a shortlived but much-loved symbol of the holiday. Photo: Staff