Myanmar is one of the largest country in South East Asia, stretching over 2,000 km from North to South. It is twice the size of Vietnam, over a quarter larger than Thailand, and Myanmar is bigger than England and France combined. Ethnically diverse, Myanmar is a nation of many races – some 130 ethnic groups make up its population of nearly 45 million. The majority of Myanmar’s people are Bamars (from which the British coined the name Burma), but the Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Mon, Rakhine and others are also prominent throughout the country. Myanmar’s climate is tropical: during the cool season from late November through February, temperatures are pleasantly mild ranging from 21C to 28 C; the hot season from March to April can see the mercury reach as high as 45 C; and during the months of the rainy season, from May to October short rainstorms are frequent in the late afternoons.
The Nationalities of Myanmar
Myanmar’s ethnically diverse population is a result of three major migrations from Tibet and Central Asia, the cradle of humanity. The people of Myanmar are descendants of three main branches: The Mon-Khmer, the Tibeto-Burman, and the Thai-Chinese.
The Kaya, Mon, Wa, La, Palaung, Pale, Yao, Riang, Padaung, Ylnbaw, Zayein, and others originated from the Mon-Khmer group, while the Shan, Kayin and Taungthu, etc., find their roots in the Thai-Chinese community.
The Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Lolo, Rahkine, Kadu, Hpon, Maru, Lashi, Rawang, Azi, Nung, Daru, Yaw, Mro, Inthat, Naga, Gauri, Lisu, Lahu, among others, evolved from the Tibeto-Burman group.
Historical and Cultural Heritage
Kuthodaw Pagoda, in Mandalay, which houses the entire Buddhist scriptures carved onto 729 marble slabs is “The world’s largest book”. Built by King Mindon, it is indeed a rare and splendid sight.
Myanmar’s unique historical and cultural heritage dates back over 5,000 years. Evidence confirming the existence of stone age people has been found throughout the country.
Early Myanmars were said to be Mons, and the first politically important inhabitants were the Pyu who date back to the early period of the Christian era.
It was Bagan, however, which was founded in the 11th century, that gave rise to the dominant culture and civilization in Myanmar’s history.
Arts and Crafts of Myanmar
Myanmar is an enchanting country with a rich history in arts and crafts. Mandalay, the ancient capital and the glory of Myanmar Kings, represents the largest repository of Myanmar arts and crafts.
Visitors can observe carvers of ivory, wood and stone, in addition to makers fo gold leaf, silk weavers, silversmiths and bronze-casters, as they ply their respective trades according to the time-honored traditions of their forefathers.
The pagodas, religious monuments, and major Buddhist sculptures seen all over Myanmar are authentic examples of the rich tradition of Bagan arts andcrafts and of prior eras of craftmanship so evident throughout Myanmar’s history.
Highlights on Scenic Beauty
Myanmar is blessed with natural scenic beauty making for landscapes that are incredibly picturesque. The country’s great lakes, snowcapped mountains and unspoiled beaches are undoubtedly some of the most stunning, idyllic, and mystical places to be found anywhere on earth.
Myanmar’s physical beauty is enhanced by the spectacular pagodas and temples that can be found all over the country. These venues for contemplation and prayer radiate the obvious spirituality of the people.
Special Events Around The Year
Myanmar is popularly known as The Land of Festivals because of the countless religious and cultural festivals that take place all ycar round. Some are nation-wide festivities while others are popular solely around the city of Yangon or in the District Areas.
On January 4th, Independence Day of the Union of Myanmar is celebrated across the country. Countless parades and fairs mark this important day and everyone joins in the festivities. The Myanmar Traditional Equestrian Festival or Myin-Khin-Thabin is a national festival which is held annually in Yangon In ancient times, this festival provided the Myanmar Kings with the opportunity to demonstrate their military might, but today its main purpose is for the perpetuation of Myanmar patriotism. It is a fantastic occasion and tourists are warmly welcomed to participate in the many celebrations.
Traditionally, this is the month of the Harvest Festival when people rejoice in the feast of Htamane. No one should miss this opportunity to sample a delicious Myanmar delicacy consisting of glutinour rice freckle with coconut, sesamum seeds, peanuts, ginger, and oil, which is specially prepared for the feast.
The Thingyan festival don’t wear your Sunday best!ï¿½ The anniversary of the Union Day falls on February 12. Representatives and cultural troupes of the seven States and seven Divisions of the Union of Myanmar dressed in colourful, traditional costumes gather at venues across the country. Traditional entertainment highlights the beauty of the different ethnic groups found within the Union.
March is the most colorful month of the year as Pagoda Festivals arc in full swing. The Shwedagon Pagoda Festival is held on the day of the full moon of Tabaung and is one of the month s biggest events. During this festival, visitors can get a feel for the spirituality of the people of Myanmar by participating in events at temple fairs or by observing the rituals of the holiday.
Thingyan or the Water Festival is held throughout the country for three days in the month of April. It simultaneously marks the end of the old year and beginning of the new. Young people gather together to sing and dance, and to playfully throw water on each other. Throughout the Thingyan Carnivals decorative floats and water throwing pandals are seen everywhere in both towns and cities alike. If you are not afraid of getting wet, this high spirited festival is one that you won’t want to miss!
The Kason Festival of watering the Sacred Banyan Tree symbolises the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha. It is an important Buddhist holiday and many processions are held at temple grounds throughout the country.
JUNE AND JULY
The onset of monsoon season makes June and July relatively quiet months in Myanmar. There are, however, various smaller Buddhist festivals to be enjoyed.
Taungpyone Nat or Spirit Festival is a popular five day festival held in Taungpyone near Mandalay. According to tradition, Nats are spirits that must be appeased or they will wreak havoc in people’s lives. The two Nat Brothers honoured during Taungpyone Nat belong to the 37 well-known Myanmar Nats. The story of the two Nat Brothers originated during the rule of King Anawrahta, when it was the duty of every person in the kingdom to contribute a brick and a handful of sand for the construction of a Pagoda. The brothers failed to contribute their share and orders came from the King for them to be mildly punished. Unfortunately, the Nat Brothers were accidentally killed.
The King was remorseful and built a big Nat (spirit) shrine by the side of the Pagoda honoring the two brothers.
The homage-paying festival is now held annually to appease the spirits as it is believed that the Nat Brothers can fulfill your wishes, protect you from ill-fate and danger, and bring good luck, prosperity and progress.
The famous Phaung-Daw-Oo Pagoda Festival is held at Inle Lake once a year. The procession of the Inle leg-rowers in full pageantry and ceremonial splendour is a sight not to be missed by anyone visiting Myanmar.
OCTOBER & NOVEMBER
The opening ceremony of Visit Myanmar Year 1 1996 will be kicked off on a grand scale. The celebration will be a gloriously festive occasion. The Thadingyut or Light Festival, which ends the Buddhist I Lent, is also one of the most prominent festivals of the year. Another celebration of light is the Tazaungdine festival held in November. Pagodas, houses, buildings, parks, and monuments arc all illuminated and there are various kinds of activities for everyone to enjoy. The other important festival outside Yangon is the exotic Elephant Dance held in Kyaukse, a small town not far from Mandalay.
A huge elephant figure is made from bamboo and paper Men take their places inside the figure and dance around the town to the accompaniment of Dobat and Drums. The elephant dancers circle three times at the foot of the hill to pay homage to the Shwe Tha Lyaung Pagoda. It is a dance that requires precise rhythm and timing in order for the elephant dancers to maintain unity inside the elephant figure.
The traditional Boat Regatta Festival is held at Kandawgyi Lake to remind the younger generations of the glory, sovereignty, patriotism and national spirit of Myanmar.