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By Birgit Neiser


We timed the trip to arrive at Kyaikto, the closest town to the famous Golden Rock, for the three day long annual Festival of Lights. The Thadingyut, the full moon in September/October on which it is celebrated, falls, as is custom, on the end of the Buddhist Lent, i.e. the 3 months of the rainy season. The legend goes that Queen Maya died seven days after giving birth to her son Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who would later go on to be Buddha. After the latter attained enlightenment and thus became Buddha (literally: “the awakened one”), he went to heaven for 3 months (commemorated by the Lent period) to pay his respects and to teach his mother and the other celestial beings the Dharma (the Buddhist doctrine).  Upon his descent to earth, he and his disciples were attended by a heavenly host of celestial beings, who created a ladder of lights and stars to illuminate his path home. Accordingly, the festival marks Buddha’s return to earth after 3 months in heaven, and thus the end of the Lent period. The profusion of lights and candles in streets and homes recalls the manner in which the Buddha came back to earth.

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