PYIN OO LWIN, MYANMAR (BURMA), June 5, 2014 (The Irrawaddy): In Pyin Oo Lwin, a former British hill station located on the western edge of the Shan Plateau, several thousand devotees gathered in June for a festival to mark the completion of a four-year-long renovation of the town's Hindu Ganesh temple. The festival called Shree Ma Harr Kubar Auisha Jum also celebrated the temple's 105-year history in the Mandalay Division town, which in the late 19th to early 20th century served a resort for British colonial administrators looking for respite from the blistering heat in Burma.
The festival is only celebrated when a Ganesh temple is constructed, or in this case, expanded upon, and drew a huge crowd. Ganesh is the Hindu elephant head god of wisdom and learning, and the remover of obstacles. Many of the town's Hindu residents settled in the town (then called Maymo) after they were brought from India and other parts of Burma to work in colonial administrative positions, or as farmers growing vegetables favored by the English. As many as seven Hindu temples are said to be located in Pyin Oo Lwin alone, and still more can be found in the surrounding villages. Although the temple's Burmese followers' ancestries are in Tamil Nadu in southern India, the festival was also attended by Burmese Hindus who trace their heritage to other parts of India.
Devotees donated contributions for the lengthy and expensive renovations that included 369 stone deities from India. Participant Myint Thein Gi Htun described the five-day event, which was presided over by several Hindu priests, some from as far away as Malaysia, as a "once in a lifetime opportunity." The chemistry teacher, who could be seen every day greeting visitors near the entrance of the temple, said this is only second time that a Hindu event of this scale has happened in Burma.
On the final day, holy water collected from 108 sacred areas of India was sprinkled on followers gathered in the temple grounds. This was followed by a parade led by a decorated elephant trucked in from Mandalay who greeted devotees that lined the streets offering prayers, food and donations.