Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Water Festival: A Little Bit Crazy, A Whole Lot Wonderful

14 April 2015

 The water festival in Myanmar is called "Thingyan" - pronounced pretty much the way it is spelled, accent on the first syllable.  Water festivals are common throughout SE Asia, and coincide with the local new year celebrations, usually some time in mid April.

The festival supposedly originates in a Buddhist version of a Hindu story - there were two kings who made a bet; one lost, and was decapitated but his head was replaced with an elephant's head (and he became Ganesh).  But his head was so powerful, people couldn't figure out what to do with it: if they threw the head in the sea, it would dry up all the water; if they buried the head in the earth, it would scorch the land; if they threw it in the air, it would burn up the sky.  So it was decided that a series of princesses would carry the head, trading off to a new princess each spring.  Thus the new year represents a new princess getting the head of the king to carry around.  The surviving king returns to earth at this time of year, and that's part of the celebration as well.  (I don't understand how the water is involved in that story, but this is what we've read and been told.)

The water festival also has the component of cleansing each person of sin, so they can start the new year anew, clean and pure and refreshed in soul and spirit.  And the first day has that sense, when people go to temples and get sprinkled with water, gently blessed by the monk.  

Then it gets crazy!

Towns set up stages and bamboo stands that are the official performance and water spraying places.  But pretty much anyone can also set up a water spot - so families will fill barrels with water and the children will throw buckets and bowls of water at motor scooters, buses, cars, pedestrians.  Young men get hoses out and drench everyone in sight, including each other.  We saw toddlers out there trying to toss little bowls of water, but getting most of it on themselves!  And then there are the demure young ladies who toss little sprinkles of water. 

We also saw pickup trucks with the barrels of water in the back, and passengers throwing water from the truck onto those along the road throwing water right back! 

As I said, a little bit crazy!

So, our experience:  the first day, we could hear loud music blaring from the street outside our hotel in Bagan, so we went out to explore.   A group of young men had set up their stand at the intersection, and had a fire hose hooked up with water from someone's home.  They were holding the hose upright to create a huge fountain of water, and they were all dancing under the hose spray, soaking wet and having a great time!  (I didn't have my camera, I was afraid of getting it wet.)  Well, what can I say, I believe in experiencing festivals along with local people - so I went out and joined them under the fountain of water, jumping up and down and dancing in the street under this waterfall of water!  Then I asked if I could hold the hose, just to see, and I got to make the fountain - and let me tell you, a fire hose of water is heavy!!!  So I put my thumb on top to make a wider spray, and shook it back and forth, and the guys kept dancing around me - so funny!  Richard said it was quite a sight!  Eventually I gave back the hose, danced a bit more, and then Richard and I went back to our hotel, me dripping wet and Richard nice and dry.  We tried going out later in the evening to see more water festivities, but the power kept going out, so we gave up.

Today (Tuesday) we saw other people with hoses and buckets on the road, people laughing and getting soaked.  We stayed dry, since we flew to the Inle Lake region.  (More about that, with a map, in the next post.)  On both the ride to the Bagan airport, and the ride to the hotel near Inle, we passed all kinds of crews of kids spraying, splashing, throwing water - so there are photos from the inside of the taxi, right through the windshields splattered with water.  It really was pretty funny, seeing people having so much fun getting drenched, and the variety of ways people threw water - giant water guns, kitchen bowls, buckets, hoses, even just water bottles.

We checked into our hotel in the town of Nyuang Shwe (pronouned nye-WONG shway), and walked into the central part of town - and of course encountered more water throwing.  I got involved (and drenched), but the guys were nice and waited until I put my camera in a ziplock baggie before they poured water down my back and over my head.  Our hotel staff also set up a station right at the entrance, so when we returned the staff and a batch of kids were ready - I had our water bottle leftover from lunch, and of course I threw water in everyone's face as they all attacked with buckets and bowls.  (Richard asked please please please no, so they were merciful and he stayed dry).  

So yes, I managed to get soaking drenching dripping wet three times in two days.  Wearing my wet clothes as a badge of honor!

We have one more day of water craziness, and then Thursday is New Year's Day, when the water fight stops and people become more introspective, spending time with family and friends, and hoping for good fortune for the coming year.

And here are my two favorite photos of the day - they really sum up the joy and abandon of this baptism of wonderful insanity.  I love it!

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