NYAUNGSHWE: Thousands of Buddhists took to boats on Myanmar’s famed Inle Lake on Thursday to celebrate the return of one of the nation’s biggest festivals, but the devotees’ joy was laced with the sorrow of war.
The seventeen-day Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival sees four sacred Buddha images placed on a golden barge and rowed through villages that dot the shores of the tourist hotspot in eastern Shan state.
The coronavirus pandemic and then the military’s 2021 coup cancelled the three previous editions of the festival, denying locals the chance to worship the images and gain merit.
On Thursday morning, the golden barge zipped through the cool water, towed by sleek wooden longboats crewed by men rowing in the local fashion — a leg wrapped around their oar to gain more push. Dozens of boats filled with worshippers followed as the sun rose, the sounds of drums and cymbals accompanying the flotilla.
“We are enjoying here but on the other side (outside of Inle Lake) the situation is not good,” student Phuu Pyae Thwe said on the water.
“We feel sad because of their situation... We are also worrying what could happen on the way,” the student added, such as possible armed clashes.
“We want to apologise to you all. We haven’t held [the festival] for three years already. We are sorry about the fighting in other places.” As they drew alongside the golden barge decked out with Buddhist flags, devotees prayed to the four images inside.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2023