- By Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt (Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja Sithu)
Myanmar people are ”happy go Lucky” type life is short and impermament. You struggle for your living through thick and thin. You face the ups and downs of life ”The law of Change” [Lokadan Taya လောကဓံတရား]. So live happily by holding festivals. Every month of Myanmar Lunar Calendar of 12months has its own festival. Of these 12 months, Tazaungmone the 8th month Tazaungmone [November] is the most festive of all months because of the following reasons.
Firstly Tazaungmone is the first month of Myanmar Cold Season [Heiman] of four months Tazaungmone. Nat taw, Pyatho and Tabodwe [November, December, January and February respectively].
Secondly the climate and weather are most favourable. Storms and rain have entirely receded leaving the entire natural environment element and pleasant. The entire sky above is blue clear and calm. Free from five kinds of pollutions [ဆီး၊ နှင်း၊ မြူ၊ တိမ်၊ သူရိမ် မီးခိုး၊ ညစ်မျိုးကင်းကွာ တန်ဆောင်မုန်းခါ] as Myanmar saying goes 1.Snow, 2.Mirage, 3. Cloud, 4. Sun rays and 5. Smoke. Therefore all heavenly bodies in the sky are visible to the raked eyes.
The traditional belief is that this month Tawaung mon is the only month blessed with the appearance of all heavenly bodies. Next Khat Kye Tayar [နက္ခတ်၊ ကြယ်တာရာ] are either Pali or Sankirt words for heavenly bodies. All people of all countries used to worship and propitiate heavenly bodies for their welfare. Myanmars are no exception. Besides before the arrival of Buddhist to Myanmar Hindu Brahmanism dominated Myanmar belief system. Even Buddhists itself has remnants of Hindu Brahmanism.
According to Myanmar Astrology, there are 27 constellations all of which appear in the nocturnal firmament on the full moon night of Tazaungmon. They are as follows: (1). Asavani (2). Barani (3). Kyattika (4). Rohani (5). Migasi (6). Bhadra (7). Punna pho shu (8). Phasha (9). Assalissa (10). Magha (11). Pyubbaparagunni (12). Uttaraparagunni (13). Hassada (14). Cittera (15). Swadi (16). Visakna (17). Anurada (18). Jeltha (19). Mula (20). Pruppasan (21). Uttarasan (22). Sarawin (23). Dhanasiddha (24). Saltabhissha (25). Pyuppabra paik (26). Uttarabadrapaik and (27). Revati.
It is believed that each constellation is guarded by a deva. On the full moon night of Tazaungmone all 27 constellations appear. Therefore Puja is held [Paying respects, homage, offertories and prayers]. The word Tazaungmone is a combination of two words Tazaung means light by oil lamps Hmon or Mon means illuminate to beautify. So it is the month of Puja to constellations with offertories and lighting oil lamps to illuminate to beautify the night.
Before and even after the arrival of Buddhism to Myanmar Net Khat Thabin Constellation Puja Festival is held on full night of this month. Even in Jataka stories [Buddha is birth stories Net Khat Thabin was refered to or mentioned of them the most well-known jataka is Ommadanti Jataka in which Net Khat Thabin Festival was described in detail as the state Festival on Full moon night of Tazaungmone. King Thiwa himself made a royal public progress on open chariot to visit and participate all pavilions of festival in his capital city of Arihta pura kingdom.
After the arrival and spread of Buddhism to Myanmar, Net Khat Thabin Festival receded into the background as Buddhist festival of Kathein robe offering festival came to the forefront. There are two types of robe offering festivals. In Waso [July] we offer robes to Buddhist monks as they need to change dry roes because of wet rainy season. In Tazaungmone month we ofter Kathein robes to Buddhist monks because living Buddha prescribed it. The back ground history of Kathein robe offering is as follows:
While Lord Buddha was residing at Jetavanavihara in the city of Savatthi, Thirty’ Buddhaveggi monks from Paveiyaka came to pay homage to Lord Buddha. Being a long journey they had to spend Waso rain retreat [Lent] at a small town Thakayta. After rain retreat, they continued the journey Heavy storm rain broke out soaking them wet and damaging their roves. Keeping Viniya, they did not bring spare robes. They become poorly in ragged robes. Upon reaching Jetavana Vihara and paying homage to Lord Buddha, Lord Buddha saw them poorly and in bad condition. So prescribed ”Kathein robes for monks. It there was donors who offered Kathein robes monks could accept if they really needed them.
Kathein is derived from a Pali word ”Kathina” meaning ”firm” or ”durable”. Monks who receive and wear Kathein robes gain five durable merits
(1). Monks can go out to the home of the donor who for offering food, without informing the other monks nearby even if the donor has inadvertently used improper language in inviting.
(2).Monks who have resolved to practice the Ti-civara austerity [possessing a rove of three garments only] are permitted to go out without carrying the resolved robe with them.
(3).Robes received can be worn by monks without performing certain religious procedures.
(4).Even when an invitation for food offering comes in an improper manner at least four monks and above can accept it.
(5).Monks of the monastery where Kathein robes an offered for the Sangha [The entire body of monks] can wear these robes.
The merits attained by the donors of Kathein robes are:
(1). There shall be no danger or disturbances where over the donor travels.
(2). The donor will have plenty of food and healthy food. He will never suffer from food poison.
(3). The donor’s property is safe from destruction robbery or theft.
(4). The donor with recover the long-forgotten property, the donor will get wealth without difficulty.
(5). The donor will have a good look. Kathein robes offering has set period and set rules. The 1st waning moon day of Thadin Kyut [October] to the full moon day of Tazaungmone [November] is the period is the prescribed period for offering Kathein robes to monks. One of the three pieces of the robe is offered as Kathein robe.
The donor must have good and sincere intention and must donate Kathein robe with his voluntary will. The donor offers Kathein robe not to an individual monk or to the monks of the monastery but to the Sangha [all members of the Buddhist Order as a whole]. Monks must never request directly or indirectly anyone, even their parents, relatives as friends to donate them robe. According to Vinaya, if monks are in need of robe and there is no donation of robe, they must collect discarded clothes, wash them clean, dye them with bark, piece and saw them together to wears as robe.
Recipients of Kathein robe are selected in accordance with the rules of Kathein robe. Not all monks are eligible to receive Kathein robe. Deserving recipient monks are –
(1).Those who observed Purima wa or the First lent [the first waning moon of Waso [July] to the full moon day of Thidinkyut [October].
(2).Monks who have performed Pawa ranna [confession of sin by monks among themselves on the full moon day of Thidinkyut.
(3).Monks who have no record of breach of Wa vows.
(4).Monks who are really in shortage of robe
(5).Being the most senior monk among monks who are really in need of robe.
Selection of deserving monks for Kathein robe takes in Sima [Ordination Hall]. The recipient monk must say in Pali that he has received to Kathein robe in accordance with the rules, regulations and procedure prescribed by Lord Buddha and that he would wear Kathein robe according to the rules, regulations prescribed by Lord Buddha. He utters words of appreciation in Pali ”Sadu, Sadu, Sadu”. The rest follows ”Sadu” [ well done] three times.
Kathein robe offering is a big event of religious, and socio cultural significance for Myanmar people. Stone inscriptions, visual arts, performing arts, chronicles and history are full of Kathein roble offering festivals. Myanmar Kings held this festival on a grand scale. Wooden or bamboo frame in the shape of Padathabin [cornuscapi] are made on which are artistically hung Kathein robe and other offertories. They are carried on elephants, carts or by human in a long procession followed by well-dressed men, women, young girls [pretty belles] and music and dance of Swaines [young men called umvom; youths] in the rear. The procession makes round of public places and it stops in the compound of the monastery that received the offer of Kathein robe for that year. There the religious procedures and ceremony take place.
Tazaungmon is the month of festivals. Almost all kinds of festivals take place in this month because of clement weather. The following are other religious festivals of this month. Matho-Thingan weaving and offering. Literally translated ‘’Non-stale robe”. It is the kind of robe made all at once with the prescribes period of the night. Its origin goes back to Lord Gotama Buddha’s foster mother Bhikhuni Gotami. She made Matho Thigan robe over night to be in time for offering it to Lord Buddha to wear on the following morning. Not an easy job to weave it and make it to become robe within the short period of a night. Late evening when the day ends and night begin. Matho Thingan making begins. It requires collective work of the participants making the time of previous night and following morning.
It the robe could not be finished within the prescribed time limit it is called Stale. Today this event takes place at many prominent Pagodas and monasteries across the country. Two other types of religious offering are Pant-Tha-Ku offering Kyathingan weaving and offering. Pant-Tha-Ku offering is any offering cash, kind, food or medicine for monks are left on the ground in the neighborhood of monasteries of nunneries with a note attached Pantthaku offering. Monks or nuns can take and use it Kya Thingan is the roe made of fibres of Lotus stems. Very fine and tender but Kya Thingan are cool in Summer and warm in Winter. This art of Kya Thingan making is waning today.
There is another religious festival held in the month of Tazaung mon. It is the festival in honor of Buddhist saint monk ‘’Shin ma lei”. This monk is post Buddha time was a native of Lanka dipa [Sri Lanka]. By means of his deep meditation he went up to Tavatimsa, the deva kingdom to pay homage to Sulamani Pagoda in which the hair of Prince Sidahartha [Buddha to be] and the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha were enshrined. There, Shin ma lei met the deva who would become Miteya Buddha. This deva requested Shin ma lei to preach to the people Vessondara Jataka to propagate dan [giving] parami [virtue]. Shin Ma Lei promised. Since then Shin Ma Lei Festival is held a very high towers were built with Shin Ma Lei Statue of Shin Ma Lei on the top of the tower temple one thousand times to represent one thousand stanzas of Vessandara Jatak is.
In the precincts of Maha Muni Temple in Mandalay, there is the Tower of Shin Ma Lei where Shin Ma lei festival takes place in Tazaung mon, these days new generations call this festival ‘’Kya Pyit Pwe” [MumypfyGJ]. It now assumes socio cultural significance. Two traditional feasts of Full moon Tazaung mon are Mei Zali Fest and Kyi Ma Noe Festival. Both are connected with the Festival of Net Khat Thabin as mentioned earlier in this article. Legend says that on Full moon Night of Tazaung Mon the guardian god of Kyat ti ka also the guardian god of Fire ‘’Agni” comes down to visit the guardian god of Mei Zalee Tree [cassia siamea]. The guardian gods of all herbal trees gather at Mei Zale Tree to pay respect to Kyattika or Fire God. So it is believed that all medicinal herbal trees or plants gathered at mei zale tree make the Tree’s medicinal properties increased and more potent. People make good salad of mei zale, buds, and tender leaves and offer to all friends and strangers for dana of health and to longevity. Mei Zale salad is of course one of our favourite Sat lards.
Next festival Kyi Ma Noe literally means before crows wake up in early morning. It is in fact a customary prank played by male youths before crows wake up. It is also known as Thief’s Night Saw ya Net Khat [Thief’s Constellation] on Full moon Tazaung mon sheds its rays on to the Earth. Anyone who gets caught in the rays suffer temporarily kleptomania a psychological disorder that makes you to ‘’steal” [pinch] anything. Just for the satisfaction of your mind for that moment. So youths play their pranks. They ‘’steal” anything and everything outside the households and ends pots, pans, chamber pots, clothings, Ladies underwear, braziers, clothings, foot wears etc. etc. They also take vegetable and also eggs or chicken. At their gathering usually is front of the houses of pretty belles they cook Kalathachet rice and curries, kill chicken, put egg and all sorts of vegetable into one big earthen pot and while the pot is still boiling, they take cooked rice with wooden ladle put on banana leaves and with wooden ladle spoon take carry and eat. It is said the taste of the chicken curry right out of the boiling earthen pot is excellent. It comes to be known as Kyat tha kala tha chet [ chicken curry cooked by male youths].
After they have filled up their bellies they begin serenading in front of the houses of pretty girls. Whose parents pretend to be asleep to give their daughters time to enjoy. All lights are off but windows are open where girls watch and listen to the serenade. Flutes or wind instruments and banjo, mandolin, harps, or local string instruments are played. Many love songs especially pops and hip-hops song. Sometimes youths dance merrily. The odds and ends they ‘’steal” [pinch] are displayed at the public places, street functions. The following morning they wait to see who come to claim the stolen pieces. But of their femining modesty, girls do not come to claim their stolen odds or ends. Their grandmas or aunts would come to take back the under wear or braziers etc. The youths hiding nearby will yell out ‘’Grandma, Aunty is it your own underwear. Why do not you let real owner come to claim it? Whereupon these old ladies yell out ‘’you stupid son of bitch stop and go away. None of your business who comes to claim you’ll go to hell”. Youths enjoy such kind of sharp remarks from the old ladies. Nothing serious happen only for merrymaking.
In remote villages and towns, such Thief’s days are performed on Full moon Tazaung mone. but Kyet Tha Kalatha Chet Curry has now become Tourists’ favourite meal at food stalls and restaurants are ordered to make it for foreign tourists, who enjoy the background history of it.
Most festive month of Tazaungmone is epitomized by the following folk song
Oldman bent and double
Don’t die so soon
For watch again the pwes (festivals)
At next Tazaungmone