Myanmar’s intangible cultural heritage: Preserving tug-of-war competitions amidst constructive criticism

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Locals, adults and children alike, are seen enjoyably participating in the tug-of-war contest to call for rain in Mandalay on 2 May.

As an intangible cultural heritage of Myanmar, tug-of-war contests should be preserved, and people should avoid irresponsible criticism, Ko Htake Tin Sithu Hein, a great-great-grandson of King Mindon, told The Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM).
Tug-of-war competitions to call for rain in the hot weather have been seen in some cities, causing a backlash among Myanmar netizens. He commented on criticism by saying it was just a concept of degeneration.
“Bad habits in Myanmar’s culture must be discarded. This tug-of-war contest doesn’t hurt anyone. Reciting the Ngayantmin (king snakehead fish) mantra to call for rain is a custom based on Buddhism. It is not common in lower Myanmar, and it is believed to be in the dry zones of Anya (upper Myanmar). They believe it will rain in the next few days. So, they keep on believing. The exact starting period cannot be traced back, but this custom has been found since the Inwa and Nyaungyan eras. It is a thousand-year-old custom. This heritage should not die out in our time,” he said.
Some people said that the tug-of-war contest was just for fun, but deep believers in it replied that they arranged such a contest after communicating with the Nat (spirit) of Moekhaung Kyawswa.
“Chanting the Ngayantmin mantra is a tradition where water is poured on the image of Buddha-to-be in life of snakeheaded fish with reverence. It is a miracle that it rains the next day. This is an intangible cultural heritage. It is an abstract thing in people’s minds — not a concrete thing. Our people usually claim that our culture is stolen only when other citizens show it. However, they cannot even appreciate a real heritage by irresponsibly accusing it of being an unnecessary activity. It is contradictory,” he said, explaining his views. A tug-of-war contest that calls for rain is meant to show the strength of unity and can be adopted as a sport.
“Whether it rains or not, it is adorable. It shows the added strength of united efforts. It is a competition among local people in their own village or ward. You could say it is a kind of sport. During the competition, people make offerings to Moekhaung Kyawswa Nat (spirit). They play tug of war. Then, they chant the Ngayantmin mantra and pour water on the image of Buddha-to-be. We should not allow these customs to disappear. As a nation, Myanmar must continue to preserve this tradition,” he told the GNLM. — Thit Taw/ZN

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