“In Yangon, everyone drives like they are James Bond,” my taxi driver told me on the first day of the three-day Thadingyut festival. Never was that statement truer than during the annual Festival of Light.
Each year, thousands of Buddhists from across the country flock to Rangoon to mark the end of Buddhist lent, which ends on the full moon day in the seventh month of the Burmese calendar. Buddhists typically make the journey home to pay their respects to their elders, offering gifts in exchange for forgiveness of past wrongdoings. Often, it’s a rare chance to come home and enjoy family time.
Second only to Thingyan – the world-famous water Festival – Thadingyut is the most significant holiday in Buddhism, signifying the day that Buddha descended from the heavens.
Yay Kyaw Street comes alive at night during Thadingyut, with music, street vendors, and carnival rides (fuelled by manpower alone) attracting a throng of locals and visitors alike. For the romantics, the holiday is the perfect chance for couples and families to take a picnic to Public Park, where water slides and singalongs to pop music set the air alight with atmosphere.
Although celebrations are held across Rangoon, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a pilgrimage most Buddhists make during the festival, sinking to their knees to seek blessings and offer donations to monks.