Myanmar was introduced to Buddhism after the Theravada Monks were sent to Burma and other Southeast Asian nations by Emperor Ashoka. This was followed by the people getting attached and adapting Buddhism as their religion. The majority of Myanmar's population follows Buddhism.
Here is are some of the famous Buddhist centres of Myanmar and some of the important festivals celebrated by the people of this land.
Myanmar is also famous for Buddhist temples called Pagodas. The country is in fact known as Land of Pagodas. These Buddhist temples house many types of Buddha statues to pay respect to the Buddha.
Shwegadon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, and Mae Lamu Pagoda are some of the famous pagodas in the former capital Yangon (formerly Rangoon).
Mandalay, which is a cultural and religious centre of Buddhism in Myanmar, has many monasteries and more than 700 Buddhist temples. Mahamuni Buddha, Shwenandaw Pagoda, Sandamuni temple, and Kyauktawguy Paya Pagoda are some of the popular ones.
Mingun is a town in Sagaing Region, located 11 kilometres up the Ayeyarwady River on the west bank from Mandalay. The Mingun temple is a monumental uncompleted stupa began by King Bodawpaya in 1790 AD. It was not completed, due to an astrologer claiming that, once the temple was finished, the king would die. King Bodawpaya also had a gigantic bell cast to go with his huge stupa, the Mingun Bell weighing 90 tons, and is today the largest ringing bell in the world.
Another region which is popular for Buddhist temples in Myanmar is Bagan. Formerly known as Pagan, the region is home to hundreds of old Buddhist temples like Ananda temple, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Shwegugyi temple, Mahabodhi Temple, Tharabha gate, Sulamani temple, Dhammayangyi temple and Mingalazedi Pagoda to name a few.
As for monasteries, there are countless of monasteries in Myanmar which act as the dwelling places for Buddhist monks. Thousands of monks start their monkhood from these monasteries. The Buddhist teachings and principles are passed on from generation to generation.
Burmese traditional festivals are based on the traditional Burmese calendar and dates are largely determined by the moon's phase. Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year. Here’s a list of the famous festivals celebrated in the country.
Thingyan, Myanmar Water Festival, takes place toward the end of the hot, dry season and ushers in the Myanmar New Year. The festival lasts three or five days. Standing on bamboo stages erected along the streets, people splash water on passers-by. Powerful water pipes douse people driving by in jeeps and trucks.
Children use water pistols to drench their friends, relatives, and anyone else in range - only monks and the elderly are safe. The water symbolizes the washing away of the previous year's bad luck and sins. On New Year's Day itself, all the water-throwing ends. This day is celebrated by releasing captive fish and birds as acts of merit, and special feasts are held for monks.
The Htamane (glutinous rice) cooking festival is a traditional event in Myanmar that occurs around the Full Moon Day of the lunar month of Tabodwe, which usually falls in late January or early February.
During the festival, glutinous rice is crushed and kneaded before it is mixed with other ingredients in huge iron vats using big ladles. The first portion of this delicacy is offered to Lord Buddha and Buddhist monks, while participants in the ceremony and onlookers share what is left over. In some areas of the country, a dobat (traditional drum music) troupe performs to encourage the htamane makers.
The month Kason usually falls on May of the English calendar. At the peak of the summer heat, thousands of pilgrims across Myanmar gather in the numerous Buddhist temples that dot the landscape for the Bodhi Tree Watering Festival.
Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment sitting in the shade underneath a Bodhi tree in Northern India some 2,500 years ago according to Buddhist tradition. As the Buddhist religion spread throughout Asia, saplings were cut from the original Bodhi tree and planted on the grounds of monasteries across the globe as living holy relics.
The reverent atmosphere that permeates the Bodhi Tree Watering Festivals held at temples throughout Myanmar is something to be experienced.
The Myanmar lunar month of Waso, which usually falls in July, marks the beginning of the three-month Vassa period, also known as Buddhist Lent or the Rains Retreat. During this time, monks are not allowed to travel overnight from their monasteries, and therefore they dedicate these months to intensive meditation and the study of scripture.
Many laypeople also adhere more closely to the Buddhist precepts by giving up meat or alcohol. Weddings are not allowed during this period, and music concerts and other public performances are frowned upon.
The build up to Thadingyut, which marks the end of Buddhist Lent which is usually late October, is characterised by a gradual change in weather. With the skies now clearing, it is the season of pagoda festivals, music concerts and weddings, with cooler winter weather just around the corner.
During Thadingyut, pagodas and homes throughout the country are decorated with electric lights, colourful paper lanterns, candles and even small ceramic saucers filled with oil in which wicks are lit. Major religious sites such as Shwedagon Pagoda are packed with pilgrims who light candles to pay homage to the Buddha and gain merit.
Each light adds to the incredible spectacle of thousands of small flames burning in the night. Out on the streets, meanwhile, some people light fireworks or launch small hot-air balloons, which silently ascend and drift across the sky before burning out.
Thadingyut is also a time for street fairs, one of the most popular of which is held along several blocks of Bog yoke Aung San Road in downtown Yangon.