The Tazaungdaing Festival (also known as the Festival of Lights), held on the full moon day of Tazaungmone, the eighth month of the Myanmar calendar, is celebrated as a national holiday in Myanmar and marks the end of the rainy season. It also marks the beginning of the Kathina (Kahtein in Myanmar language) season, during which monks are offered new robes and alms.
The festival’s origins predate the introduction of Buddhism to Myanmar, and are believed to stem from the Kattika festival, which honors the guardian planets in Indian astrology.
Robe-weaving competitions to weave special yellow monk robes called matho thingan are also held throughout the country, most notably in Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda. During these competitions, held for two consecutive nights (the night preceding and the night of the full moon), contestants work nonstop from night until dawn to weave these garments.
In many parts of Myanmar, hot air balloons lit with candles, are released to celebrate the full moon day. 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. Among Tazaungdaing festivals, Taunggyi’s hot-air balloons and firework-launching competition is the most prominent festival. The origin of Taunggyi’s hot-air balloons contest dates back to 1894, when the British first held hot air balloon competitions in Taunggyi, soon after the annexation of Upper Myanmar.
Alms-giving and charity, both religious and secular, including satuditha feasts, are also commonly undertaken during this festival, as a means of merit-making. Others return home to pay homage to elders and visit pagodas. Many concerts and other secular festivities, such as live performances of traditional dramas like the Yama Zatdaw, are also held between Thadingyut (the end of the Buddhist lent) and Tazaungdaing.
In Myanmar tradition, during the full moon day of Tazaungmone, Myanmar families pick Siamese cassia buds and prepare it in a salad called mezali phu thoke or in a soup. On this night, young men celebrate a custom called “kyimano pwe,” by practicing mischief on their neighbors, by stealing or playing tricks on them.