Monday, April 12, 2010

Traditional Rakhine Water Festival - Rakhine Thungran

By Kyaw Tha Hla

Traditional Rakhine Thungran is celebrated on 13-17 April every year, it''s also known as the Water Festival. Traditionally there is a festival for each of the twelve months.
Thungran is on Tangu, the first lunar month of Rakhine calendar. Thungran means passing from one year to another. The New Year, Thungran Celebration, symbolizes the feast of washing away the old year clean.

Traditional Rakhine Thungran is held in three stages which are: incense - grinding, offering of water to Buddha images and holding the water festival. There are four days of holiday. All marketing and shopping are closed. Before the arrival of Thungran, everyone''s household must be cleaned. On 12th April, the eve of Thungran, young women prepare the scented water at night. To make the scented water, a piece of sandal-wood is rubbed with a little water added on the surface of a flat, circular stone plate surrounded by a sunken ring to collect the mixture. Young men come and join them accompanied by music and dance, and then they make beautiful bamboo trees with hanging things to offer to the monasteries. They are called the "Padetharpon".On 13th April, the opening day of Thungran, young men-women, children and parents go to monasteries in lorries bringing scented water and "Padetharpon" (bamboo trees). When they arrive at the monastery compound the girls carry the water and the boys wash the Buddha images and statues, then offer scented water to the Buddha images. They go around from one monastery to another offering one "Padetharpon" to each monastery. Before bathing the Buddha no one is allowed to play with water. When they return home from visiting the monasteries, anyone can throw water at the lorries carrying people. The Water Festival starts the next day. In every suburb they make a beautiful pandal with wooden posts surrounded by toddy palm leaves hanging with green bunches of leaves and colourful flowers. In the middle of the pandal there is a wooden rowboat filled with water. In front of the boat there are benches in a single row which provide seats for the girls. A fence is placed three feet above the ground. It serves as the divider between males outside the pandal and females inside the pandal. Rakhine girls who are pandal members run the pandal. There are usually twenty to forty young girls at a pandal. The girls sit on the benches facing the boat, they wear the same colour and designed uniform. They all look alike from the rear. It is hard to tell the girls apart. The pandals open from 11.00am to 3.00pm.
The boys go around the city one pandal after another. The boy can choose the girl he likes as his mate and chat with her teasingly but politely. The boys come on foot and in the bullock carts with music instruments and utensil boards. Every group has to wait for its turn while the other group is enjoying the water festival in the pandal. While they are waiting for their turn, there is singing and dancing in the fore ground.
When the whistle blows, it means that the time is up. The next group takes the place opposite the girls of their choice. The boy invites the girl to join him for the water festival, he greets her with a cupful of water gently thrown her back.. The girl gets up and throws a bowl of water at him. He calls her "Maree", sister-in-law, before he politely asks for some water. The girl fills his bucket with water. He takes a cup of water from his bucket and throws it at her. She throws him a bowl of water from the boat. They play face-to-face, faster and faster If some-one''s cup drops down or he/she wipes his/her face, that will be a looser, as must pay a fine. A group is allowed to enjoy themselves for about 15 minutes. There are whole pandals filled with water sparks. After the pandals close the members of the pandals go around the city in the lorries. The Water Festival Celebration goes for three days in the cities but in the countryside it''s celebrated until the end of the month.
During the Thungran days, every house cooks some traditional food and sends it to monasteries. Also they send food to relatives and neighbors then, everywhere is filled of music until midnight. On New Year Day, the cultural association group goes around, suburb to suburb, and gives respect to the oldest people by prayer, singing, dancing and presents. It is the most joyful celebration of the year. 

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