Thadingyut is the most famous festival in Myanmar after Thingyan. Thadingyut Light Festival is held for three days throughout the country: the eve, the full moon day and the next day. This year the full moon day falls on 31 October. It also marks the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent.

Within these days, the believers decorate their homes with lanterns and lights to welcome the Buddha who descends from heaven. 

Lore has it that Buddha’s mother Maya died seven days after giving birth to him and reincarnated as a deva in heaven. To express his gratitude Buddha ascends to heaven and preaches Abhidharma sermons to the deva during the Lent. He comes back to earth on the full moon day of Thadingyut. 

Thadingyut Festival: Yangon and beyond

Following his steps, Buddhists pay homage to their parents, teachers and elders during Thadingyut as an expression of gratitude and apology for trespasses. Monks recite Abhidharma sermons and therefore the festival is also known as the Abhidharma Day.

Normally Thadingyut is not complete without Ye Kyaw Market in Yangon. But the market will not happen this year because of the pandemic. The pagodas are also closed. Still, people are likely to visit their elders and teachers to pay respect.

Thadingyut is celebrated differently elsewhere. Some of the most notable festivals are:

Dawei Alm Bowl Floating Festival

The residents of Dawei, Taninthayi Region, float alms bowls filled with food, fruits, water, candles and small flags made of banknotes on the river. The bowls are offerings to Shin Upagutta, a mythical monk from Mahayana Buddhism. Riverside residents worship him especially because they believe he protects them from storms and floods. 

This festival is unique to Dawei and held on the full moon day. The residents would go around the town and ask for donations on the eve of the Thadingyut. Then they float the alms bowls on the river. This year’s festival will be held small-scale. 

Kyaukse Dancing Elephants Festival

Thadingyut Festival: Yangon and beyond
Photo: Kate Bowen

The annual festival takes place in Kyaukse, Mandalay Region, the day before the full moon day of Thadingyut for over two days. 

The history behind the festival is: King Anawrahta sent a replica of one of the Buddha’s teeth via a white elephant who came to stop in the hills above Kyaukse and the Shwe Tha Lyaung Pagoda was built at the very place. 

The dancers will wear the elaborately decorated elephant costumes in pairs and judges will decide which teams wear and perform best. The pilgrimage from all over the country donate the money to the pagoda and enjoy the dance. There will be no festival this year.

Shwe Kyin Light Festival

Thadingyut Festival: Yangon and beyond
Photo: Ministry of Hotel and Tourism

Held by the Shwe Kyin creek in Bago, it has the same purpose as the alms bowl festival from Dawei: to pay respect to Shin Upagutta. It dates back to 1851.

The festival is divided into two sessions. The residents begin the festival with a boat race in the morning. The race is open to both men and women. At night, thousands of festival-goers father and float paper lanterns on the river. This ritual is believed to bring good luck and fortune. The fireworks display is a bonus! Imagine how scenic it will be.

Taunggyi Hot-air Balloon Festival

The city in Shan State is famous for its annual Tazaungdaing Hot-air Balloon Festival which takes place for nine days in November. But they also release hot-air balloons on the Thadingyut Full Moon Day.

This year the residents will launch hot-air balloons from their places to avoid making a crowd. According to the local reports, it will take place at 7pm on 31 Oct.

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