Of all the festivals, the most important is the one at Taungbyone – one of the most colorful celebrations that we highly recommend you to experience in your Myanmar tour. Twenty Kilometres north of Mandalay, on the Madaya railway line Taungbyone may also be reached by boat or by road so long as the roads have not been rendered impassable after heavy rains. The celebration takes place before and during the August full moon, in the middle of the month of Waso.
Hundreds of Natkadaw, not to mention thousands of pilgrims and the curious who come for a good time, assemble from all parts of the land. All who are married or related to the Taungbyone nats, though not necessarily a professional natkadaw, must come to pay homage or send a representative to act for them.
The approach to Taungbyone is punctuated with memorials to the Brothers’ stormy lives. Several alters show the stages of the rape of the virtuous Mei Oo by the younger brother riding on a tiger. The village where the brothers ate their first rabbits is now a place to visit. In Taungbyone itself the place where the boys use to play marbles, the room where they used to meditate and even their bedrooms are now attractions. At the pagoda of Vows, built by Anawrahta as a test of his subjects’ loyalty, 2 bricks are missing by the keystone of one of the porches. The nats’ palace is situated opposite with the pagoda and is the most important nat shrine in Burma.
The Taungbyone rites are enacted at 3 different times in the year. The shrine is opened at the end of a December afternoon. On the following day King Anawrahta’s proclamation, originally made after his departure to China in a quest for the fabulous tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, is read.
Around February or March, the same performance is repeated to celebrate his return. Having failed to win the tooth the expedition returns with a jade Buddha and fame for the 2 Brothers. On the day after this opening of the shrine, ablutions are performed. These are minor ceremonies when compared to the important six days and nights of the main event in August.
Then the first day is devoted to the offerings of devotees in the morning and to the official opening in the afternoon. Some people, having made their offerings, at this point leave the festival to escape the excess of the following days. At the opening of the shrine doors, a great crowd rushes forward, many with coconuts held aloft, trying to reach first the after of the two brothers.
The crowd swells, tense with excitement; there are ribald singing and bawdy heckling. Alcohol is passed about and drunk as the rabbits are grilled. It is offered to the nats behind the altar in the hall of mirrors where the dancers get dressed. Ferns have particular importance in this festival. Once in contact with the nats, they will protect the vital irrigation channels. The man will make a crown of them for themselves and take it back to their fields.