[gallery type="slideshow" ids="92847,92848,92849,92850,92851,92852,92853,92854,92855"] Despite flooding in some areas of Mandalay after heavy monsoonal rains in recent months, Taung Pyone village, located around 14 km north of the city, is gearing up to celebrate its annual nat (spirit) festival, the largest in the country. Dozens of glittering shrines dedicated to two slain brothers, known locally as Min Gyi and Min Lay, have been decked out to welcome worshippers for the week-long event which begins on Tuesday. Shops, restaurants and street stalls selling local delicacies and various trinkets line the village’s main road which leads to the shrines dedicated to the brothers’ and other spirits. “Most of the shops are now ready to welcome visitors, since they usually come some days ahead of the festival. Our village will receive thousands of visitors from across the country,” said local tea-shop proprietor Mya Mya Aye. During the nat festival, widely known as Taung Pyone Pwe, the usually quiet village is filled with the sound of drums and music and the hum of chattering crowds. Dancers and devotees flock to the shrines and the scent of flowers, candles and incense fills the air. Taung Pyone Pwe is held in honor of the two brothers, who, as legend has it, would eventually achieve nat status after their execution at the hands of King Anawrahta. The main shrine to Min Gyi and Min Lay is in the center of the village. As the story goes, the doomed pair failed to fulfill their duty of each contributing a brick and a handful of sand to a wish-fulfilling pagoda and lost favor with the king. They are the most popular of the 37 nats deified by the Burmese. Children who live along the road to Taung Pyone are also planning to join in the revelry, with some help from generous festivalgoers. “We received about 30,000 kyat during the festival last year,” said Aung San Hlaing, a 12-year-old boy from Taung Pyone. “We bought some snacks and candies. We hope we will have fun this year too. Sometimes we go near the nat shrine to dance with our friends. It is so much fun.” Colorful makeshift bamboo huts and small shops have been set up around the normally deserted local train station, in the center of Taung Pyone, ready to greet worshippers traveling by train from Mandalay. The train leaves from Mandalay’s Thaye Zay station, a popular tourist attraction about 1 km north of the city’s ancient moat and the site of a buzzing bazaar. Usually crowded in the early morning until about 10 am, local vendors at the unique bazaar sell local produce on and along the railway track. As the whistle of an incoming train sounds, the vendors draw back their wares to make way. The cost of a ticket from Thaye Zay station to Taung Pyone is only 100 kyat, with trains leaving every 15 minutes to cover increased demand on the 30-45 minute route. “We always go to the festival to perform annual rituals and to receive blessings from Min Gyi and Min Lay. If we [didn’t go], we would face bad omens,” San Htay, a vegetable vendor at Thaye Zay station bazaar, told The Irrawaddy. Just a few kilometers north of the station, another interesting local tradition is on view during the festival—an earthenware toys fun fair. Locally produced and colorful, the clay toys draw particular interest from children. The fair is known locally as “Oh Bote Khoe Pwe,” which refers to a curious tradition of stealing the earthenware goods on a day regarded as auspicious. The tradition started decades ago when children would steal the toys from vendors on one particular day during the Burmese month of Wakhaung. “Stealing is not good, however, it is a tradition to tease the vendors, just for fun” said Htay Htay Win of Mandalay, who accompanied her children to the annual fair. “The children should steal only one or two. The vendors happily shoo them away, sometimes running after the children to make fun.” Although the earthenware items, which vary from kitchen utensils to animal figurines, piggy banks and Pyit Tine Htaung (a bottom-heavy, egg-shaped toy with a painted face that always stays upright), have been eclipsed in popularity by more modern toys in recent years, parents still bring their children to the fair to keep in touch with tradition. For their part, local vendors are unfazed at seeing their wares disappear if it brings happiness to the young, playacting thieves. “The stealing does not affect our business as the children, and even some adults, steal just a few toys for fun. We are happy with the tradition as we can share happiness with the children,” said toy vendor Nyunt Wai. “We receive a lot of profit as many children nowadays ask their parents to buy these colorful toys for them. Some adults from other cities also buy the toys as souvenirs. They are not durable but children love to play with them and we are happy to see that,” she added.
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