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April is regarded as the hottest month in Burma and is also the happiest and jolliest time for many Burmese people, as it is the time the water festival comes to welcome the Burmese New Year. This year Thingyan will be held from 12th to 16th April and New Years day falls straight after on 17th April.
The Burmese traditional calendar, known as the Lunar Calendar is used to determine the date of religious festivals. According the calendar, the Burmese New Year or Thingyan Festival usually falls in mid-April. Neighboring countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia celebrate this festival too.
The water festival usually lasts for four or five days and throwing water during the festival is meant to bring the sense of calm and peacefulness on every mind and body, cleansing dirt or sins made during the past year.
This is the time when young or old regardless of background or religion are ready to splash water on each other. Temporary pandals (stalls) are purposely built along the streets throughout the country to entertain the festival goers with jets of water to play under. Some pandals are set up for performances such as traditional group dances, comedy acts and stage shows.
Especially in Yangon and Mandalay people drive through the city in open top cars and trucks queuing in long lines before the pandals to get soaked by water pipes and see the artistic performances. Children and neighbors also come out into the street in front of their houses with water pistols, buckets of icy or scented water to throw water on anyone passing by. You cannot avoid getting wet during the festival, unless of course, you are a monk, a nun or are very elderly.
There is more to the Thingyan Festival than water. The Burmese people show their generous nature by offering snacks to people playing at the pandals and praying in the monasteries regardless of whether they know them or not. Some people choose to take quiet refuge in monasteries and pagodas to do meritorious deeds during the changing period from the old to New Year, with a belief that this will bring good karma and luck throughout the year ahead.
Coincidentally at this time of the year, the padauk (pteorocarpus indicus) flower bursts fully into bloom. It is thought that this golden flower blooms on these auspicious days as is a sign of Thingyan and good-will being at one at this time. Thingyan cannot be perfect without the enchanting scent of the golden padauk flower which traditionally takes its place in young and old ladies hair.
The fifth and final day of the festival marks the beginning of the New Year, when people of all ages spend their time at the monasteries and pagodas performing merits such as taking Sabbath and offering alms to Buddha, monks, elderly and the poor. Some youths group together to ceremoniously wash the hair of elders and cut their nails, some also feed and release captive animals.
Thingyan is the biggest festive occasion in Burma and young and old unite in their joy. This is a time for forgiving and forgetting the faults in others. The spirit of the festival is infectious and spreads to visitors drawing them back time again.