Thingyan is the Myanmar Water Festival which takes place around mid-April. It is a Buddhist festival celebrated over a period of four to five days, culminating in the New Year. The dates of the festival are observed as the most important public holiday throughout Myanmar. The festival lasts three or five days where everyone throws water on one another. Powerful water pipes douse people driving by in jeeps and trucks. Children use water pistols to drench their friends, relatives, and anyone else in range, only monks and the elderly are safe from being dry or those that choose to stay indoors.
The history behind the festival originates from a Hindu myth. The King of Brahmas called Arsi, lost a wager to the King of Devas, Śakra (Thagya Min), who decapitated Arsi as agreed but the head of an elephant was put onto the Brahma’s body who then became Ganesha. The Brahma was so powerful that if the head were thrown into the sea it would dry up immediately. If it were thrown onto land it would be scorched. If it were thrown up into the air the sky would burst into flames. Sakra therefore ordained that the Brahma’s head be carried by one princess devi after another taking turns for a year each. The new year henceforth has come to signify the changing of hands of the Brahma’s head.
On the eve of Thingyan which is known as a-kyo nei in Burmese, it is the start of the religious activities where alms are offered to monks and left outside monasteries. In the evening in the celebration festivities begin with shows, music and dancing throughout the country in all forms of manner to large organised festivals to small neighbourhood parties.
The following day is a-kya nei, this is when the serious water throwing begins. Traditionally, Thingyan involved the sprinkling of scented water in a silver bowl using sprigs of thabyay, this practice continues to be prevalent in the rural areas of the country. The intention was to “wash away” the sins of the previous year. Nowadays especially in the major cities garden hoses, water pistols, fire hoses, water balloons and anything else that can squirt water is used are used in in this highly animated day where all the water throwing is played out in good mood. The government also relaxes restrictions on large public gatherings taking place with water stations doubling as dance floors are set up in. Be warned if you’re out and about in these days you will be wet, so it’s best to take precautions. But as the old going says if you can’t beat them-join them! The third day is called a-kyat nei and the fourth as a-tet nei which is usually the last day of the water festival where some revellers will continue to throw water late into the day.
Over the festive period there traditional foods which are made, Mont Lone Yeibaw which are glutinous rice balls with palm sugar boiled in hot water and all young Burmese help in making it along with Mont Let Saung which is bits of sticky rice with toasted sesame in palm syrup and coconut milk and both are served with grated coconut. In other states in Myanmar they have other dishes which are traditional to serve such as Mohinga, which is a rice noodle and fish soup dish, in Rakhine state.
The next day is New Year’s Day and is spent visiting family, time with elders and time for prayer and blessings and where also many new year’s resolutions are made.