Harvest festival and Bonfire Festival
By Ei Moe Khine
Tabotwe, the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar, roughly corresponds with February. Its astrological name is Kon or Khumba (Aquarious) the eleventh sign of the Zodiac. In consequence to the cold season, drew-drops give a chill, so that even the tip of the buffalo's horns is said to shiver with cold. That is why ancient Myanmar people referred to Tabotwe as nose-running month.
Tabotwe, made up of Tabo (farmer's yoke) + Twe (hanging), generally means "The hanging of farmer's yoke", as it is the month in which the farmers complete their agricultural work and put away their implements. Tabotwe also means the season in which the toddy palm trees drop, being laden with its leaf-buds and ripe fruits. In this period, the sap of the toddy-palm can be extracted from its ripe fruits by tapping its spadix.
The seasonal flowers of Tabotwe are Pauk (Butea Monosperma), a cluster of red flowers which bloom from a tree called "Flame of the Forest," and Lei or Letpan (silk cotton) tree which also bears red flowers.
Tabowtwe is the month in which the first crop appears, leading to the harvest festival. This festival marks the making of Htamane, a coconut slices, shredded ginger, peanuts, sesamum seeds, and a generous amount of sesamum or peanut oil. This Htamane-making is usually carried out from the First Waxing day of Tabotwe to its Full Moon Day.
Htamane was formerly called Htamin Hne, which means kneaded rice. Htamin stands for rice, and Hne is to knead. It is also called Hnan Mane, as it contains Hnan or sesamum seeds, most and abunddant sesamun oil. In the Htamane-making process, it is said that the blend and the flavour of Htamane depends on the skill of the sesamum seed sprinkler.
In the first part of the process, the thin husks of the peanuts are removed, the coconut fibers are torn, the coconut shell is broken, and the coconut juice is shared by all who give service. The kernel of the coconut is sliced on a carpenter's plane.
A pit is dug to make a fire-place and a giant concave iron pot is put over the fire-place. The glutinous rice grains and sesamum seeds are winnowed by using flat, circular bamboo trays. This is usually done by young maidens. By tossing up the grains in the tray, or by moving the tray in a circular motion, the dust and trash are separated from the grains. After that, the grains are socked in the water for some time. The oil is boiled in huge pot when the fire has been kindled. The shredded ginger is put into the sizzling oil and then followed by the well-socked glutinous rice. When the glutinous rice is soft enough, the pot is removed from the fire. Then, the glutinous rice is kneaded and crushed by huge wooden ladles till it becomes real sticky. Peanuts and coconut slices are added to make a good mixture, and sesamum seeds are sprinkled, last of all.
All the ingredients and abundant oil in the Htamane, increases heat in the human body, and gives a person warmth. It is believed that eating Htamane in the chilly season restores the fat substance which dries up in the cold, and gives one a luxuriant complexion.
Making Htamane requires strength, skill and experience. The nature of the Htamane feast is a big gathering, as it seeds many hands. It is either celebrated communally, or in a private circle of the family, friends and relatives. The Htamane is foremost offered to the Buddha, and monks, regarded as top priority, those who are worthy of respect. This custom proves that the Myanmars are pious and benevolent.
Another significance of Tabotwe is the traditional festival of bonfire. The bonfire is made by burning all kinds of fragrant sandalwood as an offering to the Buddha. This tradition has been carried out since the days of Myanmar kings, according to old treatise and chronicles.
The bonfire Puja originated in the time of the Lord Buddha, at Pubbayon Monastery in Savatthi. On the Full Moon Tabotwe night, the Buddha had to put on three robes and stitched the last two robes together to keep off the cold. Thus he formed the Dukot the double layered vestment, and wore it in the accordance with the rule of Vinya (code of conduct) which allowed three robes for a monk. In addition to warm his hands on a furnace. In memory of this event, the bonfire of fragrant wood was held as an offering (Puji) to the Buddha images as the Buddha himself.
The tradition of holding the Bonfire Puja now exista in Upper Myanmar in big cities such as Mandalay, Shwebo, Sagaing, Monywa, Meiktila, Magwe and Pakkokku. At some places, people offer the warmth of bonfire to the venerable Sayadaws (Budhist Priests) and aged lay people to contribute toward their health. This act of offering bonfire is a way of paying due respect and gaining religious merit. The Bonfire Puja is usually held in the courtyards of the pagodas and temples. The grand Bonfire Puja at the Maha Muni Buddha temple draws a large crowd of devotees and foreign visiters every year.
The Htamane feast proves the collective working sprit of the Myanmar people, and creates unity and intimacy among them. There is no denying that the traditional festivities of Tabotwe proves the benevolence of the Myanmar people.