By Maung Tha (Archaeology) , Translated by Than Tun Aung
A custom of Myanmar people was very famous as building Cetis made of sand in the month of Tabaung dedicating to the Lord Buddha among seasonal festivals in 12 months of Myanmar. Currently, the custom of building Cetis made of sand is gradually fading out.
Even though the Cetis built of sand can be seen in some parts of the country, including Mandalay and Yangon. Among them, five Cetis can be seen on the eastern side of Shwetachaung Canal and one on the western side in Mandalay till today. Likewise, many similar Cetis can be seen in Lanmadaw, Sangyoung and Twantay townships of Yangon Region, Thaton and Mawlamyine townships in Mon State, Kyaikkhami, and Toungoo Township in Bago Region.
Month of Tabaung and Myanmar
Tabaung is the 12th month in Myanmar calendar. Veteran writer Maung Htin collected excerpts that U Po Latt mentioned Tabaung is the month of cooking jiggery while Secretary of Boat Association defined Tabaung was derived from Tapashar meaning the month of high hotness.
In the past, MP Kaludayi supplicated the Lord Gotama Buddha to return to Kapilavatthu for accepting homage paid by father, King Suddhodana. So, poet monk Shin Ohn Nyo composed the poem for sixty stanzas of Gatha.
Origin of Cetis built of sand
Ceti derived from Cetiya in Pali language means the structure enshrined with sacred relics. Ceti made of sand means the pagoda built of sand based on circular foundations. Among Dhatu, Dhamma, Paribhoga and Uddisa Cetis, the Cetis made of sand is inclusive of Uddisa Ceti dedicating the Lord Buddha.
Thera Apadana of Tri Pitakat treatises mentioned hermit Narada residing near Yamaka Hill went to Amarika River where he built a Ceti made of sand and paid homage to it dedicating to the Buddha alive.
Mogharajatthera story of Angutthora Atthakatha said hermit Bavari built a sandy Ceti near his hut and scattered red flowers there.
Generally, Cetis made of sand are built in Tabaung but people from some areas hold festivals for the sandy Cetis in Tazaungmon and Tagu.
Festival of sandy Cetis in the past
The Cetis must have between three feet and nine feet high with five circular foundations. The circulars made of rattan or bamboo are filled with sand, dedicating to five abodes of Mount Myinmo. The structure of the Ceti is decorated with golden or silver sheets as well as banana leaves. Top of the Ceti is hoisted with banners. Then, the Ceti was consecrated. Meals, flowers, oil lights, fruits and alms are donated to the Ceti. Local people go round the Ceti three times. In some areas, local people invite members of the Sangha and take Sabbath from the monks.
In the past, sandy Cetis were built on banks of rivers and creeks. In Tabaung, water-level declines in rivers and creeks with emerging sandbanks. Buddhist people collected sand to be used in building Cetis.
Myanmar and sandy Ceti
It can be assumed that as Shin Maha Silavamsa composed reason of sandy Ceti in Budduppatti poem in Inwa era, custom of Ceti made of sand flourished in Inwa era. In the reign of King Alaungmintaya, Letwe Thondara used Gulon Thepon which means sandy Ceti in Thadhina poem. As such, the custom of building sandy Ceti might flourish in the mid-Konbaung era.
Some researchers assumed the custom of building sandy Ceti might be derived from Yodaya people who arrived in Myanmar.
On 30 November 1764 in the time of King Myedu, 20,000 soldiers led by Maha Nawrahta marched to Yodaya. In November 1766, General Maha Nawrahta passed away in Yodaya. Nemyo Thihapatae occupied all districts of Yodaya on 9 April 1767 and brought Yodaya King and queen, daughter, sister and grandchildren as well as Yodaya families to Royal Palace.
Family members from Yun, Chaingmai and Laos were appointed at Linzin troops. Linzinkon in Amarapura is the residence of Linzin troops. King Myedu settled Yodaya princes and royal families in Amarapura and in Minthasu Ward around 82nd and 45th streets of Mandalay. Yodaya ministers were settled in Montisu ward, servants in Palin compound and firework makers in Hsukha Village of Madaya.
King Badon moved his royal palace from Inwa to Amarapura on 12 May 1783. The king ordered compound officer U Yauk Gyi to supervise dredging of Shwetachaung Canal linking Madaya and Amarapura with the participation of Yodaya people residing along the canal.
Shwetachaung Canal flew with high speed. Boats could be used from Madaya to Tetthay Lake via the canal which became an important waterway for trading. Yodaya people moved to around Shwetachaung Canal to reside in Minthasu and Rahaing wards. Yama chambers showing the faith of Yodaya can be seen there. Yodaya’s custom of paying sandy Ceti can be seen along Shwetachaung Canal.
Mandalay City and Cetis made of sand
In the early years, Cetis were built of sand in the western part of Shwetachaung Canal. Due to flooding once three years, the Cetis were moved to the eastern part. So, there are five Cetis in the eastern part and one in the western one.
Six sandy Cetis along Shwetachaung Canal in Mandalay were very famous. Among them, four Cetis were built of bricks and cement. The Ceti in the western part of Shwetachaung Canal in Minthasu Ward and one more in the eastern part on 85th Street between 37th and 38th streets in Montisu Ward of Mahaaungmye Township are rebuilt of sand yearly as part of maintaining the traditions.
Among Yodaya people, ousted Yodaya king Kyauk Bwa Tauk was also brought to Mandalay. He was ordained, and the monk resided in Paungle Monastery in the eastern part of Rahaing Market and passed away in 1185 ME. As royal families of Yodaya requested King Bodawpaya to build a Ceti made of sand in line with their tradition near their residences beside Shwetachaung Canal, the king allowed them. So, the monk who was former Yodaya king led royal families to build a Ceti made of sand in Minthasu Ward in 1783 AD, according to the stone inscription in the precinct of the Ceti.
The Ceti is rebuilt in Minthasu Ward on Akya Day of Maha Thingyan Festival period for holding the Buddha Pujaniya festival, and it is dissolved once a year. Those related to Yodaya people participate in donations of a handful of sand and a cup of water in minimum to build the Ceti. On Atet Day, the umbrella is hoisted atop the Ceti, and members of the Sangha are invited to share merits gained on New Year Day.
Montisu Ward which emerged together with Minthasu Ward was resided by Yodaya people in the past. The Cetis in Montisu Ward and Minthasu Ward were the same. The stone inscription behind the Ceti in Montisu Ward bore the events from the stone inscription of the Ceti in Minthasu Ward. But, the Ceti in Montisu Ward which was one year later than that of Minthasu Ward was built in 1784 AD under the leadership of Yodaya monk.
The Ceti in Montisu Ward is built on 13th waxing of Kason, within a day. On 14th waxing of Kason, alms are donated to the Ceti, and alms for draw lots and meals are offered to members of the Sangha on full moon day of Kason.
Similar Cetis can be seen in Yangon Region till today. Buddha Waluka Pagoda at the corner of Kyongyi and Kaingtan streets in Lanmadaw Township was built in 1253 ME. YwaU Thepon Ceti in South Sangyoung Ward of Sangyoung Township was built in 1220 ME and renovated as a brick pagoda in 1286 ME. As Manle Sayadaw preached Desana near Mawtin in Lanmadaw Township of Yangon in 1282 ME, a Ceti near the site of preaching Desana can be seen on 10th street in Lanmadaw Township till today.
Myanmar Buddhist people built Ceti made of sand in various areas of the country during the Second World War with the purpose of ensuring the people to be free from dangers. The Cetis dedicating to the Lord Buddha is a tangible culture of Myanmar as well as festivals of those Cetis, intangible culture of the nation.