Thadingyut - the Light Festival
Introduction: The end of the Buddhist lent falls on the seventh month of Myanmar lunar calendar. And it coincides with the month of October. The period of Myanmar Buddhist Lent covers the peak of the rainy season, from July, August and September, and ends in the month of October. In this period, Buddhist monks had to take their vow in Waso, (July) that they will stay in their monastery during the whole rainy season. At the end of the lent period, in the month of Thadingyut (October) Monks are free to move about out of their monasteries. The month of October is also the time when the paddy fields are in full bloom with their ears upright turning towards heaven. The entire country side is like artificially covers with green carpet and white paddy birds flying above them.
At this time, the moon in the firmament is in full radiance. Spectacular is the scene in the lakes and ponds with five different species of lotus all in full bloom. All five species lotus flowers are in full bloom: the white lotus, the red lotus, the blue lotus, the Padoma lotus and Poun Najei Kya. This is the season to show their full splendor in the month of Thadingyut. Among the five lotus’s, the white and padoma with their beauty, fragrance and purity pop out from the pond surface are considered as very sacred by the Buddhist, as it signified the symbol of purity.
Buddha Performing the Twin-miracles
The traditional festival annually held in this month originally started at the time of our Lord Buddha. On this full moon day of Waso is a commemoration of the event where our Lord Buddha performed the twin miracles in the royal park of King Kosala. In this twin miracle, both fire and water came out of Buddha’s body – through ears, nose and eyes at the same time. The miracle was performed as a show of his achievement to subdue those who refused to pay homage to him.
After this performing the twin-miracles, he ascended to the heaven of the thirty three Gods, Tavatimsa heaven to deliver Abhidhamma to his mother (Maha Maya) now taken rebirth as a Deva named Santussita deva (male Deva) in the assembly of Devas and Brahmas.
Our Lord Buddha observed his seventh Lent in Tavatimsa heaven. There, sitting on the brown emerald slab, “Pandukambala” the throne of Sakka, King of devas, he expounded the seven sections of Abhidhamma to his mother Santussita deva in the assembly of devas and Brahmas. The preaching of the Abhidhamma took the entire lent and ends in the full moon day of Thadingyut. In commemoration of this event, Buddhist all over the world celebrates this day as Abhidhamma day.
The Light Festival
On his return to the human world, the King of the Devas, Sakka, created three stairways:
1. one of gold on the right side for the devas,
2. one of silver on the left side for the Brahmas and
3. one in the middle of rubies for the Lord Buddha.
Many deities accompanied the Lord Buddha. They held several celestial regalia.
- Panca Thinkha deva on the right played the “Veluva” harp in praise of the Lord Buddha.
- Matali deva on the left carried flowers and fragrance to honor the Lord Buddha.
- Suyama deva carried the yak tail fly whisk,
- Santussita deva held the ruby-studded gold fan and
- Sakka deva blew the “Vizayuttara” Conch Shell to celebrate the occasion.
All deities from the entire Universe gathered to pay homage to the Lord Buddha. The three stairways thus illuminated by the radiance from the Devas’ body lead the way to the gateway of the City of Sakassa on earth. When the Lord Buddha set foot upon the earth, the crowd that awaited at the city gate all paid obeisance to the Lord Buddha and a grand ceremony was held to welcome the blessed one. The Buddha with his miraculous power opens the sight for the human to see the grandeur of the accompanying Devas and Brahmas.
Thadingyut Light Festival
To commemorate this great event in the life of the Lord Buddha which took place on the Full moon day of Thidingyut the Myanmar people hold “Tawedeintha” (Tavatimsa) festival or “Myint Mo Festival” because Tavatimsa is said to be on the summit of Mt. Myint Mo (Mt-Meru). In Myanmar replicas of Myint Mo are constructed to represent the three stairways and candle-light lamps are lit in the Thadingyut festivals replicating the Lord Buddha descend from Tavatimsa heaven to the human world on this day of Thadingyut. Many made their offerings to shrines and pagodas and alms are given to the monks. Hymns are sung in praise of the Buddha and his teaching, the Dhamma. There are receptions where many are entertained with fruits, cakes and light refreshments.
The religious festivals held in the month of Thadingyut are: Pawa rana and Puja.
The function is performed by the monks at the end of the Buddhist Lent where a monk has to ask other monks to reprimand him for any sin he may have committed. This function takes place every year on the full moon day of Thidingyut in the ordination hall of the monastery. Before the function takes place, junior monks sweep the floor, clean the place, and fill the pots with drinking water. Seats are prepared for the monks and the monks led by the most senior monk assemble to perform the Pawa rana function.
The origin of Pawa rana dates back to the lifetime of the Lord Buddha. While the Lord Buddha was residing in Jetavana Vihara at Savatthi, some monks observed lent at a village in Kosala. These monks believed that unity and happiness among them could be achieved by not talking to one another because talking could cause argument and dispute. So they kept mum through out the lent period. When the Lent was over they visited the Lord Buddha and paid homage to him. The Lord Buddha greeted them by asking after their health, happiness and unity during Lent. The monks explained how they kept mum and silent so as to gain unity and happiness.
The Lord Buddha admonished them, saying that keeping mum was like a deaf mute and that, that kind of behavior was disrespectful to the donors and supporters of Sangha. It is sinful for a monk to behave in such a manner. The best way to achieve unity and happiness among monks is by means of Pawa rana – by inviting monks to assemble and letting each monk by turn ask other monks to point out if he has seen, heard or suspected of committing any sin and if so, letting other monks reprimand the sinful monk. By so doing the sinful monk will become repentant and so be pardoned and the monks will live in harmony, unity and happiness.
Devotional Homage –Puja
The Puja is performed by laymen to worship or making devotional offering. In Buddhism there are five infinite debts of gratitude –
1. the gratitude owed to the Buddha,
2. the gratitude owed to the his teachings i.e. the Dhamma,
3. the gratitude owed to the Sangha (the assembly of monks)
4. the gratitude owed to the parents and
5. the gratitude owed to the teachers.
It is a religious obligation to worship and make devotional offerings to Buddha, Dhamma, Samghas, the parents, teachers and the elders... In addition those who are senior in age, rank, and position and those who have helped you while you are in difficulty should be respected, worshipped and given due puja.
Offerings of Gifts
The Full moon Day of Thadingyut is an auspicious occasion for Myanmar Buddhists to visit the aged, the seniors, the teachers and old friends to pay them reverence and give them devotional gifts. In return they receive blessings and loving kindness from them. To the minors some pocket money may he given by the aged for their enjoyment at the light festival of Thadingyut.
The procedure of puja is simple. The young’s sit in front of the aged or superiors and clasps the two hands and palms together in the form of a lotus bud and bows three times, asking forgiveness for any offense he or she may have committed physically, verbally or mentally. The aged then give in return pardon the young and some words of advice on good behavior, good conduct, good deed, and good way of living given in the Mangala Sutta.
The Festival of Lights in the month of Thadingyut is an occasion for rejoicing and merry-making but in essence it is an auspicious occasion for spiritual delight and merit making.
Thadingyut, the Month of the Light Festival by Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
The Light Festival of Thadingyut