There are a number of holidays celebrated all over the world where for a few days, people are free from the usual social restrictions to do – more or less, whatever they want to. Mardi Gras is like that in America, and in Myanmar – the country formerly known as Burma, their holiday – a New Year’s celebration, takes place this month. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
music (CD–Music of Myanmar, Cut #8)
The Burmese New Year celebration is called Thingyan. It’s a festival inspired by religious legends, but according to Kyaw Thahla, the founder of the Thingyan Association in New York City, it’s also celebrated for more mundane reasons.
(10:46, p. 2) “In Burma, April is a very hot time, and it’s a great way of cooling each other. It’s one of the most fun things. Imagine for three days you splash water at each other and you can’t get mad. The only people you don’t splash water on are pregnant women, monks and the postman.”
Burma has a full roster of cultural and political restrictions, but during Thingyan, all those taboos are supposedly lifted. So, thanks to this ancient religious holiday, for three days in April the Burmese people can experience at least some of the freedoms that they’re denied the rest of the year.
(7:11, p. 2) “One of the taboos in Burma is that a boy will not necessarily go to a girl and ask for a date. They’re very kept apart, you do it through a third person. But on those three days, no one can get mad, if a boy wishes to talk to a girl, they can go and directly talk to them and the girl can not get mad.”
And the holiday of Thingyan could have a significant impact in a country known for its tight governmental controls.
(8:27, p. 2) “One of the taboos is of course to refrain your speech. Since that’s the day where all the taboos are lifted, (9:32, p. 2) during those three days, people can lash out whatever they want towards the government or any kind of institution, and they can not be reprimanded or held accounted for what they have said on those three days.”
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.