Buddhism > Myanmar – Buddhist Festivals

1. Ta Gu La –

2. Ka Son La –

3. Na Yon La –

4. Wazo La –

5. Wa Gaung La –

6. Taw Tha Lin La –

7. Tha Din Gyut La –

8. Ta Zaung Mone La –

9. Na Daw La –

10. Pya Tho La –

11, Ta Bo Dwe La –

12. Ta Baung La

1. Ta Gu La (April) – Thin Gyan Pwe (Water Festival)

Tagu is the first month of the Myanmar calendar and usually it falls in March and April on the Gregorian calendar.

Thingyan Festival  (Countrywide)

Thingyan is Myanmar New Year Festival which happens over 5 day. The festival is held on the eve of Myanmar New Year and generally it falls around 13th April. Thingyan has been celebrated since the Tagaung Period but it became more prominent in the Era of Bagan Dynasty. Water represent cleaness, coolness and clearness. By pouring or throwing water on one another it is regarded that you wash away the bad deeds of the previous year and start the new year with a clear and clean mind. But this is time for every one in Myanmar to celebrate and ejoy them selves. As the young people enjoy them selves the elders may take shelter in monasteries and pagoda precincts.

The water festival represents the most popular, raucous and colorful celebration of the year for more than 120 million people who will abandon any thoughts of work and bring their nations to a standstill. People around the country gather together again and visits pagodas, offers and pay homage to the monks, play traditional games and celebrate with their joyous spirit.

Another tradition from the olden days is that during this period old and aged persons hair were washed and manicured with typical Myanmar shampoo called “Tayaw” (acacia). This is a sign of respect.

2. Ka Son La (April-May) – Nyaung Yay Thoon Pwe (Banyan tree watering ceremony)

Kason is the second Myanmar month and comes in April-May. It is also a sacred month for Myanmar Buddhists. The full-moon of Kason is a day of threefold significance:

  • Firstly,is the day that Buddha was born
  • Secondly Buddha attained Enlightenment on this very day
  • Thirdly this is the day of his Demise.

Kason Bo Tree Watering Festival (Countrywide) 
Full moon day of Kason. This falls on the Summer Season where it is very hot. The main activity on this festival day is pouring water at the Bo Tree. This is is done as a symbol of veneration to the Buddha who attained Enlightenment by meditating under the Bo Tree. Activities of the festival include carrying scented water pots and, chanting Pali scripts.

Other Festivals
Shitethaung Pagoda festival

3. Na Yon La (May-June) – Ser Pyan Pwe (Festival of Religious Examination)

Nayon is the third month in the Myanmar calendar and falls in May-June. During the second Innwa period, when King Thalun reigned, with the aims of propagation the Buddhism, especially Pariyatti Sasana the practice of holding examinations in religious scriptures was started.

Nowadays, the State sponsored Examination were held every year for Pahtamabyan, Dhamma Cariya, Abhidhama, Visudi Magga and Tipitaka. For the many Sayadaw, revered monks and nuns who take part year Titles and Certificates are presented for their efforts and dedication toward Theravada Buddhism. Moreover, in commemoration of Lord Buddha’s preaching of Maha Samaya Sutta to celestial beings from ten thousand solar systems, Maha Sayama Day was also observed in this month.

4. Wazo La (June and July) – Wazo Pwe (Festival of Ordination)

Waso, the fourth month in Myanmar calendar falls between June and July which is partially summer and partially rainy seasons. The full-moon day of Waso is very significant, because this is the day Buddha was conceived, the day that He renounced the worldly pleasure , and the very day that he preached the first sermon of Dhamma Cakka and the day that he performed the miracles of super natural powers. The day also marks the beginning of the Buddhist lent of three months when members of Sangha go into the rains retreat. A significant and meritorious deed of Buddhists in Waso is offering robes to members of the Sangha for use during the lent, and so these robes are called Waso robes. Moreover, there is a practice of young men and women going on outings of gathering flowers to be offered at Buddha images at pagodas and at homes.

5. Wa Gaung La (July-August) – Ser Yay Tan Me` Pwe  (festival of giving religious charity)

It is the fifth Myanmar month. It is in July-August, wet days of torrential rains, when rivers are in spate. In the time of Buddha, when the lord was staying at Weluwun Monastery in Yazagyo, some disciples supplicated to him the matter of individual disciples having some difficulty to donate meals and alms for all the Sangha at the monastery at the same time, whereupon Buddha laid down a way of disciples drawing lots to determine which monk to offer meals and alms.

6. Taw Tha Lin La (August- September) – Hlay Pyine Pwe Regetta

Taw Tha Lin is the sixth month in Myanmar calendar (August- September). Tawthalin being around September, the sun’s path is approaching the equator Myanmar nearest to the sun. Sometimes continuous days of sunshine warms the water in the paddy fields so much on this this month that there is a saying which goes “ The sun in Tawthalin kills off land crabs“. 
As there is no rain and not windy, the surfaces of water in the rivers are very still and calm. Thus, in ancient times, during the reign of Myanmar kings it has been a tradition to hold regatta festivals due to favourable weather conditions. While the regatta was in procession, the king surrounded by his entourage watched the event from his royal barge called “Pyi Gyi Mon Barge”. Regattas were held not only for fun but also as a test for improving the skills of the Royal Marines. The flower of the month is the fragrant “Yin Mar”, blooming in sprays of pale yellow blossoms with red -tinged stalks on the tree Chukrassia tabularis, the tawny golden hardwood from which is ideal for carving and tourney.

7. Tha Din Gyut La (October) – Mee Htoon Pwe (Festival of Lights)

Thadingyut is the seventh Myanmar month in (September- October) towards the end of rainy season. Lord Gautama Buddha preached The Abhidamma to His reincarnated mother in Tavatimsa, abode of celestial beings for three Lenten months and returned to the abode of men on the full-moon day of Thadingyut . The King of the celestials created three stairways, gold, silver and ruby for him. Buddha took the middle ruby stairways radiating six hues of aura. The celestials came along by the right gold stairways and the brahmas by the left silver stairways. On account of that, Myanmar Buddhists celebrate Tavatimsa Festival on the full-moon day of Thadingyut by lighting multi-coloured illuminations. For the Sangha it is the time known as Pawayana, which means inviting, entreating, urging. In practice, since the times of the Buddha, it is to beg on another monks for forgiveness of any deed that might have displeased any other among Sangha. Likewise, there is also the practice among the laity of paying obeisance to parents and elders.

Festival of Lights (Thadingyut) (Countrywide)
The Full Moon Day of Thadingyut is the Lighting Festival of Myanmar. The festival is held at the end of the lent on the festival day it as a custom. It celebrates the descent of Buddha from heaven after he preached the Abidhama (the most difficult of Buddhist teaching) to his mother reborn in heaven. It extends for 3 day and the to celebrate the Buddha’s return throughout the country with people will set off fireworks and release balloons into the sky and light up the night with colourful illuminations.

Paying Homage to elders
Younger people pay homage to elders during this season. They ask for forgiveness if they have committed any and in return. the elders give them back love and forgiveness.

Other Festivals
Kyaukse Elephant Dance Festival (Mandalay Division) 

Dancing Elephant Festival is held in Kyaukse, near Mandalay. It is a marvelous performance of two men together to dance in rhythm. A huge elephant figure is made from bamboo and paper. Men take their places inside the figure and dance around the town to the accompaniment of Dobat and Drums. The elephant dancers circles three times at the foot of the hill to pay homage to the Shwe Tha Lyaung Pagoda. It is a dance that requires precise rhythm and timing in order for the elephant dancers to maintain unity inside the elephant figure. 
Kyaikhtiyo Festival (Mon State)
The famous legendary Pagoda on the Golden Rock about 160 Km from Yangon and 11 km of hiking from the base camp at Kyaikhto. The Kyaikhtiyo pagoda is one of the most ancient and celebrated of all pagodas in Myanmar. It is situated in the vicinity of Kyaikhto township, Thaton district. The pagoda is said to have been built during the life-time of the Buddha over 2400 years ago. The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda Festival is a special festival of lights celebration. On the Full Moon Day of Thadingyut, locals offer the lighting of 9000 candles and 9000 flowers to the Biuddha. On the next morning, rice, sweets and other snacks are offered. Thadingyut usually falls in October, depending on the lunar calendar. At such a time, the weather is cold up on the mountain.

Myathalon pagoda festival (Magwe) 
Shweinnbein pagoda festival (Salay)

8. Ta Zaung Mone La (October-November) – Ka Htein Pwe

It is the eighth Myanmar month (October-November) time for offering of Kathina, Matho Thingan, Panthagu offering , lotus offering and lighting . Kathina monk’s robes are offered at this particular time of the year. It is held most communally. In connection with the offerings of monk’s robes for a Buddhist , the donation of this Kathina robe at this particular time is regarded as the most meritorious , as the monk who received this robe was chosen in accordance with the unanimous decision of Sangha after the plenary session of Sangha were held . There is also a practice of eating salads of Mezali leaves with the belief that it is medicinal if it was taken at this special time (i.e. at mid- night) on the full-moon day of Tazaungmon.

Kathina (Country wide)
An offering of Kathein thingan (ceremony for offering of yellow robes) to the monks is usually a big affair in large cities of Myanmar. Offering ceremonies consist of a thousand and one gifts pooled by the whole town beside the prime gift of Yellow robes. The Kathein festivals account for the greatest significance in Tazaungmone.
Full moon day of Tasaungmone (Country wide)

Further Reading

Kathina Robe Offering – A talk by Sayadaw U Silananda (Nov. 11, 2001)

Tazaungmone Festival (Countrywide) 
On the night of full moon day of Tazaungmone, 9,999 candles were lighted and offered to Koehtatkyi Pagoda in SanChaung Township, Yangon Division. On the full moon day of Tazaungmone, all the stars completely shown out and at midnight on that day, people usually eat vegetable curry and it is believed the bitter Maezali bud salad, you will be free from all diseases. Streaming from that belief, people usually prepare Maezali bud salads and share it with friends. This is one of the treasured habits of Myanmar.

Matho Thingan Festival (Yellow Robe Weaving) (Countrywide) 
This festival of Tazaungmon is an auspicious time for offering of yellow robes to the monks. The Buddha’s mother, reincarnated as a god in Tavatimsa, perceived from her heavenly abode that her son would soon be discarding, the royal robes and wearing a monk’s garments. She wanted to provide the yellow robes of the monk and she had only a night’s time. But she had it woven in a single night and offered to the Prince (Siddhata) by a celestial messenger. In commemoration of this event weaving competitions of yellow robes are held all over the country.

Other Festivals
Hot Air Balloon Festival (Taunggyi – Shan State) : 04 – 10 November 12

Taunggyi is the capital of the Southern Shan State and it lies 1,430 meters above the sea level and has a moderate climate. The most significant festival is the annual Tazaungdine Lighting Festival which is around October and November. Lu Ping festival commonly known as hot balloon festival celebrates by Pa O, one of the many ethnic groups in the region.
On the occasion people enjoy fun and merriment by holding firework-launching competitions. The firework is in the form of rockets. There is also hot balloons competitions on the day and night occasions. Day balloons are usually in the form of Pagodas, and animals such as elephant, dragon or ducks while the night balloons usually in the shape of rugby ball, huge elongated paper balls with small lighted multicolored paper lanterns hung around their sides and balloons would sting along fireworks and fire sticks which are set off mid-air fireworks.

9. Na Daw La (December) – Sar So Taw Pwe

It is the ninth month in Myanmar calendar at the onset of the cool season, with misty mornings in November-December.In ancient times, the seasonal festival was offerings of Nats, but this tradition had vanished in 1885. In the year 1944, a special kind of festival emerged, i.e. a celebration in honour of the
literati (Sarsodaw). In the history of Myanmar literature, a day which is dedicated to U Pon Nya, who was a very famous, prominent and renowned writer, post and playwright in Konbaung Dynasty was held annually in this month. So, the present Sarsodaw or literati day has some connections with this past event. At the present day, it is the time for presentation of National Awards by the State for the writers, poets and translators in various fields for their talented and superb tasks.

Other Festivals
Aloedawpyi pagoda festival, offering ceremony (Bagan)
Shwemyitman pagoda festival (Shwetaung)
Taybyone net (sit htwet festival) (Taybyone)
Minmahar Giri Nat ceremony (Popa)

10. Pya Tho La (December-January) – Myin Khinn Pwe

It is the tenth month in Myanmar calendar during the cool season (December-January). Pyatho, formerly was a time when Myanmar royalty displayed its strength with military parades. Nowadays, however, this particular period is reserved mostly for local pagoda festivals. During the reign of Myanmar kings it was the month for the equestrian festival held for virtually the whole month. Indeed, this festival is closely related with military affairs or martial arts, because various kinds of competetions in horsemanship, sword fighting, lancing, bowman-ship and manoeuvring with elephantsare involved. Indeed it is an occasion to select heroes for the defence of the country. A few major paya-pwes (pagoda festival) are held in Pyatho. The famous Ananda Temple festival of Bagan falls at this time.

Other Festivals

Ananda Pagoda Festival (Bagan – Mandalay Division) 
One of the most popular festivals in the country. Bowls of alms filled with crisp are offered to monks who all wait in a ling line. Pilgrimage and holiday outings on country bullock carts can be seen.

11. Ta Bo Dwe La (January and February) – Hta Ma Neh Pwe

Tabodwe is the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar, as this is the last period of cool season it is very cold, in January and February. The month of Tabodwe is the harvest festival, all the products of the farm and garden go in to make ‘’htamane’’a concoction of glutinous rice, sesame seeds, peanuts, shredded coconut, flavoured with ginger and mixed with cook oil. Htamane feast is either celebrated communally or done just in the private circle of family and friends. The nature of the feast is such that, in whatever way the feast is celebrated, it means a big gathering because many hands are needed. In a communal feast people come around with contributions of glutinous rice and other ingredients. It is an option though; one can just give his service, if not anything else.

12. Ta Baung La (February-March) – Thel Pone Zaydi Pwe (Building of Sand Stupa)

It is the twelfth Myanmar month and the last month in the Myanmar calendar and usually falls in February-March. It is the time of transition from the cold to the hot season. It get hotter during day time while the mercury drops down at night, so that a saying comments “Hot days and chilly nights, making wayward Tabaung month ”. Meanwhile, deciduous trees lose their foliage to be taken over by tender leaf-buds, their waxen glossiness contrasting against the delicate tracery of twigs and branches. Gossamer clouds drift over clear blue skies and streams and rivers have changed over from their rolling boisterous role in monsoon to a sedate, limpid demureness in accordance with their losses in volume and rates of flow. Thus, it is no wonder that poets through the ages have waxed eloquent in praising the scenic beauty associated with this month. 
With the fall in the water levels of rivers and streams, sand banks appear on this pristine sand. In the ancient times of Myanmar Royalty, as there were a lot of splendid sand banks emerged during this period and as the weather is very pleasant and favourable for recreation . The king, queens and their entourage surrounded by guards went to these lovely sand banks in the rivers and create Stupas which are made glittering white sand. The raising of stupas made of sand and festivities surrounding this activity used to be a prominent feature of this month. This consisted basically of moulding river sand into the shape of a stupa using concentric rings of bamboo matting or rattan cane to form the outline and decorating with various religious motifs such as pennants, banners, real and artificial flowers. 
Today, this festivity much more likely to be celebrated in song and literature rather than in actual fact. Now, the practice is on the wane, except in some cities and towns in upper part of Myanmar, but the time is still held sacred for holding of Buddha Pujayanti ceremonies, that is, occasionally for rededication of the pagodas. The most salient fact about this very month is that most of the prominent Paya-pwes (Pagoda Festivals) are held during this month, for instance, Shwedagon Pagoda Festival at Yangon.