Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja Sithu
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
Thidingyut, the seventh monk in Myanmar Lunar calendar approximately corresponds to October. Literally interpreted Thidin Kyut means the end of Buddhist Lent. Buddhist monks are set free from their rainy retreat Vows of 3 months stay in their respective residential monasteries. Monks can now go out and stay overnight away from their residences.
This month is astrologically called Tula [Libra] with its zodiacal sign of a man holding a balance. In the nocturnal firmament, the moon and an asterism “Asawani” rival their powers of radiance. Aquatic bodies, ponds and lakes are filled with lotus flowers of five different species namely,
1. White lotus [Nymphaea alba]
2. Red lotus [Nymphaea Rubra]
3. Blue lotus [Nymphuea Stellata]
4. Padoma lotus [Nelumbium Speciosum] and
5. Poun Najei [Lxora Arboreal.
Hence lotus is traditionally designated as the flower of Thindingyut. Lotus flower is perfect in beauty, fragrance and purity that stems out of the muddy water. It is the symbol of purity-hence the sacred flower for the Buddhists.
There are archaic names for this month. Early stone inscriptions of Bagan Period used the name “Thun Tu La” for this month. Scholars give two different interpretations of this name. Firstly, “Than” is a derivative of a Pali word “Wa Than” meaning rainy season. Tu is the astrological name Tula and La is Myanmar word for month so it is a combination of 3 words Pali astrological name and Myanmar word. Secondly “Than” means “paddy” the staple crop of Myanmar Tu means “erect” or “upright” and La is month Than tu la. The month in which paddy plants grow erect or upright.
The earliest use of the word Thindingyut is found in Tuyin Taung Saw Rahan Thein stone Inscription dated Sakaut year 574 [1212 A.D]. The spelling of the name reads Tha Tin Chut meaning lent is off.
Light festival of this month is religious in origin, character and significance. On the full moon day of Waso [July] in the mahasakaut year 109. Lord Gotama Buddha performed the great miracle in Savathi Kingdom under a white mango tree in the Royal Park of King Kosala. The miracle was in the form of emissions of water and fire in pairs from the eyes, ears and nose of Lord Buddha to sab due the sectarian opponents who refuse to listen to Buddha’s dhamma.
After the miracle, Lord Buddha ascended to the Celestial Kingdom of Tavatimsa where his mother Maha Maya became Santussita Deva in her next existence. Lord Buddha wanted to fulfill his filial gratitude to his mother by preaching to her Abhidhamma [Buddhist dhamma philosophy]. So in that year Lord Buddha had his seventh lent in Tavatimsa preaching the whole 3 months of Lent Period. Saka Deva, Thunder God offered Lord Buddha Iris brown emerald throne “Pandukambala” to be seated under the shade of a ‘Pinle Kathit Tree [Ery thrina indica] Lord Buddha expounded the seven sections of Abhidhamma to a vast gathering of devas and Brahmas of all universes with his mother Santussita deva in the centre. The preaching throughout the Lent came to an end on the full moon day df Thadingyut. So the full moon day of Thindingyut is designated and celebrated by the Buddhists as Abhidhamma Day.
Lord Buddha told Saka deva that as he had finished his mission he would return to human world. Where upon Saka deva created three stairways —one of gold on the right side for the devas, one of Silver on the left side for the Brahmas and one of rubies in the middle for the Lord Buddha to descend upon. Many deities accompanied Lord Buddha. They held several celestial regalia and paraphernalias. Panca Thinkha deva with five hair knots on his head on the right side played “Veluva” harp in praise of Lord Buddha. Matali deva on the left side carried flowers and fragrances to honour the Lord Buddha Suyama deva on the right side carried a yaktail fly whisk, Santussita deva on the right side held a ruby-studded gold fan, and Saka deva on the right side blew the Vizayuttara conch shell to celebrate the most auspicious occasion. All deities dwelling in the whole Universe gathered to pay homage to the Lord Buddha as best they could. The three stair ways being illuminated by the lights radiated from the deities led to the gate way of the city of Sankassa nagara on earth. When the Lord Buddha set foot upon the earth, the crowd that awaited at the city gate paid obeisance to the Lord Buddha with oil lamp lights. A grand Ceremony was held to welcome Lord Buddha back to earth.
To commemorate this great event in the life of the Lord Buddha which took place on the full moon day of Thadin Gyut Myanmar people hold Simee Myint Moe or Tawedeintha [Tavatimsa] Light Festival. Because Tavatimsa is said to be on the summit of Mt Meru [Myint Moe in Myanmar] it was called Simee Myint Moe Light Festival [Lighting Mt. Meru by means of Oil Lamps].
Fantastic replicas of Myint Mo [Mount Meru] are artistically cons truced of bamboo, rattan and colourful cloths and papers with three stair ways. When darkness fell, lights were lit on them. the great event of the descent of Lord Buddha, with deities accompanying in full regalia was depicted with the statues, and devotees paying homage to the Image of the Buddha in a descending posture on the middle stair way. Hymns were sung in praise of the Buddha and his Dhamma teachings. Offertories were made at shrines and pagoda and alms given to the monks. A public reception was held to feed all comers with fruits, snacks and light refreshments.
In the mural paintings of monuments at Bagus and at other old capitals Thadin Gyut Light Festival was depicted. On the inner wall of Myin Kbaba, Ku Byauk Kyi Temple at Bagan. Tavtimsa Festival of that time is vividly depicted Lord Buddha descending from Tavatimsa to the gate of Sankassa city. In other paintings earthen oil lamps were illuminating religious monuments. “Simee gwats” are Myanmar traditional small circular flat cups to contain oil in which cotton wickers are soaked and lighted Myanmar people still use them.
In later historic periods- Inwa, Taungoo and Nyaungyan Periods, Thadin Kyut light festival came to be called “Simee Myint Mo Pwe” [Festival of illuminating Mt. Meru by oil lamps] bold by the king. A lofty replica of Mt Meru made of bamboo and papers was built in the courtyard and the entire scene of Lord Buddha’s descent from Tavatimsa was artistically presented.
The following is an excerpt from Loka Byuhar Kan [Treatise on the Court Ceremonies and festivals compiled by Minister Thiri Uzana of Inwa Period recounting the holding of Simee Myint Moe Pwe by the royal order:—
`Beginning on the 8th waxing moon of Thidin Gyut the King’s officers constructed replicas of Mt Myint Mo in the foreground of Hluttaw. The royal store issued oil lamps on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th waning moon nights of Thidin Gyut. Soldiers built four big tents on the left side of Hluttaw foreground and five big tents on the right side in which entertainments took place”.
“On the 14th waxing moon, 1st and 2nd waing moon nights, Shwezigon, Ku Taw Thit, Man Aung Yatana, Shwe Yin Ye, Yan Aung Myin, Maha Myat Muni, Tada U Mingala Zedi, Panya Shwe Zigon, Tuywin Chey Phaya, Sagaing Chan Tha Gyi, Shin Hpyu Shin Hla, Ponnya Shin Zedi, Patamya Zedi and Yaza Mani Cula Pagodas were illuminated. King’s men and equestrian soldiers were given for each pagoda 100 oil lamps, 100 cotton wickers and 3 viss of oil to illuminate”.
In spite of political turmoil and economic downturn in his kingdom, the last Myanmar king, King Thibaw never failed to hold traditional monthly festivals. Given below is an account of light festival of Thidin Gyut held by him in 1883 A.D related graphically in vol. 3 of Konbaung Set Maha Yaza Wun Taw Gyi [The Great Royal Chronicle of Konbaung Dynasty].
“In accordance with the tradition of holding Simee Myint Mo festival and royal ceremony in the month of Thidin Gyut, preparations were made such as the construction of East Myint Mo and a puppet stage in front of the Western Smoke Saung Taw, four Tazaung buildings and a puppet stage at four royal yards, a temporary palace on the right side of Myey Nantaw and East Maze,Myint Mo and a Maze on both sides of the western Samoke Saung Taw, a mechanically operated Parsee Theatre in front of the Southern Theatre Hall, a puppet stage on wheel in front of it, puppet stages at 16 Pagodas, one life elephant fully caparisoned, four gold elephant dummies and one red elephant dummy to be made by the officers of the workshops. Officers in charge of elephant stables were to keep in readiness the white and red elephants and their attendants. Officers in charge of royal steeds were to keep in readiness the state coaches. Officers in charge of royal flotilla were to keep in readiness royal rafts, boats, ships and sampans. Officers in charge of royal granary were to keep themselves in readiness for distributing paddy ration to the monasteries”.
“Chinese, Indian, Siamese, and Linzin [Loatiam] officers in charge of illumination, set up rows of lights of different colours at 16 Pagodas, rows of coloured glass lanterns with lit candles along the road between the Palace and Maha Muni Temple. Foreign made festoons and paper streamers and homemade floral umbrellas, floral flugs and garlands were issued from the royal store to decorate the pagodas, shrines, temples and streets.
Officers in charge of Royal Treasury issued money for all expenses of advanced preparations Puppets shows were performed at four royal yards from the 9th to the 14th waxing moon”.
“Three successive nights 1st to 3rd waning moon East Myint Mo, West Myint Mo, East Maze and West Maze were illuminated. In the evening till 4 pm. Myanmar and Siamese music, dance and drama were performed. Somersault, climbing greasy poles, acrobatics, rope walking Chinese dragon dance and music were displayed and performed”.
“From 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. the following morning puppet shows were staged every night”.
“All government departments staged their respective theatrical performances every night at 16 Pagodas. At 16 places of the palace city music was played. Over 50 drums of different sizes and kinds and over 500 dancers, singers and instrumentalists were employed to perform by turn on the streets. They were awarded each a pusoe or htamein, a scarf, a jacket and a nightly fee of 2 kyats in silver. They strolled the streets to perform their talent. At the stations they stopped to report for duty. Officers in charge of royal tea, betel and drinking water, umbrella and sword were assigned to the supervision of illuminating the streets between the Palace and Hluttaw”.
“Their Majesties made rounds at East and West Mazes [Wungaba] where people go in and trying to get out of them. At the first marquee were displayed varieties of fruits, at the second, third and the fourth marquees were displayed cakes, jams, sweets, creams of various kinds. At the Myint Mo marquee cigars with fire crackers concealed inside, cheroots, pickled tea and betel leaves and nuts were displayed”.
“At the left Myint Mo and Maze in the first marquee, tins of biscuits and bottles of perfume were displayed. In the second marquee were displayed rolls of linen, wooden cloth, velvet, and felt of multicolours. In the third marquee were displayed paper boxes of identical size, design and colour, each containing different materials such as cotton scarves and silk scarves in some, velvet in others, cotton materials in some, silk and embroidered materials in others and so on.
At the fourth marquee were displayed similar “boxes containing different men’s wears and women’s wears of silk, cotton, foreign and local made, good and poor quality- all mixed up. At the fifth marquee sacks of 1000 kyats in silver, 1000 copper coins all concealed in the boxes of identical size and design. At all the marquees, sweets and refreshments were served to the guests”.
“Their Majesties visited every marquee and every reception centre. The courtiers and their attendants were invited to take away any thing and any amount of the displays in the marquees. Their Majesties were amused to observe human greed and vanity when everyone tried to take as much as possible from every marquee but was unable to carry the load. Some fell down under the weight since it was forbidden to w abandon the parcels on the way, many labored hard to carry them on head, shoulders and in hands. When the parcels were open in the presence of Their Majesties it was exciting and amusing to find that ministers and men attendants received feminine clothings and paraphanalias, whereas dames and ladies landed on heaps of men’s wears. But some were lucky to get the right useful lots. Their Majesties were much amused and happy”.
The light festival took the local character outside the capital and in the countryside. In waterfront towns and villages illuminations were made on the water. When darkness fell, people rowed out to the middle of the stream or river and lit up little oil lamps on the floats made of banana stems, bamboo or reeds and let them adrift in the water, creating a spectacular scene. Through the’ foliage of swaying palm, coconut, banana and mango trees the rising full moon shaded its silvery rays creating artistic black and white designs on the water surfaces while the flickering flames of oil lamps on the floats cast shimmering reflections in the ripples. In Shan states, fire ballooms are let loose, and in Pa —0 villages, locally made bamboo fire rockets were shot into the sky to pay homage to Sulamani Pagoda in the Celestial kingdom of Tavatimsa, in which were enshrined the hair of Prince Siddartha and sacred tooth relic of Lord Gotama Buddha.
Pawarana and Puja are the two religiotis ceremonies of Thidin Gyut. At the end of the Buddhist Lent, Buddhist monks performed Pawarana. Every monk has to request other monks to reprimand him for any sin he might have committed. It takes place on the full moon day, in the ordination hall of the monastic precinets. Junior monks prepare this occasion, by sweeping the floor, cleaning the place, filling pots with drinking water and arranging seats for monks to sit on. Then the monks led by senior monks assembled to perform Pawarana.
Pawarana originated in the life time of Lord Gotama Buddha. While Lord Buddha was residing in Jetavana Vihara at Savatthi, some monks observed their lent at a village in Kosala. These monks believed that unity and happiness among them could be achieved by not talking to one another because talking could cause argument and dispute. Speech is silver but silence is gold. So they kept mum throughout the Lent. When the Lent was over they went to pay homage to Lord Buddha, who greeted them by asking after their wealth, happiness and unity. The monks explained that they kept silent to gain unity and happiness. Lord Buddha objected to their method saying that keeping mum was like a dumb and that kind of behavior was disrespectable to the donors and supporters of Sangha. The monk who behaves like a dumb is sinful. The best way to achieve unity and happiness among monks was by means of Pawarana- by inviting the monks to assemble and letting each monk by turn ask other monks to point out if he has been seen, heard, or suspected of commiting any sin, if so, letting other monks reprimand the sinful inpnk. By so doing the sinful monk will be repented and pardoned and the monks would live in harmony, unity and happiness. [In the parlance of modern democracy, transparency, accountability and responsibility?]
“Puja” means worship or making a devotional offering. According to Buddhism there are five infinite debts of gratitude.
1. The gratitude owed to the Buddha
2. The gratitude owed to the Dhamma [his teachings]
3. The gratitude owed to the Sangha [the monks]
4. The gratitude owed to the teachers and
5. The gratitude owed to the parents.
It is a religious obligation to worship and make devotional offering to them. In addition, those who are senior in age, rank, position, and those who have helped you while you are in difficulty should be respected worshipped and given due Puja.
The full moon day of Thadin Kyut is an auspicious occasion for Myanmar Buddhists to visit the aged, the seniors, the teachers, true friends and bosses to pay them respect and devotional gifts. In return they receive blessings and loving kindness from them. to the minor small pocket money may be given by the aged for their enjoyment of the Festival. The procedure of Puja is simple. The performer reverently sits in front of the aged or senior or superiors and elapses his or her hands togather in the form of a lotus bud and bows three times begging for forgiveness for any offense he or she may have committed physically, verbally or mentally. The aged, the seniors, superiors bosses or teachers give their pardon, blessings and words of advice on moral conduct in a good way of living as expounded in Mingala Sutta preached by Lord Buddha.
The festival of light in Thadin Gyut is an occasion for rejoicing and merry-making. But in essence it is an auspicious occasion for spiritual delight and merit making.