By Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja, Sithu
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
Although Pyatho (January) is the peak of Myanmar Cold Season, the last month of cold season Tabodwe (February) can be chillier than Pyatho (January). Therefore, the Festival of Tabodwe is Bonfire Festival. It originated in the lifetime of Lord Gotama Buddha. He happened to be residing in the monastery at the foot of Himalayas Mountain Ranges. So the weather was very cold. According to the Priestly Disciplines (Vinaya) each monk should not wear more than three pieces of robe so Lord Gotama Buddha at another robe stitched to the Dukkod Robe to become one. Even then after midnight, Buddha could not stand the chill so he made a fire to get warmth. In the morning, when the sun came out, he stayed in the sunshine to get the warmth from the sun and since then the festival of Tabodwe is called Bonfire Festival. Throughout Myanmar history Bonfire Festival is held without fail in February or Tabodwe.
Htamane or Myanmar Delicacy
There are many old saying such as nar ye yo tay Tabodwe (ႏွာရည္ယိုရြဲ တပို႔တြဲ) we have runny nose in Tabodwe, ze win byet pyay Tabotwe (ဇီး၀မ္းေပါက္ကြဲ တပို႔တြဲ) in February, wild plum ripe open and Htamane tyoe pyay Tabodwe (ထမနဲထိုးပဲြ တပို႔တြဲ). In Myanmar Delicacy called Htamane is concocted. We made concocting Htamane or delicacy. Myanmar traditional medicine men recommend eating Htamane or Myanmar Delicacy to give oil for dried skin of our bodies.
There is another festival in this month “Shin Ma Lae”. It originated in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). One Monk Shin Ma Lae in his meditation spiritually went up to Tavatinthar. There he met the Deva who was the future Aremettyya Buddha and this Deva told Shin Ma Lae that when you return to earth to preach Vessantara Zataka to promote the virtue of giving.
Venssantara Zataka has one thousand stanzas and therefore people celebrated with one thousand lotus flowers, one thousand candles, one thousand incense sticks and one thousand pots of water.
A tall temple was built to present Tavantinthar in which Aremettya Statue is placed. People threw up lotus flower into the Temple. That Festival is called “Shin Ma Lae” Festival. In Mandalay, in the compound of Maha Muni Image, there is Shin Ma Lae Temple in which Shin Ma Lae Statue is housed. People throw up lotus flower to reached Shin Ma Lae Statue. So this is called Shin Ma Lae Puja Festival. Only after full moon day of Tabodwe chill reduces to usher in Taboung, the first month of summer season.
There is a recipe for concocting Htamane. For easy memorization, it is composed as a tayhtat song. According to its context:
“Take 4 pyi of a basket of nice glutinous rice and wash it clean by freshwater. Put one viss of pure sesame oil in a big iron pan which is placed on a wood fire. Fry 3 tical weight of ginger slices in the oil to produce flavor. Put the washed glutinous rice in the ginger flavoured oil and stir it thoroughly. Add some water to it and knead with wooden ladles. When the glutinous rice gets grilled, with oil oozing out of it, reduce the fire, and spray on the stuff in the pan 80 tickal weight of fired groundnut, 32 tickal weight of roasted sesame seeds, 20 tickal weight of shredded coconut kernel, and 7 tickal weight of salt. Then knead and crush the stuff again and again. Taste it to test if it has attained and the required quality. If so, the Htamane is put on the banana leaves for serving with plain tea “.
Social occasion for a Myanmar community
Preparation of Htamane provides a social occasion for a Myanmar community. It is an activity in which all involved — adult and young, male and female, and even children. It takes place on the platform of a Pagoda, in the courtyard of a Temple, in the precinct of a monastery or at any open space. Either under an individual or collective sponsorship, a Htamane making party is formed. Necessary kitchen utensils such as a giant iron pan, two pairs of long wooden ladles, knives, daggers, baskets, trays and circular low tables etc, are hired from the monastery or some houses. They are carried to the place by young men. A fireplace is dug out in the ground by adult males who also bring firewoods, and fetch water from a nearby well or tank. Women and girls do the lighter work such as the winnowing and washing of rice grains, shelling groundnuts, slicing ginger, washing pots and pans. Men climb up the coconut palm trees to bring down coconut fruits, and split firewoods. Boys tear away the fibers of coconuts and break them open. Girls shred the kernel into tiny strips. Men put the big iron pan on the fireplace and keep it tight and stable. Women do the initial part of the process such as frying ginger and roasting groundnuts and sesame seeds. Men’s hard labour comes in when the glutinous rice in the pan becomes soft and pliant. Muscular hands are needed to knead and crush the sticky stuff thoroughly with long wooden ladles. A good Htamane is the result of correct proportion of rice, oil, water and ingredients and thorough kneading and crushing by ladles.
It is so exciting to see men doing this arduous work are sweating in the cold of Tabodwe. When the giant Htamena pan is removed from the fire it is the turn of skillful feminine hands. While men keep on crushing the sticky mass with ladles, women spray ingredients, sesame seeds, groundnuts, and shredded coconut kernel in the pan at a regular interval, a right handful at a time. Experienced adults taste the stuff to test if it is well-made. If so, a portion is kept aside for offering to the Buddha and monks at dawn. The rest is served first to the aged, second to the elders and adults, and finally to the young children. A ladleful of Htamane is placed on each of the banana or in leaves gathered by children. Earthen kettles of hot plain tea are ready on the circular tables for hot plain tea is the best to go with this oily delicacy.
Contesting parties invite music bands
If a contest is held there is more excitement and a more festival atmosphere is created. Contesting parties invite music bands such as Ozi or Dobhat troupes to agitate and cheer up the contestants. Folk songs are sung and folk dances are performed in full swing, performers teasing and mimicking one another. There is a panel of judges to supervise the contest, and to see that the proceeding is in accordance with game rule. These judges are also connoisseurs to taste and decide which party’s Htamane is the best. The winner party is awarded with cash or cloths or both. The winner party celebrates by leading a procession followed by a music band to the Pagoda or monastery, and offering Htamane to the Buddha Images and monks. Htamane making contests are held in schools and Colleges to train young students in cultural activities and to breed a community spirit among them.
Htamane feasts are open to all. No invitation is needed to join them. Any stranger or passerby regardless of race, religion, rank, or creed, is welcome and is served Htamane to his fill with cups of hot plain tea. He may also take some home because there are packets of Htamane wrapped up with leaves for the taking.