Myanmar’s innumerable festivals are nearly all linked to the Buddhist calendar. They range from somber acts of individual worship in local shrines to the mass hysteria of Thingyan, the water festival marking the Burmese New Year, when the entire country grinds to a halt and its population gets soaked to the skin. As well as religious events celebrated nationally, each region also holds its own festivals, in which traditional costume is proudly worn for dances. Other excuses to cele- brate are the annual nat pwes, held in animist shrines, where transvestite oracles perform spirit possession rituals to a backdrop of music and an air of general overindulgence.
The Shwedagon Pagoda Festival (March) is marked by the lighting of thousands of candles around the base of the great stupa .
Golden Bird Festival (September/October)
During Inle Lake’s most important religious festival, four of the Phaung Daw U Pagoda’s five amorphous, gold-encrusted Buddhas are pad dled around the villages in a ceremonial hamsa bird barge, pulled by teams of leg rowers in matching costumes
. Nat pwes (various through the year)
At gatherings such as the Brother Lords Festival in Taungbyon, music, dance, inebriation, and gam bling are part of the day’s events as the 37 nat spirits are invoked, worshipped, and petitioned
Taunggyi Balloon Festival (November)
Balloons of all shapes and sizes are exhibited and flown during the day, while ear-splitting explosions rent the night sky over Taunggyi when elaborately decorated giant paper balloons packed with fire- works are let loose over the heads of cheering crowds .
Manau Festival (January)
Echoes of a pre-Christian past resound through the vibrant processional displays of the Kachin, focused on tall, deco- rated totem poles called manautaing, under which thou sands gather in tradi- tional dress to celebrate their main festival .
Ananda Temple Festival (December/January)
Bagan’s stately Ananda Temple is one of the most revered in Myanmar, and its annual festival draws thou- sands of worshippers, many of whom travel there in bullock carts. Its highlight is a nonstop, 72-hour recitation of Buddhist scriptures by 1,000 monks.
Leading up to New Year, at the height of the hot season, a carnival mood is in the air as crowds gather to splash each other with water. Teams of girls in matching outfits at pandals (decorated stalls) attract the most attention.