Thingyan is probably the most celebrated, most joyous event in the culture and custom of Myanmar people. From the poorest to the richest in Myanmar, this is the greatest event for the year. Every body, poor, rich, uneducated, educated, young and old all participate and enjoy in this once a year event. For every Burmese, this is the event not to be missed. Even for those Burmese people in foreign countries, this is the time for a celebration in the memory of their homeland and their culture. Thingyan is indeed the event for every Burmese, in Myanmar or outside.
Thingyan is actually not a true traditional Burmese custom. It is an imported cultural event, incorporated and extensively modified over several hundred years to become essentially a true Burmese cultural event. The origin of Thingyan can be traced back to India where it is one of the events of Hindi culture. The culture of Thingyan was brought into Burma by many Indian Brahmins who came to Burma to serve in the courts of Burmese kingdoms. As these Indian Brahmins held important positions in the court of Burmese kings, their culture, tradition and believes had great influence on the culture and tradition of Burmese royal courts. Thingyan is one of their cultural influences in the life of Burmese people.
The recorded Thingyan in the history of Burma was in Bagan era in the 13th century. Burmese historical accounts described the celebration of Thingyan in the royal court of Bagan. In one event, the king of Bagan, Nara Thiha Pathae ordered the ladies of his royal court to throw water at one of his wives to soak. Taking this as an act of humiliation, the wife took her revenge by plotting assassination against the king. However, the assassination plot was found out and the wife, together with all her relatives, was executed by burning alive. This is the earliest record of Thingyan in Burmese history.
The background of Thingyan is the celebration of the Burmese New Year (which actually is a modification of Indian calendar). Burmese New Year falls during the month of April. Every year, the Brahmins of The Burmese Calendar Committee advised on the government to the date of the Burmese New Year day. Thingyan is celebrated for three days prior to the New Year day. However, in certain years, Thingyan is celebrated for four days. The number of days is calculated by the Brahmins of the Calendar Committee.
Today, Thingyan is celebrated all over Myanmar. Every city, town and village celebrates Thingyan. This is the event for everyone. Rich and poor alike become the same during Thingyan. This is the time where all social and cultural barriers break down in Myanmar. If you have been to Myanmar before and you already have an idea of what Myanmar people are like, you will find a different aspect of Myanmar life and Myanmar people. You will see the most joyous, fun loving and wildest part of Myanmar people during Thingyan.
During Thingyan, people throw water at each other. People pour water from the cup, splash water from a bucket, spray water using water guns or pipes. In the past, people used to throw water in water balloons which can be very painful. Fortunately, this is now prohibited as it is quite painful and dangerous to the one on the receiving end. Another way of spraying water that used to be quite common was using water canons (strong water canons like those used by firefighters!) and pressurized water guns (the same one used by your car wash!). The former one can knocked you out of your car while the latter one is very painful and can cause serious abrasions on the skin. These methods of playing with water are now banned by the government.
Similar water festivals are held throughout South East Asia during Thingyan. For example, Thai Songkran is quite famous and well known among foreigners. However, Myanmar Thingyan is quite unique among all these water festivals. During Thingyan, all the offices, supermarkets and departments stores are closed while many shops and restaurants also close. Roads are totally blocked by pick up trucks and jeeps full of people who go out to get splashed and wet. Stages were constructed along main roads and people throw water from these stages at these on trucks and jeeps. Many people, including some girls, become drunk and there are occasional fights break out among young people. However, during Thingyan, most people restrain from getting angry and out of control. Boys and girls tease each other freely (which is not always permissible in normal circumstances) and this they take it without any offence. Every body get soak during this time and every body welcome a splash of water during this hottest time of the year. However, monks and pregnant women are exempted from this as it is considered very rude to throw water at monks and pregnant women.
After Thingyan is the Burmese New Year Day. On The New Year Day, everything returns to normal. Wild and mad people who occupied the streets of cities and towns all across Myanmar totally disappeared, replaced by clean, gentle and polite individuals clad in traditional longyi heading to pagodas and monasteries. A visitor might be quite amazed by this total change of behavior in the people overnight. However, this is how Thingyan changed behavior of ordinary Burmese citizens during that joyous three days.
For those of you who want to have a taste of what Myanmar Thingyan look like, here is a video documentary from Youtube.