Taung Pyone festival winds down
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.
A natkadaw (right) shares an alcoholic beverage with a Taung Pyone devotee on August 15.
PHYO WAI KYAW HLAING KYAW SOE