Myanmar Consolidated Media
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60th Anniversary of Indonesia~Myanmar

Pilgrims flock to Shwesettaw for Tabaung

By Moh Moh Thaw
March 28 - April 3, 2011

Pilgrims play in Mann Creek on March 19, the full moon day of Tabaung, at the Shwesettaw Pagoda Festival in Magwe Region. Pic: Seng Mai

ALMOST 100,000 pilgrims made the arduous journey to the Shwesettaw Pagoda Festival in Magwe Region’s Minbu township for the Tabaung full moon day, trustees said last week.

The March 19 full moon day fell in the middle of what is one of the country’s longest and most well-known pagoda festivals, which runs from the fifth waning day of Tabodwe to Myanmar New Year’s Day – February 8 to April 17 this year.

U Htay Min Thein, a member of Shwesettaw Pagoda’s board of trustees, told The Myanmar Times that about 40,000 pilgrims visit the pagoda on an average weekend during the festival and the number drops off during the week.

“But on the full moon day there were so many pilgrims here that it was difficult to walk on the platform of Ahtat Settaw Yar [Pagoda],” U Htay Min Thein said, referring to the main pagoda at the Shwesettaw site.

“[At Ahtat Settaw Yar Pagoda] we received K6.4 million from sales of gold leaf and another K3 million from donation boxes in one day alone. We will use the money for novitiation ceremonies at the pagodas and other necessary things” such as renovation work, he added.

The festival is held annually beside Mann Creek, about 400 miles (640 kilometres) north of Yangon on the west bank of the Ayeyarwady River. The site features several pagodas, including Ahtat Settaw Yar, which is reputed to contain a footprint of the Guattama Buddha. Another footprint, called Eyunt Settaw Yar, is housed in a pagoda at the bottom of the hill beside Mann Creek.

The festival takes its name from the footprints, which are gilded and collectively known as Shwesettaw (golden footprint), and pilgrims strongly believe that the footprints were laid by the Guattama Buddha more than 2500 years ago.

Pilgrims are accommodated in hundreds of bamboo huts constructed on the mostly dried up creek bed, and the large number of visitors on March 19 pushed accommodation prices up as much as 300 percent.

The single-room bamboo huts – large enough for about five people – can normally be rented for K15,000 to K20,000 but the price jumped to as high as K60,000 on the full moon day, pilgrims said.

“When my daughter’s family visited here last month, they paid just K20,000 for a hut near the creek with a good view. But when we arrived on the evening of the full moon day most of the huts were already occupied, so we had to pay K50,000 for a hut near the creek,” said Daw Sann Yin, who travelled from Yangon for the festival.

“Our group is big – there are 10 people, including me. We planned to rent two rooms but because they are so expensive we decided to rent just one,” she added.

Despite the high cost of accommodation, most pilgrims said they were still pleased to have the chance to pay their respects to the footprints of the Buddha.

“We expected the accommodation would be more expensive than normal on the full moon day and some people avoid coming for that very reason,” said U Khin Maung, who arrived with his family early on March 19 from Sagaing. “But we come to this festival on the full moon day every year. We like to pay respect to the original footprint of the Buddha on this special day.”

The festival concludes on April 17 – Myanmar New Year’s Day – and is the second-longest in the country after the Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock) Pagoda Festival in Mon State.