ASIA/MYANMAR - Buddhist New Year and Christian Easter in confinement, due to Covid-19

Thursday, 9 April 2020 religion   coronavirus   buddhism   easter  

Bagan (Agenzia Fides) – In Myanmar the Christian Easter in 2020 coincides with the Buddhist New Year. But the faithful of the two religious communities will not be able to celebrate the holidays with the usual rites and assemblies. In view of the "Thingyan", the Burmese New Year which is celebrated from 13 to 16 April, a "lockdown", the preventive confinement that forbids any movement or public activity for two weeks, has been imposed all over Myanmar, due to Covid-19. It is a choice that had already been in the air for weeks after the first coronavirus patient in the country was tested positive on March 23 (22 cases, 3 deaths so far). The unusual silence had already been noticed especially in Bagan, the most important Buddhist religious center in Myanmar, with the closure to the public of all the over two thousand Buddhist religious monuments (pagodas) that make this place, protected by UNESCO, a ancient but always extremely lively spiritual center and also a tourist resort that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, foreigners and locals every year. For the latter, the Thingyan, also known as the "New Year Festival" or the "Water Festival" a custom at this festival to sprinkle one another, is therefore an opportunity to visit relatives and friends, but also to pray in the classic places of Buddhist spirituality. A further reason to establish a strict "community quarantine", which began in a mild form with the first cases of COVID-19, but prompted civil authorities to worry, concerned the movement of people related to the New Year, as well as assemblies of other religious communities, like the Christian ones. What is worrying is also the possible expansion of the contagion linked to the thousands of Burmese frontier workers expelled from Thailand when Bangkok closed the borders. The authorities immediately set up quarantine sites in the individual villages of residence of the expelled workers, in many cases using the monasteries themselves.
The Buddhist festival of Thingyan (in Sanskrit "saṁkranti" or "transit") begins with a day dedicated to the uposatha ("observance"), an exercise of the spirit aimed at the "purification of the contaminated mind", which also includes a long holiday period for both those who work and those who study. It is therefore an occasion of celebration also for the many non-Buddhist minorities of Myanmar who willingly participate, but this year the coronavirus emergency will leave everyone dry. (MG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 9/4/2020)