Thingyan – The Burmese Water Festival
“Happy New Year!” a young monk in saffron tunic laughed and poured a whole bucket of water on my head. I received a few more best wishes and blessing like this when I was walking down Mahabandoola Street toward the center of Yangon, Burma’s largest city. On the square near the Sule Pagoda the large crowd of people was generously sprayed with firefighter’s water cannons.
I came to Burma, or to Myanmar, as this Southeast Asian country is officially called since 1989, in April 2009, just one day before the celebration of Thingyan – The Burmese Water festival, which takes place in honor of the Buddhist New Year. The Buddhist New Year is tied to the lunar calendar and is celebrated in March or April. Traditional religious holiday with a deep purifying content at the onset of the New Year is also multi-day celebration with a lot of water. Many stages are set for music groups performances on the streets. On every stage, there are some pipes used to spray water all around. The cars with windows down and full of people are passing by and are completely drenched with water. As well as are the nearby standing police officers, maintain the order. However, nobody bothers and all are having good time. “April is the cruelest month in Burma regarding weather”, as George Orwell paraphrased poet T.S. Eliot in his book The Burmese Days, which describes the last days of the British colonial empire. Temperatures in April are often above 40 °C. Tropical downpours at noon could chill the atmosphere but on the other hand increase the air humidity. So be prepared for 24 hours of sauna if you visit Burma in April! It is no wonder why Burmese men wear skirts called longy. Women use thanaka, ground bark of the tree roots, to protect their skin from frying sun. Thanaka protects the skin and moisturizes it. I didn’t need neither longy nor thanaka, as on every step I made, I got a splash of water. As a foreigner, which in Burma at that time was rare bird, I called a lot of attention. Often, they made a special effort and poured me with bucket full of ice cold water. But how could I blame this friendly people with large, sincere smiles? After all, more water on Thingyan you get, more happiness and blessing you will have in the New Year. When I finally came back in the hotel to change my soaking wet clothes, there was a fresh wreath of jasmine flowers hung above my bed, which gave a pleasant scent to my room.