Bagan is the land of stupas and pagodas – beyond your imaginings! We arrived there in time for the annual Ananda Festival. Basically a gathering of monks and Buddhists from all over the area. The monks receive gifts which help sustain the monastery for a large part of the year and the donors receive blessings. Everyone considers this a wonderful exchange. The festival is also part market, part carnival, part music competition, part family/clan gathering, part photography dress up fun and part haven for teenagers to meet and greet, and old friends to catch up with each other.
Farmers arrive in ox cart caravans, travelling for several days and setting up camp on the Temple grounds. The whole festival gets underway for three days, culminating in the “Offering Procession” and then people start to disburse. I found it a marvellous mixture of timelessness, a society on the cusp of enormous change and small segments who are already embracing those changes. Farmers in ox carts and iron pots, and monks with cell phones, selfies and texting photos!
We all took a million pictures of the monks – they lined up in two huge long rows; venerable oldsters watching over freshly shaved novices, mothers, fathers and siblings crouched down watching beside their sons, everywhere you looked instructions were being given on how to wrap oneself up in the traditional monks robe – which is actually just a very long piece of fabric – and I suspect a fair bit of plain old socializing! Everyone almost without exception LOVED having their picture taken. As I took a picture of someone, I’d turn the camera around and show the subject their photo – huge smiles would ensue and often requests for additional pictures with their friends. it didn’t seem to matter in the slightest that they would never see the photos again.
I also managed to find a few quiet minutes to meditate listening to the chanting – these monks have been doing so continuously for more than 30 years! A small donation to the temple turned into a big production as they insisted I sign their register, spell out my name and pronounce it very clearly several times – I think I may have some prayers being offered up in that corner of Bagan?
Our last afternoon we climbed to the top of another stupa and watched the sunset – quite magical and almost enough to compensate even though I didn’t get my promised ballon ride.