< Aung Myint Myat >
Kyaukse Elephant Dancing Festival, which is annually held in Kyaukse Township, Mandalay Region, is drawing near, activities of the elephant dancing teams can be seen these days. The event features the dancing of elephant figures which are skillfully made of bamboo and papers, and adorably decorated by local craftsmen. It is a marvellous performance of two men in harmony to dance in rhythm. Men take their places inside the figure and dance around the town to the accompaniment of Dobat and Drums.The elephant dancers circle three times at the foot of the hill topay homage to the Shwe-tha-lyaung Pagoda. It is a dance that requires precise rhythm and timing in order for the elephant dancers to maintain harmony inside the elephant figure. Annually, people from far and near come to visit Kyaukse and watch the elephant dance.
It is a lovely tradition in Kyaukse where the elephant dancing teams stroll around the township by performing elephant dances while collecting donations to cover the cost of elephant dancing festival and pagoda sundry matters. Locals generously donate cash as well as foodstuffs to the elephant dancing teams when they arrive in front of their houses. This year, elephant dancing festival will take place on October 27 and, currently, the elephant dancing teams are in their training process. Also, festival holding committee is preparing guidelines, principles and awards for the festival.
Although traditional elephant dancing teams only competed in the Kyaukse Elephant Dancing Festival a long time ago, child elephant dancing teams can also be seen in the festival nowadays. Similarly, sequin decorated elephant competitions also attract fans in the tournament. Festival holding committee used to give the highest amount of money as award to the sequin decorated elephant teams among the elephant teams because sequin decoration demands a large amount of money.
However, the festival holding committee planned to give the highest amount as award to the traditional elephant dancing teams instead of presenting it to sequin decorated elephant teams as a means of preserving the traditional customs of the festival. For this year’s festival, the committee will give awards to the elephant teams as follows.
The first prize for the child competition is 600,000 kyat, the second 400,000 kyat and the third 200,000 kyat and the first prize for the traditional elephant dancing is one million kyat, the second 800,000 kyat and the third 600,000 kyat. The first prize for sequin decorated elephant competition is 800,000 kyat, the second 600,000 kyat and the third 400,000 kyat. The organizing committee for the festival will give 500,000 kyat for traditional elephant dancing special prize winner and the Kanbawza Bank, also 500,000 kyat, totaling one million kyat.
The festival is also steeped in history. King Anawrahta (1015- 1078) is one of Myanmar’s most famous rulers and is considered the father of the Myanmar nation. He is also the founder of Kyaukse. King Anawrahta obtained several Buddhist relics on a trip to China; upon his return to Myanmar, he decided to build a pagoda to house the precious relics. He strapped the relics to the back of his elephant and told the elephant to choose a suitable spot for the new pagoda. The elephant walked straight to the hill east of Kyaukse and knelt.At this spot, the King built Shwe-tha-lyaung Pagoda, which is still standing there today. Elephant donating ceremony is held annually till now on the full moon day of Thadingyut (Lighting Festival) in Kyaukse in expressing the gratitude to King Anawrahta and his elephant. Together with elephant donating ceremony, elephants dancing competitions are held annually. Another interesting part of the festival is a local belief in Kyaukse that elephants dancing competitions can bring about good luck accompanied by a temperate climate and a bumper harvest for regional joy and prosperity.
The Myawady Daily, Page(18)