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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Vice President Appointed

Gen Nyan Htun of the Myanmar Navy had been appointed as Vice President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar by the Pyitthu Hluttaw today.
He will now fill in the vacant post of Vice President vacated by U Tin Aung Myin Oo earlier
for details go to:
http://www.facebook.com/7daynews
http://www.facebook.com/ElevenMediaGroup
http://www.facebook.com/PopularNewsJournal?ref=ts
http://www.facebook.com/myanmartimes
source:various

Saturday, September 25, 2010

new website

My articles can also be enjoyed on my new website. The address is
http://www.enchantingmyanmar.com.

Monday, September 20, 2010

REMINISCENCES ON THADINGYUT

REMINISCENCES ON THADINGYUT
by: Hpone Thant

Soon the black monsoon clouds will clear and the sky will once again be blue. People all over Myanmar will celebrate the end of the Buddhist Lent with many festivities.

Towns and villages all over the country will be gaily decorated with lights: electrical bulbs in the cities but with tradition candles and fire staffs in the outlaying villages. The occasion, according to the Buddhist tradition is to welcome back Lord Buddha back to the Abode of Humans after His sojourn in the Abode of the Celestials beings during the Lent.

According to our beliefs, Lord Buddha descended back to the Abode of the Humans by a golden stairs case, with other Celestials flanking him on both sides, the silver and ruby staircases.
And humans on earth welcome Him with joy.

There will be street performances at many places during the evening; food stalls selling local delicacies as well as other stalls offering a variety of goods, both locally manufactured or even imported. Whole streets will be lighted up and people jostle to get the best standing place to see their favourite entertainment personalities perform.

During daytime, however, most pagodas and monasteries are crowded with devotees offering food to the monks and listening to the Holy Sermons on this auspicious day.

But for the children it is the most important time. They get to go around to their grandparents or other seniors in their family with trays of presents and pay respect to them. In return they are given back pocket money by the elders, which makes them immensely happy.

However, time flies. The days when we rush to our grandparents to pay our respects and receive pocket money had gone by, never to return. Now we wait to receive and enjoy the respects given to us by our grandchildren. Za Yar (old age) had finally caught up with us.




Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE SHAKING PAGODA

The Shaking Pagoda
By: Harry Hpone Thant

A village with a curious name of "Hna Kyat Khwe" or in the Myanmar language 2 1/2 ticals village (a traditional Myanmar measure of weight), is where the Shaking Pagoda stand. Off the road on the Kyaukpadaung-Mt.Popa Highway is a small dirt track, where a sign says "4 miles to the Shaking Pagoda". The track meanders among clumps of toddy palm grooves and small villages before it arrives at the Hna Kyat Khwe village. It is a typical Myanmar Dry Zone village. Most are engaged in cultivation of dry zone cash crops like zyziphyus, sesame or ground nut. Or they gather the toddy juices and boil them to get the sweet round balls of jaggery.

When King Alaung Sithu of Bagan was on his tour he stopped at this village. The King wanted to have a pagoda built at this place and commanded that everybody in the army was to contribute one handful of clay and earth to the construction. Curiously, the weight of earth dug by each soldier weighed exactly 2 1/2 ticals each. And the village got its name.

However,due to unknown reasons the pagoda from its plinth up is not rigid. Put a cup of water on the plinth, lean a ladder onto the structure(the part resembling a banana bud), climb up the ladder and shake the pagoda. The bells on the hti or Holy Umbrella will ring audibly and the water in the cup will splash out.

When there was a big earthquake in Bagan in 1975, some outer mortar coverings of this pagoda fell off. The Presiding Abbot wanted to make repairs and sent up some workers to investigate. The workers found a hole in the structure and when they reached inside found a gooey substance that had not hardened despite the centuries after the construction. The inner core had remained soft.

However, the Archeological Department had now banned any sort of shaking the pagoda to prevent further damage.

The Presiding Abbot of the village monastery, where the pagoda is situated, will also show the huge tamarind tree which he says resembles an elephant paying homage to the pagoda.

Curiously enough, it is not the only pagoda with this curious characteristic. There is another near the town of Yenangyaung.

Devotees say it is the miraculous powers of the Celestial Beings that look after the pagoda made this pagoda special. Or maybe it is the unique characteristics of the soil of this area that makes it stay soft. But whatever the explanation it is a most unique phenomenon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

THE ABODE OF NATS (or) MYANMAR'S MT.OLYMPUS



The Abode of Nats (or) Myanmar’s Mt. Olympus.

By: Harry Hpone Thant

Millions of year ago huge volcanic explosions ripped the Myingyan plains, the earth heaved and Mt. Popa was born. Rising out of the arid and dusty plains Mt. Popa over time became a green oasis, a prominent landmark in Central Myanmar, It is indeed a unique sight to behold. Mt. Popa is visible from miles away, a bit hazy but towering high above the Myingyan plain.

The main mountain is approximately 1200 metres high. Another small pinnacle is also visible beside it. This is called in the Myanmar language as the Taungkalat, a solidified volcanic pipe about 250 metres in height. The main Popa Mountain is covered with green and lush vegetation, many species of medicinal herbs, countless wildlife and swift flowing natural springs. Popa in Pali language means flowers as there are also many species of flowers growing around the mountain top. But the smaller Taungkalat is a special place. The Taungkalat stands alone, as a perpendicular mount. The sides are eroded after several millions of years and show layers and layers of solidified lava. These geological and natural phenomena make Popa a unique place in the otherwise hot and dusty central Myanmar region.

Buddhism was just taking roots in faraway Bagan and many people still believe in the supernatural. So this unique place, in their primitive perception of the universe, cannot be anything but the Abode of Nats(spirits), with their powerful influences over humans. It must be where the weikzas and the zawgyis( mythical personalities who dwell in the forest and are in possession of elixir of life) and ogresses(but not the violent kind) live.

Here the resident ogress eats only flowers and is a devout Buddhist. Her name even translate as Mei Wunna, the Pan Sar Biluma (Mei Wunna, an ogress who eat only flowers). But is she a real ogress? Some say she was a beautiful princess from faraway Thaton Kingdom in the south, brought to Bagan as a prisoner. However, she had made Popa her residence to spend her life in meditation with the unique ability to transform her features from a beautiful princess to the face of a frightening ogress. If someone with evil intent approaches her she will project herself in her fearsome guise but if she sees someone she fancies she will reveal herself as a beautiful maiden. But, whatever the truth is, it is a beautiful story.

The weikzas and the zawgyis also have magic wands that can turn female-looking fruits from a special kind of tree that grow in the forest into human forms and enjoy the company of the fruit-maidens. A jolly good equipment to possess. An instant create-a-girl magic wand.

On the Myanmar Mt.Olympus reign U Tint De, Chief of the Myanmar Pantheon of nats. His story is also one of interest; intrigues and power plays and finally a sad and heart-rending end. U Tint De was a strong and popular blacksmith at Tagaung, far to the north of Bagan on the Ayeyarwaddy River. His fame grew so much that the king at Tagaung became afraid of him. He was afraid that one day U Tint De would usurp his kingdom. So he sent word to U Tint De that he would like to make U Tint De’s beautiful sister, Thon Ban Hla, his Queen and persuaded them to come and live at his palace. As a consequence of much court intrigues U Tint De was condemned to die at the stake. His sister Thon Ban Hla saw her brother being burned alive and she also jumped into the inferno. So U Tint De and Thon Ban Hla both became nats. However, any living creature which encroached under the shadows of the Sagar tree, where the duo was burned alive, died. So the King had it cut and floated downstream. The tree beached at Bagan and the Bagan King made statues of the U Tint De and Thon Ban Hla out of the tree, enshrined them at Mt. Popa and people started to worship them.

Another legendary hero connected with Mt. Popa is Byatta. He was a mighty warrior at the court of King Anawrahta, the King of Bagan, on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Bagan and Mt. Popa seems near yet far. On clear days the silver ribbon of the Ayeyarwaddy River can be seen flashing in the sun from Mt. Popa. One of the daily duties of Byatta was to bring flowers for the royal palace from Mt. Popa. If history is to be believed Byatta runs to Mt. Popa and back in time to bring the flowers back to Bagan before dawn breaks. He could be the world’s greatest and earliest marathon runner then. Well, inevitably Byatta fell in love with Mei Wunna. Presumably she showed her more lovely face to Byatta to get his love. Anyway, they got married and Mei Wunna bore Byatta two sons, Shwe Hpyin gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay of Taungbyone fame. But that is another story.

One of the four Lords of the White Horse (Myinbyu Shin nats ) is also associated with Mt. Popa. Villagers living around Mt. Popa say that if rain clouds crown the main mountain, do not attempt to cross any of the dry creeks in the vicinity as the waters will rush down very swiftly. But there was one expert horseman who greatly believed in his own prowess as an excellent horseman. One day as the rain clouds covered the mountain peak he tried to cross over the Yamar Creek on his trusty steed. He was nearly across the creek ahead of the rushing waters but disaster struck. One of the hind legs of the horse was seized by the violent current and he drowned together with his horse. And he became a nat and is known as the Yamar Myinbyu Shin Nat(Yanmar Lord of the White Horse).

There are 37 official nats recognized since Bagan time, with many other local and regional natstoo. A long pavilion houses the statues of them at the foot of the Taungkalat. There are life-like statues of U Min Kyaw, the Nat of Bacchanalia, on his horse, the four Myinbyu Shin nats (Lord of the White Horse), Amae Yay Yin( who rules the poisonous creatures west of the Chindwin River), some Shan nats and even Indian nats. But a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky hanging from U Min Kyaw’s arm escapes explanation. Maybe his preferences had switched from the traditional slightly intoxicating toddy palm juice to a more potent and internationally recognized brand!

Taungkalat can be climbed up by a covered iron staircase clinging to its side. As you climb you will be accompanied by troops of wild monkeys begging for food handouts. Along the stairways are such places of interest as Bagan Hmaw, a place where the ogress Mei Wunna looks towards Bagan, waiting for her husband, another place where her two sons were born, a cave said to belong to Boe Min Gaung (another exalted personality who had found immortality by engaging in meditation) and many other such magical and mystical personalities. At the top are many pagodas, which make one marvel how the workers carried the necessary building materials up such narrow and steep steps. The view from the top, after a wheezing 700++ steps, is panoramic. In the west, the shimmering ribbon of the Ayeyarwaddy Rivers borders the endless Myingyan plain and to the east is another endless Meikhtila plain touching the blue, hazy Shan Mountains in the distance.

The main volcano is now extinct. One side had collapsed during one of its violent eruptions. But people at Popa village will swear that the mountainside caved in from the pounding hooves of King Kyansitta’s(another famous Bagan King) war horse.

However, quaint or old-fashioned these superstitions may sound, most Myanmar people still believes in them and worship these nats. Even the most sophisticated and educated person will still pay due reverence to these supernatural beings. Better to be on the good side of them than suffer the bad luck by ignoring them. Better safe than sorry! And a visit to Mt. Popa would undoubtedly be a unique eye-opener for a foreigner to these age old customs still being lovingly followed.

Mt. Popa is easily accessible by car from Bagan. It is just approximately 2 hours driving time. There is also a resort hotel on the side of the main mountain.

Photo: Sonny Nyein/Myanmar Polestar Travels.

Friday, August 20, 2010

IS IT THE DRAGON'S LAIR? THE NAGA PYWET TAUNG AT MINBU

IS IT A DRAGON'S LAIR?
THE NAGA PYWET TAUNG AT MINBU
by:Hpone Thant

Long, long time ago, even before Buddhism had taken roots in Myanmar people were awed with the forces of nature: the clashing of thunder and bolts of lightning that flashed in the sky must be of Gods fighting in heaven, the visitation of illnesses are but punishment from the Gods to those who had defied them. And smoke and fire belching from a volcano must have seem to them like a dragon(Naga in the Myanmar language) spitting out his fiery breath from the bowels of the earth.

Naga worship is not new in Myanmar. In Buddhist stories and folk lores there are many mentions of these mythical creatures. In a tale of old Tagaung, a vigilant youth, Pauk Kyaing, slayed a dragon( who was also a secret lover of the Queen with powers to transform himself into human form) and became King himself. King Kyansitta of Bagan era had a dream where he was shielded by a dragon under its hood and took it as an omen that he will become King one day. This episode is said to be honoured at Bagan when King Kyansittha built the Nagayon(meaning shielded by the dragon) Pagoda. Many pictures of Lord Buddha can be seen where He sits under the spreading hood of a large dragon.

And also among our hill cousins there are many fables where the naga(either a female or male) is named as one of the couple, whose union produced their linage.The Akha beliefs that their womenfolks turn into sleeping female dragons at night and so they sleep apart from their husbands. The Pa O girls of southern Shan State remember their matriarch in their dresses; three layers of clothes that resemble the scales of the dragon plus a circular hairpin that they say is to resemble the naga's eyes. A statue of a mythical female figure with a dragon headdress, Mya Nan Nwe, inside a pavilion at the Botatung Pagoda in Yangon, commands great respect from the female folks as one of their benefactors.

A Myanmar proverb also admonishes unbelievers "Never lie to a Nat or a Naga"or misfortune will fall on you.

So it is no surprise that anything connected with the nagas will have a great interest for the people of Myanmar.

Near Minbu, in central Myanmar, there is a unique geological site. It is called the NAGA PYWET TAUNG"( Mountain where the Naga Breathes). Pilgrims going to the nearby Naga pywet Taung Pagoda invariably also go to see this geological phenomenon. Actually for the scientifically-minded it is an ordinary mud volcano but to the ancient primitive people of the area, with their beliefs in supernatural beings, this must have been seen as a manifestation of the existence of the fiery dragons(naga) living deep inside the earth.

This mud volcano is not very high. In fact it is just about 10-20 feet high. But it belches grey, oozy mud periodically, accompanied by distinctive noxious sulphur fumes, further consolidating the peoples' belief in the mythical creatures.

However, there is one mystery here. In the Myanmar calender we have a notion that the Naga points its head to a certain direction at certain time of the year. Myanmar people belief that it is bad to travel down the direction of the Naga's tail as it will bring misfortune, either when travelling or moving house. Better to transverse the Naga's body or to go in the direction of the mouth. And the curious thing is that the flow of lava from this mud volcano inexplicably shifts direction according to the direction of the naga's tail as shown in the appropriate Myanmar calender month.

So the US of A has its geysers in Yosemite but we have Minbu Mud Volcano. Maybe this is truly the lair of the fire-breathing dragon. Who knows???????????

Minbu is just across the Ayeyarwady River and accessible by car using the bridge at Magway. The NAGA PYWET TAUNG is not far out of town.


Monday, August 16, 2010

PILGRIM FISHES

PILGRIM FISHES

by:Hpone Thant

A large tributary of the Ayeyarwady rivers flows in from the west near the township of Pwintphyu in the Magway Division of Central Myanmar. This is the Mon Chaung. Pwintphyu is also famous for one of the most venerated pagoda in Myanmar, the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya Pagoda.

Pagoda legends tells us of how during the life time of Lord Buddha this place was where He had a monastery (Kyaung Daw Ya means in the Myanmar language: site of the holy monastery). It was also said to be constructed of sandalwood. And there is another attraction for the pilgrims to visit the pagoda, the pilgrim fishes!

During the monsoon season the Mon Chaung is filled with rainwaters cascading out of the eastern slopes of the distant foothills of the Rakhine Yomas(ranges) and the southern Chin Hills. The Ayeyarwady river is also in flood. This is the time when huge catfishes come to pay homage to the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya Pagoda.

But the catfishes must be invited. On the Fullmoon day of Waso(July-August) the presiding Abbot of the Pagoda would go out towards the junction of the Mon and the Ayeyarwady rivers to invite the fishes up the Mon Chaung tributary. The whole procession of boats would also accompany the monks on this journey. The monks chant Buddhist Suttas and mantra as they lead the convoy of boats, the lay people follow in their own boats with much song and merriment. At the junction with the Ayeyarwady river the leading boat scatter some food into the water and sail back, with the monks chanting the Buddhist texts all the way. But the fishes are not yet in tow. They might come up in a couple of days. The fishers living here dismantle all nets and fish traps along the way during the whole period of the Buddhist Lent so as not to harm the fishes. It is believed that these giant fishes come to pay the ir homage to the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya pagoda during the Lent. They stay the whole 3 months period of the Buddhist Lent, disappearing only after the Fullmoon Day of Thadingyut(October). During this time pilgrims from all over the country would congregate here. They go into the water to put gold leaves on the head of the fishes. These fishes are big. Some about 3-4 feet in length but they stay calm when people wade into the river to gild their heads. They are also said to be vegetarians. Pilgrims throw balls of rice husks or popcorn into the water to feed them.

Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya is reached by crossing the Ayeyarwady River at Magway and drive on from Minbu to Pwintphyu. The place where the fishes are fed is about 2-3 miles from the pagoda itself, on the banks of the Mon Chaung. The road to Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya is an all-weather road.There are no accommodations at Pwintphyu or Legaing and visitors must return to Magway for hotel accommodations.






Sunday, August 8, 2010

TAUNGBYONE NAT FESTIVAL : A CURIOUS HOLDOVER OF ANCIENT BELIEVES

By: Harry Hpone Thant



Wagaung corresponds to the Christian month of August. It is the period when the monsoon rains reach Upper Myanmar and Ayeyarwady Rivers is full, stretching from one bank to the invisible bank on the other side. It is also the time when the waters of the Ayeyarwady River reach the small village of Taungbyone in Madaya Township, Mandalay Division.

Also this is the time of one of the most famous Nat (Spirit) Festival in the country, the one that dates back to the Bagan Dynasty, nearly 2 centuries ago.

Once upon a time during the time of King Anawrahta of Bagan there lived two mighty warriors, Byatwi and Byatta. Byatta fell in love with an Ogress-Princess Mae Wunna of Mt. Popa and had two sons, Shwe Hpyin Gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay. After their father had been murdered in one of the court’s intrigues King Anawrahtha took pity on these two young boys and made them his favourites.

Then King Anawrahta went to war against the Chinese to demand the Buddha’s Tooth Relic and on his way back made camp at the village of Taungbyone. The King also commanded that a pagoda should be erected at this site to mark his expedition. His edict was that all his followers should contribute one brick each to the construction of the pagoda to be called “Su Taug Pyi Pagoda”(Wish granting Pagoda).

But the two young adolescent boys were in their teens already and as usual more interested in merry-making, drinking the intoxicating toddy wine daily or engage in cock-fighting and other mischiefs. The elder even fell in love with a village maiden and both forgot to fulfill the King’s command. Two spaces were left vacant on the inside wall of the pagoda and nobody went out of the way to tell the two young brothers of their lapse.

This was the chance the other jealous members of the court were waiting for. The King came to pay homage at the Pagoda’s Consecration Ceremony and saw the two empty spaces. When told that the two brothers had ignored the King’s command, the King told his courtiers to punish the brothers for their violation. The King thought they would be caned lightly with willow stalks but the other members of the King’s entourage had other ideas.

Taking the King’s permission at face value the jealous court officials bound the two youths, took them to the river bank and because royal blood is forbidden to be split on the ground, bludgeoned them to death inside velvet bags. And as the story goes both of them became nats(spirits)

The time came for the King to leave for Bagan but his raft was unable to move. Enquiring about this mishap the two young nats revealed themselves and retold their tragic tale. The King took pity on them and commanded that they be given this region as their fiefdom. Two life size statues were made and this started the custom of the Taungbyone Nat Festival, every Wagaung.

And to commemorate the Consecration of the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, the King made it mandatory that a Festival be held yearly on the Full-moon Day of Wagaung. But, curiously, instead of the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda Festival being celebrated it has transformed itself into a nat (spirit) festival.

The Taungbyone Nat Festival gathers all believers and followers of Shwe Hpyin gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay nat brothers from all over the country, as well as some curious foreign visitors. Mostly they are business persons. They come to pay respect to the two nats, ask for supernatural intervention in their business dealings or make good their promises for the success of their endeavours. And the spirit mediums ( nat gadaws) erect stalls and dance to entertain the two nat brothers for a fee. But why most of these spirit mediums are transvestites is beyond explanation or comprehension.

The Taungbyone Nat Festival itself is a very interesting spectacle: ancient beliefs and rituals that still linger into the 21st century. This is also a very lively and boisterous festival. Festival goers tease and shout, many with profanities and vulgar expressions to each other, but nobody take offence. This is to please and imitate the two young nat-brothers’ behavior when they were alive. A life they spent with much drinking and gambling and having fun. It is also a curious superstitious holdover that on the appointed day, the traditional village which had supplied roasted rabbits to the two brothers to take with their toddy palm beer still bring symbolic roasted rabbits to the festival grounds and offer to the Statues but the village that supplied the ropes to bind the brothers is banned to visit the festival and condemned to clean up the site after the festival. However, the new generations of believers now bring as offerings, bottles of Johnny Walker to the two nat brothers. Perhaps they had changed their preferences from the traditional slightly intoxicating toddy palm juice to a more potent and internationally recognized brand!

The most important date of this Taungbyone nat Festival is the day when the two life size statutes are taken for the bathing rituals (Cho Yey Daw Thon Pwe). Believers push and shove playfully to get as near to the palanquin carrying the statues, hoping that the nats would favour then with a blessing in their business ventures.

Taungbyone is easily accessible from Mandalay by car but as there are no accommodations for tourists it is a day trip destination only. Also because the Festival is celebrated according to the Myanmar lunar calendar, international visitors are advised to enquire ahead the exact dates from the travel agents. The two vacant spaces, said to be the quota of Shwe Hpyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Lay are still visible to this day.

Photos: Sonny Nyein

Sunday, August 1, 2010

NYAUNG GAN:AN ANCIENT PYU BURIAL SITE

NYAUNG GAN ANCIENT PYU BURIAL SITE
by: Hpone Thant

On a mound just overlooking the Chindwin River by the small village called Nyaung gan in Butalin Township of Sagaing Division is a cemetery. But it is not a simple village cemetery. This cemetery is an archaeology site. It is one of the rare Pyu burial grounds. The cemetery is hidden inside a grove of banana plantation but quite easy to access by foot from the village.

Pyu people are believed to be the ancestors of the present-day Bamar people.They were also highly civilized. The Pyus also founded many city states during their time. sent emissaries to nearby pricipalities. Some of the most famous Pyu city-states were, Sriksetra(Thayekhittaya), near Pyay, Beikthano, on the highway from Taungdwingyi to Magway and Hanlin, near Shwebo in Upper Myanmar. Pyu settlements had also been found in the Samon River Valley, near Wundwin township in the Mandalay Division and along the Ayeyarwady River banks at Kya nyat(near Tagaung). The Pyu also have their own language and a developed culture. A collection of five dancing figurines made history not very long ago when they were stolen from the National Museum, sold to an international antiques collector but later graciously returned by the owner to Myanmar.

But they also have the custom of burying with their dead various implements and utensils.This practice had helped in the identification of their burial sites.

Nyaung gan village is a typical Myanmar village, similar to other Dry Zone villages in Upper Myanmar. But one extraordinary phenomenon had made it different from the other Myanmar villages. Not far from it is a cemetery that the local villagers refer as Loke Taing gone(Burial Mound).It had laid there undisturbed for centuries. Nobody knew why this piece of ground was named as "Loke Taing Gone". The village elders say the name was handed down from generations to generations and they had always known that there was a cemetery nearby.

Then the Archaeological Department started excavations and unearthed more than 60 skeletons buried underground, including other artefacts typical of a Pyu burial practice. Forensic investigations also confirmed that all skeletons were identified as Pyu era remains. Almost all the skeletons were buried with their heads pointing North, except for one. The Pyu beliefs that the heads must be pointed northwards to help the departed spirits find their way back to the native lands where they had originated. But nobody could explain why one was not buried this way. Maybe he was an outsider who died at this place or something.Nobody knows. At some places the skeletons were also stacked, one above the other, some two and even in three tiers.

But there was a puzzle that still needs to be solved. Many of the skeletons were wearing pieces of square stone bangles on their wrists. Even now these bangles were impossible to take off. They would not slide out as the palms were obstructing. But then how did the wearers put these stone bangles on when they were alive? Surely the bangles were not put on after death. The palm, as stated above, would not fit the hole even with only the bones remaining. There were also no cuts or any signs on the bangles that point to anything that the bangles were tempered before being put on.

So who were these people? When did they live and , above all, how did they manage to put on the stone bangles? The mystery had remained locked for centuries now and would probably stay that way for many more years in the future.

Note:
Nyaung gan Village is easily accessible by car from Monywa, only about 2-3 hours drive. Leave the car at the village and walk a short distance to get to the cemetery. The site is now under the protection of the Archaeology Department.
Loke Taing is a very old Myanmar word for cemetery.

Monday, July 26, 2010

OFFERING OF WASO HOLY ROBES


OFFERING OF WASO HOLY ROBES


THE HOLY MONTH OF WASO
by:Hpone Thant

The rains had arrived in our land. The lakes and the ponds are full and the mighty Ayeyarwady River rushes down towards the delta with renewed force. The farmers are wholly engaged in their paddy fields, heedless of the lashing torrents that come down from the dark rain clouds above, Thunder booms and lightnings flashes. It is the wettest time of the year in Myanmar.

But the Myanmar month of Waso(corresponding to the Christian calender month of July) is one of the holiest of all in the Myanmar Buddhist calender. Four Great Happenings of Lord Gautama Buddha are said to have occurred during the Fullmoon Day of Waso, namely:
(1) Lord Buddha was conceived at midnight on this Fullmoon Day inside the womb of Queen Thiri Maha Devi, of Kappilavatsu.
(2)Prince Siddartha saw the Four Great Omens, namely an old person, infirm person, a dead body and a Yahan(monk). He immediately realized that he should renounced all his worldly attachments and become a monk if He is to escape from this endless circle of getting old, getting infirm and finally death.The only escape is to become a monk and find Salvation in attaining Nirvana.Thus on this Fullmoon Day of Waso He renounced all his worldly attachments to seek Nirvana
(3)Lord Gautama Buddha gave his First Sermon, The Dhamma Setkya Sermon, to the five disciples on the evening of this Fullmoon Day.
(4)He showed his omniscient powers to a group of heretics on this Fullmoon Day.

And the Fullmoon Day of Waso also marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, lasting until the rains cease in Thadingyut(October). According to the customs the monks are confined to their monasteries during this period.They may not leave their monasteries for overnight visits. Lord Buddha had imposed this restriction to prevent the monks disturbing the works of the farmers during this busy period and to spare unnecessary damage to the crops in the paddy fields.

However, the monks are still needed to go about their daily rounds for alms during this period and it became evident that they would need change of robes that had become wet or soiled. Lay persons are permitted to offer to the monks Waso Thingan (Waso Holy Robes) to the monks in order that they may have dry robes to change into after coming back from their daily alms rounds. And this offering of Holy Robes to the monks on the Fullmoon Day of Waso had become established as the Waso Holy Robes Offering Ceremony. Devotees would gather at the monasteries and observe the 10 Holy Commandments, listen to the sermons, offer the new robes to the monks and generally begin observation of the Buddhist Lent.

This auspicious commemoration of the Waso Fullmoon Day is not only observed in Myanmar but by all Buddhists, wherever they may be.

Photos: Harry Hpone Thant