The Auspicious Occasion of Tazaungmon: the Kathina Festival

  • By Tun Myint Aung


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Tazaungmon, corresponding to November, is the 8th month of the Myanmar lunar calendar. It is usually an opportune time to experience that the merry-making songs and music accompanied with the Myanmar orchestra consisting of drums, gongs, oboe, clappers, etc echo in the sky throughout the country; all the people celebrate the Kathina Festivals. The nearer the Fullmoon Day of Tazaungmon is getting, the louder the echo becomes because it is during only 29 days between the first waning day of Thidingyut and the full-moon day of Thazaungmon that the Kahtina festivals are held in accordance with the set period and with the strict rules governed by the Vinaya of the Buddha. All the people without any distinction on the grounds of age, sex, wealth, status, etc have opportunities to take part in the celebration activities of the festival by their own bits. The essence of the Kathina festival is the offering of new sets of robes to the monks, for most of their wearing may be drenched and wear out during the monsoon as they have to go on daily alms-rounds every morning, rainy or sunny, to receive alms-food from the devout lay persons and give blessings for their donation. In fact, it is a good idea that the donors anonymously can offer the Kathina robes to all monks as Sangika or Sangha in the Buddhist Order, not to individual monk personally, in consonance with the Buddhist canonical law.

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The pious groups are formed apropos, with their free consent, and set their separate optional duties according to their own desire to collect some contributions from the devout donors in town or in village or in various social communities. Such groups are mushrooming everywhere during such period; almost every junction, ward, market, school, office and so on. It is really a daunting task to collect charity money or other offerings or the requisites for the monks. They have to assist and urge people to contribute pocket money as much as they can, by using loud-speakers or sound-boxes. The donees may announce the names of the donors and the amount of their contribution in detail. It is funny that a boy can contribute some pocket money to the charity-box and ask for the assistants to announce the names of the donors as spouses by using the names of girls he likes. If the girls know the truth about the boy and reprove him for the matter, he can say that sometimes names are common and may be identical. Sometimes, the assistants may announce many times the name of the donor who contributes much money. Sometimes, various announcements and cacophonous blaring music amplified through loudspeakers and modern hi-tech sound-boxes may be unbearable to ear-rending decibels.
It is enjoyable for us to listen to some traditional songs rhyming choruses which can reflect the social life of the Myanmars. However, popular songs concerning the Kathina festivals are not very many. Instead, the hit nat-songs are favourable to the youths. The most common nat-song can be ‘Ko Gyi Kyaw’, which can stimulate the people to be active very easily and have a potency to make them dance at once to the song and music at any time. However, it has nothing at all to do with the Kathina Festival.
In addition, various forms of dance can be seen at every contribution centre as rehearsal for going round. The special one can be the performance of pairing U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe. Each may have been widowed at an early age. The former is an old gangling guy, a humorous dancer performed by a male character made up with a moustache in bizarre dress, wearing a suit of checked longyi and black Myanmar jacket as well as a nice Myanmar turban in a gentleman style of old ages, twirling a Pathein umbrella. The latter is a short plump woman dressed in out-dated spruce fashion. Their courtship manners to the rhythmic beats of Myanmar music can be so funny that the audience watching them can’t help smiling or laughing nonstop all the way. Sometimes, huge toys caricatured in the figure of a hermit or a lay attendant to a monastery can be found among some groups collecting charity offerings. They can be used for the purpose of drawing the attention of the public, especially of the children who may insist upon watching the toys moving to the lively music. Sometimes, the collectors running recklessly along the street for the notes given away by the donors on the vehicles may pose serious accidents. This type of accident is regarded as one of the most accident-prone cases.
It is also enjoyable for us to watch groups of participants in line going round in town with their padethapins or plenty trees (tree-shaped stands where various offerings are hung) full of different notes of Myanmar currency money and the requisites for the monks and other offertories needed for the monastery, accompanied by orchestral bands of Myanmar music and dance until they get to the monastery where all the offerings are to be left. Of course, a small amount of pocket money or a piece of offerings donated by individual person can make a series of trees of plenty. The Kathina robe offering ceremony cannot be done by individual but only the collective efforts of the public. Everyone has no set duties in the process of the ceremony but can take part in it and make contributions of his or her own as he or she desires, taking social responsibilities. This type of donation shows a symbol of unity of the social communities of the Myanmar people.
In fact, the Kathina festival is based on religious rites but largely blended with social customs and merry-making spirit of the people. Actually, it can be easily known to all that Myanmar is a heaven of fun-seekers because they can have something enjoyable in various ways in every part of the country in any circumstance all the year round, the twelve months of the Myanmar lunar calendar. It is, therefore, taken for granted that the genuine spirit embodied in such sorts of beautiful tradition and culture will exist in the blood of the Myanmar people, marking as public memory or an aspect of making our history in perpetuity…….

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