The Merry Month
Myanmar New Year begins with sparays of cool water shower-ing on friends with goodwill and loving kindness. Come Kason, the second month of the year, and once again water is poured, this time, on the sacred tree, the Bodhi tree, the tree of enlightenment.
The full moon of Kason month is a three-fold anniversary: the birth of Siddatha. the Buddha to-be, His attainaing of Enlightenment at the foot of the Bothi tree, and the passing of the Budda into Nibana.
Such episodes in the Buddha’s life live on to this day, after 25 centuries, in poems, songs, plays, paintings, scriptures, and last but not least, in the hearts of the Buddhists. Emphasis is land on the paying of respects to the sacred tree, in remembrance of the Buddha’s Enlightenment. That particular day brought to all beings, hope of deliverance from Suffering.
On that morning, there was nothing but peace and beauty. Flowers unfolded their soft petals and threw open their treasure chests of sweetness. The air was filled with the song of birds. Far and near, into the homes of men, there spread an unknown peace. All evil hearts grew gentle.
Prince Siddatha, now in hermit’s garb, sat under the Bodhi tree, radiant, rejoicing and strong, and from His lips poured forth the words beginning Aneka jatisangasrung, a song of triumph. It was a glorious moment. He had, for many lives, sought “who wrought these prisons of the senses, sorrow fraught”. On that morning, he could declare. “I know thee, never shall thou build again these walls of pain”. He had become the Buddha.
After 45 years of teaching the Truth he had found, the Buddha passed away to His disciples was: “Always be mindful: never let yourselves slip into negligence and forgetfulness.”
Buddhists celebrate these anniversaries in the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. They give alms, keep precepts, practice meditation. The Buddha’s teachings are remembered in all their meritorious deeds. Since such deeds are done communally, the custom of going to the local pagodas in groups is observed for many generations.
Men and women of all ages go to local pagodas in processions to pour water on the sacred tree. Young women carry water pots on their heads, none too heavy, but just enough to lend them a Balinese grace as they walk along. Red earthen pots topped with green banana leaves give a picturesque effect, especially with flower bedecked chignons hanging down the maidens’ napes.
The procession, as usual, is attended by music troupes. The Myanmar folk music troupe consists of simple instruments, namely, the drum, cymbals, bamboo clappers and flute. With one or more mountebanks dancing to the snappy tunes one can have all the fun and merriment. One does not have to be specially talented to be able to play these instruments, nor anyone to be a Nureyev to do the dance steps. Anyone can join in.
The song usually are playful and testing and they run something like this:
Come along my pretty maid
I’ll take thee right to Nibbana
It’s the goal I’ll strive
For thee and me, for me and thee.
Thou art all goodness and virtue
Ever bent on doing deeds of merit,
Oh, look, thy beauteous face al damp
With beads of perspiration, oh,
Do not strain so much, my dear,
Let me help thee…let me carry the pot for thee!
Here the ardent swain is asking his maid to come along with him to the Goal of Nibbana, the Cessation of all desires. Buddhism teaches negation of al worldly desires. This is, perhaps, one of the idiosyncracies of Myanmar ways and customs. They stick to the principles of Buddhism and at the same time they are very much of the world.
When a young man says “ the three little words” he does so in terms of samsara, the cycle of rebirths. His “yours forever” promises to love her, not only in this life but in all the lives to come. “May we always together in all our future lives…if we were born as birds, we shall roost on the same branch,…such expressions are common in love songs.
Nibbana is the goal for all Buddhists to strive for; but then it is a long way to go. There is plenty to enjoy, and inevitably to suffer, (but never mind!), and also much to do in the way of striving for the Goal. Naturally, one wishes to have a helpmate and companion for the long journey “to warn, to comfort and command.”
Perhaps, this ever-present Buddhist way of thought in all aspects of Myanmar life exalts the mundane and the earthy to sublime and spiritual heights.
Even as the young couples pour water on the Bodhi tree, their thoughts are on the meaning of the full moon of Kason month, the triple anniversary, Prince Siddatha’s nativity, His Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and his passing into Nibbana. The event is celebrated in folk songs, classical arias and even in modern pop tunes.