There was a full moon on Friday and here in Burma that meant a public holiday. The full moon in May is known as the Full Moon of Kason (May in Burmese) and it is a particularly significant one as on this day Buddhists celebrate Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing to Nirvana. The festival’s full name is “Kason Nyaung Ye Thun”.
Today was a particularly auspicious day to visit the Shwedagon Paya, Yangon’s most important temple. And so, like thousands of others, that’s where we headed.
As our taxi drew closer to the entrance, the traffic slowed down to an almost standstill at which point we decided to get out and walk the remaining part of the journey along with many others who were reaching the stupa far quicker than the vehicles we were passing. It was late afternoon and although night-fall sees the Shwedagon at its busiest the crowds were already forming. We walked up the stairs to the stupa and sun came out and reflected gloriously on the gold-covered paya.
It’s a travel industry copy-writers favourite cliché but it is said that the Shwedagon is covered in more gold than the Bank of England has in its vaults. In all the years I’ve either added that line to brochure descriptions it hasn’t crossed my mind that I actually have no idea the Bank of England posses making the statement pretty redundant to me! I tried to seek a quick answer from Google but I couldn’t find one and since I have no interest in writing blogs on economics I gave up. If anyone has the answer, do let us know.
May is believed to be month during which the Buddha achieved enlightenment whilst sat beneath a Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya in northern India. This celebration is also known at the “watering of the maha-Bodhi tree” and it has become a festival tradition to pour water at the base of the tree. The month of Kason falls during the hot season and I was told that significance of the water was to make sure it doesn’t die from drought during the summer. But as it’s also the beginning of the rainy season I don’t completely understand this theory.
As we also do each time we visit the Shwedagon we spent a few hours wandering around it, sitting looking at it and smiling or chatting with the locals. Because of the festival it got busier and busier as it got dark and moving around freely became difficult but everyone was in good spirits. Soon it got dark and the full moon started to rise behind the golden spire of the pagoda. It was the Full Moon of Kason.