Myanmar is known not only as the Golden Land but also the Land of Festivals because there is at least one festival per month in the country. These include religious and culture festivals as well as national celebrations (e.g. Independence Day, National Day, Farmers Day, etc.). The followings are some selected spectacular festivals in Myanmar.
Ananda Pagoda Festival, Bagan (January)
Ananda Pagoda festival is held on the full moon of Pyatho, symbolizing the limitless Wisdom of Buddha. This is a month long sacrificial festival at the Ananda temple, the most beautiful of all the 2000 holy monuments in Bagan. It is one of the most popular pagoda festivals in the country with the busiest day of the festival taking place on the full-moon day. Villagers around the Bagan area and pilgrims trek to the sacred site of Ananda for the celebration. This is also the best time to see the traditional customs of villagers as well as visiting a fair selling all kinds of local products, vendors and shops selling traditional food stuff and to partake in the festive atmosphere.
Kachin Manaw Festival, Myitkyina (January)
Kachin Manaw festival is a one day celebration held yearly in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State on January 10th. Manaw is a typical Kachin national festival in the northernmost region of Myanmar. The Kachin are a major ethnic group belonging to Tibeto-Burman ancestry.
Honesty, sociability, charity and generosity are some of the characteristics of the Kachin. Manaw Festival is the most colorful event as well as a unique Holy Tradition in Kachin State. If you are interested in visiting the Kachin ethnic group, you should not miss the Manaw festival.
Everybody can participate in the Manaw and you are warmly welcome to enjoy. Dancing with the rhythmic beat of the ceremonial gong, dressing in their colorful ceremonial attire, moving counter-clockwise in a big circle to the beat of a gong while men are waving ceremonial swords and women waving handkerchiefs, your experience during Manaw will remain with you for a long time to come.
Naga New Year Festival, Naga Land (January)
Naga New Year celebration usually falls on the 15th of January. Naga tribes live along the north-western mountains of Myanmar bordering with India. Even the Nagas from the Indian side come for this celebration. For the visitors, it is better to come before the New Year Day since pre-festival celebrations are held in the Naga villages. Naga New Year festivals are celebrated in Layshi or Lahè, easier to reach among the different places in Sagaing Division. You can fly up to Khamti (gateway to Naga Land) and then continue by land route to the places of celebration and witness Naga warriors and heroes. Their headdress made of bear fur is decorated with boar tusks, tiger claws, hornbill feathers and all the beast these hunters have killed.
Shwedagon Pagoda Festival (March)
Shwedagon Pagoda festival is always held on the full moon day of Tabaung, the twelfth and last month of Myanmar lunar calendar and usually falls into March. Local food and products are sold in many different stalls set up at the foot of The Ingoattaya Hill. It is fascinating to see Myanmar people participate in religious festivals and how they enjoy their holiday.
Kakku Pagoda Festival (March)
Kakku Pagoda festival takes place in March, precisely on the full moon day of Tabaung (March) which is the last month of the Myanmar lunar calendar. Normally, the festivities begin two or three days before the religious ceremonies and social occasions. It is the time especially for all Pa-O Tribes to meet and have fun, exchange news and gossips, to trade. People of the whole region arrive by the thousands, dressed in their traditional costumes. Some come in bullock carts while others arrive by more modern conveyances, on the village tractor.
The best moment to witness all the regalia is before dawn on the full moon day when the Pa-O people in all their finery come with gaily decorated trays filled with morning food offerings.
Myanmar New Year & Water Festival, throughout Myanmar (April)
Among the monthly festivals in Myanmar, the most significant and famous festival is Thingyan or Myanmar’s New Year Water Festival. which is celebrated by pouring and throwing icy water at one another regardless of your age, gender, color, religion or background. Every year, Thingyan falls on April 13th and ends on April 17th.
Burmese people believe that abundant pouring of water on ‘New Year’ does cleanse the body and mind of evils of the year that was left behind. Incidentally, it happens at the hottest time of the year and nobody is bothered or annoyed to be soaked wet. Fun fairs, modern stage shows and traditional dances at temporary street side grand stands are common throughout the country. It is the best time to observe closely the Myanmar’s happy, easy-going, and generous nature.
Taungpyone “Nat” Festival, Taungpyone village (July/August)
The festival of Taungpyone is a very peculiar and particular Spirit Worshiping festival, uncommon in other Buddhist traditions. It takes place in the small Taungpyone village, about nine miles north of Mandalay.
The Taungpyone Nat festival is held for 4 days every year in the Myanmar month of Wagaung (August). The Nat festival reaches its climax on the fourth day when the faithful observe the bathing ritual of the two Nat princes, carried on a palanquin followed by a procession all the way to the Shwe Ta Chaung stream (the Golden stream) which runs close to the village.
Times change and modern life becomes more and more complex yet the simple faith in these two princes of the ancient Bagan era make the faithful come every year with their list of hopes and wishes.
The Taungpyone Nat festival is a must for those who want to study Spirit Worship in Myanmar. We can arrange this trip as a day excursion from Mandalay.
Yadanagu “Nat” Festival, Mandalay (July/August)
It is one of the most distinguished spirit festivals and it occurs annually in August, just one week after the end of Taungbyone Spirit festival. It is held in honor of Popa-Medaw (Mother of Mt. Popa), where people hold ceremonies to propitiate Nats all around the Yadanagu area.
An interesting fact about the Nat festivals is that the gay community is quite accepted in Myanmar and transvestites play a major role in those celebrations. It is, in fact how the gay group gains recognition and appreciation in the Burmese society.
Some dance as if possessed by a Nat as the special music played in this ceremony can stimulate the senses. Soon everyone wants to join the ceremony.
Phaungdawoo Pagoda Festival, Inle Lake (September/October)
It usually falls in October (sometimes in September) on Inle Lake, one of the most supernatural places in Asia. Four Buddha Images from Phaung-daw-oo Pagoda are carried on a Royal Barge and convoyed around the 14 villages on Inle lake for 18 days. The barge is drawn by boats of leg-rowers (Inle Lake is very famous for its unique leg-rowers) and plenty of pilgrims in hundreds of boats to follow the procession. Large crowds of people gather on the lakeshores to celebrate the occasion. It is really a unique sight. A smaller pagoda festival is held in every village where the barge calls in. People pay homage and offer flowers, alms, water and a variety of fruits to the Buddha. The most interesting event of the festival is the leg-rowing boat races and award ceremony, held on the last day of the festival
The Festivals of Lights, throughout Myanmar (October)
The festival of light is held on Full Moon Eve and Full Moon day of Thadingyut throughout Myanmar to mark the end of the Buddhist Lent. The Festival of Lights during Thadingyut symbolizes the return of the Lord Buddha from Heavens and Angels lighting the path of his descent to Earth. During the festival, the custom of paying homage to elders and respectful persons is strictly followed. In the evening, the buildings, houses, streets and sky are decorated with strings of lights, oil lamps, candles and hot air balloons fly.
Hot Air Balloons Festival, Taunggyi (October/November)
It is held in Taunggyi, a capital of the southern Shan State for about 5 days before the full moon day of Tazaungmone (November). It is said to have originated with the Pa-O minority. The festival is well known for the hot air balloons, which are released at all times of day and night. At night time, visitors can see competitions of hot air balloons accompanied with fireworks and fire crackers. The contestants battle for maximum altitude and for speed.
During daytime, the decorated hot air balloons can be seen in different shapes and forms of animals such as birds, Hinthas, fish, ducks, hens and some four-footed animals like pigs etc.. Most of young local men participate in this event with their paper hand-made balloons, prepared some weeks in advance of the festival. After the hot air balloons have successfully flown in the competitions, the crowd happily plays traditional instruments and dances. This festival is becoming more popular every year and all are warmly welcome.
Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda Festival, Bagan (November)
The bell shaped cylinder of Shwe Zi Gon Pagoda can be regarded as a major attraction in Bagan. It was first built in AD 1075 by King Anawrahta and finished in AD 1090 by his son, King Kyansittha. Built in the mid 11th century, the graceful bell shape of Shwezigon Stupa became a prototype for later stupas of Myanmar. The Holy Tooth relic and a collarbone of Buddha which were brought from China and Sri Lanka respectively are enshrined in this pagoda.
Shwe Zi Gon pagoda festival is held in Tasaungmone, the eight month of the Myanmar calendar (November). For 23 days, one can find food stalls, fun-fairs, shops selling traditional local products, dance/ drama/ theatrical shows, magic shows, puppet shows and such. Myanmar people, young and old simply love to have a stroll around the festival.