The Thadingyut Festival, also known as the Lighting Festival of Myanmar, is held on the full moon day of the Burmese lunar month of Thadingyut.
Buddha’s mother, Maya, died seven days after the Buddha was born and then she was reborn in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. In order to pay back the gratitude to his mother, Buddha preached Abhidhamma to his mother for three Lenten months. When he was descending back to the mortal world, Sakra-devanam-indra, the ruler of the Trayastrimsa Heaven, ordered all the saints and evils to make three precious stairways. Those stairways were made of gold, silver and ruby. The Buddha took the middle one with the ruby. The Nats (Deva) came along by the right golden stairways and the Brahmas from the left silver stairways. Buddhists celebrate Thadingyut to welcome the Buddha and his disciples by enlightening and festooning the streets, houses and public buildings with colored electric bulbs or candles, which represent those three stairways. Younger people pay homage to elders during this season. They ask for forgiveness if they have committed any and in return. the elders give them back love and forgiveness.
During Thadingyut, pagodas and homes throughout the country are decorated with electric lights, colourful paper lanterns, candles and even small ceramic saucers filled with oil in which wicks are lit. Major religious sites such as Shwedagon Pagoda are packed with pilgrims who light candles to pay homage to the Buddha and gain merit. Each light adds to the incredible spectacle of thousands of small flames burning in the night. Out on the streets, meanwhile, some people light fireworks or launch small hot-air balloons, which silently ascend and drift across the sky before burning out. Groups of young people and children can be seen walking with candles and gifts in their hands to pay respect elders. In Burmese we call Kadaw. actually it is more than paying respects or doing obeisance.
During Thadingyut Festival, there are zat pwes (Myanmar musical plays), free movie shows and stage shows on most of the streets around the country. There are also a lot of food-stalls, which sell a variety of Myanmar traditional foods and shops, which sell toys, kitchen utensils and other useful stuffs on most of the streets. Sometime people just walk around in those streets just for sightseeing and have fun. Some people like to play with fire crackers and fire balloons. During the festival days, Buddhists usually go to pagodas and monasteries to pay respect to the monks and offer foods. And some Buddhists usually fast on the full moon day. Young people usually pay respect to their parents, teachers and elderly relative and offer them some fruits and other gifts. Also while paying homage the younger people usually ask for forgiveness from the sins they have caused upon their parents or the other elderly relatives throughout the year. Traditionally the elders tell their youngsters that they forgive any of their wrong doings and continue to bless them with good luck and gift some big notes as pocket money. It is also usual for younger siblings to pay homage to their older siblings.In return, the elder ones wish good luck for them and give them some pocket money.
Thadingyut is also a time for street fairs, one of the most popular of which is held along several blocks of Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Yangon. For three days the air is thick with the aroma of fried food, and street vendors urge passersby to throw their money away on blue jeans, wristwatches, sunglasses and the latest hip-hop gangsta-wear from China. There are impossible-to-win ring-toss games, as well as sketchy Ferris wheels that are spun manually by acrobatic, death-defying carnies. Thadingyut is also associated with paying homage not only to the Buddha and his teachings (dhamma), but also to the order of monks (sangha), parents, teachers and elder relatives. In this way, laypeople are able to emulate the gesture of gratitude that the Buddha paid to his mother during his sequester in Tavatimsa. Visits are made to parents and elders to present gifts and to give thanks, and some people hand out food donations (satuditha) to friends, family and strangers alike. In a ceremony known as pawarana, monks ask their monastic brethren to reprimand them for any sins they may have committed.
Several areas around Myanmar have their own unique way of celebrating Thadingyut. At Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda in Mon State – popularly known as Golden Rock – pilgrims offer 9000 lit candles and 9000 flowers to the Buddha. In Shwe Kyin in Bago Region, located along the banks of the Sittaung River, the day after the full moon day is marked with a decorative boat competition and the launch of a Karaweik barge carrying images of the Buddha. After darkness falls, thousands of lotus-shaped oil lamps are lit and set afloat on the water.
The opportunity to experience this festival is truly unique and memorable. Throughout the country, people gather for three days of celebrations to mark this religious holiday. The holiday is celebrated in different ways throughout the country.