Water levels at Inle Lake have almost returned to normal – just in time for one of the country’s largest and most spectacular cultural events, the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival.
Organisers of the Thadingyut festival, which features the traditional leg-rowed boat processions, say the water is now deep enough both for boat races and for the transportation of images of the Buddha to villages around the lake.
“Although the water is still about a foot (30 centimetres) below its normal level, there’s no problem for the journey of the Buddha images. Since early September we’ve been preparing for the festival by clearing waterways along the planned route of the Karaweik (holy mythological Brahmin duck) barge, which will carry the Buddha images around the lake,” said organising committee secretary U Tin Aung.
In August, the government announced that the surface area of Inle Lake had fallen to 27 square miles this summer, or 13 square miles less than it was in 2008.
U Tin Aung said the pagoda festival would be held from October 9 to 26 – the first day of the waxing to the third day of the waning moon of Thadingyut – this year.
During the ceremony, four of the five images from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda in Nan Oo village will be transported to 21 locations around the lake so worshipers can pay homage.
U Soe Aung, chairman of the pagoda’s board of trustees, said that originally all five images were transported around the lake. But, according to legend, on one occasion the barge carrying them capsized and only four of the five images were recovered. When the barge returned to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the fifth “lost” image was waiting in its place, covered in algae. The following year, an attempt to transport all five images was abandoned in the face of strong winds and storms, and since then the fifth image has always stayed at home in the pagoda.
U Soe Aung said the legend of the pagoda began 898 years ago, in the Myanmar calendar year 474. The King of the Celestials, Thagyarmin, fashioned five Buddha images out of sandalwood and gave them to King Alaung Sithu (AD1088-1158). After being separated for many years, the images were reunited at Indein before being transferred to Nan Oo village.
U Tin Aung said that the semi-finals and finals of the one-leg rowing boat race would take place on October 15,and the Buddha images would accept homage in Nyaungshwe and return to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda on October 26.
“The boat race categories are for 100, 46 and 26 rowers for men, 26 rowers for women, and 26 or 46 rowers for boys,” he said.
U Tin Aung said that boats that help pull the Buddha images are also allowed to participate in the races. “There are usually about 40 boats that pull Karaweik. Normally, 12 to 15 groups participate in the 100 rowers category. Actually, the main purpose of the boat race is to maintain our customs, not to win prizes. Winners are happy and losers also dance in ceremony. Every group in the race is recognised for their effort. They use their prize money to maintain and repair their boats,” he said.
Yangon-based travel services are also preparing a package for pilgrims wishing to visit the pagoda festival and other destinations in Shan State.
“We’ve been offering our package, including hotel, meals and all transportation expenses since mid-September. About 45 packages have already been sold. Normally we arrange about 90 packages every year,” said Ma Zin Mar Oo, tour operation staff of GL travel service.
She said the bus would leave Yangon on October 22 and return on October 26.