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Pagoda Festivals of BAGAN
Month: October
Visited: 1676 Time

      During the three months of Buddhist Lent from July to October there are traditional restriction is to ensure that not even one stalk of growing paddy in this planting season of monsoon would be damaged by monks passing through farmland; the second is because to celebrate a marriage with song and music would be too distracting during these months when monks are deep in study or sitting for exams.

      Pagoda festivals may sound religious, but in fact they are more like country fairs, with dance and drama performances, and with a great number of shops that people can more easily afford to patronize after the harvest, which occurs in October.
      Bagan is home to thousands of temples and pagodas, the heart of the Theravada Buddhist faith in Myanmar. The bigger temples have been places of living worship for a thousand years, and while the smaller temples or stupas dotting the plains usually do not have a community around each of them to celebrate a festival, those situated near villages—which have also existed for centuries – have their annual festivals just like any other Buddhist village pagoda in the country. For example, even the tiny village of Taungbi near the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River has its annual pagoda festival every October. The fair may not be as big as the more famous ones, but villagers and visitors from surrounding places enjoy them wholeheartedly.
      The big pagodas and temples with large villages in their vicinity hold annual festivals that are attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the country. Many Myanmar Buddhists love to enjoy themselves and share their joy with others, so apart from the annual examinations held for monks, which are extremely difficult, any religious activity is accompanied by song, dance and feasting as soon as the monks have been served the morning meal and escorted back to their monasteries with due reverence.

      The pagoda festival scene has been unchanged probably for centuries: the crowds of people on their way to or from the shrines, happy to see friends and acquaintances they saw the previous year, all delighted that the harvest is over and that they money to spend and have fun. They look forward to shopping for dried goods to store for the whole of the coming year, for new farm tools for the next planting season, and for a year’s worth of clothing for members of the family. Rich or poor, many Myanmar people love to shop, and they are eager to carry home local goods as presents for family, neighbours and friends, because no one goes on a trip without bringing back gifts for those left behind. Whole villages from afar come by truck or a caravan of carts, camping out near the fairgrounds. They cook on wood fires on site, fetching water from the Ayeyarwaddy River. Some bring home-woven fabrics or farm produce to sell.

      In the distant past, wealthy nobles and merchants must have arrived at the fair with their ladies dressed in soft silks, and with jewels around their necks and wrists; they might have arrived in palanquins or gilded carts, or on the backs of horses and elephants. The mode of transportation has changed to mechanical means, but the love of Asian women for jewellery remains intact, and dressing up as well as one can afford is about showing respect for the place of destination or doing honour to one’s hosts.
      Pagoda festivals can last for as long as two weeks, or they can be as short as two days. The longer festivals boast more shops offering goods ranging from fish paste to jeans to stiletto heels to decorative harness for farm animals.

      For many rural people coming from remote regions, the variety of food on sale means a yearly chance to eat ice cream concoctions or Indian-style pilaf or cream cakes. Sales of traditional snacks like rice cakes, water wafers, pancakes and steamed sticky rice in bamboo stems do not suffer from the competition because the townies are the ones gobbling them up. On the fringes of the fairgrounds are Ferris wheels turned by young men as they jump from point to point, rickety merry-go-rounds, and the rows of bamboo theatres showing all-night movies or classical dance and drama.

      The first big festival after the harvest is held at Shwezigon Pagoda near Nyaung Oo in September-October, from the first waxing moon day to the full moon day of the lunar month of Thadingyut. On the full moon day, over a thousand alms bowls are filled with food and offered to monks and novices who come to the pagoda every year on this day.
      The next big pagoda festival in the Bagan region takes place in February-March a Ananda Temple, also lasting two weeks, from the first waxing moon day to the full moon day of the lunar month of Pyatho. This is the biggest pagoda festival in the country and is not to be missed.
      Spirit worshippers are usually rural people who are also devout Buddhists, because according to Buddhist belief the spirits they adore also live in the many realms of existence. A spirit festival is by no means Buddhist in nature, but because Mount Popa lies close to Bagan and the spirits living at its crest have histories entwined with those of the kings of Bagan, surely their festivals deserves mention; one takes place May-June on the third waxing moon day of the lunar month of Kason, and another occurs in December-January and lasts a week, beginning on the full moon day on Nadaw.
      One festival for an important religious site in Bagan takes place every year for just two days in September-October, at Manuha Pagoda. The festival occurs from the day before the full moon of Tawthalin until the night of the following day.

      Myinkaba village lies next to this temple and the villagers are believed to be descended from the attendants who came from the Mon kingdom of Thaton with King Manuhaj in the 11th century. The Mon descendents offer a particular type of food in the Buddhist ritual of Sadudiths (offering free food to the public) by setting out trays of white rice cakes and pickled winter melon in front of their houses on the morning of the first day of the festival. In the evening of this day, villagers parade with life-sized, or even bigger, papier mache figures of heroes and kings of the past, or animals such as tigers, elephants, horses and crocodiles. On the morning of the next day, which is the full moon day, food is placed in the gigantic alms bowl in front of the main shrine of Manuha Pagoda and hundreds of filled alms bowls are offered to monks.

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