|Festival IN Myanmar ## Tankhu (Tagu) : April
[Myanmar New Year]
|A harmonious blend of Folklore and Buddhism
The Myanmar New Year falls on the second week of April. The
New Year is ushered in by three days of Water
Festival. According to folklore, Thagyarmin, king of the celestials, will be on
a visit to the human abode for three days.
If you stay in this country for some time, you are sure to
hear a lot about Thagyarmin, king of the celestials. He may be, as some
scholars say, a deity borrowed from the Hindu mythology, or he may be a
parallel of Zeus, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that he is very
close to the Myanmar Buddhists. His name pops up every now and then in everyday
conversation. 'Thagyannin knows I'm telling the truth! May Thagyannin help me
out of this.' People sort of believe in him. There is hardly anyone whose soul
is so dead as not to.
Who is Thagyarmin?
Thagyannin may belong to myths, but he is very much
within the domain of Buddhist thought and way of life. He is not an
immortal like the Greek gods. There is no such thing as an immortal according
to the teachings of the Buddha. Thagyannin, like all celestials, has a very
long life- span, thousands of times longer than human life. The life of a
celestial is counted in astronomical figures.
| However, Thagyannin or
any other celestial is a being who is going round the cycle of rebirth, like
humans. Thagyannin is just a being, who in his other lives, most probably
human, has done good deeds, the strength of which causes him to be reborn in
that state. The state of being a human is believed to be the best in which to
do good deeds that would enable one to go up higher states of existence.
How to become a Thagyarmin or a celestial
of the Jataka tales, the tales that tell of the former
lives of the Buddha, there is an account of how the
dynasty of Thagyannms started.
There was a man named Magha who organized good works, like
repairing roads, building bridges, digging wells. He gave all he could for the
cause. When he died, he was reborn in the celestial regions as king of the
celestials. Some of the details of his story will again turn up in the story of
the monsoon season in the month of June.
The story of Thagyarmin is like a guide to Myanmar Buddhists:
How to become a Thagyarmin. Repair roads, build bridges, dig wells, one of
Uiese days you might be a thagyarmin!
Thagyarmin's duties and obligations
A Thagyarmin's life is one. of bliss and sensual pleasures,
as could be imagined, whatwith four chief queens and billions of
beautiful nymphs. A life time of eons of years, but how long? Aye, there's the
rub. The life of bliss lasts only so long as the force of good deeds lasts. If
he is too steeped in pleasures, he might forget to reinforce his good deeds
until too late. As in the nature of things, Thagyarmins come and go. The line
of Thagyarmins goes on and on.
The Thagyarmin of today is fortunate, because he has his
duties and obligations. The story goes that the Buddha before he entered the
Parinibbana summoned the Thagyarmin and entrusted him with the responsibility
of seeing that the Buddha's teachings flourish. Thagyarmin is there to see that
humans live according to the way of life taught by the Buddha. This act in
itself is a good deed, so it is not possible for the Thagyarmin to forget to
reinforce his good deeds.
It is by way of helping and guiding humans that he comes
down to bring in the new year and remind people of their religious and
spiritual duties. New Year is the time for people to cleanse themselves of the
defilements they might have collected during the year and look forward to a
Fantastic Myths...But Buddhist in Spirit
Thingyan festival, as the Water Festival preceding the
New Year is called, is wreathed with fantastic tales and folklore, but Buddhist
in spirit. Thagyarmin will be in the human abode to see that people live and
practise the Buddha's way. So it is the time to do good deeds and make up for
all the neglect and omissions that-one might be guilty of; and of course,
resolve to do better during the coming year. People keep fast, give alms
and do good deeds. Even those who cannot afford much, fetch .water for older
folks, give them personal service, like-washing and shampooing their hair.
Shampoo made of boiled soap acacia fruits and strips of lenden -bloom tree'bark
is made .at home and distributed among friends and neighbours. There is
goodwill and loving kindness all around; an auspicious way to start the New
True Spirit of the Water Festival
The true spirit of the water festival is to have nice clean
fun with dear frieads sprinkling scented water on one another. Among friends,
all the teasing and playing and joking go withithe spirit of the season. It is
not all fun and play however; there are chores to dp, like preparing shampoo
water said giving personal service to older folks. With the sound of the Ohzie
drums, cymbals and flute in the air, every task is a joy to'do. With sacred
duties to perform, the fun is more wholesome and enjoyable, without any qualms.
Perhaps, this Mad; of spirit is not so evident in the heart
of cities like Yangon, where; (here is rough play with water hoses. The
revellers seem more intent to embarrass and aggravate than to be playful and
give pleasure. Much of the finer aspects of the festival is to be seen in small
towns and villages. Yet even in cities, while the wild celebrations are
rampant, the monasteries and pagodas are teeming with people of all ages. Most
of them are there with the serious purpose of doing good deeds. Young people
sweep the grounds, wash buildings and help older people with the chores of
cooking alms food for monks. It is indeed a silver lining as the revelry goes
on for three days.
A Season of Giving
All these April days, there is music in the air. Wherever
you go, you see marwquess by the roadside. Inside them are sets of yellow
robes, black alms bowls, umbrellas and leather slippers, laid out amidst
flowers and coloured paper steamers. Right at the entrance a notice board
announces that a mass novitiation ceremony is to be held during the Water
Festival and that your contribution is welcome. Suchmarquess [ are centres of
activity dumig the Water Festival. Eacfe centre is organized by people of the
locality or by those who work in the same place, office or markets or stores or
those who belong to the same profession, like trishawmen, taxi drivers or
busmen. Such pool their resources to do deeds of
merit like novitiation.
An Important Family Ritual
Novitiation is of vital importance,,in a Buddhist family.
Boys are sent to the monastery where they stay for a week or more. Their heads
are shaved and they wear yellow robes, go on alms rounds with their black alms
bowls and keep sabbath.
Parents consider it a great privilege to novitiate their
sons; that is, in fact, giving their own flesh and blood into the Buddha's
Order of die Sangha. Those who do nottiave sons of their own, novitiate other
people's sons so flat they do not miss doing this deed of great merit.
It is a meritorious deed on die part of me one who is
novitiated, for he gives himself into the Buddha's Order. He gives up the
worldly pleasures and lives a life of austerity and discipline, even if it is
for a short time. -------
No man's life is considered fulfilled unless he is
novitiated; it is a must for a Buddhist man. People consider it to be a gross
omission if they fail to novitiate their sons. There is no dearth of helpers
for those with limited means to novitiate their sons. One of ilie New Year
activities is to organize mass no vitiation when everyone comes forwardwith
contributions in cash or in kind or failing both his personal service. Thus it
is quite impossible for a Buddhist boy to grow up unnovitiated with such
wluntary helpers and organizers of mass novitiations. A novitiation
ceremony can be simple or it can be done with all the trimmings of folk music
troupes and processions. There is such a wealth of tradition and custom in the
colorful processions that are part of the Thingyan Festival scene.