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Tazaungdaing: Fire. Balloons. Camera. Action!

TAUNGGYI, Shan State — Tazaungdaing in Taunggyi is bedlam.

Picture hundreds of homemade fireworks strapped to the basket of a hot-air balloon, let off in the middle of a crowd of tens of thousands. Absolute mayhem.

Early this month, the full moon festival of Tazaungdaing was celebrated in Taunggyi, the Shan State capital, with more than 300 balloons taking to the air over the course of a week.

The Tazaungdaing balloon spectacle has been celebrated for decades, according to local leaders, although most struggle to put an exact year to when the Taunggyi festivities first kicked off. Dressed in the traditional Pa-O green turban and indigo tunic, U Ya Ma from the Pa-O Culture and Literature Association says, “The festival has got a rich religious essence to it. Pa-O people are especially happy to celebrate the festival since it is the time when they make merit by offering lights to Buddha and donating robes to monks.”

During the evening time extravaganza, there is certainly no shortage of light on offer. Candles are individually lit in colourful baskets and hung onto a delicate balloon bag made of thin Shan paper. Then there are the firecrackers let off at random by cheeky youths. And of course, the main event: large-scale hot-air balloons with fireworks spilling over the basket launched and, if they fail to reach a certain altitude before the lit fuses reach their terminus, saturating the crowd in myriad hues of light — and fire.

Khun Than Htun in his workshop. (Photo: Libby Hogan/ DVB)
Khin Maung Chit eyes his creation, sponsored by KBZ bank. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Volunteers put the finishing touches on the firework displays. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Last minute assembling on firecrackers before the festival kicks off. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)

But during the day, the locals don’t let up either.

Deer, chickens and parrots made of coloured paper can be seen floating up into the sky. But more often than not, many come down just as quickly.

A team inflates their balloon to take part in the daytime festivities. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Unfortunately many balloons come down just as quickly as they go up. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Flipflops is the footwear choice of balloon teams, despite the heat. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)

Sometimes, things can turn deadly.

At least twelve people were injured and one died during the festival on 30 October. Fire chief Kyaw The explained that a fireworks-laden balloon came down on a crowded cluster of shops bordering the staging grounds, where people were sitting at tables and eating. But on the night DVB spoke to him, he assured us that members of the fire services were stationed around the field in both mobile teams as well as two fire trucks, ready to respond to any sudden disasters.

“It’s not supposed to be a mournful event, it’s supposed to be a joyful event,” said Aung Myo Tun, chief of fire services during the daytime activities at the launching grounds, speaking to DVB on November 2.

One of the youngest creators of a balloon masterpiece, Khun Maung Chit, also didn’t seem to be perturbed by risking potential injury, or even death.

“I am just so happy to make this. Sometimes, things may not turn out as we planned, but every year we are learning,” he said.

A balloon displays carrying hundreds of candles pinned to a bamboo design. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Boy lights candles. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
One of the intricate balloon designs with candles and fireworks. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Pa O youth team with their balloon volunteer group taking a team pic before launching their creation. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)
Firemen watch on as fireworks explode from one of the balloons. (Photo: Libby Hogan / DVB)


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