Sand Stupa Festival
The weather becomes a bit hot when Tabaung, the final month of Myanmar calender comes in. But, in olden days, it was truly said that the weather is moderate as compared to the present climate. Even dry leaves began to fall from their trees, leaving them all bare, and showing the impermanence nature of them.
Some ancient Myanmar poets says that it is the best month of the year when they try to compose its excellent beauty. Not only the glamor of this season is composed in Myanmar classical verses, but also the monk Kaludayi composed the tranquility of this season with pali language. He tried to plead respectfully this event to Lord Buddha that itinerant travelers could enjoy the delight of Tabaung during their trip. He said it with 60 gathas(verses).
In Tabaung, on white, and pure riverbanks many birds find much felicity to enjoy the pleasure of the season. Apart from them, humans began to show their interest in that, but not in fowl ways, but in humane ways. Because of blissful and soothing mind, they decide that they should venerate Lord Buddha.
Then, they found sand which can be used for building sand stupas. One thing they choose sand is that it is pure in its essence. Another one can be that there were countless Buddhas appeared in the successive worlds and aeons. They want to venerate infinite numbers of Buddhas. Sand is the perfect catalyst for this purpose.
In this month, people try to celebrate sand stupa festivals along the sandbank of the Ayyerwaddy river. Though the sand stupa is temporary for veneration and it has to be completed in a day, they worship it by offering a thousand candles as well as flowers to gain much merit for their virtuous conducts.
They think that it can be done when the weather favors them by providing them with necessary item which is pure sand, and receding water level. Later, this trait handed down from generation to generation. Younger ones also want to preserve this tradition in their times. They also think that it should be well preserved for devotional purposes.
For anyone who is interested in sand stupa, there is a story about making it can be seen in Apadana pali texts in this way. A hermit named Narada was living in a hut near Himalaya Mountain. Because of possessing potent power, he had many disciples who praised him a lot.
One day, the hermit reflected on thus: "I have no one who admonishes me. I need to nurture the attitude of seeking a good teacher whom I can be obedient. I'm going to search for a respectful, appreciable, and venerable teacher."
Near his humble abode, a small river flowed and there was full of pure sand he could see. Truly, it was very pleasant. The hermit made a stupa with those sand, and venerated it with much respect as if it were a real Buddha.
Later, he contemplated thus: " Though living near to the Buddha, it is not suitable without eradicating mental defilement." After his demise, he enjoyed reaching good destinations many times until finally reaching Nibbana. 1
People celebrate building the sand studpas without knowing this story or not. They think that it is satisfactory and pleasant to perform this noblest act during their lifetime. They also think that their devotion will be enhanced because of that.
Some people build it for removing bad kammas or for warding off dangers they are going to face. Though difference in reasons and purposes, anyone can build it with the genuine sense of devotion. It will be more beneficial for anyone who has clear consciousness of the ultimate goal of a Buddhist.
The benefit gained by donating sand can be seen in this story. One day, a hunter went on hunting a deer, and found a sanctuary dwelt by the Buddha. Feeling wonderful, he fetched sand and laid it down the precinct of it. After his death, he never reached any woeful abodes because of its good action until he reached his arahanta.2
These stories can uplift the morale of any devotees whenever they read this kind of story. Some people want to adopt this trait if they have a chance to do it. Though it seems meager in shape and size of sand stupa, the benefit one gets from building is enormous, one can say.
Ipso facto, those who understand the salient features of sand stupas want to build them when Tabaung is coming in. Also, they think that it is the best and perfect time for it.■
San Lin Tun
1. pg, 127, Vasondari and traditional items by Teik Soe
2. Ibid, 128