Elephant Dance Festival:
Every year, the competition takes place the day before the Full Moon of Thadingyut, which will officially end Lent. In 2005 the Full Moon day is on the 17th of October the winning team will have the honour of performing at the pagoda on the Full Moon day.
Some elephants teams do not enter the competition, but will parade and dance in streets just for the fun of it. These teams play to the audience and gather their own fan base by performing comedy skits such as of an elephant coming home drunk after a night out with the boys or one trying to break into the modeling profession. The better- behaved competing behemoth tend to look down their trunks at these riff-raff but they are ones who every year get the most laughs.
The judes, made up of township officials, pagodas trustees and other distinguished personages, make the elephants go through three types of classical dances during which the competitior must not have any part of its anatomy come loose.
The other rules of the competition are that apart from behaving themselves in a manner befitting the occasion, the elephants must circle the marketplace three times, so that the audience would see every one and choose their own favourites, which naturally enough would be the one from their own neighbourhood or village.
Marks are given according to appearance, the dancing, their own specially written song, the singing, music and teamwork. Each category has a maximum of a hundred points.
The judges are very strict and no elephants dare to be too frisky, not even the baby ones manned by boys of under-ten, in a competition of their own class. The smaller elephants are also popular competitors as children begin early when it’s the honour of their hometown at stake. Months after the festivals, the baby elephant with tattered ears or tail could be seen dancing along dusty lanes all over the region, troupes of tagging boys quarrelling as to whose turn is next to be the elephant.
The competition begins early in the morning, and goes on the whole day with a short break. By dark, the winners announced, and there is much rejoicing. The top three winning elephants stand proudly to receive the trophies while their musical teams break into ear-splitting joyous celebration. The winners will be busy until the next Lent begins, for they will be great demand all over the country to perform at State functions, to welcome groups of tourists, to amuse the guests noviciation and other charitable ceremonies and even to go around town raising funds for good works.
Early next morning pilgrims climb up the 975 ft high hill to the image on top to offer cakes, fruits and sometimes even small elephant figurines in clay. Along the way, wealthy patrons and religious organizations set up pandals to offer free food and soft drinks.
This is the moment of ultimate happiness for the town’s people; once again they honour the lord Buddha with symbols of the noblest of creatures. They go home tired and happy, already looking forward to next October’s show of the dancing elephants.
Written by Ma Thanegi, Enchanting Myanmar Magazine Volume 3, No.1, October-December, 2003