Thursday, April 2, 2015


By Tha Hla

Inaugurated in Tangu, the first lunar month of the Rakhaing calendar, Thungran by definition is becoming anew and the term Mar Thungran means passing from one year to another, Traditionally there is a festival for each of the twelve months, some dedicated to pious observance and others to worldly ceremonies Unlike Wagvui lighting festival, Thungran is not characterized by solemnity or religious significance but it is the most popularly celebrated and enjoyed by all levels of the populace Nevertheless, for those who devote themselves to performing meritorious deeds as a matter of routine on any notable events, Thungran is no less a momentous occasion worthy of doing so since it heralds a new and prosperous year. And it is only befitting that the new Year is ushered in with water festival, the main feature of Thungran celebration, which symbolizes the feat of washing away the old year clean Beginning in the early half of April, the exact date being determined each year reading the location of the celestial bodies in relation to one another, the celebration formally lasts for three days; however, in the country towns and villages the period is subject to the local custom, where the first three days are assigned for the religious proceedings, and another phase of three days is set aside for merrymaking. The practice seems to suit the needs of the small population made up of the old and the young; the former to devote to the work of merits and the tatter to the pursuit of merriment. Thungran is universal; it is for all ages and social strata, without distinction of gender, race, nationality or creed, carried out in conventional customs; the youth inherit the formalities front the old and pass them on to the generation next, thus the old tradition maintains its hold on the Rakhaings.

Prior to the commencement of the celebration, arrangements are veil in hand including organization of the cultural aspects of Thungrun and collection of funds and donations. Besides the monasteries and pagodas people undertake to cleanse their dwellings and do all that is required of them so that there is no call for them to worry about the provisions and other necessities of life during the festival time. The arrival of Thungran is marked in .a formality by which every household is inured to placing at the front porch an earthen water pot filled with the eugenia twigs and an assortment of leaves prescribed for the occasion, On the eve of Thungran a liquid containing the essence of the sandalwood is prepared through the night accompanied by music and dances, which brings young men and women out for a night of piety and socializing that live up to the tradition, To fix the scented water, a piece of the sandalwood is rubbed, with a little water added occasionally, on the surface of a fiat, circular stone plate, Thanaka Kyaukpyaing, which is elevated in the middle and hollowed out a sunken ring of narrow section around such a way as to collect the mixture which is saved in repausse silver bowls. At the first appearance of light on the opening day, the youth, carrying the commixture bowls and fresh water pots, set off in procession to the monasteries and pagodas where the Buddha images and statues are symbolically laved with water and perfumed. The token bathing, performed by the male only in some places, is not ablution in the sense of a religious rue It is conducted in keeping with the tradition that the Lord.

Buddha is honoured and revered on the strength of Buddhism being natal religion which influences the personal. social and cultural aspects of life. With this procedure done, the urchins take to the streets to sprinkle water on the passers-by; hence, kicks off the joyous festival, with the tempo increasing at about noon and winding up in the evening only to start again the next and the day after.

The charm of the Rakhaing version of water festival is refinement in which the revelers, instead of vigorous and conglomerated engagement, interplay in duo contesting between the sexes, each is separated from the other in the specific perimeter allocated for the male and female participants; a great deal of good-natured humour abounds but remarkably lacks of boisterous and uproarious amusement. Rather than cumulation importance is stressed on the dignity of individuality. It is the occasion in which a lad is prompted to take advantage of the festive mood to allure and make acquaintance of a girl or to bolster his affection for the young woman he has already fixed attraction, using prolix and indirect language. By the same token a lass indulges herself with the mirthful spirits, who feels tempted to entertain the courtship advanced to her. No wonder many a settlement of marriage is brought about following the water festival which opens the window of opportunity for the youth to attract each other who otherwise abide by the rules of asocial system so rigid that intermingling of sexes is not permitted. In order to facilitate the water festival, a pa11dal is erected at every quarter of the towns and the main intersection of the city streets, with bamboo posts and railings, festooned with the toddy palm leaves and sprigs of the padauk, a bright, yellow flower with sweet fragrance, which is abundant in the season. A level bar of wood is placed about three feet above the ground and across the facade of the makeshift pavilion, which serves as the divider between the male outside and the female within, who are kept apart, In a preventive measure, at least at an arm’s length from each other so that an accidental clash of hands is avoided; and also it is meant to minimize the force of water streams which the revelers exchange between them throwing at each other. Unique in itself is the laung, a dugout or a wooden row boat used as the reservoir which is set behind the barrier rail and in front of the benches that provide seats for the girls.

Week before the big event groups of young men in various locals rehearse the songs and amateur dances by which they hope to impress their female counterparts. The girls on the other hand are organised under the patronage of a matron and set ready for merrymaking. They are not mobile or on dancing tours but put stationary at each pandal located in the respective neighbourhood, waiting for the boys who come on foot and in the bullock carts, with the musical instruments and utensils aboard. The lasses who ate adorned in colourful uniform wear in their hair clusters of the padauk flower matching the attire. Seated on the benches in a single row t with their backs to the frontage it is hard to tell one girl from another; they aU look alike from the rear. Discipline is strictly observed on the basis that those who arrive first are given priority over the late comers who in the meanwhile wait for their turn singing and dancing at the foreground. Once the boys approach the designated are~ each girl after getting up from her seat turns towards the callers and throws a splash of water at them before she goes back to the previous posture. This welcoming gesture enables the boys make out who's who in the company~ hence, the chance for the boys, each of them to choose the girl whom he wants to direct his attention or to enhance his suit if he has already engaged in coquetry or established a relationship with her, Each of the lads in the group takes his place opposite the girl of his choice, standing by the frontal rail and greets her in the intimate term “Moree”, sister-in- law, before he politely asks for some water, which the girl obliges, with a bowl handed over to him. With his container filled, the lad takes the initiative to throw water at her scooping with a parinikin. The lass returns in the same way using the abundant supply of water from the laung, having placed herself before it.

The procedure, however, is slightly different in the places where water is not provided for the boys who bring their own water along with them. The boy would approach the girl and greet her with a cupful of water gently thrown at her back, without knowing who she is or through a casual surveillance. The girl has the choice, yet she usually acknowledges the overture. To ignore the approach comes to the same thing as rudeness, which seldom happens. Thus, the dual contest ensues, often enthusiastically, until one party is declared loser on his or her eyelashes being batted or the face turned away or wiped off; ducking is not to be excused either. When the boy runs out of water he may be dispensed with another bowlful of it at his request or replenish the bucket himself in the latter case. In lyric or prose the boy charms the girl with courteous remarks praising her beauty while the competition is in progress; at times he pauses to present his case eloquently. The girl hardly responds to him in words although she might be pleased with all the attention she receives and for the flattery bestowed upon her. Whether he can prolong the eulogy or a second round of contest is admissible depends on the judgement of the overseeing elders who take into account the frequencies of the queeing parties or in the event of an unseemly behaviour on the pan of any members of the group at hand, which of course is sternly dealt with should it deem necessary. Whatever the consequences one group abidingly moves on to another pandal in another place making room for the next batch Misconduct is not condoned nor is rowdiness tolerated. The revelers are guided by the decorum of non-interference with another party in the course of palaver. Practically impropriety is reproved and all goes well despite the fact that alcoholic beverages are indispensable to occasions of such nature. Not to go without it in the festival is a national dish, Krasan Thoke, a preparation of vermicelli mixed with finely minced shrimp, slices of egg, mashed potato, roasted bean flour, chopped onion, fresh and fried, peanut oil, hot chili paste, and added to the taste is a dash of tamarind sauce as well as a pinch of salt The food is served with the English tea at many of the pandals and the celebrants who relish it generously contribute in cash to help keep the tradition alive.

A matter of peculiar interest in the Rakhaing water festival is the legacy of the lazing. The practice of using it as a recepticle is unwonted to anywhere in Burma but the land of Rakhaing Most of Rakhaing depends on the wells as the source of water supply Obviously the Laung is the largest possible tub to store a huge amount of’ water drawn in small buckets and collected in advance for the festival which takes place in the middle of the hot season when scarcity of water is utmost. Being elongated and flat in design, the Lung provides the luxury of convenience to all users, with equal assets to it. In a sense it helps sustain comradeship and achieve community spirit. No one could tell in accuracy when the Laung came into the center stage. It could have been put to the best use since
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