Myanmar is a land of never ending festivities. It is almost impossible to visit and not experience one of hundreds festivals of Myanmar that are celebrated across the country throughout the year. Most festivals are cultural and religious and are nationwide celebrated, while a few are distinctly regional. The date of festivals and special events are determined by traditional Burmese calendar.
(*) Traditional Burmese calendar
The Myanmar calendar is lunisolar calendar which ideally represent the movement of the sun and the moon together. In the calendar, the months based on lunar months, and the year based on solar years, therefore the months of the Georgian calendar and the Myanmar calendar will differ. The Burmese calendar originated from ancient Hindu calendar, but along with new Era in Burma, a new calendar system was created.
Unlike in other Southeast Asian traditional, the Burmese calendar use Burmese names for months’ name:
(* Check the Myanmar calendar for accurate days of festivals as it is different from year to year.)
Myanmar Festivals Highlights
Thingyan Water Festival
Thingyan Water Festival, the biggest and the most celebrated festival of Myanmar, is held in the month of Tagu every year, which usually falls around mid-April. This fun filled water event marks the end of hot season, and goes on for four to five days. The first day of Thingyan Festival is dedicated to religious activities, offering alms to the monks in temples and monasteries, pouring scented water from head down over Buddha images… From the second day, water festival starts, people throw water to each other as they believe that Thingyan water has power to cleanse the evil and sins of the old year. The day following the end of water festival is celebrated on New Year’s Day. This special day, people visit their elders, bring them gifts of shampoo, and then wash their hair. Burmese tradition includes releasing fish into streams and rivers and doing good deeds for friends and family members.
The Thadingyut Festival (Festival of Lights)
The end of Lent is marked nationwide with the three-day Thadingyut Festival of Light. It is celebrated on the full moon day of the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut (which falls on September or October).
Legend says, after the Buddha was born, his mother- Maya died and then was reborn in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. To show his gratefulness to his mother, he preached Abhidhamma to his mother for three Lenten months. When the Buddha came down the earth after the end of the lent, there were three silver, gold, and ruby stairways to welcome him and his disciples. Therefore, the Thadingyut is celebrated to welcome the Buddha. On these days, houses and public buildings are ablaze with lanterns, candles, or electric bulbs. Young people give thanks, and pay homage to parents and elderly.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
The Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is held during the Burmese month of Thadingyut, falling each year in September or October. The 18- day festival is the most important festival in Shan state. Four out of five sacred Buddha images are removed from their shrine in Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda to the Royal Karaweik barge which is pulled by traditional long boats manned by hundreds of rowers. The Royal barge stops at 14 villages around Inle Lake, and the images stay in the main monastery for one night.
Originally, all five images were carried around the lake, until 1965, the boat that carried them capsized and all the images fell into the lake. People managed to recover all of them but the fifth remained lost. When they return to the pagoda, the lost image miraculously back in it shrine. After that, only four of the images are paraded around the lake, the mysterious fifth image is left to ‘guard’ the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
During the festival, rowing competitions are held which makes for a wonderful sight.
How to get there: Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda is located in the west bank of Inle Lake, flight to Heho Airport then drive to Inle.
Taunggyi Balloon Festival
The Taunggyi Balloon Festival is held on the full moon day of Tazaungmon- the eight month in Burmese calendar, which usually falls in the end of October or the beginning of November. Set by the Shan State capital of Taunggi, this annual festival draws hordes of people from surroundings and a trickle of foreign visitors.
Different from modern balloon, the Taunggyi balloon is made from hand-made mulberry paper of Shan State. The festival is also a balloon competition throughout the day and night. Day balloons are usually in the form of pagodas and animals such as elephants, dragons, or ducks… while the evening balloons are in shape of ruby ball, huge elongated paper balls with hundreds of small lighted paper lanterns hung around their sides. The balloon ceremony is accompanied by musicians who play and dance lively traditional Shan music.
How to get to Taunggyi Balloon Festival: Arrival at Heho, it takes 45 minutes to drive to Taunggyi.
There are countless religious and cultural festivals of Myanmar going on throughout the year. If you are about to visit this wonderful country, schedule to take part in one of them. It will offer a memorable experience to have fun and observe traditions.