Myanmar: The Taunggyi Balloon Festival
The Tazaungdaing Festival is a traditional festival and public holiday in Myanmar. It is also known as the "Festival of Lights" and it is celebrated on the full moon of Tazaungmon, the eighth month of the traditional Burmese calendar. The Tazaungdaing Festival marks the end of the rainy season. In Taunggyi in Shan State hot-air balloons lit with candles are released to celebrate the full moon day and the Tazaungdaing Festival. It is comparable to the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong celebrations in Thailand.
However, the Taunggyi Balloon Festival it much more than a public holiday. It lasts around 6 or 7 days and it is also a balloon competition and funfair at the same time. Traditionally the festival ends on the full moon day Tazaungmon with the announcement of the winners of the balloon contest. The balloons are beautifully designed and hand-made of traditional mulberry papers and bamboo. They are released day and night during the festival. The balloons for the daytime competition are smaller and usually have the form of pagodas, ducks, dragons or even elephants. The bigger balloons decorated with candles are released at the night time competitions, sometimes even with attached fireworks that explode into the night sky.
Novice for one week: Novice hood initiation in Bagan, Myanmar
For a boy in Myanmar it is customary to enter a monastery between the age 10 and 20 as a Buddhist novice for at least one week. Sometimes the boys are even younger, and in rare cases they are only 5 or 6 years old. For Burmese people, the novice hood initiation is a very important ceremony and a big event as a family. The novitiation ceremony is called "Shinbyu" in Burmese language. Shinbyu ceremonies are held throughout the whole country, in villages as well as in big cities. Often families send their sons at the same time to the monastery and celebrate the Shinbyu ceremony together. Celebrating together saves costs, because the event with music and traditional dresses is expensive. But it is also a wonderful opportunity for the families to organize a procession through the village as a kind of village festival.
Money doesn't matter for a Buddhist monastery, so they take every boy, regardless of the wealth of the parents. Poor boys or orphans are also welcome to join the monastery for one week. But there is a difference. Although the Shinbyu is without doubt a religious Buddhist ceremony, it is not organized from the monasteries. Of course the monks support the Shinbyu, and they open the monasteries for the families to come and pray. But the ceremony itself is more a secular event, with loud music, a procession on horses through the village, a lot of food, many flowers, wonderful clothes and a big colorful ceremony tent, where the celebration, the dinner and many speeches take place. Sometimes rich families or families who are not blessed with a male child support poor families who cannot afford the ceremony. The boys of the supported families and also orphans are invited to join the ceremony as well.
Faces of Myanmar in Black & White
Myanmar, formerly Burma, is recognized by the world as the Golden Land. Many pagodas in Myanmar are covered with gold leaf. According to a legendary tale, over 4 million pagodas were built in Bagan (which is certainly not true, because archaeologists today can find only the traces of over 5000 pagodas). But it's not the pagodas which makes Mynamar unique, it's the wonderful and amazing people. Take a look at the Black & White portraits and enjoy the wonderful faces of Myanmar.
Monks and novices in Myanmar - the Buddhism way of life
Myanmar is one of the most devout Buddhist countries in the world. About 89% of the people in Myanmar are Buddhist. People in Myanmar practice the Theravada Buddhism, which is more austere and ascetic, but also harder to practice than the Mahayana Buddhism, the other main branch of the Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is also followed in Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos and Thailand. No one really knows, but experts estimates that in Myanmar live about half a million monks. It's customary for a male in Myanmar to enter a monastery twice in his life. Once as a samanera, a novice monk, between the age of 10 and 20, and again as a hpongyi, a fully ordained monk, sometime at the age of 20. Some might remain a monk for just a few days, while others stay for life.
Monks hold the highest status in the society of Myanmar. The overwhelming majority of the monks and novives in Myanmar wear maroon-colored robes. Monks receive two meals per day, breakfast and lunch and they are not allowed to eat after 12:00 noon. Early in the morning the monks and novices go out carrying a bowl to get offerings like rice, curry or other food. Usually a monk has his own family where he goes every day. It is not begging, since the family invited the monk to come to their house. It is a ritual that expresses a profound bond between the monks and the ordinary Buddhist and gives the locals the chance of doing the deed of dhana and to acquire merit.