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April 02, 2020

Rakhine traditional ceremony of eating the first crops and I

  • By Maung Mayu (Buthidaung)
First crop donations bring virtuous actions.

I am a school teacher in a village by the name of Pirot in the north of Buthidaung Township. A big house was built at the edge of the village for school teachers. I stayed there together with the other teacher. One morning while I was kept busy in the kitchen, Maung Hsoe’s mother came hurriedly to our house; And invited us to have lunch in their house. We were overjoyed with the invitation. That was the first time when a student’s parents invited us.
When we were young, every household in villages took an alternative turn to feed teachers, thereby establishing a friendly relationship with villagers. Teachers were free from the worry of carrying water, firewood, and cooking in their house. That would create a lot of chances for lesson preparations for the classrooms. Even though the teachers didn’t take the teaching seriously, they sympathized with the students in their charge by focusing on teaching. But nowadays these good habits were found at a loss; the reasons might be due to an increase of government employees and the economic inconvenience of peasant farmers. But it is not at a total loss; these good traditions have existed in some villages. I was amazed to have been invited because my village is not included in the list.
I found it strange when I got into the village; it happened to a traditional ceremony of eating the first crops. Even though I have heard about the ceremony, I didn’t know about it in details. When found by myself, I realized it to be a valuable and lovely Rakhine traditional ceremony. A Rakhine traditional ceremony of eating the first crops means that the reaping of the first crops in carried out during the harvest season; the first crops were cooked as ‘soon’ and served as a big feast.
Farmers have toiled tirelessly during the rainy season to cultivate paddy. They felt overjoyed with the reaping of the first crops. As a commemoration of growing crops healthily, the first crops are served to monks, the elderly, teachers and relatives by visualizing Lord Buddha; it is a feast not eaten first by the farmers themselves. In some villages, groups of Nats(Devas) were invited to the feast. A sheath of banana stems is shaped like a container in which several kinds of food are put and mounted atop the roof to feed the Sun and Moon devas (celestial beings). This tradition is found among other traditions of ethnic nationals; held in different fashions but the intention is the same.
Donations of first crops bring virtuous actions. Once there lived two brothers; the elder brother used to donate his first crops and the best portion of his food and younger brother donated things in a slipshod manner. Due to his meritorious deeds, the older one became Ashin Kawdanya when Buddha attained Buddhahood. After listening to the first sermon given by the Lord Buddha, the elder brother became the Arhat whereas the younger one as Ashin Thubanda became the last Arhat when the Buddha attained Nirvana. These are the reasons that donations of the first crops and the best portion of one’s food are beneficial to the donors.
Cooking of first crops as ‘soon’ would bring a lot of benefits to the donors. Donations of Soon ( offertories ) to the Lord Buddha or monks would bring five comestibles of longevity, beauty, wealth, strength and intelligence. Offering food to Lord Buddha or monks would bring longevity, beauty, wealth, strength and intelligence to the donors.
In our society, nothing is nobler than the Buddha, Dharma, the Sangha, parents and teachers. In accordance with Buddhist traditions, offering food at the altar to the Buddha, offering food to monks and the best portion to monks and the best portion of food to our elders and then our turn comes to eat. That is why Rakhine traditional ceremony of eating first crops should be maintained as a lovely habit of Rakhine Buddhists which must be handed down from generation to generation.
Translated by Arakan Sein

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