he word "Thadingyut" not only refers to one of the months in the Myanmar Lunar calendar but because lights are the signature of “Thadingyut'' it is also seen in electric lights and colorful lanterns. In festival-prosperous Myanmar, many ethnic groups celebrate their festivals in separate regions and different seasons through multi-colored festivals. Among the 12 months of Myanmar lunar Festivals, Thadingyut is one of Myanmar’s most recognized festivals. It takes place at the end of the rainy season in October at the same time throughout the country. This lighting festival is also the second most popular festival in the Myanmar calendar and is held in all areas after the Thingyan water festival.

Nowadays, the Thadingyut festival is known as the Festival of Lights or Lighting Festival. In previous times it was also known as Myinmo Festival, Myinmo is the name of the mountain where Tavatimsa, one of the heavenly beings' places, is located. The Thadingyut festival is held for 3 days starting from the full moon eve until the day after the full moon. It relates to much of the Myanmar culture, especially Myanmar Buddhism. For religious purposes, the full moon day of Thadingyut is also known as Abhidhamma Day, Abhidhamma is one of the famous Buddha’s preachings, theories, and concepts. Buddhists celebrate Thadingyut joyously to embrace the arrival of the Buddha and his disciples by illuminating and adorning the streets, homes, and public structures with vibrant electric bulbs or flickering candles. These mesmerizing lights symbolize the sacred essence of the three stairways. Although this festival is mainly related to Buddhism, everyone can freely celebrate, including people from different religions, races, and nationalities. 

Origin of Festival 

The origin of the Thadingyut festival is one of the celebration stories of Buddha's life. Legend has it that after Buddha's mother died shortly after he was born, she was reborn as a deva (god) in Tavatimsa, the 2nd place of heavenly beings. Buddha ascended to that spot to offer thanks and deliver discourses on his former mother including other heavenly beings with the Abhidhamma text genre for three months, starting with the full moon day of Waso and ending with the full moon day of Thadingyut. These 3 months are designated as Buddhist lent or Vassa today. In the 3 months of Vessa, monks and other religious people engage in more good deeds, meditation, and fasting than at any other time. 

Festival candles

After three months, preaching was completed and before the Buddha's arrival back to the mortal world on earth, Sakka, the leader of the Devas, built three staircases: a ruby staircase in the center, a gold one on the right, and a silver one on the left. Buddha chose the ruby one for his descent to earth. The glowing lights of the regions are part of the plan to welcome and guide Buddha's arrival back to the human realm. People celebrate the first festival of lights and pay tribute to the Buddha, monks, parents, teachers, and other older generations as a joyous reunion in addition to lighting their homes.

When it is held?

Commemorating the happy event and the end of Lent, the Thadingyut festival is held for 3 days in the 7th month of the Myanmar lunar calendar which usually falls in October. This year, 2022, the celebration days will be on the 8th, 9th, and 10th of October and this 3-day is a public holiday in Myanmar. The Buddhist Lent is commemorated with two full moons. The first, Waso, represents Buddha's ascent to Tavatimsa, while the second full moon, of Thadingyut marks Buddha's return to Earth. For this reason, these days hold great importance in Buddhism. The Waso full moon day is also referred to as Dhammasetkyar day, people say and offer Dhammasetkyar Buddha text extended especially on this day and the later as Abhidhamma day and Adhidhamma Buddha text on the full moon of Thadingyut.

Where it is held?

Because it is a nationwide event, you will notice homes, temples, streets, and little lanes all over the country sparkling. A glowing night adorned with candles, lanterns, electric lights, and fireworks will make you memorize this charming culture and tradition. If you want to be in the biggest and brightest avenues, Yangon, Mandalay, and ShweKyin cities would be the most recommended ones to be best seen. In Yangon, you can just go to Shwedagon Pagoda and take part, offer the oil lights by yourselves, and in Mandalay, you can see ‘Kyauktawgyi' temple which is prepared in twinkling electric lights for two weeks ahead. In Dawei, locals hold a vibrant festival called "Alm Boal Floating Festival" (သပိတ်မျှောပွဲ), whereby alms bowls filled with offerings like flowers, water, oil lamps, candles, and joss-sticks are set adrift at sea as a tribute to Shin Upagutta. Similarly, in Shwegyin, residents partake in the "Mi Hmyaw Pwe" (မီးမျှောပွဲ), where they release colorful oil lanterns into the Shwe Kyin Lights Festival. This incredible festival bears a resemblance to the Dawei Alm Boal Floating Festival.

Lighting as Alm Bowl shape (Photo credit to Aung Thu Phyo)

How to celebrate?

To participate in this momentous occasion, you won't need much. Perhaps a few light candles a single candle or a colorful lantern might be an ideal addition. All you have to do is switch on your light or light your candle and join people in tiny lanes in quarters who are also using their lights. Some individuals light oil lamps or candles around their homes, including on their balconies, main doors, and so on, while others decorate with colorful lanterns in their homes. In rural areas, small villages, and towns, you may find that houses are lit by blinking multi-colored electric lights or LED lights. You may even be shocked by the fireworks or fire balloons with which the children are playing in the quarter lane. This scene is especially common in rural areas since big cities or urban areas don't normally do such kind of public activities in the lanes, they just decorate with colorful lanterns or light up every house.

Activities made in the festival period 

There are several enjoyable things to do during the Thadingyut Festival days, including paying homage to our elders, providing traditional foods, light meals, or local snacks freely on the side of the streets, and staging a joyous show in public areas with traditional songs, dances, or jokes. Seeing the innocent scene of youngsters playing with colorful lanterns or fireworks is also one of them. Many students and workers get long holidays and go on vacation for weeks at a time. Going to monasteries and taking trips abroad are popular activities at family reunions as well. 

Lighting in the Neighborhood

Local and Social Benefits 

As a direct consequence, the social demands will be satisfied during this celebration owing to the traveling, relaxing, and reuniting elements. Residents who celebrate the event will give other gifts and also spend money on food and other objects from shops. Vendors are anticipated to benefit from the tourism and auspicious event as well. Because it is a national-held festival. Incomes will rise, and local businesses or handiwork in particular such as candles, lanterns, and fireworks manufacturing will be promoted, giving local employment. In addition, since the festival reflects the charming culture, it will also help develop the cultural and traditional image of Myanmar people, which will in turn attract more travelers to visit again in the future and support the region's economy.

Other festivals held along with Thadingyut 

Aside from the Thadingyut Lights Festival, there are several other festivals held throughout the Thadingyut. Some examples include the Tanintharyi Division's Dawei alm bowl floating festival, the Shwekyin Light Festival in Bago Division, and the Kyaukse Elephant Dance Festival. The first two festivals serve the same purpose and have the same history, and tradition dates while the last celebration is held one day before the full moon day of Thadingyut. Apart from that, the Tazaungdine Fire Balloon Festival takes place one month after this event, which falls in the eighth month of Myanmar's calendar and is usually in November.

lighting as a flower (photo credit to Aung Thu Phyo)

COVID, Political Crisis, and the Festival Beyond

The festival is very popular, and many people participate because the days also coincide with public holidays. Everyone celebrated in their way before the outbreak of Coronavirus. Because of the pandemic situation, no public affairs were allowed to take place and people were not allowed to meet up; self-quarantine was mandatory. While the pandemic has become more manageable, people are restricted in how they can celebrate due to the current political crisis. Although the holiday is enjoyed by some of the population, not everyone is included. All people can do is hope for better days ahead that are filled with safety and security. 

If you're in Myanmar during Thadingyut and the political crisis has also finished, be sure to join in the fun and enjoy the beautiful lights!

September 22, 2023