By SAW YAN NAING
The global economic crisis threatens to put a dampener on Buddhist New Year festivities, known as the water festival, which begin this weekend in Burma and other countries of Southeast Asia.
Residents in Rangoon and Mandalay said they expect fewer revelers to take to the streets during the four-day festival. In Mandalay, about 40 stages are being built for the festivities, compared to 60 last year and 80 in 2007.
The festival, known in Burma as Thingyan, starts on the day of the full moon of the eleventh month of the Buddhist calendar. As well as Burma, it’s celebrated in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and China’s Yunnan Province.
Although the event traditionally celebrates the New Year, it has come to be known as the water festival because water is scattered in symbolic rituals. In tourist centers, particularly in Thailand, revelers drench each other in veritable water “wars.”
The festival has its quieter side, too. It’s a time for family reunions and for young people to pay respects to their parents and elders.
Prominent Burmese film director Maung Tin Oo says Thingyan has changed a lot since his childhood—“It’s now more exciting and lively.”
One traditional element of Thingyan fell victim to government suppression. A special brand of satirical show, thangyat, was banned in 1989 when the regime that came to power the year before took exception to the political satire that until then was an essential and hugely popular part of the festival.
The thangyat tradition, which combines poetry, dance and music, is still kept alive, however, by Burmese communities in exile.
Thingyan is also a time for publishing traditional thingyansar predictions for the coming year—and bad omens are being read into the latest forecasts.
Burmese Buddhists believe that Thargyarmin, king of the celestials, pays a visit yearly to the earth to take note of good deeds and punish those who commit sin.
According to the prediction, Thargyarmin won’t be paying his customary visit to the earth this year—a bad omen for Burma and its people. Also, the thingyansar also predicts the end of feudalism in the world—and that is being interpreted as bad news for the Burmese regime, whose end is foreseen.