Taung Py­one fes­ti­val winds down

The Myanmar Times - - News -

AF­TER a wild week of spirit wor­ship, bois­ter­ous mu­sic and heavy drink­ing, the Taung Py­one Nat Fes­ti­val comes to an end to­mor­row as the full moon day of the lu­nar month of Wa­gaung crosses the sky over Myan­mar.

The eight-day fes­ti­val is al­ways a crowded and well-at­tended af­fair, and the vil­lage fills up even be­fore the fes­ti­val be­gins, with pil­grims from across the coun­try con­verg­ing en masse un­til there is barely room enough to walk.

Taung Py­one devo­tees dance along Man­dalay-Ma­daya road to­gether with peo­ple who are re­quest­ing do­na­tions. The nar­row road lead­ing to Taung Py­one vil­lage, lo­cated just a few kilo­me­tres north of Man­dalay, be­comes in­creas­ingly clogged with cars and mo­tor­cy­cles.

De­spite this mod­ern touch, a fa­mous song about the fes­ti­val, which re­flects the his­tory of the an­cient event, re­tains its tra­di­tional flavour with ref­er­ence to peo­ple ar­riv­ing in the vil­lage by “pull-cart”.

In fact, the fes­ti­val re­mains largely un­changed and as pop­u­lar as ever. It has been held for hun­dreds of years, and not even World War II or the po­lit­i­cal unrest of 1988 were able to stop it.

Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, King Anawratha – who ruled Ba­gan from 1044 to 1077 – once camped with his army near Taung Py­one and de­cided to do­nate a land­mark pagoda there. He or­dered his sol­diers to each con­trib­ute a brick to con­struct the pagoda. But brothers Min Gyi and Min Galay, who en­joyed drink­ing and gam­bling, did not obey the king’s or­der, and were ex­e­cuted as a re­sult. King Anawratha later re­gret­ted killing the brothers, and ap­pointed them as the guardian spir­its in that vil­lage. The two bricks they failed to con­trib­ute are still miss­ing from Taung Py­one Pagoda.

Bathing day is the most pop­u­lar time of the fes­ti­val, draw­ing large crowds. Fes­ti­val-go­ers wash the im­ages of the Taung­by­one brothers in the nearby river be­fore they are placed in a shrine where pil­grims can make of­fer­ings. Peo­ple who visit the fes­ti­val ev­ery year have their own be­liefs, op­ti­misti­cally hop­ing that their busi­ness, so­cial life, health and ev­ery­thing else will pros­per when they touch the palan­quin car­ry­ing the im­ages.

The natkadaws (spirit medi­ums) who at­tend fes­ti­val are held in high es­teem among tra­di­tional be­liev­ers. They can eas­ily be seen dur­ing pub­lic per­for­mances, but it costs a lot of money to get a per­sonal ap­point­ment with a fa­mous natkadaw.

Some pil­grims come to the fes­ti­val for wor­ship, while oth­ers come for fun. Most nat kadaw are ho­mo­sex­ual, and gay men can be found through­out the fes­ti­val. Ev­ery year, the gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions open an ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre about HIV and AIDS, en­cour­ag­ing the use of con­doms.

Photo: Phyo Wai Kyaw

A natkadaw (right) shares an al­co­holic bev­er­age with a Taung Py­one devo­tee on Au­gust 15.

PHYO WAI KYAW HLAING KYAW SOE

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