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[Photos] Kahtein Festival: The Joy of Giving in Myanmar’s Shan State

Nestled in the luscious green hills of Myanmar’s Shan State and peppered with Buddhist temples, the sleepy town of Hsipaw is perhaps not the most obvious location for a bustling street party.

Each year, however, scores of Burmese join millions of Buddhists across Asia in celebrating Kahtein (otherwise known as Kathina), a time characterized by charity, where devotees gratefully pay their respects to local monks as they emerge from their three month Vassa periods of meditation.

Book-ended by full moons, Kahtein stretches from October to November and plays host to a variety of ritualistic gift-giving ceremonies. Each individual is supposed to give just one donation. However, groups of friends, colleagues, and families give as much as they can by combining their gifts onto elaborate decorative floats called Kahtein Trees. In Hsipaw, bounty-laden locals gather at temples and line the streets, as “trees” piled high with robes, money, and domestic items wind their way down the high street on top of an assortment of vehicles. The atmosphere is infectiously upbeat, and the soft hum of traditional music echoes everywhere. A backdrop of bass and techno blasts out of speakers and permeates the otherwise peaceful valley.

A family hides under an umbrella while waiting for the procession. Kahtein signals the end of the rainy season, yet rains often persist for a month after the festival.

One of the many rice paddies that surround Hsipaw. As is the case in many Asian countries, rice is an integral part of Burmese food culture and economy. In Myanmar, around 60% of farmed land is dedicated to the crop.

The effigy of a town Nat (spirit) is surrounded by offerings of fruit, Thabyay Pan (Eugenia leaves) and even soft drinks. In Myanmar, Nats are worshiped in conjunction with Buddha, and Eugenia leaves are featured consistently in various rituals.

A monk finds a moment of quiet, hidden away in the Myauk Myo ‘Bamboo’ Monastery on the outskirts of town.

A man leads the procession, carrying Eugenia leaves and a silver alms bowl.

Two men walk side-by-side carrying a Dobat, a double-ended drum used for ceremonial and celebratory purposes.

A group of boys proudly drive their money-covered Kahtein tree down the high street.

A mother protects her son’s chin as they are driven down the high street in the back of a trailer-truck.

A thanaka-tinted local dances to techno while perched on the back of a tractor.

Men dance down the road carrying a set of traditional gong chimes.

Three generations of women follow their family’s Kahtein tree in the back of a trailer-truck.

A Kahtein tree covered in money, towels, and umbrellas approaches the Maha Myat Muni Temple.

Surrounded by incense and the soft glow of candles, locals pray in the Maha Myat Muni Temple.

The large golden Buddha of the Maha Myat Muni Temple is painstakingly cared for by devotees.


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