Lots casting Festival to choose recipients of alms meal


Wakhaung (August) means the mid of Buddhist Lent. In the stone inscriptions of ancient Bagan, this month was called “Nan Kala” which means the time for ploughing. There is a Myanmar saying ၀ါဆို၊ ၀ါေခါင္၊ ေရေဖာင္ေဖာင္’ (in Waso and Wakhaung there are billows of rain water). The entire countryside is inundated with rain water. Astrological name of this month is Simha and the zodiacal symbol is Leo or lion. The designated flower of this month is Khat-tar (ground lily, crinum amounum).
Sayey Tan Pwe is the traditional festival of Wakhaung. Loosely translated into English, Sayey Tan Pwe is casting lots festival to choose recipient monk of food, or alms or any religious offering. It was originated in the lifetime of Lord Buddha. While Lord Buddha was residing in the Weiluwun Vihara at the capital of Yazagyoe, famine hit the city causing food scarcity. Devotees were unable to provide food for all monks of the Vihara. Some chose few monks. Some cast lots to choose recipient monks. Some provided food only on Sabbath days and others only on the day after the Sabbath. Then they referred this mate to Lord Buddha whereupon Lord Buddha expounded seven kinds of offering food to the monks as follows: (1) Sangha-hta which is the food offered to all monks. (2) Uddesa-bhat which is the food offered particularly to one or two monks. (3) Nimantana-bhat which is the food offered to the invited monks. (4) Salaka-bhat which is the food offered to the monks chosen by casting lots. (5) Pakkhika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the waxing and waning moon days. (6) Uposathika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the Sabbath day. (7) Patipadika-bhat which is the food offered to the monks on the day after the Sabbath day.
Lord Buddha approved all seven kinds. Since that time all Buddhists devotees chose Salaka-bhat offering food to the monks chosen by casting lots. With the direction and permission of Lord Buddha, monks chose one monk from among them and appointed him “Bhattuddesaka” to take the charge of allotting food offered by the devotees. The appointed monk must have special qualifications such as good health, activeness, and managerial skill, freedom from bias and prejudice and being able to keep the list of the allotted and unallotted monks.
The first monk appointed to that charge in the life time of Lord Buddha was Maha Thera Ashin Datba, the son of the Mala king. He carried out the duty of allotting Uddesa-bhat, Nimantana-bhat and Salaka-bhat with fairness and correctness. The lots are either wooden sticks or bamboo slats, or bamboo slips or palm or pei leaves on which the names and addresses of food donors are written. The lots are put into the basket which is shaken up side down so that the lots are thoroughly shuffled up. The monks queue up either according to their serial number or the seniority of their Vasa (ordained age), to draw the lot. Monks go to the addressed house to partake food. Myanmar kings chose Wakhaung, the month of casting lots because they thought that this month being the mid of lent was the difficult time for sufficient monks’ meal.
Though originally monks’ food was the main reason for casting lots, in course of time eight monkish utensils, other cash and kind and Vihara (monasteries) were also donated by lot casting. In the reign of King Thalun (1629-48 A.D) of Nyaung-yan dynasty (1599-1752 A.D), there appeared two translations namely Culavapali Nisaya and Culavapali Athakatha Nisaya by the most Venerable monk Shwe Umin Sayadaw of Pakhan Gyi town. In his translation he explained the two Pali words “Salaka” and “Bhatta” as “Sayey Tan” and Swan (ဆြမ္း – monks’ meal) respectively. The earliest evidence of offering of food to monks by casting lots was found in the stone inscription of ancient Bagan. In lines 22 and 23 of Saw Hla Wun Pagada stone inscription dated 1256, 1290 and 1291 A.D. There are mentions of Sayey Tan (casting lots).
Though originally casting lots was to offer food (swan ဆြမ္း) to the monks, later not only alms food but also eight priestly utensils ပရိကၡရာ ရွစ္ပါး are also donated by lot casting. They are (1) Thera pieces of yellow robe (2) The girdle (3) the alms bowl (4) the razor (5) the water dipper and (6) the needle.
In Pinya Period (1298-1364 A.D) of Myanmar history, King Thihathu (1298-1312 A.D) donated a big five story wooden monastery to Hsu-Twin Sayadaw monk by lot casting. Myanmar literature and chronicles either mentioned composed or recorded the festival of lot casting in the month of Wakhaung. Different forms of Verses such Loota, Lay Cho, Eh Chin, Tey Htat, that Phyan etc by eminent bards like U Yar, Pho Thu Daw U Min, Lu U Min, Mei Khway U Ponnya had penned on Sayey Tan Pwe Festival of Wakhaung month.
One page 229 of one Myanmar chronicle titled “Konbaung Set Maha Yazawun Taw Gyi” volume two, the holding of Sayey Tan (casting lots) festival at the Palace of King Bagyidaw (1819-37) was recorded as follows: – “On the 8th waning day of the month of “Wakhaung, Village monks (Gama wa thi) and forest monks (Arin nya wa thi) were invited to the palace. Eight priestly utensils (ပရိကၡရာ ရွစ္ပါး) and other offeries were hung on the two hundred and sixty Padeithabins. His Majesty the King and the Chief Queen donated them to the monks and poured the libation water. Then Their Majesties offered Salakabhat Sayey Tan Hswan (ဆြမ္း) meal to the monks.”
As usual, festive atmosphere is created when events of religious activities take place. Myanmar people of all ages participate and perform their inborn artistic talents music, song, dance and friendly jokes plus feeding gratis. Myanmar today is losing many of her good traditions and customs. Some young people do not know what Sayey Tan really is. They mistakenly think that Sayey Tan is Stationary (စာေရးကိရိယာ) slates, slate pencils, books and ball pens, let alone having watched Sayey Tan festival or having seen casting lots စာေရးတံမဲ.
In some remote villages and towns especially in Upper Myanmar, Sayey Tan festivals still take place in the month of Wakhaung. The writer gives demonstrative lectures on the twelve traditional monthly festivals in his classes Hons, M.A, Ph.D and Diploma in the Syllabus on Myanmar Culture and History also in classes at Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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