rakanese is one of the many ethnic groups of Myanmar. Arakanese people celebrate 12 months of Myanmar festivals according to Burmese Calendar The majority of Arakanese are Buddhists consequently their festivals mainly consist of Buddhist celebrations. Among the many festivals, the most unique and famous festival in Mrauk U is the Shittaung pagoda festival. If you are really interested in the pagoda festival, you can read this article.
Shittaung Pagoda is located in Mrauk-U Township, in the Rakhine of western Myanmar (Burma). Once upon a time, Mrauk U held the title of capital for an incredibly influential Arakanese kingdom that thrived between 1430-1785. Arakanese is one of the many ethnic groups of Myanmar. Just like most ethnic communities in Myanmar, the Arkanese people celebrate 12 months of Myanmar festivals according to Burmese Calendar.
The most popular festivals in Rakhine are the Thingyan Water Festival and Thanaka Grinding festival, Shittaung Pagoda festival in Mrauk U and floating Shittaung temple festival in Sittwe. The majority of Arakanese are Buddhists consequently their festivals mainly consist of Buddhist celebrations. Among the many festivals, the most unique and famous festival in Mrauk U is the Shittaung pagoda festival which is also represented as the second water splashing festival for Rakhine people beside famous Thingyan new year water festival and also a celebration of traditional long boat races and wrestling activities.
About Shitthaung Pagoda
The name of Shittaung Pagoda (Shait Thaung Temple, called by Rakhine people) means it has 80 thousands of Stupa. The pagoda was built by King Min Bin of old Mrauk U dynasty in 1535-1536 to celebrate his success in Bangladesh. aaaIt is located on the western part of Pokhaung Hill, north of the Royal Palace of Mrauk U and near Andaw-thein Temple.
There are many Buddhist Stupas here: a central bell-shaped stupa, surrounded by four smaller stupas at the corner of the central stupa, and many smaller stupas surrounding them. There are stairs (Tazaungs in Burmese) which were built just over 70 years ago. This pagoda has a main central hall (prayer hall) which is a famous site of the pagoda and can be easily accessed. Hundreds of Buddha statues adorn the main hall, some in their original positions and others relocated from nearby archaeological sites.
However, the most remarkable feature of the pagoda are the three layers of maze-like corridors that surround the main hall. The three corridors contain countless reliefs of Buddhas, Kings of Spiritual abodes, guardian spirits, the 550 caste or 550 lifes of Buddhas, Arakanese culture, evil spirits and mythical animal sculpture. Thus, you must witness the sacred customs and rituals of Rakhine at the pagoda to truly appreciate their culture.
When and Where is the festival held?
Annually, the pagoda festival was celebrated in Mrauk U - a former capital of Rakhine. But in previous years of 2019 to 2021, the festival could not be celebrated due to the political situation and Covid 19 restrictions. In 2022, the festival could be held again and the Araknese people celebrated the festival peacefully. The festival was held on the full moon day of Kason, second month of the Myanmar Calendar. In this month, residents finished harvesting their farm crops and they actively participated in the festival. It usually falls in late April or May and lasts five days to eight days.
How Locals Celebrate the Festival?
The festival is held on the land and in the rivers close to the Pagoda. There are traditional wrestling competitions (called Kyun means quick tiger) on the land and long boat races and water splashing in the river. The boat racing participated by the local young man is amazing and you can also join with local people in that traditional pastime. Locals love playing Kyin which can be very physical. And then, locals douse each other with water on the boat. At night, the locals take part in a vibrant round of traditional dances of Zats and Anyeints - open-air performances include traditional dance, traditional music, even popular pop music, melodrama and comedy that go on throughout the entire night. With lyrical singing and dazzling performances, these rituals bring life to the local culture. People visit the pagoda with offerings of flowers and light candles, in the hope that their prayers will be heard. After you enjoy the festival time, you can explore Mrauk U by visiting ancient pagodas of Sakyamanaung Pagoda, RatanaManaung pagoda, AungbanPauk pagoda, Andaw temple, Ratanabon Stupa, Laungbanprauk pagoda (also known as plate pagoda).
How to get there
There are two ways to get Mrauk U. From Yangon, you can go by bus or plane. By bus, it is a long journey taking up to 24 hours.. The fee of a bus is between 45000 MMK to 55000 MMK. By plane, it can only reach the main city of Sittwe and you must ride a car for 3 to 4 hours or boat through the Kaladan river for 4 to 6 hours to get there. The fee for a flight from Yangon to Sittwe is about 145000 MMK.
From Bagan (which is a popular route among tourists) you can either take a 20-hour bus ride or take a flight to Sittwe Airport, then take a 3-hour drive by private car to Mrauk U Town. The fees are not much different from the starting point of Yangon. Although it is a long journey, the festival is worth visiting.
The one-time capital of Mrauk U, Arakan’s north is a rich collection of ancient temples and pagodas. The Shittaung Pagoda is a treasured landmark for the Arakanese people, and they are devoted to protecting their tradition and culture even today. Thus, visiting in the festival season is the perfect way to gain an understanding of different cultures and people. It's a wonderful opportunity to learn about their customs, traditions, and history. If you're looking to explore an ancient city in Myanmar, Shittaung Pagoda at Mrauk U should definitely be high on your list of must-visit places.