In Myanmar, festivals are typically centred around the country’s many beautiful pagodas and serve to mark auspicious events in the lunar calendar. From the overnight robe weaving contests at Shwedagon Pagoda, to the cane ball tournament, the water festival at New Year and the Dancing elephants at Kyaukse, the Burmese people know how to celebrate throughout the year.
January 1-23 annually
Twenty-two days of offerings paint the month of January with a sense of religious stoicism in Bagan. Monks wait in long lines as their alm bowls are filled with crops. Bullock cart-bearing pilgrims travel to the festival to peddle their goods, while market stalls and restaurants offer up delicious cuisine on the fairgrounds.
First week of January annually
The hill people, also known as the Scots of Myanmar, celebrate the Manaw festival every January for one day. Also known as the Kachin New Year, the festival celebrates battle victories and tribe reunions of the past year. Spiritual dances create a colorful display as everyone in town joins in the fun in the little town of Kachin.
January 14-16 2016
Occupying the North West corner of Myanmar, the Naga is a small culture living in the hilly country. A traditional Naga New Year Festival is a rare cultural treat, where gifts are exchanged, and traditional music and dance are performed for local and international entertainment. The daylong festival promotes friendship and amity.
February 23-26 2016
Visitors and locals sink their teeth into different sticky rice delicacies with various toppings at the Maha Muni Pagoda Festival in Mandalay. Lasting two days, the festival celebrates the revered Maha Muni Buddha Image covered in thick gold. Bonfires decorate the festival grounds during the cold month of February.
February 20 annually
Reinstated in 2013, Chin National Day represents renewed hope for the Chin People in Hakha. Once not permitted to celebrate their national holiday during military rule, the festival is back with a strong sense of pride. Fireworks, concerts, and parades make the ethnic holiday a celebration for all in attendance.
Local tribespeople flock to Kakku for this two-day festival in Taunggyi in the Shan State. Slender, elegant pagodas decorate the festival grounds in the traditional geometric look typical of the region. Unique the world over, Kakku is enjoyed locally and is gaining international popularity as Myanmar enters the global community.
March 3-10 2015
Singing, dancing and overall merriment are in store for those attending the Ko Gyi Kyaw Spirit Festival in Pakhan. Lasting eight days, the annual festival celebrates the happy spirit Ko Gyi Kyaw in his hometown in the Mandalay region. Worshippers, visitors and locals alike join in the festivities and traditional displays.
Seeking enlightenment and escaping hell, the Novitiation Ceremony celebrates young men becoming novices in Buddhism. A religious celebration, this fascinating cultural tradition involves a parade where the new novices walk about dressed as princes. Invaluable among Buddhist families, this is a rite of passage for young Burmese men.
March 10-15 2015
Visitors gain a rare insight into the mysterious Shan culture at the Bawgyo Pagoda Festival in the Thibaw Township. Observing ancient traditions, the culture is unique to the rest of the country. The famous pagoda is the pinnacle of the festival. Visitors enjoy traditional dances, performances, music and cuisine in the town’s park.
March 2-9 2016
The Shwe Oo Min Pagoda in the mountains overlooking Pindaya is home to the Pindaya Cave, which houses thousands of golden Buddha statues and images. During the festival, people come from the surrounding areas and set up camp around the cave for five days before the full moon, cooking, selling local crafts and celebrating together.
March 1-5 2016
The Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most sacred to Buddhists in Myanmar and for a week before the full moon, hundreds of people make a pilgrimage to the temple to walk up the steps and listen to the monks who chant continuously. They give offerings and donations to the images and relics of Buddha and compete to weave holy robes over night.
Out with the old and in with the new! On the eve of Myanmar’s new year, the country cleanses the bad deeds of the prior year through splashing themselves and their friends with water. Elders spend the waterfight relaxing in the monasteries and pagoda precincts. The five-day festival takes place throughout the entire country.
The nomadic sea gypsies of the Myeik Archipelago, also known as the Salon people, live on boats for half the year and retreat to land during the rainy season. This festival celebrates their lifestyle as all the communities come together to pray for their continued good fortune and to drink, dance and socialize together.
The pagodas of Pakokku on the west bank of the Ayeyawady River are home to this annual two-week traditional country fair. While traditional plays and dances are performed, local crafts, chillies, tobacco and fabrics are sold and women from all over the country stock up on organic cosmetics made from the tree bark found in the area.
July 11-18 2016
Mewanna, The Goddess of Mt Popa is the mother of two powerful Nats (spirits) who were brothers. She is said to have stopped at the Yadana Gu on her way home from Taunbyon to her shrine at Popa and today, people commemorate her journey by traveling to the site in boats and celebrating her status as the protector of women.
September 6-7 2014, 2015
The day before the full moon, young women from the surrounding villages bring offerings of fruits and cakes to the Manuha Pagoda and the men march in a grand carnival procession with paper statues of gods and animals. During the evening there are traditional performances and in the morning, monks are invited and presented with alms.
October 13 - 30 2015
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda lies in the middle of the Inle Lake and is home to five gold leaf-covered statues of Buddha. Every year, four of the Buddhas are placed in the royal barge which is led by boats driven by leg-rowers. The barge procession visits the surrounding villages and the statues are housed in the monasteries overnight.
Marking the day Buddha returned from spending lent in heaven, Thidingyut Festival, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for three days during the month of October throughout Myanmar. The final day is the climax as the festival goers release balloons into the sky and shoot off fireworks at night.
For five days, visitors come from around central Myanmar to this famous pagoda with its distinctive egg-shaped dome to pay homage to the 56-foot solid marble Buddha housed inside. Many travel in a caravan of traditional bullock carts and camp in the pagoda compound under the trees, and sell local crafts and fabrics from their villages.
Coinciding with the full moon festival, visitors flock to Taunngyi from far and wide to celebrate on the night of the full moon. Balloons in the shapes of animals, including horse, ox, pig, owl and elephant are lit up and released into the night sky as an offering to the Gods and Nats, to ward off evil spirits.
December 31 2014, 2015
Kyaik-Hti-Yo Pagoda spire sits on top of an enormous rock, covered in gold leaf, perched on a cliff edge. It is customary for pilgrims from all over the country to join the ceremony in which 9,000 lamps are lit around the rock to celebrate the New Year and to offer thanks to Buddha for his peaceful philosophy and wisdom.