Luck plays a huge role in everyday lives of Myanmar people. “Oh, she’s got the promotion. How lucky she is!” “He was hit by a car? How unfortunate.”
It’s so entrenched in the Myanmar lifestyle that many people think all the events of life – both good and bad – are out of their control and happen by mere chance. Still, more traditional Buddhists believe a person’s life is governed by choices they made in this life and previous lives.
In this article, I’d like to discuss various charms and practices popular in Myanmar and some Asian societies.
Rituals to get oneself on the right side of Lady Luck are widespread in Myanmar. From fortune tellers to self-proclaimed wives of Nats, called Nat Ka Daw in Burmese, foreseeing and improving one’s luck is a lucrative profession.
Nat (spirits) worship is more a deal than ideology. You make one wish to some spirit. If it is granted, you are obliged to throw a ceremony in the name of that spirit. The ceremonies usually include binge drinking, feasts and cash donations. Nat Ka Daw oversees those ceremonies.
Another way is ritualistic counting of prayer beads. It’s based on the nine qualities of Lord Buddha. You count the beads for a specified number of rounds each day for 81 days. Recite one quality of Buddha associated with each day while counting beads. Your wishes will be granted at the end of the ritual.
At the housewarming ceremony (Griha Pravesh Puja), the first thing you should do is to boil a pan of milk and let it spill. Some people do it in such a way that milk is spilled in an easterly direction.
In Vaastu Shastra, India’s version of China’s Fung Shui, the east is the most auspicious of the cardinal points. It is also the direction from where the sun rises, so it symbolises the beginning of a new day.
On the flip side, spilling milk before, during or immediately after a wedding day is considered very ominous. It is believed the gesture indicates pending misfortune for the newlyweds.
Chinese language has homophonic or double-entendre words. Chinese people love to use these puns in their daily lives, and many lucky words and numbers are based on this custom.
For example, the word for fish in Chinese is pronounced ‘Yu’, which is the same as the word for “abundance”, so eating a whole fish together with family during a Chinese New Year celebration is believed to bring prosperity in the coming New Year.
Again, the pronunciation of six is homophonic with the word “flow”, so the blessing phrase means “everything flows smoothly”. Eight in Chinese “ba” rhymes with “fa” means prosperity and wealth.
At weddings, the invited guests would give out red envelopes to the newlyweds. There is a good chance the amount of the money in the envelopes is an even number that includes six or eight.
At the beginning of a year, Japanese people purchase a daruma doll from a temple. The spaces where the doll’s eyes should be are left blank.
Make a wish or set a goal for the year and draw in the left eye on the doll’s face and promise your doll full sight once your goal is achieved or your wish granted.
Once the goal has been achieved, or the wish has been granted, you draw in the right eye and return the doll to the temple where you purchased it usually within a few days of New Year’s Day when all the previous year’s dolls will be ritually burnt.
Ever seen a smiling cat figurine with a mechanised paw at local stores? It is called Maneki-neko (beckoning cat) in Japanese and is believed to attract good luck. It has been a symbol of good luck for small business owners not only in Japan but in China and Asian countries like Myanmar for centuries.
Speaking of lucky dolls, hyper-realistic dolls of children called Luk Thep or Look Thep (child angel) have become popular in Thailand since around 2015. Some people believe the dolls can be injected with the spirit of a child after being blessed by a Buddhist monk.
Their owners provide such care as food, water and clothes “in the hope of receiving good fortune in return”, and some companies offer owners of the dolls the option to reserve them their own seats and services.
The belief originated from an ancient practice of necromancy, called Kuman Thong (golden boy). It is mentioned in the Thai legend of Khun Chang Khun Phaen, where the character Khun Phaen made one by removing the stillborn baby from the stomach of his wife, whom he had killed.
There is also a female deity, Nang Kwak, deemed to bring luck. She is also considered to be the patron deity of merchants and salespeople and can be seen in almost every business establishment in Thailand.
A Baci Ceremony has been practised in Laos and Thailand since ancient times. The more common word is Sou Khwan which means spirit calling. The ceremony involves a blessing from a respected elder, who ties white cotton strings around the person’s wrists while uttering prayers that invoke spiritual help, calling the guardian spirits back to the recipient of the blessing and to wish that person well.
Lao and Thai people believe that a human being is a union of 32 organs, each with a guardian spirit or Khwan. These spirits often wander outside the body and in so doing cause an imbalance of the spirit which might lead to an illness.
The tying of the white string represents the recalling, uniting and tying of the 32 spirits to the body, setting the person’s spirits back in harmony as well as bringing them good luck and prosperity.
In Korea, Lunar New Year’s Day is your chance to begin the year with a fresh start so much so that Koreans will often not wash their hair on this day as it is believed it would wash away the good luck. In the same way Korean students will not wash their hair before a test in order to not “wash away” all the knowledge they have gained from studying.
One more sign of good luck is when you dream of pigs. For Koreans pigs are representative of both fertility and wealth, this is because the pronunciation of “pig” is similar to that for “jade”.
The Chinese in Singapore would roll a pineapple across the threshold of the new home as a house-warming ceremony. They shout huat ah” a Hokkien phrase meaning to prosper while doing that.
In the Garden City, pineapples are a highly coveted fruit thanks to their association with prosperity. The custom probably originated from the Hokkien community – rolling the pineapple is, in a sense, the same as rolling good luck and prosperity into the home.
What things and practices are regarded to bring good luck in your culture? Let us know in the comments!