Myanmar has cultural or religious festivals taking place throughout the year, which are a riot of colour, dance, music and pageantry. Beyond the national events that are celebrated across the country, there are also many more festivals or events that are specific a temple or village.
The pagoda festivals or temple fairs that last a period of 7 days of more are much like the western fun fairs with patent medicine purveyors, healers, clairvoyants, musicians, puppeteers, magicians and general entertainers moving from fair to fair to bring colour and excitement to the lives of the locals and a great sight to see on the Myanmar holidays.
Also, there are the Nat Pwes (spirit festivals) that take place throughout the year and mostly coincide with the full moon.
Many of the Myanmar travel packages are likely to fall within the time-frame of one of the festivals or events that are celebrated across the country. Most of the major celebrations take place in March, July-September (Buddhist Lent), or December.
Here are a few of the popular Myanmar festivals and events that take place throughout the course of the year:
The Manaw Festival is celebrated in January and takes place in Putao and Myitkyina of Kachin state and one of the most popular festivals in the country. It has been held annually for nearly 30 years and relates to celebrating a new year by worshipping the God of the Spirits (also called God Lamu Madai). The locals dress in traditional and colourful costumes and dance around a totem-like pole to celebrate, which is certain to be great to see on the Myanmar tours.
Ananda Pagoda Festival
The Ananda Pagoda Festival is a well respected pagoda festival that takes place at the end of January in the ancient city of Bagan. This is a great time to watch as local theatrical troupes put on a show while other forms of traditional entertainment are also taking place. This festival is a great time to be in Bagan on the Myanmar customized tour with plenty to see, as well as souvenirs to buy and savoury foods to try.
Also, this is a time for locals to give offerings to the hundreds of monks in the region, which can consist of personal items like a toothbrush to food supplies.
Union Day is celebrated across the entire country and relates to honouring the moment Bogyoke Aung San was able to help unify all of Burma. Before the ceremony starts on the 12 February, there is a period of marking the relay of the Union flag. Over a period of five days, the flag is passed through 35 townships from person to person before it reaches People’s Square in Yangon for the start of the national holiday.
Mahamuni Pagoda Festival
The Mahamuni Pagoda festival takes place in late February with thousands of people travelling to the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay to pay homage to the Myanmar Buddha image and burn a variety of incense sticks. The festival can last for a period of two days and a common theme includes serving a meal of glutinous rice (sticky rice combined with sesame, coconut and ginger) to the local monks. The image of the Mahamuni Buddha is extremely venerated because it is believed to be created when Buddha was present.
Ko Gyi Kyaw Spirit Festival
The Ko Gyi Kyaw Spirit festival starts in the beginning of February and lasts for several days, and celebrates Ko Gyi Kyaw who is reported to be a happy spirit that has a liking for gambling and drink. It is said that this spirit has the ability to possess a person who believed they are capable of communicating with him. This festival takes place in Pakhan in Yayza Gyo Township and attended by locals that offer money and drink in exchange for future good luck. It is also a time to gather with friends and families and enjoy the occasion.
Shwedagon Pagoda Festival
The largest pagoda festival (paya pwe) to take place in Myanmar is the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival which is held in Yangon, and runs from the week leading up to the Full Moon Day of Tabaung. A major event of the festival is seeing the monks speak the Holy Scripture non-stop for the week. Donations are offered by those that travel to the Shwedagon Pagoda for the festival and used to preserve the pagoda. Other events include weaving a holy robe which is made using the old-style of loom and later presented to the Buddha images that are located at each corner of the pagoda.
Kason Pwe is a holy day that is celebrated across the entire county and involves a variety of religious activities such as reciting Pali verses that praise Lord Buddha and making offerings to the monks. Plus, the monks get involved by instructing on the Buddha’s teachings and deliver sermons to the locals. This event takes place in June and commemorates the first sermon of Lord Buddha to his five companions.
Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda Festival
The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda festival takes place on the full moon day of Thadingyut and involves locals visiting the pagoda to offer 9,000 flowers and light 9,000 candles at the pagoda. Also, a variety of food like sweets and rice are presented to the monks at the Kyaikthiyo pagoda. For the duration of the festival, the pagoda is visited by pilgrims that travel from across the country.
Taunggyi Tazaungdaing Festival
The Taunggyi Tazaungdaing festival (also referred to as the Hot Air Balloon Festival) takes place in Taunggyi, Shan State for 3-days around the full moon day of Tazaungmon. This festival is not only celebrated by the local pilgrims but also the foreign tourists that are in the region while on the Myanmar family tour. The main part of the festival is the brightly lit balloons and giant paper animals; also there are firework displays and hot air balloons in the shape of various animals like an owl, bird, horse, ox, elephant, etc.