- Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
The eleventh month of Myanmar Lunar Calendar Tabodwe approximately corresponds with February. Although the tenth month Pyatho [January] is the peak of Myanmar cold season, Tabodwe can beat Pyatho in chilliness depending upon place, climate condition and time. There are old Myanmar sayings regarding the chill of Tabodwe. In Tabodwe, the tips of bullaloes’ horns shiver with cold. [uWJcsdKzsm; at;wJh wykd hwGJ] In Tabodwe, we have a running nose [ESm&nf ,kd&GJ wykd hwGJ]. “In Tabodwe, ripen plum fruits open up” (ZD0rf; aygufNyJ wykd hwGJ].
“Kon” or Kumbha [Aquarius] is the astrological name of Tabodwe with a zodiacal symbol of a water bearer. Pauk [Butea] and Lei or Let pan [Silk cotton tree] [Bombex Malabaricum] are the traditionally designated flowers of Tabodwe. Pauk flowers are orange coloured profused on bunches. Lei or Let pan trees are big and tall. The entire tree after shedding all old leaves, produces buds and blooms of scarlet colour from all branches. Against the blue sky on the golden sun lights these pauk and let pan flowers create fantastic natural paintings. Let pan flowers produce silken cotton wool they are also a good vegetable which Myanmar herbalists recommend for folk dishes because of their curative properties. At night when the sky is clear, Maga asterism of 4 stars and the Mon appear astride.
Philologists give two different meanings of Tabodwe. Tabo and Twe 2 words combined. Tabo means “yoke” and “Twe” means “hung up”. In this month, all agricultural activities are over. Farmers and peasants give rest to their agricultural implements including yokes. Yokes are hung up on the walls. So it is the month of “yokes” [Tabo] being hung up [wGJ]. The month of “yokes being hung up”. The second meaning is Tabo is htanbu or spadix of a toddy palm tree from which the sap is tapped. “Twe” means to hung down. It is the month in which toddy palm climbers press spadixes to hung down to tap the sap. After they have consume fresh toddy juice in the morning or fermented juice in the evening, they boil them to get balls of toddy sugar called xef;vQuf [gagary] or toddy chocaret- traditional preserved food used in many ways, medicine, dishes and even in moon shining country liquor.
Of many festivals held in this month, the one common, wide spread and traditionally designated festival is the bon-fire festival. Bon fire is made by burning sandal or similar fragrant wood in a terra cotta brazier and taken to the Buddhist temple to offer to the Buddha Images. This religious custom of bon fire offering originated in the lifetime of Lord Buddha. While Lord Buddha was residing at the Pubayon monastery in the Kingdom of Savatthi, one Tabodwe evening he happened to be standing on a hill side. It was so cold that Lord Buddha kept his back in the warmth of the sun rays. But as the sun set down, and as it was out in the open, the chill of the night was too much for the Buddha who was wearing one robe. As the night advanced, cold intensified. So Lord Buddha put on the second robe to resist the cold. By midnight he had to wear the third robe. By dawn three robes were not enough to keep the body heat. So the fourth robe was worn over the third. By the rule of Vinaya [Priestly Discipline] only three robes are permitted for each monk. So to silence the criticism of some laymen, the last two robes were stitched to gather to become the third robe called “Dukut”. In the extreme cold of Tabodwe night Lord Buddha made his hands and feet warm by keeping them on a furnance.
In commemoration of that event the Buddhist devotees made offering of bonfire to Buddha images in Tabodwe especially on the full moon night, to gain religious merit. In Loka Byu Har Inyone Sardon [Treatise on Court ceremonies and festivals compiled by Thiri Uzana, minister of Inyone] the festival of bonfire in the time of Myanmar Kings was described as follows:-
“On the 8th waxing day of Tabodwe, a ceremonial procession of gathering fire woods took place. In the front of the procession were the Samyaung [the Officers to announce the impending presence of the King] accompanied by the music of drums, followed by 250 fire wood cutters recruited from Shey Win [East Guard at the Palace]. 250 fire wood cutters from Letya Win [Guard on the right side of the Palace] 250 fire wood cutters from Letwei Win [Guard on the left side of the Palace] and 250 fire wood cutters from Anauk Win [West Guard at the Palace]. Behind them 1000 body guards followed. Behind them 100 equestrian soldiers with helmets followed. Behind them two knights on horseback, wearing helmets and ceremonial gowns of their rank followed. When the procession reached Maha Myat Muni Temple, music was kept playing. The body guards “and fire wood cutters went into nearby jungles and woods to cut and gather fire wood. The procession returned following the same procedure. When it reached Shey Yone [East Office] the body guards put fire woods on the stands, and bound them into bundle. On the 14th waxing moon day the clerks carried the bundles of fire wood into Shey Yone. The Minister of Royal Treasury brought 1000 braziers”.
“At 4 O’clock in the evening, princes, princesses royal grandchildren, ministers and courtiers wearing ceremonial dress and ornaments of their rank came out to attend the ceremony at Shey Yone from 4 O’clock in the evening till 1 O’clock at night. Then they depearted”. “The minister of Royal Granary took 1000 pots of Yagu [rice porridge], 1000 stands of fire wood, and 1000 braziers borne by Thwethauksu Shwe Pan-pan equestrian soldiers to the pagodas and temples for offering to Buddha images”. On pages 544-545 of Konbaung Set Maha Wun Tawkyi [Great Chronicle of the Konbaung Dynasty] volume 3, a graphic account of the bon fire festival held in Konbaung Period is given thus:
“On the full moon day of Tabodwe, even the tips of the tusks of Saddan White Elephant shiver in the cold, on such day, Lord Buddha the Exalted sage in his lifetime took the warmth of fire to keep off the cold. To commemorate that event, an annual puja of bon fire was held. On the 14th waxing moon night of Tabodwe, the bonfire festival was held in the courtyard of Shey Yone Taw. Officials of the Hluttaw [King’s council] and Shey Yone Taw supervised the making of yagu from the first crop of paddy and sweet milk. Then at dawn of the full moon day, 15 braziers with burning sandal woods, 15 plates of yagu. Thazin orchid flowers and oil lamps were carried by officials to 15 pagodas and temples including Maha Muni which were in Royal List. There to the Buddha Images and Sacred Relics these were offered”.
Now-a-days the festival of bonfire in Tabodwe is held only in upper Myanmar. Big towns and cities like Monywa, Shwebo, Sagaing, Meithtila, Magwe, Pakokku, Myingyan, Kyaukse and Mandalay. Buddhist devotees still celebrate bonfire puja at prominent pagodas and temples. Similarly in the other states like Shan, Mon, Rakhine, Kachin, Chin and Kayah, states such pujas are held at pagodas and temples. On the eve of the full moon day of Tabodwe fragrant fire woods are arranged in the shape of a stupa in the foreground of the pagoda or temple and burn them on the full moon night to offer warmth to the Buddha Images. Such bonfire is also offered to aged monks and people as a sign of respect as well as an act of religious merit.
The bonfire puja and festival annually held at Maha Muni Temple in Mandalay is a grand show worth noting and recording. The day before the full moon day of Tabodwe all kinds of fragrant woods are arranged like a ceti in the spacious precinct. Among other offertories Yagu rice porridge or htamane [a Myanmar traditional delicacy concocted from glutinous rice and ingredients} are dominant. At dawn, religious music band of the Temple begins a religious music “Nayi” accompanied by the, singing of Te Diem song Htoo Ma Chana. This religious band was dedicated by successive Rakhine and Myanmar Kings to Maha Muni Image only. The band performs three times daily- at dawn when the face of the Image is washed, at noon when lunch is over, and at eventide. On the full moon night bonfire is burnt, fireworks are displayed. Religious music and songs carry on.
Mandalay is noted for severe climate. Its cold season is as severe as its summer is burning hot. Mandalay people harbor a belief that only after Maha Muni Image has received bonfire puja on the full moon night of Tabodwe, cold begins to reduce.
Associated with the bon fire festival of Tabodwe is the communal celebration of the making of a Myanmar traditional delicacy called htamane. In Myanmar literature it is said that yagu and htamane are two different names of the same Myanmar delicacy. But in fact they are two different kinds. While yagu is just a rice porridge with or without milk and sugar, htamane is a delicacy prepared with glutinous rice from the first harvest Seasoned with ingredients and condiments. According to Treatise on Myanmar traditional medicine, the cold in Tabodwe dries up body skin. There is no perspiration to moisten the body skin. So it is necessary to take a little more of vegetable oil to protect the unbearable cold of Tabodwe. Oily htamane is eaten as a sort of preventive medicine by Myanmar old folks.
There is a recipe for concocting htamane. For easy memorization, the recipe is composed as a tay-htat song. The following is a loose translation of it:-
”Take a pyi of a basket rice glutinous rice and wash it clean by fresh water. Put one viss of pure sesamum oil in a big iron pan which is placed stable on wood fire. Fry 3 tickals’ weight of ginger slices in the oil to produce flavor put the washed glutinous rice in the ginger flavored oil and stir it thoroughly. Add some water to it and knead the stuff with wooden ladles. When the glutinous rice gets grilled, with oil oozing out of it, reduce the fire and spray on the stuff in the iron pan 80 tickals’ weight of fried ground nuts, 32 tickals weight of roasted sesamum seeds, 20 tickals weight of shedded coconut kernel and 7 tickals weight of salt. Then knead and crush the stuff again and again. Taste it to test if it has attained the required quality standard. If so, the htamane is put on the banana leaves for serving with hot plain tea”.
Htamane making and eating is a festival common to all Myanmar ethnic nationalities. It is a new harvest festival known as Kauk Thit Sar Pwe. Different species of grain are cultivated across the country. On plains and deltas paddy of different varieties are the main crop. On hill regions, in addition to paddy, millet, maize, corn, beans etc. are grown. New Harvest festival is one of the festivals all ethnic nationalities celebrate their agricultural activities- ploughing, sowing, planting, trans planting, weeding reaping, winnowing, storing, eating communally the new crops etc. Hence htamane festival is also a social occasion for a communal activity in which all are involved- the aged, the adult, young both male and female and even children. Htamane making and feast take place in the precinct of a temple, pagoda or monastery. Either individually or collectively a htamane party is formed. Needed Kitchen utensils such as giant iron pan [moe bye de oh] two pairs of great wooden ladles, knives, daggers, baskets, mortar and pestle trays, low tables, tea pots even napkins are hired from the store house of the monastery. Young men carry them to the site of htamane making. Adult males make fire place dug out in the ground, bring fire woods, fetch water from nearby aquatic bodies well, tank, river, fall or spring or stream and all other heavy works. Women and girls do lighter works, winnowing glutinous rice, washing rice, shedding ground nuts and ginger, washing pots pans and tea pots and cups. Strong young men climb up coconut trees to cut bring them down and cut them open. Children sweep the ground and keep the party alive by their playful activities. Women and girls do the initial part of the process men’s hard labour comes in when glutinous rice in the pan becomes grilled soft and pliant, muscular hands are needed to knead and crush the sticky stuff thoroughly with long wooden ladles. A good htamane is the result of correct proportion of glutinous rice, oil, water, ingredients and thorough kneading and crushing by wooden ladles.
It is so amazing to watch men doing this arduous work, are sweating in the cold of Tabodwe. When the htamane pan is moved from the fire place feminine hands spray ingredients on the grilled glutinous rice at regular interval with correct handful amount. Now is the turn of the experienced aged to judge if htamane is well made. They form a group of connoisseurs to taste to test the good or bad of the htamane in the pan. If everything is judged 0.K by these connoisseurs, then, the first pick is to be offered to Buddha Images, next picks go to the monks, the aged, the seniors, superiors, parents, and teachers. The rest are portioned and placed on banana leaves spread out on low tables for all to eat and enjoy to fill. Earthen pots of boiling hot green tea are ready on the low tables. Hot green plain tea is the best to go with this oily delicacy in the cold of Tabodwe.
If a contest is held, there is more excitement and a more festive atmosphere is created. Contesting parties are cheered up by music bands like Ozi or Dobhat waings. Folk songs and folk dances are performed in full swing, teasing, joking and mimicking one another. Village elders supervise the contest, so that the proceeding is in accordance with game rule. Winner parties are awarded with cash and kind like clothings. Winner party make a procession around the village with performance of music and dances.
Htamane making contests are held in schools and colleges to train young students in communal cultural activities and to breed community spirit among them. Htamane fests are open to all. No invitation is needed to join them. Any stranger or passerby regardless of race, religion or creed is welcome and is served with htamane to his fill, with cups of hot plain green tea. He may take some home because there are packets of htamane wrapped up with banana leaves for the taking.