Planning your travels to Bagan around one of the full moon festivals adds an extra special experience to your visit – I highly recommend it! The Burmese do not follow the Gregorian calendar as we do in the western world – which is a calendar whose dates are measured by the earth’s rotation around the sun.
The ancient Buddhist calendar is lunisolar, which is measured by both the sun and the moon. As someone who loves the energy of the moon I wanted to share a little bit of info about the Buddhist calendar. The new year begins in April, when the sun moves to Ares from Pisces. Each month is represented by the cycle of the moon, beginning on the first day after the new moon. There are twelve months and Tagu is the first month of the year followed by; Kason, Nayon, Waso, Wahgaung, Tawthalin, Thadingyut, Tazaungmon, Natdaw, Pyathoe, Tabodwe and Tabaung. I find it ironic that the idea for this blog came to me on the full moon day of this current month, Tabodwe 🙂
This is my second trip to Bagan. We arrived in October 2018 and are calling this ancient city “home” for six months, before heading back home to Canada. So far this trip I’ve had the pleasure to attend three full moon festivals. The first one was at the Shwezigon Pagoda which is celebrated in the 8th month, Tazaungmon. The second was the 9th month festival at Alodawpyi Pagoda and lastly the Ananda Temple festival during the Pyathoe month. Last year I wrote a blog about my visit to the Shwezigon festival so I will focus on the other two festivals.
Ananda Temple is known as the “most beautiful” temple in Bagan and it really does live up to it’s name. The most distinctive feature is the gilded sikhara (tower like top at the centre). White washed and well preserved this amazing structure is visible from miles away. As you can see pictured below it is surrounded by a high wall with four gates facing each cardinal points. The photo was taken by my husband Moses during his hot air balloon flight over the temple zone – he’s the pilot!
Mythological Chinthes guard the temple. These creatures are half lion, half dragon and can be found guarding many temples across Myanmar.
Inside Ananda Temple you will find four giant standing Buddhas representing the four previous Buddhas that have reached nirvana; Kakusandha Buddha (North), Kassapa Buddha (South), Konagamana Buddha (East) and Gautama Buddha (West) all showcasing different poses. There are many other wonderful features inside and out – you should not miss this temple if you are visiting Bagan.
Each year Ananda Temple hosts the Pyathoe full moon festival which is known as one of the most famous festivals in Bagan. This year the festival started January 20. For 2020 it will start on January 9. I attended the donation ceremony which marks the start of the festival on full moon day. It symbolizes the limitless wisdom of Buddha. Shortly after sunrise we made our way to Ananda temple to witness the generosity of the Burmese, some who have made over a day long journey to attend this special festival. The monks (more than one thousand) line up to receive alms from pilgrims in monetary donations, food, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes and other essentials.
The donation table is very long and there is a controlled system to be sure that each monk receives alms of some sort. In Buddhism almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk, nun or spiritually-developed person. It is not charity as often assumed by Western interpreters but more so a symbolic and spiritual connection regarding humbleness. Buddhists believe merit is capable of attracting good circumstances in a person’s life and can improve the person’s inner well-being, state of mind and affects the next lives to come.
The invited monks not only come for alms but to enjoy the fun activities of the festival, along with all the other visitors from all over Myanmar. Many photographers from around the world also come to capture the “buzz” of this ceremony.
A sea of local vendors and shops line a large portion of the temple grounds. Colourful textiles, kitchen and hardware tools of all kinds can be purchased. It’s certainly a place to pick up affordable souvenirs to take home as keepsakes from your travels in Myanmar.
Food vendors also move about to each festival offering traditional Burmese dishes, sweets and snacks. You willl see fruit and veggies stalls too.
There’s also lots of entertainment throughout the nearly month long festival, including dancing, theatre and singing, as well an area with amusement rides – for people of all ages! One evening my husband Moses and I went with our friends and their three boys to have a bit of fun at the fair. Here we are about to get on the ‘biggest’ ride which had me screaming the entire time, and the boys having a blast on the spaceships 🙂
During the ninth month, Natdwa, the festival is held at the Alo Daw Pyi Pagoda which is well known as the wish fulfilling Pagoda. Pilgrims from near and far come to this pagoda to pray for their wishes to come true and enjoy the activities at the festival with family and friends.
No matter which festival you attend there will be several Thanaka tree shops – this is a popular product purchased by many locals all over Myanmar. For centuries the bark from the Thanaka tree has been cosmetically used by Burmese of all ages to protect their skin from the sun. It also works against acne. You will see locals (normally women and young boys) wearing patches of this yellowish powder on their face. The paste is made from rubbing the bark against a traditional wet stone. While you will normally see it applied during the day it’s also worn overnight after bathing for anti-inflammatory therapeutic benefits.
On the full moon day large crowds gather around as the festival committee prepares the fire balloons, one at a time. It takes many people and a lot of care to launch these balloons of many shapes and sizes. First they light a fire under the balloon – this makes it expand and fill with heat. For the larger balloons they attach a wooden cage with many candles and coloured lights.Once the balloon is ready, away it goes!! Be sure to make your wish!
If you are looking to travel to Myanmar I would love to chat with you – I can help you create a memorable itienrary around this beautiful country. Connect with me via email so we can discuss what your intentions are for your trip and let the travel planning begin.