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Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

ch06a-light-fest.htm

Maung Htin Aung. Printed and published by U Myint Maung, Deputy Director, Regd: No (02405/02527) at the Religious Affairs Dept. Press. Yegu, Kaba-Aye P.O., Rangoon, BURMA. 1981.

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Appendix
Festival of Lights

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p080

06 APPENDIX
Festival of Lights

The Burmese Festival of Lights was originally held in the eighth month of the Burmese year, namely Tazaung-mon {tan-hsaung-moan:}. The Feast of the Full Moon of Tazaung-mon was celebrated in three ways. First, the villagers danced, dressed as animals, some of which were from native mythology. Second, oil-lamps and wax-candles were lighted along the streets and in the houses of the villagers as offerings to gods in general. Third, at night there was a Feast of Fools, in which young men roamed the village, throwing Zipyu fruit {zi:hpru thi:} at the houses and stealing article which would cause inconvenience to the  owners, or amusement to the onlookers, when they were found displayed at inappropriate places next morning. For example a woman's under-skirt would be flying from a pole in front of the headman's house, or a great number of cooking utensils would be found in a heap in the market-place.

Like the pre-Buddhist Feast of the New Year, the pre-Buddhist Feast of Tazaung-mon was a boisterous and rowdy one. After the cult of the Lord of the Great Mountain was established, the Festival of Lights was transferred by royal decree to the following month of Nat-Taw {nat-tau}. The Festival of Tazaung-mon was no longer celebrated with lights, but it remained an important festival. As Anawrahta discouraged and belittled the worship of the Lord of the Great Mountain, the Full Moon of the seventh month, Thadingyut, became the occasion for the new Festival of Lights. This celebrated the end of the Buddhist Lent and also commemorated an event in the Buddha's life, namely, the return of the Buddha from the abode of the gods, where he had spent the previous Lent preaching to the gods. The lights were no longer offerings to gods in general or to the Lord of the Great Mountain, but to [{p081}] the Buddha. But, in secret, some meant them as offerings to the Lord of the Great Mountain, and as centuries passed there evolved a compromise. In time the festival became lengthened to three days, namely, the day before the Full Moon, the Full Moon day itself, and the day after. On the third day, in addition to the many lights lit in worship of the Buddha, a light each was lit in the inner room of a house, on the stairs and in the kitchen, in honour of the House-Guardian, namely the Lord of the Great Mountain. This is the practice that prevails up to the present day.

The Full Moon of Tazaung-mon is still celebrated in Upper and Middle Burma with animal dances and rowdyism, merrymaking and thieving for fun, but since Anawrahta's time, no lights are lit. In Lower Burma, however, Tazaung-mon is still celebrated as the Festival of Lights. It is celebrated as a purely Buddhist festival, but no Buddhistic explanation is attached to it. Some scholars have attempted to show that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Burmese kings held Palace Festivals of Lights in honour of the Gods of Mount Mayyu fn081-01 on the Full Moon day of Tazaung-mon, and that the people imitated this new Palace custom, which resulted in another Buddhist Festival of Lights in Tazaung-mon. It is difficult to accept this theory in view of the fact that no festival of lights in Tazaung-mon is held in Upper Burma, where the kings actually lived. I am of the opinion that Tazaung-mon is celebrated as a Festival of Lights in Lower Burma simply because the regular Festival of Lights one month earlier is usually rained out. Unlike that in Upper Burma, the monsoon here remains strong at the Full Moon of Thadingyut. I may mention that in Lower Burma, Tazaung-mon is also celebrated with rowdyism and 'thieving'.

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fn081-01 Meru in Pali. fn081-01b

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UKT notes

Feast of Fools

{kyi:ma.no: pw:} -- It is appropriate at this point to emphasise that many Myanmar traditions and practices were of Hindu origin and therefore the words connected with such practices were more likely to be derived from Sanskrit than from Pali. One such traditional practice is the "Festival of Crow-Unawake" {kyi:ma.no:pw:} which is actually the festival of Pleiades or {krat~ti.ka nak~hkat}. The occasion is the positioning of the (full) Moon in Pleiades which itself is in the Constellation Taurus (when the Sun is the Constellation Scorpio in exact opposition to the Moon). The lunar month of this period is the Myanmar month of Tasaungmon {tan~hsaung-moan:} which coincides with the solar month October-November. It is the end of the rainy season and the weather is usually very fine -- neither too hot nor too cold, and the night-sky is usually very clear. It is mentioned in Vin III 262 that a thief, kattikā coraka {kat~ti.ka sau-ra.ka.} attacked the bhikkhus -- PTS p183. And therefore, this festival is also known in Myanmar as the Festival of the Thief. On the Full Moon Day of Tansaungmon, young men of the village would "steal" for fun usually letting the owners know where they would find their possessions. One practice is to remove the name-plate from the residence of a well-known (but not well-liked) person and putting it on the door of a public wash-room. Of course, full-time thieves would join them and keep the stolen goods to themselves. Therefore this festival is frowned upon by the police.

Dr. Htin Aung stated, "throwing Zipyu fruit {zi:hpru thi:} at the houses", showing that it was not rotten eggs nor rotten tomatoes that were thrown, but wholesome fruits which could be picked up and eaten by the inmates of the house if they wished. The intention of the person throwing the {zi:hpru thi:} and not a hard rock was to wake up the inmates just for fun: no malice or ill-will. Such revelry was usually under the supervision of the {ka-la.tha: gaung:} or the natural-leaders of the young men of the village.

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