Phaung Daw Oo Paya Festival

The Inle Lake on the cusp of change

The Inle Lake in Shan State, Myanmar is transformed during the month of Thadingyut (September to October) when an 18-day pagoda festival is held. Four revered golden Buddha images from the temple are placed on a replica of a royal barge designed as a hintha bird (the golden swan of Myan legend) and taken to many sites on the Inlay Lake. One image always remains at the temple. The elaborately decorated barge is towed by several boats of leg-rowers rowing in unison, and other accompanying boats, making an impressive procession on the water. The barge is towed from village to village along the shores of the lake in clockwise fashion, and the four images reside at the main monastery in each village for the night.

The high point of the festival is on the day when the images arrive at the main town of Nyaung Shwe, where most pilgrims from the surrounding region come to pay their respects and veneration. The barge and the images are welcomed to Nyaung Shwe by a high-ranking official in the government before they are placed in the temple. As part of the festival there are several energetic leg-rowing races on the channels between the villages.

Inle lake is a beautiful area with its villages on stilts, traditional fishermen working from their boats on the glassy surface of the lake, Buddhist temples on islands, floating gardens and flat bottomed skiffs propelled by the Intha’s technique of leg rowing. Touched little by the modern world apart from commuter and tourist motorboats, this is all about to change as large swathes of the hillsides to the South East of the lake have been carved up to put in roads to enable the development of large hotel resorts. This will continue to challenge the lakes fragile eco system which is already suffering from diminishing water levels and increased use of pesticides.

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