Experience The Wonder Of Myanmar's Biggest Festival
The Expat|August 2017

Experience The Wonder Of Myanmar's Biggest Festival

Judyth Gregory-Smith

The Phaung Daw Oo BuddhaFestival takes place every year in September to October on Inle Lake, Southern Shan State, in Myanmar. The festival includes a procession of 36 boats rowed by hundreds of Intha men leading a huge barge in the shape of Myanmar’s mythical Hintha bird also known as the Karaweik. The barge carries four Buddha images around the lake for a total of 26 days so that all the villagers can pay homage.

We joined the procession at Nyaung Shwe where the images had resided for two days. They were carried reverently from the monastery by a group of officials walking on pink lotus-strewn carpets. People thronged both sides of the road as each image on its own palanquin was carried to the quay.

The dignitaries were dressed all in white, with shan trousers, jackets, and gaung baung, which are the special hats they wear for official occasions. Other

men held white umbrellas above their heads. Two men helped one very old and dignified man, holding him carefully on either side. I was told he was the sawbwa, the Shan King, whose title used to be hereditary, but the community now chooses a prominent member of the town.

THE LEGEND BEHIND THE FESTIVAL

 The legends of the Phaung Daw Oo Buddha Festival are fascinating. As with all legends, the details differ but the essence of the story remains the same. The following is the version as told in an official Burmese handbook.

One of the powerful kings who lived in Pagan in the 11th century was King Alaung Situ. He wanted to be a Buddhist missionary and decided to travel with a boat. He had a lot of power though he was not a Buddha, nor was he a nat (nats are part of Myanmar’s very much alive spirit world). He had power because he was a king. When he pointed his finger, there would automatically be water in a river or canal.

When he was travelling, he met many kinds of people including a good nat who asked the king to stop the boat because he wanted to give the king something special to take to other Buddhists. The nat gave him some wood called tarakan, which is something like sandalwood and has a wonderful smell. The nat told the king he should make a wood-carving image of the Buddha. King Alaung Situ promised he would make five Buddha images with the wood. And so he did.

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