Thingyan, Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) traditional New Year celebration, is a vibrant and significant event that marks the transition of the Sun from Pisces to Aries, aligning with the Burmese month of Tagu, typically in April. This Buddhist festival, spanning four to five days, was historically determined by the Burmese lunisolar calendar but now adheres to fixed dates from April 13th to 16th as per the Gregorian calendar. Celebrated during Myanmar’s hottest season, Thingyan is renowned for its water-throwing festivities, a delightful way to beat the heat, where people joyfully splash each other with water using various containers.
Roots of Thingyan: A Blend of Myth and Tradition
Thingyan’s roots trace back to a Buddhist adaptation of a Hindu myth. In this story, Brahma King Arsi lost a bet to Devas’ King Sakra, leading to Arsi’s beheading and subsequent transformation into Ganesha with an elephant head. Fearing the destructive power of Arsi’s head, Sakra commanded that it be continuously passed among princess devas, each holding it for a year. This ritual of changing hands symbolizes the onset of the New Year.
The Water festival
As Thingyan approaches, the Burmese people engage in festive preparations, including music, dance, and various celebratory activities, setting the stage for the water festival. Neighborhoods are adorned with beautifully decorated pavilions and stages made of bamboo and wood.
The actual water-throwing festivities commence on A-kya nei, although the starting day may vary slightly across regions. In its traditional form, the festival involved gently sprinkling scented water from silver bowls using Jambul sprigs, a practice still alive in rural areas. This act symbolizes cleansing oneself of the past year’s sins. In urban areas, the festival is more exuberant, with people using large bamboo syringes, hoses, water pistols, and other creative means for splashing water. Amidst the intense heat, these refreshing splashes are a welcome relief for everyone.
The festival’s third day is A-kyat nei, occasionally extended to two days, and the fourth day, A-tet nei, marks the conclusion of Thingyan and the return of Thagya min to the heavens.