Thingyan 2024: The Shared Festive Spirit Of Burma And India
Image Credit: Burma Burma

The Burmese New Year celebrations kick off in the hottest month of the year, April, every year, and it is called the Thingyan festival. While Pohela Boisakh, Ugadi, Vishu, and more are celebrated across various regions of India, Thingyan is a Buddhist festival and the official New Year that is celebrated in Burma (presently called Myanmar) for over four-to-five days every year. Shwe-yin-aye, a dessert with sticky rice, sago pearls, pandan jelly and more; Mont lat saung; and Mont lone yay baw, made from rice flour, jaggery and coconut, are traditional Burmese desserts and a communal snack that are enjoyed during the Thingyan festival. 

The origins of the Thingyan festival are believed to intertwine with a Buddhist adaptation of a Hindu myth that has roots in ancient India. According to this narrative, Brahma King Arsi was beheaded when he lost a bet to Devas’ King Sakra, resulting in Arsi's head transforming into Ganesha with an elephant head. Concerned about the destructive potential of Arsi’s head, Sakra decreed that it be passed among princess devas annually, symbolising the onset of the New Year.

While Thingyan serves as the Buddhist New Year, it also holds significance as the official Burmese New Year as well. The Burmese term "Thingyan" is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘samkranti,’ signifying the sun's transition from Pisces to Aries. Historical records suggest that the festival's origins can be traced back to the ancient Tagaung Dynasty, although initially it was primarily celebrated among aristocrats. However, Thingyan is said to have gained mainstream prominence during the reign of King Pagan between 849 AD and 1297 AD.

Thingyan, commonly referred to as the Water Festival, is distinguished by the joyful tradition of water splashing, which represents purification and the cleansing of the past to welcome the new, similar to Ugadi in Karnataka or Baisakhi in Punjab around the same time. You can find many food stalls and eateries selling traditional delicacies like Mont-lone-yay-paw, Thingyan hta-minn or Thingyan rice, Shwe-yin-aye, and more. This vibrant celebration is prominent in Myanmar's cities like Inle Lake, Mandalay, Bagan, Yangon, and  more. It transcends the boundaries of Burma, resonating with New Year and harvest festivities throughout Asia.

"Thingyan is like other Southeast Asian festivals, like the Songkran in Thailand and Holi in India and marks the end of the harvest season and the start of spring. These festivals happen around the same time and the common philosophy is similar. The Thingyan Festival, also known as the ‘Water Festival’, is marked by the playful act of water splashing, symbolising purification and washing away of the old to make way for the new. This is similar to Holi in India, where the burning of sinful Holika symbolises burning away the impure within us and welcoming the advent of spring and a new season," says Ankit Gupta, co-founder of Burma Burma, a popular Burmese specialty restaurant chain in India.

In India, an oil bath during the Ugadi festival is a cleansing ritual that is followed early in the morning. Similarly, cutting nails and washing hair is a cleansing ritual followed during Thingyan in Burma. That's not all. Fasting before the festival commences or passing offerings of tender coconut and green bananas at the monastery are similar to the offerings made in the Hindu temples of India, especially on festivals.

With various regions of Myanmar celebrating Thingyan slightly differently from one another, food is an important aspect of this festival, like many celebrated across Southeast Asia. Sharing meals together has always been central to Burmese culture, much like in other Asian societies, and no festival is truly fulfilled without gathering around food with your dear ones and fostering the bond of a community. Some of the delicacies are:


This is a traditional Thingyan sweet, made with glutinous rice flour dumplings filled with palm jaggery and topped with shredded coconut. It is similar to a modak or a pitha in India, which is popularly made for Hindu festivals as well. Communities in Burma come together to make this holiday special and distribute it to friends and family. It is one of the must-have desserts during the Thingyan festival.


Mont Lat Saung is a traditional dessert commonly enjoyed during the Thingyan Festival and throughout the summer season in Burma. It consists of rice drops made from a mixture of rice flour, tapioca starch, and mung bean starch, flavoured with pandan extract and food colouring. The mixture is simmered in water until thickened, then cooled and shaped into small drops using a potato masher.

These rice drops are traditionally served with either coconut milk, plum sugar syrup or jaggery caramel sauce. Mont Lat Saung may feature different colours of jelly, such as green or white, and the sauces may vary accordingly. In southern Myanmar, it is typically served with white jelly and jaggery caramel sauce, while in Yangon and Mandalay, it is enjoyed with green jelly and icy coconut milk.


Shwe-yin-aye is a traditional Burmese dessert known for its sweet and refreshing taste and particularly popular during the Thingyan season. The name translates to "golden heart cooler," reflecting its ability to provide relief from the heat. This dessert comprises a delightful combination of ingredients, including sweetened sticky rice, sago pearls, pandan jelly noodles (cendol), gelatin cubes, coconut jelly, and a slice of white bread, all soaked in a mixture of sweetened coconut milk and served cold. Crushed ice or ice cubes are commonly used to enhance the dessert's refreshing quality. This dessert is a popular choice among street food vendors and is readily available at most Myanmar restaurants. Shwe-yin-aye can be enjoyed on its own or paired with fresh fruits like mangoes, apples, bananas, and more, for an extra burst of flavour. 

Thingyan Htamin

Thingyan hta minn, also known as Thingyan rice, is a traditional dish from Mon State in Myanmar, typically served during the Thingyan festival. The dish consists of cooked rice infused with scented water, which is made by burning sandalwood with a wax candle and infusing the resulting smoke into ice-cold water. This scented water is poured over the cooked rice, imparting a fragrant aroma to the dish.

Thingyan hta minn is commonly served with a variety of side dishes, such as cured salted fish, blanched and fried with onions, along with sour mango or marian plum. The dish is garnished with roasted chilli peppers to add a spicy kick. Despite its seemingly simple preparation, Thingyan hta minn holds nostalgic memories for many, which may evoke memories of family gatherings and traditional celebrations.

Coconut Rice

Also traditionally known as Ohn Hatmin, it is a ceremonial dish served on special occasions, made with fragrant short-grain rice cooked with raisins and onions in fresh coconut milk. "My favourite dish is the coconut rice paired with home-style peanut chutney and with light and flavourful pumpkin curry. Traditionally known as Ohn Hatmin, a ceremonial dish served on special occasions, it is made with fragrant short-rice cooked with raisins and onions in fresh coconut milk," says Ankit.

He says that the rice pairs perfectly with home-style peanut chutney  and  a light and flavourful pumpkin and broad bean curry, a version of Sebiyan from the Shan state, where yellow pumpkin and broad bean grow widely. This curry is cooked with shallots, coconut, and chillies, celebrating popular Burmese vegetables and legumes.

Banana Sanwin Makin

This is a traditional Burmese semolina cake served at special feasts such as donation feasts, satuditha feasts, and as a popular street snack. Some variations of the recipe may include ingredients such as eggs, cashew nuts, and raisins to enhance flavour and texture. Banana sanwin makin is a variation that includes banana while maintaining the essence of the dish. Sanwin makin is typically served cold or warm, and it is often enjoyed in diamond-shaped slices. 

In India, you can try some of these traditional dishes at all Burma Burma outlets across the country. They bring people together over a selection of delectable, traditional Burmese dishes arranged beautifully on a flat cane basket, fostering a sense of community and bonding every year. "In the restaurant, we serve the Thingyan dishes on a cane platter. At home, we have the food laid out in a similar way. We put an assortment of dishes on a large platter, and everyone would help themselves from this. It’s like a shared community eating concept, a tradition I remember experiencing during Thingyan when the family gathered for a meal together," says Ankit. 

While Thingyan might share some similarities to Indian festivals in terms of culture, traditions and food, you can head to any of the Burma Burma outlets between April 11 and May 19, 2024, to experience the joys of community feasting during Thingyan.