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Mwetaw Kakku vs. hot-air balloon festival in Taunggyi

By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Translated by TTA

Taunggyi City located on 4,712 feet above sea level possessing beautiful town plan and natural scenes, and less than 34 degree centigrade is famous among local and foreign travellers. So, those who pay visits to the Inlay Lake continue their trips to Mwetaw Kakku, Htamsam Cave and Pa-O villages around Taunggyi.
Hot-air balloon festival and Bonkahtein festival held in Tazaungmone are very famous in Taunggyi on a yearly basis.

Background of Taunggyi
Myanmar Encyclopaedia mentioned the title of Taunggyi City was based on a high hill in eastern edge of the city. The Ministry of Home Affairs stated Taunggyi City was originated from Dontaungti Village of Pa-O ethnics in 1200 ME and it was called Htaungkyee in Shan language, meaning the location of thriving a kind of plant similar to persimmon. It was the venue in northern part of Basic Education High School No 4 in Taunggyi.
Currently, Taunggyi Township takes a position on 747.83 square miles of land and Taunggyi, 14.59 square miles of land. Taunggyi Township is formed with Taunggyi, Ayethaya, Shwenyaung and Kyauktalongyi towns, 51 wards and 371 villages from 24 village-tracts. The township shares border with Hopong Township in the east, Kalaw and Nyaungshwe townships in the west, Hsihseng Township in the south and Yaksawk Township in the north.
Various ethnics are residing Taunggyi Township, Pa-O, Bamar, Shan, Intha and Danu ethnics of whom are the majority. According to the census data released on September 2018, there were 389,191 people of population in Taunggyi Township and 93.74 per cent of them (364,845 population) have faith in Buddhism.
The township is facilitated with the University of Medicine, Technological University, University of Computer Studies, University of Distance Education, Taunggyi University, 26 Basic Education High Schools, 14 BEHS branches, 42 BEMSs and BEMS branches and 181 Post-Primary Schools and BEPSs. Likewise, there are eight government hospitals including Sao San Htun Hospital (500-bed), Women’s and Children’s Hospital (200-bed) and five private hospitals in the township.
Among many stupas and temples, Culamani Pagoda in Taunggyi and Mwetaw Kakku Pagoda in Kakku Village are famous in the township.

Mwetaw Kakku
Kakku Village where clusters of ancient pagodas are located takes a position in Mwetaw Village of Nawngkha Village-tract in Kyauktalongyi of Taunggyi Township. Kakku is 26 miles west of Taunggyi. Travellers from Taunggyi have easy access to Kakku by car, motorcycle and train. Clusters of Mwetaw Kakku pagodas are some far from Kakku railway station.
The clusters of pagodas are fenced with brick wall. Four Buddha images can be seen at the arches to the precinct. Kakku Hsutaungpyae Buddha image is kept at the northern arch.
A gilt pit statue is fenced with wire mashes at the end of northern stairway.

Disappeared pagodas
Clusters of Mwetaw Kakku pagodas were located in the jungle near Mwetaw Village. Buddha Pujaniya festivals were held in the colonial era but anyone could not pay visit to the pagodas in the post-independence era. It was because the area was identified as black area due to lack of peace and tranquillity.
In 1996, people from Taunggyi saw some holy rays from the area around Kyeebyu Lake. Taunggyi and Kyeebyu Lake is in more than 26 miles distance. Hence, the clusters of pagodas were found.
With regard to Kakku, Kak means camp in Pa-O language and Ku, the border. So, Kakku means the pagoda located in border camp. In fact, Kakku Village was the border of Saophas from Hsihseng and Nyaungshwe. That is why the pagodas are called Kakku pagodas.
Some scholars said construction of Mwetaw Kakku pagodas were started from Bagan King Alaungsithu (1174-1211 AD). According to the records of Pa-O ethnics, King Narapati Sithu renovated the pagodas.
The book on history of pagoda mentioned cluster of this Kakku pagodas were enshrined with sacred relics of Lord Gotama Buddha. The pagodas were named Kakku Pagoda dedicating to Lord Kakusanda Buddha who earliest attained the Enlightenment in Bhadda world.
Titles of Mwetaw Kakku Pagoda were Kakku Mwetaw Pagoda (1893), Shwe Wetku Pagoda (history of Narapatisithu), Shwe Wetgu Pagoda (folded papers of Pa-O ethnics), Thettu Pagoda (records in 1816) and Shwegugyi Pagoda (bell inscription in 1793).
At present, it is expected there would be some 2,500 pagodas at Mwetaw Kakku cluster of pagodas, some of which are new pagodas, some old ones and some damaged ones. An oral history stated there would be 7,623 pagoads there. But, records showed there were 2,402 pagodas in 1918, 2,548 in 1928 and 2,478 in 2001.
Veteran historian Professor Dr Than Tun compiled a paper on Kakku Pagoda Taw, saying that he had heard information on Kakku Mwetaw in the reign of King Bodaw Phaya (King Badon) in 1785-1819; a bell inscription showed the pagoda on the hillock was called Shwegugyi; an umbrella was hoisted atop the pagoda on 17 February 1802; a bell inscription expressed in 1893 in centre of pagodas was called Kakku Mwetaw; pagodas were about 15 feet high on the average; and number of pagodas reached 2,478 in February 2001.
Dr Than Tun reviewed that works of celestial beings at the pagodas might be carved around 1800 AD. Bell inscriptions expressed in Shan language mentioned that pagodas and bells were cast by U Hnaik, U Sai and monk Ariyavamsa.
Inscriptions on names of renovation for the pagodas could be seen but there was no original donors.
Pagodas are about 10 feet high on the average. Donors might be Saophas, town administrators and richmen. During yearwise Buddha Pujaniya festivals, some pagodas might be built within a day, according to the reviews of scholars. Some assumed pagodas did not increase gradually within more than 200 years, and they might be built one after another.

Hot-air balloon festival in Taunggyi
Hot-air balloon festival is a traditional festival in Taunggyi. Whenever Thadingyut festival has been held, local people of Taunggyi start preparations to host the hot-air balloon festival in conjunction with Kathina ceremony. The hot-air balloon festival is held at Awaiya ground in Taunggyi before the full moon day and it ended on the full moon day.
Night large balloons are 24.5 feet in diametre and more than 900 feet in circular area hanging more than 10,000 small fireworks. The balloons are made of Shan paper or textile decorated with colourful artworks. Each large balloon costs more than K3 million.
Background history of hot-air balloon festival
Led by abbot of Kontha Monastery in Myoma ward of Taunggyi, local people released a large hot-air balloon in Tazaungmone of 1303 ME, dedicating to paying homage to Culamani Pagoda on abode of Tavatimsa. The balloon was made by Daw Thint and group from Kunyikon Ward with the use of 30 sewing machines.
At that time, the first-ever hot-air balloon was 50 feet in diameter. It was hung with paper works of four Lokapala celestial beings. Each paper work was fit with K25 of Myanmar currency note.
Kontha monastery released one more hot-air balloon made of coarse paper. The balloon with 24 feet in diameter was hung with umbrellas, food carriers, soaps, sarongs and currency coins in addition to an announcement to give one bag of rice and a container of cooking oil weighing 10 viss as reward to the person who caught the balloon.
In 1945 when Our Day was held in Taunggyi, people from public residential wards competitively released hot-air balloons.
Hot-air balloons were made to beautifully drop stick fireworks in 1953. White flares were used at hot-air balloons in 1956. Later, famous firework masters U Hsaung, U Po Yi and U Tone strived for production of better hot-air balloons with explosions of colourful ignites.
In 1971, subordinates of those masters created hot-air balloons in shapes of flying pigeon, circle fireworks and snakes. In around 1960, festival of releasing hot-air balloons emphasized competition of varieties of fireworks in shapes of pagodas and monasteries.
In 1976-77, hot-air balloons bore better fireworks with beautifully colourful explosives. Hot-air balloons were decorated with Seinnapan lantarns and then illustrated with various items of pictures in 1970.
Taunggyi’s hot-air balloon festival which started in 1951 will turn 70 in near future. Hundreds of thousands of local and foreign guests enjoy the festival dedicating to Culamani pagodas in Tavatimsa and Taunggyi yearly.
A large number of local and foreign visitors bound for the hot-air balloon festival of Taunggyi proves dwellers of Taunggyi have been preserving the hot-air balloon festival as the culture of Shan State for many years, disseminating information throughout Myanmar as well as across the world.

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