By Cherry Nwe
photo credits here, here and here
I wake up eager and anxious, just like one would on Christmas morning.
Except that it’s not Christmas, and it’s not that early in the morning. Instead, it’s the first day of the သင်္ကြန် (“Thingyan”) festival in Myanmar. More commonly recognised as the water festival, it is celebrated during mid April of every year in order to welcome the new year. The festival lasts for about three to five days, where people douse friends, relatives, even strangers, with water out on the streets. The act of splashing water on people is a cleansing ritual that symbolizes washing away the previous year’s bad luck and sins.
Waking up on that day immediately leads to preparation – filling up the large tubs with water and moving them downstairs, grabbing a small pail, changing into clothes one would not mind getting wet. The process might seem tedious but it was part of the excitement and build up to the actual festival. Then again, to the five year old me, everything was exciting.
The festival itself entailed of many different sights. There were mini races and games to entertain the children, food booths that sold Burmese street snacks and loud techno music blasting through the speakers. Most prominently, large trucks dominated the streets, shooting water continuously out of firehoses on the endless stream of people who were dancing, drinking and having a great time. Dancers donning matching garments would grace the busy streets with their captivating performances and friends and families moved in the crowd with pails or water guns, spending precious time together. Though some would attempt to seek refuge by moving quickly, no one escaped the festival dry. It was like one huge party, and I never grew tiresome of it.
The festival also encompassed the spirit of goodwill and giving, and is a period of religious devotion of prayers. Families would visit the pagodas and monasteries in their vibrant and colourful longyis, the traditional costume of Myanmar, to make donations and offerings to the Gods. The older generation tended to remain in the monasteries to pray, choosing not to participate in the boisterous activities outside.
The main stars of the night would be the lights. Verandas each attempting to outshine one another(quite literally), would be dressed in a myriad of colours from the blinking fairy lights. Fireworks would decorate the dark sky, signifying the end of the day.
As a Burmese living in Singapore, I have not been able to relive this experience in the recent years of my life due to the demands of our school calendar, but I hold many fond memories of the festivities from my childhood. The entire festival is one-of-a-kind, unforgettable. It was one that you would wait for all year and miss once it was over. Each time I return to Myanmar, I hear stories of it from my relatives and they would always say that it was a pity that we could not celebrate it together. And it is at times like those that I long to return to my childhood.