musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Archive for May, 2015

Full Moon Pagoda

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One of the reasons that I went to Myanmar in late February — earlier than I originally planned — was to be in Shan State for the full moon day of March 4, which is the period known as Tabaung in Myanmar. Tabaung is a very special full moon and when I was in the country last March (the full moon fell later in March that year) I was invited to the pagoda festival that day, and night, in Tat Ein village in Shan State. What an amazing experience that was! I wrote about it last year in this post:

https://garlicneversleeps.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/shan-village-dance-fever/

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I was looking forward to another fascinating full moon pagoda festival, but when I arrived at Tat Ein two days before the full moon I was informed that they weren’t having a festival at the monastery in the village this year. Oh no! Luckily, however, there was a backup plan, or rather another festival in the area on the full moon day, at Baw Ri Tha monastery. When I was paying a visit to Shwe Yan Pyay Kyaung — the big old wooden monastery on the main road leading to Nyaungshwe — the day before, the U-Zin (one of the senior monks and teachers) invited me to go with some of the monks to the festival at Baw Ri Tha. I didn’t need to asked twice and eagerly accepted the invitation.

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I showed up at Shwe Yan Pyay at the designated time and waited around for the novice monks to finish their studies an early lunch. They all boarded a shaky-looking vehicle and took off, leaving me to ride on a local villager’s motorcycle. When we arrived at the festival I tried to give the guy some money for taking me, but he wouldn’t take it, telling me something along the lines of, “It’s my pleasure.”

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The U-Zin met me near the front of the monastery and gave me a tour of the grounds. A football game was taking place on a field next to the monastery, as well as a frenzied game of chinlon, while various food vendors had set up shop around the area, dishing out treats for the crowd, ranging from ice cream to fried lumps of something.

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While this monastery was much bigger than the one at Tat Ein, there didn’t seem to be as much activity; no musicians for one thing. The U-Zin took me around to several spot before announcing: “This is boring.” Well, while it might not have been an action-packed event, I certainly wasn’t bored. If nothing else, it was fun just to people watch. At one point the U-Zin announced that he had to head back to Shwe Yan Pyay and teach a class (not all of the novice monks attended this festival), so he left me with the remaining crew and bid goodbye.

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The rest of the monks led me into some sort of reception hall, where groups of monks from other monasteries in the area were lined up and waiting for the donation ceremony to begin. It was interesting to watch the monks fastidiously fold, twist, and tie their robes, taking pains to make sure they were attired appropriately for this important event. Once the long line started snaking through the grounds of the monastery, I dashed off to take photos. Once I spied my crew from Shwe Yan Pyay turning a corner, I put away my camera and pulled out a roll of money from my shoulder bag and put a 1000 kyat note in each monk’s bag.

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The rest of the locals were also giving donations, mostly portions of uncooked rice, but also other snacks and some money too. Periodically, some of the helpers from the village collected all the rice from the monk’s alms bowls and poured them into large sacks to take back to the monastery. No, it wasn’t as lively as the festival last year in Tat Ein, but it was nevertheless another fascinating look at the generous side of Myanmar and its kind people.

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