Deepavali in Pyin Oo Lwin

Mandala in front of the Ganesha-Tempel, Pyin Oo Lwin

Last Sunday I had a very special evening. Maymyo has a significant minority of people from the Indian subcontinent. Accordingly, quite a few temples and mosques can be found here. Deepavali (aka Diwali) is the festival of light for the Hindus. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and wisdom over ignorance. It is a gazetted holiday in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Which isn‘t much of a surprise, as these guys hardly miss a chance to party.  All houses, shops and other buildings that are occupied by Hindus are brightly illuminated and religious music is to be heard everywhere. In many homes mandalas are painted on the floor. These are geometrical configurations, very often with a religious content. Sometimes only used for decorative purposes. And of course oil-lamps are lit everywhere. As can be expected, the most brightly lit and decorated places are the temples.

I visited three Hindu temples that night:

  • Pashupatinath is the temple of the Gurkhas (Nepali). Many of them are descendants of soldiers who have served in the British army in colonial times. Pashupati is a manifestation of Lord Shiva as the master of all animals. The shrine is named after the famous temple of the same name in Kathmandu (Nepal)
  • Ganesha-Temple is the centre of worship for the Tamils from South India. It is dedicated to Ganesha, the famous elephant-headed god. Who is known under various names such as Ganapati, Vinayaka etc. He is the conqueror of obstacles and the patron of merchants, bankers, writers – and thieves. His vehicle (vahana) is a rat. Ganesha belongs to the Shivaite spectrum of gods.
  • Last but not least, Krishna-Tempel is the place where the ‚Indians‘ meet. At least I was told so by a lady who attended a ceremony. My argument that Tamils and Nepalis – somehow – were ‚Indians‘, too, was met with a mysterious smile. Krishna, mostly depicted as a child with blue skin, is the protector of herdsmen. He is considered to be the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Interestingly, Lord Buddha is worshiped as the ninth incarnation of that god.
A proud mother with her daughter at the Ganesha temple, Pyin Oo Lwin
Krishna temple's brahmin makin a phone call (to Krishna?)

On my bicycle I went to those temples to have a look at the ceremonies there. It seems that the Gurkhas (Burmese: Gorakha) prefer to celebrate at home. No doubt, there were mandalas painted on the floor. But the congestion was rather limited, to put it mildly. At least a priest (brahmin) was present who dabbed a red dot (tilak) on my forehead for as little as one thousand kyat.  A pity, as this temple is a very interesting one! The ‚Indians‘ in the Krishna temple seem to share the habit of celebrating at home. Only a few visitors strayed by while I was there.

The Ganesha temple offered a completely different picture. A big mandala decorated the forecourt of the temple and there were quite a few of them inside, too! All around there were oil lamps (one thousand in total if I may believe the brahmin) that were lit at exactly 8 pm by the believers. The ladies were dressed in their most beautiful saris. Tamil religious songs were played from a cassette. I studied Tamil at Berlin Free University several decades ago. So I was able to show off with a few words and proverbs I remembered from those long gone days. Oru nalla matukka or adi, oru nalla manithanukka oru col (‚A good ox needs only one blow. A good man only one word‘). Or how about this one? Panam enral, pinamum vayeit tirakkum – Say money and even a corpse will open his mouth! And when finally I deciphered a few words in Tamil script everybody was sure that a true man of genius must have found his way to the temple. Then I vaulted into the saddle and pedaled home.     

Sanctum of Ganesha temple in Pyin Oo Lwin