Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Full moons are auspicious occasions for Buddhists and while the true meaning of the holy celebrations transcends different cultures, how they’re celebrated can change, and some of Myanmar’s festivals are marvelously unique.
According to Buddhist teachings, Buddha’s birth, Bodhi (enlightenment), and Nirvana (death) all occurred on the full moon of Kasong, which usually falls in May. Visitors to Myanmar are easily swept up in the celebrations of this significant religious day. The sound of chanting prayer and the scent of burning incense fill the air as devotees, dressed in their ‘Sunday-best’ flock to pagodas for the ceremonial watering of the sacred Bodhi Tree. These grand-old Banyan trees are revered at holy sites across the country and representative of one in India, where it’s believed Buddha reached enlightenment following a marathon 49-day meditation under it.
At 105 metres tall, Shwedagon Pagoda is always impressive. All the more though, during
fullmoon celebrations when pilgrims flock there from around the nation.
Most years, the Waso full moon falls in July. By this time, Myanmar’s rainy season is in full swing and the gold-leaf ornamenting Myanmar’s premier religious site, Shwedagon Pagoda, dazzles even more than usual following a drenching from a Monsoonal downpour. Commemorating the founding of the Buddhist Monkhood some 2,500 years ago, this holy occasion also marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent. For the 3 months that follow, Myanmar Buddhists won’t marry, some go without eating meat, others abstain from vices like alcohol and beetle-nut, and monks don’t travel. Pilgrims gather on-mass with offerings of flowers, and new robes for monks.
Over three evenings, parks fill up with families to welcome the Thadingyut full moon. Wide-eyed children gaze in wonder as hundreds of sky lanterns are released into the night. Their peaceful drift upward, punctuated by the raucous of exploding fireworks. City streets are crammed with carnival revelers feasting on charcoal-grilled BBQ meats and relishing the sideshow attractions. The acrobatics of the young men using their weight and momentum to propel the human-powered Ferris-wheels is always a favorite! Moreover, this ‘Festival of Lights’ which falls in September/October, is a time to give thanks. People are emerging from Lent’s quiet reflection. The young pay their respects to family elders and teachers with visits and gift-giving. The rainy season is fair-welled for another year.
Daredevils operate and ride the human-powered Ferris wheel.
Picture this: Enormous, unmanned hot air balloons handcrafted from paper and bamboo. The size of multi-story buildings, they’re inflated using fuel-doused flaming torches. Not enough excitement for you? Let’s add basket bases laden with fireworks for good measure! Released one at a time to the euphoric cheers of the crowd, the balloons gain altitude (should everything go to plan) into the pyrotechnic glowing night sky. Music, dance, carnival rides, and beer tents all add to the merrymaking atmosphere. Tazaungdaing is a festival like no other and is how Myanmar celebrates the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, usually in November. Every year, thousands of locals (and a handful of daring tourists) travel up-country to the rural city of Taunggyi to join the adrenaline-charged, week-long event.
The Adrenaline Charged Tazaungdaing Fire-Balloon Festival
Like most of the world, Myanmar's religious celebrations are on-hold due to COVID-19, and no fire balloons and fireworks will see in this month's full moon. But we all can't wait to experience life with travel again, so let's pencil it in for next year!
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