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Monday, July 26, 2010

OFFERING OF WASO HOLY ROBES


OFFERING OF WASO HOLY ROBES


THE HOLY MONTH OF WASO
by:Hpone Thant

The rains had arrived in our land. The lakes and the ponds are full and the mighty Ayeyarwady River rushes down towards the delta with renewed force. The farmers are wholly engaged in their paddy fields, heedless of the lashing torrents that come down from the dark rain clouds above, Thunder booms and lightnings flashes. It is the wettest time of the year in Myanmar.

But the Myanmar month of Waso(corresponding to the Christian calender month of July) is one of the holiest of all in the Myanmar Buddhist calender. Four Great Happenings of Lord Gautama Buddha are said to have occurred during the Fullmoon Day of Waso, namely:
(1) Lord Buddha was conceived at midnight on this Fullmoon Day inside the womb of Queen Thiri Maha Devi, of Kappilavatsu.
(2)Prince Siddartha saw the Four Great Omens, namely an old person, infirm person, a dead body and a Yahan(monk). He immediately realized that he should renounced all his worldly attachments and become a monk if He is to escape from this endless circle of getting old, getting infirm and finally death.The only escape is to become a monk and find Salvation in attaining Nirvana.Thus on this Fullmoon Day of Waso He renounced all his worldly attachments to seek Nirvana
(3)Lord Gautama Buddha gave his First Sermon, The Dhamma Setkya Sermon, to the five disciples on the evening of this Fullmoon Day.
(4)He showed his omniscient powers to a group of heretics on this Fullmoon Day.

And the Fullmoon Day of Waso also marks the beginning of the Buddhist Lent, lasting until the rains cease in Thadingyut(October). According to the customs the monks are confined to their monasteries during this period.They may not leave their monasteries for overnight visits. Lord Buddha had imposed this restriction to prevent the monks disturbing the works of the farmers during this busy period and to spare unnecessary damage to the crops in the paddy fields.

However, the monks are still needed to go about their daily rounds for alms during this period and it became evident that they would need change of robes that had become wet or soiled. Lay persons are permitted to offer to the monks Waso Thingan (Waso Holy Robes) to the monks in order that they may have dry robes to change into after coming back from their daily alms rounds. And this offering of Holy Robes to the monks on the Fullmoon Day of Waso had become established as the Waso Holy Robes Offering Ceremony. Devotees would gather at the monasteries and observe the 10 Holy Commandments, listen to the sermons, offer the new robes to the monks and generally begin observation of the Buddhist Lent.

This auspicious commemoration of the Waso Fullmoon Day is not only observed in Myanmar but by all Buddhists, wherever they may be.

Photos: Harry Hpone Thant

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

MOE YWA YIN MOE YAY CHO MAE

MOE YWA YIN MOE YAY CHO MAE
(WE SHALL PLAY IN THE RAINS)

"Moe Ywa Yin Moe Yay Cho Mae", that is a ditty that every Myanmar child knows. As Myanmar is a monsoonal country and enjoys abundant rains it is not a surprise that all children love playing and splashing about in the rains.

But the rains not only give joy to the children but also bring immense benefit for the farmers. July is the wettest month in Myanmar. It is the middle of the rainy season and all the fields are flooded with water. The ponds and the lakes are also filled with life-giving waters. All the rivers are full. The Ayeyarwady River, the Chindwin Rivers are now broad expenses of water, one bank now invisible from the other. Many of the sand bars that had restricted the riverine traffic had now disappeared as the river rushes down towards its mouth hundreds of miles away to the south. Some of the villages that were on dry land just a few months ago are now isolated islands in the middle of the roaring currents. But the villagers are happy. These raging torrents bring down rich loam that will cover their fields and when the waters recedes after the monsoon the land will again be fertile.

The fields of paddy are now finally planted. Vast rolling green seas of paddy nodding gently in the stiff breeze. The farmers and the oxen had toiled hard to make this happen. A granary to feed the multitudes when they are gathered later in the year. But now, as thunder boomed and lightnings flashed the village children sing with joy under the lashing curtains of rains.

And it is with deep reminiscence that I finally realize that my innocent childhood had gone forever and I will never have that chance to sing my favourite ditty again.

"MOE YWA YIN MOE YAY CHO MAE, MAE MAE LAR YIN NO SO MAE, PE PE LAR YIN OHN THEE KYWE SAR MAE"

Or to make our English speaking friends understand: We will play in the rains and when mother comes we will suckle up to her but when father comes we will ask him to crack open a coconut"

Friday, July 9, 2010

THE COLOURFUL DRESSES OF THE PALAUNG MAIDENS



THE COLOURFUL DRESSES OF THE PALAUNG MAIDENS
by: Harry Hpone Thant

There are more than 130 different ethnic groups making Myanmar their home. And each and every group has its distinctive traditional dresses. The dresses also reflect their beliefs in their origin, which they lovingly tell and re-tell at every occasion.

Palaungs are scattered all over the Shan States. Mostly they engage in the planting and curing of tea leaves. According to some accounts they are distinguished into Ngwe (Silver) and Shwe (Gold) Palaungs. Gold Palaungs live around Kyaukme, Namsan in the Northern Shan State and the majority of the Silver Palaungs make their homes in the Southern and Eastern Shan States. No one can say why they are differentiated as such but one story is that a Shansawbwa (hereditary prince) from the Northern Shan State, married a Palaung girl and showered her with so much gold that they became known as Gold Palaungs. Also most of the Silver Palaungs women wear broad silver bands around their waits as ornamental belts.

And there is also an enchanting story attached to their traditional dresses. But as usual, the story starts with, Once Upon A Time.............

There were seven, young female beautiful Keinnari creatures(half-human and half-bird mythical creature). One day they were splashing about happily at a lake when suddenly a Prince happened upon them. All managed to run away except the youngest, who was caught by his magic lasso. The Prince took the young Keinnari to his palace and to keep her from returning to her native land put her in three tiers of magic belts, a cloth belt, a lacquered cane belt and a silver belt.

The Palaung women dresses still show these ancient beliefs. As the young Keinnari girl was abruptly surprised by the prince she had no time to dress properly. The sarong was hastily pulled up to her breast and the blouse was put on quickly. Not having time to button up properly a jungle thorn was used instead to fasten it.

All these are still evident in the dresses. The sarong is still pulled up high to cover the breasts, the blouse is worn over it but now a safety pin had replaced the jungle thorn. And the three tiers of belts are still worn.

All the Palaung ladies still believe that if they are able to take off all the belts they would gladly fly away to their native Silver Cloud Land.


photos:Sonny Nyein

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A FOREST PROTECTED BY NATS(SPIRITS)

A FOREST PROTECTED BY NATS(SPIRITS)
by: Harry Hpone Thant

There is a village by the name of Zee Oh,about 12 kilometres off the main Bagan-Kyaukpadaung Highway. And an old growth forest beside it. A sign posted at the entrance will point the way for inquisitive visitors. This clump of trees is known as the Zee Oh Thit Hla Protected Forest and under the protection of the Forestry Department. But it had been under more powerful guardians than a government agency for centuries it seems. It is under the more powerful protection of two brother and sister nats since the Bagan period!

As legends go there was a very beautiful girl, Pan Mya Yin, who live on the territory of the Bagan Kingdom. News of her beauty had spread far and wide inside the Kingdom and the King of Bagan became interested. He summoned her to present herself at his court to be crowned Queen. But the girl was interested in religious pursuits only and do not want to wed the King. So she and her brother, (U) Aung Tin Hla, ran away, came to this place and lived secretly, afraid of the King's fury if he ever found them. Regrettably, they were eventually found by the King and executed. So they became nats and made this clump of old growth forest their home in their supernatural plane of existence.

This forest right in the middle of the central dry zone is unique. It is green and cool with towering trees rustling in the wind under the shadow of Mt.Popa, a stark contrast to the cactus-dotted perimeter. Creepers dangle from many trees, trees that only grow in places where there is much more rain than here. There are even huge banyan trees that only flourish in the wettest regions of the country. The creek beds are moist and cool although there is no water in them. Birds chirp in the high branches. A truly unimaginable place in the hot, dry environment.

There is a village nearby with the same name, Zee Oh. A typical Myanmar village engaged in traditional agriculture; sesame, groundnut and other cash crops typical of the dry zone. The villagers are simple, friendly, and most of all, both religious and superstitious.

At the entrance to the forest is a rudimentary nat shrine for the two nats but no statues. The villagers explained that the nats do not like to have any statues of them, no elaborate offerings too, just some desert flowers would suffice. Many footpaths criss-cross the forest floor. People from surrounding villages use them to get from one village to another. But all will reverently take off their footwear on entry into the cool shade of the forest with a customary kowtow and a silent incantation in the direction of the small rickety shrine.

But what had preserved this old growth forest from destruction and degradation is because of the two nats. The villagers dare not take even one twig out of the forest or break a limb off a tree and offend the nats. If they need firewood they ask for permission to gather the dry branches from the nats. If they need some timber to erect a pandal for an occasion like a wedding or a merit making ceremony they ask the nats' permission to use the produce from the forest. And they must put back every unused parts at the end of the ceremonies. A more powerful and followed edict than any of the rules and regulations enacted by the Forest Department!

Another curious belief of the Zee Oh villagers is that as the young lady nat was so disgusted with the behaviour of the King and his troops she just hates to see any kind of improper behaviour between the genders inside the forest. Couples scrupulously refrain from such acts when they are inside the forest lest they become victims of their ire. Also the nats do not tolerate any offensive language, either inside the forest or even in the village. One villager retold how his hut burned down without any reason after he had quarreled with his parents-in-law the previous night after a drunken bout and used foul language.

Many attested to the author that they had actually seen a pagoda inside the forest when they became disorientated and lost. But later cannot find the way back, as if it was like in a dream or an illusion. The village elders all agreed that despite the vicious battles fought between the Japanese and Allied Armies around this area during WW II and during the civil war that followed in the wake of the country's Independence in 1948, their village was spared because of the supernatural powers of the nats.

Also there is a huge tree in the Zee Oh village, split in the middle and large overhanging branches touching the ground that the local lore tells as being the work of giant elephants that roamed here during ancient times. Now this huge tree and its branches are supported by concrete pillars, courtesy of the Archeology Department.

Zee Oh village is accessible from Bagan by off-road vehicles only. The road follows the deep ruts of the cart tracks, so only vehicles with high ground clearance can drive on it. Visits to the Zee Oh Thit Hla Protected Forest and Zee Oh village are day trip programmes from Bagan.

"It is alright for you to keep your shoes on in the forest because you are visitors", the village Abbot assured us when we visited. Our guide also mumbled a soft apology to the guardian nats"These are but ignorant visitors with tender feet. Please allow them to leave their footwear on when entering your area". Apparently, he received an okay because he nodded his head but nevertheless, we took off our footwear lest we offend the nats. So step carefully if you ever visit the Zee Oh Thit Hla Protected Forest!

Monday, July 5, 2010

WE WISH TO SEE OUR SON COME BACK WITH A POT OF GOLD ON HIS HEAD

WE WISH TO SEE OUR SON COME BACK WITH A POT OF GOLD ON HIS HEAD
One of the many incarnations of Lord Buddha was as young man named Thuwunna Thama(or the Golden Youth).

His was a pitiful existence. The family was poor. His two old parents were ill and infirm, as well as blind. The family live in the forest, gathering wood and lived off the land.But the young man , Thuwunna Thama, was ever the dutiful son. He would go into the forest daily and look for food for his two elderly parents.

One day, to his misfortune, he rummaged under an pile of wood where underneath coiled a deadly python. The disturbed python shot his venom into young Thuwunna Thama and he fell into a coma.

The day grew old. The two old parents waited for their son who was late and became worried.Having no means to call for help they solemnly made vows to heaven that their son, Thuwunna Thama, had always been a good son. He had taken care of his elderly parents conscientiously and if these words be true, may the heavens help them.

Their honest words reached the Abode of the Celestials and the throne of the King of the Celestials (Sakra) became hard as marble. Sakra investigated the cause of this phenomenon and saw the plight of the two infirm couple and he transformed himself into human form, came down to earth and asked the two old persons what would be their earnest wish if their sights were to be restored.

Both of them replied "We would like to see our son, Thuwunna Thama, come back to us with a pot of gold on his head"!

Sakra granted their wish not only restoring their sights but also he revived their son Thuwunna Thama.

And the two elderly couple saw their son emerge from the forest with a pot of gold on his head.

This beautiful story teaches us that the children has the moral duty to look after their own parents with pure hearts and enduring love, caring for them in their twilight years, paying back with gratitude, the love and sacrifices the parents had showed to them in their formative years. And it is the wish of every parents to see the children prosper in the world.

But sadly,the moral of this story is getting lost in the daily race after wealth and fame in this modern world.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

IT WAS THE QUEEN WHO WISH FOR THE IVORY

IT WAS THE QUEEN WHO WISH FOR THE IVORY.
Once upon a time in one of his many incarnations Lord Gautama Buddha was king of a herd of elephants. The herd lived happily in the mythical Himawunta Forest. The Elephant King's name was Saardan and he was pure white. Also he had two elephant queens; Maha Thubadda and Sula Thubadda.

One day while the herd was playing on the banks of a lake, Saardan, the Elephant King playfully gave Sula Thubadda a bouquet of flowers. But as luck might have it it was infested with red ants. Sula Thubadda became very angry and harboured ill-will toward the Elephant King and vowed that in her next incarnation she be born to extract revenge for the slight she suffered. As the story goes, Sula Thubadda died and was reborn and consequently became Queen of King Bramadutta in the Kingdom of Varanasi.

Then she remembered her vows to take revenge upon Saardan, the Elephant King and started planning. She pestered the King that she wants to wear ivory earrings from the great tusks of Saardan , the Elephant King who lived inside Himawunta Forest. Finally the king gave in and summoned a famous hunter, Thaw Note Hto, to bring him the tusks of the great white elephant.

The hunter travelled to Himawunta Forest for 7 years, 7 months and 7 days until he got to the lake where the great Saadan Elephant King and his herd bath daily. Then he dug a large hole in the earth where the great elephant usually stands after coming out of the water, covered it and hid inside with just a small hole to shoot his arrow through.

The unsuspecting Saardan Elephant King came out of the water and as he always normally do stood above the hole where the hunter hid. Thaw Note Hto, shot his arrow through the small aperture and the force was so great that the arrow pierced the body and came out of the elephant's back. The herd was terror-stricken and run off in all directions to find the killer but the elephant king deduced that as the arrow came from beneath his navel the archer must be under him, hidden underground. He was then able to expose the hunter and asked him why he had shot him as they had never been enemies before. The hunter Thaw Note Hto replied" It is the Queen who wished to make ivory earrings out of your tusks and it was the king who sent me on this errand. And I am but an instrument of their scheming. Out of these three co-conspirators is it fair that I, the simple luckless and ignorant servant, am to be singled out and penalized for this hideous deed!"

The elephant king in his magnanimity not only spared the hunter's life but also sawed off the two tusks himself for the hunter to take back to the Queen.

The great hunter, Thaw Note Hto, arrived back at the palace and presented the two tusks to the Queen, whom on seeing the proof of her former partner's love for her fell down dead on the spot with remorse.

This is one of the greatest stories from the life of Lord Buddha in one of his incarnations. But the words of hunter, Thaw Note Hto, had become a famous cliche among young couples whenever they want to expressed their feelings of unjust treatment by third parties.

"IT WAS THE QUEEN WHO WISH FOR THE IVORY"