The Ordination Festival of the month “Waso”

Unity Within Diversity
Unity Within Diversity

The fourth month of Myanmar Lunar calendar is Waso, equivalent to July, which is the first of the three heavily rainy months- Waso, Wakhaung and Tawthalin July, August and September respectively. The month is astrologically termed Kataka[Cancer] with its zodiacal symbol of a crab. Myat Lay Flower [fragrant Jasminumgrandiflorum] and Khat tar [Ground lily] profusely bloom in this month. Traditionally there two flowers are designated as the flowers of Waso. Depending upon the calculations of the State Board of Myanmar Calendar there can be two Waso months, first Waso and second Waso as a month was intercalated after Waso. The year in which there are two Waso months is called Wa-htat year.
In the lithic inscriptions of ancient Bagan city, Waso was called “malweita” or “Nweita” or “Nweta” which means the month for measuring land. Wet cultivation begins in Waso with monsoon in full swing. Farmers have to measure the extent of their lands to till. Therefore the land measuring month “Nweta”.was an appropriate name.
However, with the flourish and spread of Theravada Buddhism in the country and its influence on the daily life of the people, this month came to acquire a new name of religious importance “Waso”. Archaeological evidences show that in the reign of King Anawrahta [1044-1077 A.D] when Theravada Buddhist monks promoted Pariyatti Sasana, the name Waso for this month came into common use.     Waso is a compound words of Pali and Myanmar [Pali word “Waso” meaning to recite, to say or “to tell”. So is a Myanmar word which also means “to say” or “to tell”. On the first waning day of this month, Buddhist monks say to the Lord Buddha [take vow in front of the Buddha statue] that they will stay in their respective residing monasteries during the three months of raining season.
Observing Waso rites and vows can be traced as far back as to the life time of Lord Gotama Buddha. Originally there was no religious restriction of the movement of monks, who could freely move about throughout the year in all seasons. Green grass, plants cultivations, flora, fauna, insects were accidentally trodden upon by travelling monks, damaging the environment. Besides, when cultivators busy with ploughing saw monks, they stopped their work to pay respect and offertories to the monks, thereby disturbed their daily work. When Lord Buddha heard of public complaints of such un-intentional disturbances and harm done by travelling monks, he forbade the monks to go out of their residing monasteries for overnight travels during the three months of cultivating season.
For the convenience of the monks, Lord Buddha prescribed two alternative periods of wa or Lent Purimawa and Pyitsimawa. Purimawa or the First wa begins on the first waning moon day of Waso month and ends on the day of the completion of the three solid months which is the full-moon day of Thidingyut [October]. Pyitsimawa or the second wa begins on the first waning moon day of Wakhaung month [August] and ends on the day of the completion of three solid months which is the full-moon day of Tuzaung mon [November]. Depending upon their condition monks may choose either of these two was.
It is interesting to watch the proceedings of Waso ceremony and rite. Either in the evening or early at night of the first waning moon day of Waso all monks of the same monastery are gathered in the assembly hall with the shrine room of Buddha Statues. The monastery, the Assembly hall and shrine room  are artistically decorated with various religious paraphernalia- flowers, candles, fruits, offertories, flags and festoons, highlighting, the Waso occasion. The monks pay homage to the Lord Buddha. Next the Abbot of the monastery explained to the assembly the boundaries of the monastery and its compound within which the residing monks are obliged to stay during Lent Starting with the most senior monk [seniority in terms of ordained years] every monk by turn recites the following formula of wa vow:
“Imasmin vihare iman temasam vassa upemi”
ဣမသံၼ ဝိဟာရ ဣမံ ေတမာသံ ဝႆံ ဥေပမိ
Which means
“I shall stay in this monastery during the three months of raining season”.
Each monk recites the above wa vow once, twice or thrice, the assembly utters in chorus words of appreciation in Pali three times “Sadu, Sadu, Sadu” [Well done, well done, well done].
Owing to unavoidable circumstances or in case of emergency, of a monk has to travel and thus has to stay away from his residing monastery during, lent, he can make a formal request for leave of absence but leave must not exceed more than seven days. If a monk stays away without this request for leave, he commits breach of wa vow and thereby he suffers wakyo, ie. Losing the priestly character in consequence of monastic vow as he has not recited the formula of permission for leave of absence.     During three months of Lent, monks devote themselves full time to religious learning, practicing and meditation. Teaching and learning at Pariyatti monasteries, instructina on the correct methods of meditation by monk instructors at meditation centres.
In the Buddhist history the full-moon day of Waso is one of the important days. Myanmar old saying in a rhymed couplet “သေႏၶ၊ ေတာထြက္၊ ဓမၼစက္၊ ယမိုက္ ျပာဋိဟာ” sums up four major events in the life of Lord Buddha, which took place on the full moon day of Waso. Firstly, it was on the full day of Waso, Thursday, that Prince Siddharatha [the Buddha to be] was conceived in the womb of Queen Maha Maya, the Chief queen of King Suddhodana of Kapilavatsu. Secondly it was on the full moon day of Waso, Monday, that Prince Siddharathaat the age of 29 after seeing the four Omens- the Aged, the Infirmity, the Dead and the Recluse, renounced his mundane life and left his palace for forest to become a recluse. Thirdly it was on the full moon day of Waso, Saturday, that the Lord Buddha gave his first sermon “Dhammacakya” to the five recluses- namely (1) Kandana, (2) Vappa, (3) Bhaddiya, (4) Mahanam and (5) Assaji in the Deer Park “Migadawunna”. Fourthly, it was on the full moon day of Waso that Lord Buddha under the white mango Tree in the city of Sawutti showed his miracles to the infidels and heretics to subdue them. These infidels and heretics refused to listen to Buddha’s dhamma. They thought that Buddha had no supernatural power like them. Therefore the Buddha stood up in the sky and let out pairs of fire and water simultaneously from his eyes, ears and nose. The infidels and heretics were astounded and spell bound by these miracles of the Buddha and submitted themselves to the Buddha’s teachings.
Waso-robe offering to make to, monks is not only religious event of this month but also the festive  occasion of socio-cultural significance. Wet season needs spare robes for monks so donors, individually or in group hold Waso robe offering together with other offertories, food, dry ration, candles and flowers. While adolescents and adults devote to the religious aspects of the event, younger generations are involves in socio-cultural activities such as going out into the nearly wood lands to gather wild flowers and fruits with music, songs and dance called Waso flower gathering panties where male and female youths can meet freely.
Traditional festive event of Waso is ordination. In the stone inscription at Bagan dated M.E 595 [1213 A.D] we find the earliest mention of ordination festival. It described the ordination of a son. We also find in one of Inwa Period’s stone inscription, dated M.E 900 [1538 A.D] ordination event was mentioned. References to the Festival of ordination in the month of Waso are found in Myanmar chronicles, literature, fine and performing arts.
In fact there is no specifie time or month for ordination. It can take place any time in any monk of the year. But there are two special reasons for holding ordination on the full moon day of Waso. Firstly it was on the full moon day of Waso that one of the five forest recluses when Lord Buddha gave his first sermon Dhammacakya, named Kondana became Buddhist monk. Secondly, those who have passed religious examinations in the previous monthNayon, are ready to be ordained in Waso so that they can pursue learning [Pariyatti] during Lent. Ordination Festival in Waso is in time sequence with religious examination Festival in Nayon.
There is two-foldvpurpose of ordination to recruit for Sangha [Priestly Order] to promote and to perpetuate Buddha Sasana from those who choose to remain monk for life and to impart Buddhist education and culture to those who stay in monk-hood for a certain period. For every Buddhist male it is a religious requirement to become a novice or ordained monk. In Buddhism the highest religious merit is attained by becoming oneself novitiated or ordained, if one is a male, or by making one’s son or other’s son novitiated or ordained. By performing this religious merit the performer becomes an “inheritor of Buddha Sasana”. The performer receives from the community an honorific title of “Shin Taka” [Donor of Novitiation for male donor and Shin Ama]FemalPonor of Novitiation, Yahan Taka [male donor of ordination] and YahanAma [female donor of ordination] prefixed to his or her name. At death his or her body is carried with two ceremonial gold umbrellas shading the dead body as a token of honour to the deceased “inheritor of Buddha Sasana”. In the reign of King Thalun [1629-48 A.D] a royal order was issued conferring the above honour to the deceased “inheritors of Buddha Sasana”.
Novitiation originated in the life time of Lord Gotama Buddha. A year after the attainment of Buddhahood Lord Gotama Buddha returned to Kapilavatsu at the request of AshinKaludayi sent to him by his royal father. The Buddha and his disciples and follower* monks resided at the NigrodhaVihara monastery. One day they were given meal at the court. All royal families, and relatives gathered to see and welcome the Buddha [who as Prince Siddhartha had left them for over six years]. Queen Yasodhara told her son Rahula that Lord Buddha was his father and urged him to ask for patrimony from him. When the son did accordingly Lord Buddha kept silent. Rahula with his playmates followed Lord Buddha to the monastery repeatedly asking patrimony on the way. On reaching the NigrodhaVihara Lord Buddha told his disciple Shin Sariputtara to novitiate Rahula in the Order of Samgha. Making Rahula a novice [Samenera] was the grant of patrimony by Lord Buddha to his son because  by becoming a probationer for the monkhood Rahula was inheriting Buddha Sasana from his father.
The evidence of ordination in history is as follows: Emperor Asoka was peerlessly lavish in charity. He built 84000 stup3 and dug 84000 wells, constructed 84000 water tanks among other works of religious and social merit. He promoted Buddhism by sending out Buddhist missionaries to all directions. One day he asked his guru monk Shin Moggaliputta whether he (Asoka) deserved to be the Inheritor of Buddha Sasana. The gura monk replied that although Asoka’s religious givings were plentiful, he was only the supporter of Buddha Sasana. Only when he himself became monk and propagated Buddhism, or ordained his own off springs to propagate Buddhism, would he be entitled to the Inheritor of Buddha Sasana. On hearing that reply answer, Asoka’s son Prince Maheinda and daughter Princess Sanghamitta offered themselves up to the father for ordination. They became Bhikhu and Bhikhuni and went to Lankadipa [Sri Lanka] to propagate Buddhism there.
In the time of Myanmar kings, ordination in Waso was a great event of festival of the month. The Hluttaw or Royal Privy Council arranged the ordination festival. Lists of names of candidates to be ordained, lists of names of donors, names of persons who would support the ordained monks, and lists of monasteries where the ordained monks were to reside were made and Arrangements were made. At the ceremony the royal Byaw Music was played. It is a religious music played on religious occasions. Byaw Musicians were appointed by the royal order. Byaw is a kind of drum play by means of a stick or a leather rope accompanied with wind instrument of oboe and a pairt of_brass cymbols. Its music reaches out to the far remote places and upon hearing it people know that religious work is done somewhere and they share the merit by exclaiming 3times SaduSaduSadu [well done, well done and well done].
The ordination festival in the Inwa Period of Myanmar history was graphically recorded in a treatise “LokaByuha”. InyonSardan compiled by ThiriUzana, Minister of Inyon as follows:
“First the list of candidates for ordination was submitted to the Hluttaw. The Crown Prince, Senior Prince, Minister of Royal Granary, Ministers, Governor of the Town, Minister of Cavalry, Minister of Elephantry Minister of Treasury, Minister of Gunnery, Minister of Artillery, Minister of the Palace Precincts, Minister of Royal Shield, Minister of Justice, Junior Ministers, wealthy men etc. each took care of one candidate for ordination”.
“The Minister of Royal Treasury provided ceremonial umbrellas and 8 priestly utensils namely three pieces of yellow robe, an alms bowl, a girdle, a Short handled adz, a needle, and a water dipper. These were sent to the monasteries where the ordained monks would reside. An allotment of k 50/ for each candidate was issued from the Royal Treasury to bear the cost of celebrating the occasion at his house”.
“On the 9th waning moon of Waso candidates for novitiation and ordination were dressed in rich clothings and in the early hours of that day they were taken to Inwa Shwezigon Pagoda. They wire gold colured head dresses and gold chains provided by the Royal Treasury. They were carried on the palanquins in ceremonial procession which included gunners, musicians, palanquins bearing KamanaVaca or Plates of Scriptures to be recited at the ordination_ service, bearers of 8’ priestly utersils, bearers of betel boxes, pickled tea containers, and water goblets and several other paraphernalia. After paying homage to the Pagoda, the procession turned to the Palace. Except the gunners, all entered the Palace city through the right Marabin Gate”.
“After making a round of the Palace podium they went up to the Norther smoke Hall where the King was waiting with his court and retinue”. “The royal drums were being beaten to mark the occasion. The officer-in-charge of the ceremony submitted the List of candidates for novitiation and ordination by reading it out to the King. His Majesty gave the candidates his exhortation as follows:
“To have been born human is a rare opportunity.
To be literate and knowledgeable is a rare opportunity.
To have been born human male during the period of Buddha Sasana is a rare opportunity and
To be novitiated as a samenera and to be ordained as a monk is a rare opportunity”.
These five rare opportunities were pointed out by Lord Buddha himself. You should therefore be aware that you have now got, all these five rare opportunities you should therefore strictly abide by Vinaya, the Priestly Disciplines, and faithfully fallow the teachings of Lord Buddha”.
“After delivering his words of admonition, the King performed the libation ceremony by pouring out lusted water from the gold ewer. Then the royal drum was struck and religious music Byaw was played. The procession returned to the Shwezigon Pagoda and at the big rest house the King’s admonition was read out to the public. The procession then went on to the Sima [Ordination Hall] where the candidates were formally ordained by the chapters according to the prescribed procedure”.
Novitiation takes place at the monastery conducted by the Abbot and senior monks. Parents and relatives of novices attend with offertories and band of music and dances and songs  highlight the occasion.
The festive atmosphere of Waso is created by devotees who gather at the monasteries to watch with reverence and piety the performance of Waso rite by monks. They wear colorful dresses and jewellery bringing Waso candles, Waso flowers, and Waso robes. Waso robes are offered to monks during the period between the first waxing day of Waso and the full moon day, both days inclusive. Waso robes are meant to be worn by monks during Lent.
Twice in a year, homage is paid to parents, elders, teacher, superiors and bosses-namely at the beginning of Lent “Wa Win” and at the end of the Lent “WaKyut” [October].
Waso traditions have long been maintained and Observed by Myanmar people.

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