|Festival IN Myanmar ## Tothalin (Tawthalin):
Monsoon is thinning away and the skies are clearing.
As the sun's rays steal through the drizzle, rainbowcoloured showers swing in
the wind like bejewelled strings.
Sunny days ahead-you say hopefully, as you rake out
the mildewed rugs, blankets and coats, all hungry for a wisp of sunshine. There
is romance in the air, as the. ban on weddings is to be lifted with the end of
the lenten season which is next month. Lovers who have been waiting all these
months are now busy with their wedding plans.
The weather is fine and the wide brimming Ayeyarwady
river spreads out like a roll of matting.
The month of Taw-tha-lin:
rain softly pat-patting,
The mighty river rolls out like matting.
So goes the saying. The river, calm and tranquil with
dimpling waves, invites aquatic sportsmen. This is a month of boat races.
From what we learn from songs and poems of old, boat
races during the time of Myanmar kings displayed not only speed but also skill
and grace. There are 37 styles of rowing on record. Each style has a name
suggestive of a symbolic image and it is up to the people of today to stretch
their imagination to visualize what it might look like.
Take names like `fairy plucking flowers', and `fairy
offering flowers'. Did the boatmen gesticulate with their oars to suggest the
picture of fairies revelling in the sylvan glades? Strokes named `seagullsweep'
and `sea-gull-soar' create pictures of racing boats sweeping and soaring over
the river's surface.
Regattas of olden days were held under royal
patronage. The royal family, the king, queen, princes and princesses, had their
own boats participating in the race. There was fun, colour and music galore.
Boat songs were composed especially for the occasion. The boatmen wore
varicoloured liveries matching the banners of their boats. Music boomed as the
supporters of the competitors hurled picturesque limmericks at one another.
It was on such an occasion that Icing Bodawpaya, who
reigned from 1791 to 1819, won a somewhat dubious "victory" over the
queen's. The royal regatta opened with the king's boat racing against the
queen's. It so happened at one time that the king lost the race for three years
The king had a favourite courtier named U Paw Oo, who
was his chum and playmate in his childhood days. U Paw Oo was wise and learned
and above all was gifted with irrepressible wit and humour. When the king was
in need of guidance or criticism or even remonstrance, there was not one
minister who could dare the royal wrath and say what had to be said. It was
then U Paw Oo who would play the court fool, and point out the way to sanity
and better judgment.
As the month of Taw-tha-lin drew near and the
preparations for the royal regatta was underway, the king was embarrassed by
the veiled jibes and quips thrown at him by the queen and her ladies. They were
sure that the queen's boat would win again that year. Bets were made and the
king's boat had but a few takers.
For three years running, the king bad taken defeat with good
grace, but on the fourth year, he felt that he could no longer be a good loser.
Enough was enough. He had to win, that year, by fair or any other means. He had
no one to fall back upon but U Paw Oo. He hinted that U Paw Oo, as the king's
trusted henchman, should do something about it. How could a faithful servant
suffer such a disgrace falling on his royal master'? The king, of course, would
not stoop to command U Paw Oo to conspire something unsportsman-like: rather
that his clever servant should"do something about it" on his own.
U Paw Oo, as if sensing what the king meant, assured
his master that things would be different that year. He added that he was the
kind of servant who knew his master's wishes by the mere nod of the royal head.
The audience, U Paw Oo said, would see. something different, something
unpredictable that would take everyone, including the king himself, by
surprise. Since U Paw Oo was cleverly evasive about the details of the plan,
the king had to be content with, "Just wait
and see, my royal master"!
The great day dawned. The king, queen and courtiers
took their places in the royal marquee. The air was tense with expectation and
thrill, as the flourish of drums, cymbals and gongs announced the race open.
The first to come into view was the queen's canoe flying coloured banners.
People cheered as the boatmen displayed their skill and grace with their rowing
styles. But where was the king's boat? The king cast an inquiring glance at U
Paw Oo, who just grinned and nodded. His twinkling eyes relayed the message,
"Just 'wait and see, Your Majesty!"
So the king had no choice but to "wait and
see" hoping to see something different from the preceeding years. But he
had no idea how different it would be. Even as he fought with his misgivings, a
discreet titter rose among the courtiers and ladies. Fearing the worst, the
king strained his eyes towards the waterfront. He was dumbfounded to see a huge
........ like a burnished throne,
Burn'd on the water ............ "
"Look-look-His Majesty's boat is coming in to the
race", the voices sang out. Music was sweet and haunting suggestive of
lotus blossoms floating on the water admiring their own beautiful reflections.
So did the barge, as the silver oars "to the tune of flutes kept stroke
and made the water which they beat to follow faster, as amorous of their
So the royal barge bowled along, dignified and stately,
oblivious of the queen's canoe skimming away towards the goal. At the prow a
bejewelled figurehead dazzled in the sun. At the helm was a comely fairy
steering with her flowery soft hands. A bevy of nymphs threw roses and jasmins
from aboard. They so perfumed the air that the winds were lovesick with them.
There was a loud burst of cheering from the queen's
supporters. They threw quips at the king's men. There were peals of laughter,
no longer discreet or controlled. More jokes at the expense of the king.
The king was aghast. He wished that he could sink and sink
miles underground. He could not very well yell for U Paw Oo and give him what
he thoroughly deserved. He would only make a bigger fool of himself. U Paw Oo
came closer to his royal master's side with a smug grin on his face. The king
glowered at him threateningly. But U Paw Oo was not rattled. He said,
"Your Majesty, can't you see how your barge has won a decisive victory,
like a fighting cock preening his feathers while the poor loser of a little
canoe runs away for her dear life in the vanguard. Never mind what common
people say. It is only the wise and the great,that know a victory when they see
The king's unseemly expletives were lost in the peals
of laughter and cheering. The show went on with more mirth and fun.