Taunggyi Tazaungdaing festival

In recently opening Myamar tourists and backpackers still remain on the beaten track and allow themselves some weeks to tick the highly rated spots like Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandaly. Places which have been advertised by the military government decades ago. Even though, there is so much more to explore.

Tazaungdaing Festival is also known as Festival of Lights, it takes place during new moon on the 8th month of the Buddhist calendar, marking the end of the rainy season. It also marks the end of the Kathina (Kahtein in Burmese) period, when the monks are given new robes and alms. People send up fire balloons and multicolored lanterns to commemorate the day, when Buddha returned from the visit of his mother’s reincarnated spirit. The lights in the sky should illuminate the path back to earth. The balloons are released as an offering to the Sulamani Cetiya in Tavitisma, a heaven in Buddhist cosmology and home of the devas, or as a way to drive away evil spirits. The origins of the balloons launching tradition dates back to 1894, when the British held the first hot air balloon competitions in Taunggyi, soon after the annexing Upper Burma.

Tazaungdaing is Shan State’s biggest event. The locals (aprrox 5-10’000) are awaiting the festival with excitement. One can feel this magical moment! There are weaving contests, wooden Carousels (manually started by young staff hanging on the cabins), feasts and games to enjoy. The teams are playing traditional instruments and drums while brining their hot air balloon to the launching point. The crowd waits in astonishment for the firework to explode. Usually there is 50 kilo pack of firework ajusted to the hot air balloons. After around 50 meters of altitude the firework starts launching, pointing in all directions – even downwards.

As everywhere in Myanmar, locals are welcoming foreingers with excitement. I ventured down to the launching place whereas the fire fighters allowed me (even motiviated me) to slip through the security fence to be part of the launching process, to light up candles or even to help the teams releasing the hot air ballons. Also seeing the hot air balloon rising high, over the full moon still shooting firework is a magical moment too. Some people are concerned about the safety at the festival. Almost every year an accident takes place when a hot air balloon catches fire and drops away while the firework remains shooting in all direction.

The photos have been taken in Taunggyi, capital of Shan State, Myanmar – end of November 2015.

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