You Have Been Invited to: Buddha’s Birthday Party (as practiced in Pyay)

Alternate title: Stranger in an Even Stranger Land.

How to celebrate the birth and life of he who taught the virtues of nonattachment, meditation, and mindfulness, who preached that the end to suffering lay in the visceral understanding of the illusory, transient nature of all that we find solid, dependable, and significant, the one who planted himself under the Boddhi tree and vowed to sit in adamant silence until he had attained enlightenment, the one who then gave his life over to compassion for all living beings?

Duhhh, you’ve got to PARTAYYYYY!

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Someone told us the night before (over frosted glasses of “Dagon Extra Strong” brew) that the next day was a big one and that we should be sure to visit the main temple the following evening to observe the ritual of pouring water onto the roots of the temple’s central Boddhi tree.

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During Thailand’s infamous Songkran Festival, where locals and tourists alike go mad attacking each other indiscriminately with squirt guns, supersoakers, and buckets of ice water, you can occasionally spot a solitary grandma or grandpa gently pouring a glass of water over the head of each small Buddha statuette they pass in the street.  My guess is that the tradition started this way and over time e(or de?)volved into a massivewater fight.

No surprise then that Myanmar’s festival has also taken on some…accoutrements.

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Some classy.

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Some crazy.

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Everybody’s feelin’ it.

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Rockin’ out to blaring horns and this little dude with bamboo clappers.

And that was before we even entered the temple!  Here’s the stairway up.

(Photo by Chris Buchman)

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Immediately upon reaching the top, our gang split up.  It was impossible to stick together, what with the throngs and the cacaphony and the general festivating.  I myself was drawn to the percussion circle

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which was next to the “wear a loincloth and get some inverse chiropractic treatment” circle

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  which was next to the “alternating armpit exposure” (AKA Burmese Capoeira) circle

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which was just on the other side of the “pirate guy, seated on what looks to be a primitive animatronic tortoise, in battle with a green-haired Neanderthal archer” circle.

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No joke.

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It later dawned on me that the tortoise wasn’t actually animatronic; Jack Sparrow there is wearing the turtle like a skirt, and the limpy jean legs up there are empty.

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The crowd enjoyed it nonetheless.

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In the temple’s inner sanctum, people were behaving with a bit more…decorum.

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Doing prostrations, asking for blessings, doing the pouring thing.

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Brought back memories of punk shows and mosh pits.

On the rooftops, people enjoyed time away from the crowds, breathing the fresh air, eating sliced guava with salt and chili powder, and hanging around with a giant Buddha towering in the background.

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The whole ordeal took me about two hours, but I never did find the Boddhi tree that was supposed to be the center of the event.

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Happy (belated) birthday, dude.

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3 Responses to You Have Been Invited to: Buddha’s Birthday Party (as practiced in Pyay)

  1. Adam says:

    Sweet. We miss fauxboing with you even though I believe I was constantly sweating during all our fobo adventuring…
    Can’t beat that Chang, tho. It blows all those other Thai beers out of the water

  2. myra says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful event with all of us – i wish we had been there.