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Pilgrim fishes being fed by festival goers

A large tributary of the Ayeyarwady rivers flows in from the west near the township of Pwintphyu in the Magway Division of Central Myanmar. This is the Mon Chaung. Pwintphyu is also famous for one of the most venerated pagodas in Myanmar, the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya Pagoda.

Pagoda legends tells us of how during the life time of Lord Buddha this place was where He had a monastery (Kyaung Daw Ya means in the Myanmar language: site of the holy monastery). It was also said to be constructed of sandalwood. And there is another attraction for the pilgrims to visit the pagoda, the pilgrim fishes!

During the monsoon season the Mon Chaung is filled with rainwaters cascading out of the eastern slopes of the distant foothills of the Rakhine Yomas(ranges) and the southern Chin Hills. The Ayeyarwady river is also in flood. This is the time when huge catfishes come to pay homage to the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya Pagoda.

But the catfishes must be invited. On the Fullmoon day of Waso(July-August) the presiding Abbot of the Pagoda would go out towards the junction of the Mon and the Ayeyarwady rivers to invite the fishes up the Mon Chaung tributary. The whole procession of boats would also accompany the monks on this journey. The monks chant Buddhist Suttasand mantra as they lead the convoy of boats, the lay people follow in their own boats with much song and merriment. At the junction with the Ayeyarwady river the leading boat scatter some food into the water and sail back, with the monks chanting the Buddhist texts all the way. But the fishes are not yet in tow. They might come up in a couple of days. The fishers living here dismantle all nets and fish traps along the way during the whole period of the Buddhist Lent so as not to harm the fishes. It is believed that these giant fishes come to pay their homage to the Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya pagoda during the Lent. They stay the whole 3 months period of the Buddhist Lent, disappearing only after the Fullmoon Day of Thadingyut(October). During this time pilgrims from all over the country would congregate here. They go into the water to put gold leaves on the head of the fishes. These fishes are big. Some about 3-4 feet in length but they stay calm when people wade into the river to gild their heads. They are also said to be vegetarians. Pilgrims throw balls of rice husks or popcorn into the water to feed them.

Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya is reached by crossing the Ayeyarwady River at Magway and drive on from Minbu to Pwintphyu. The place where the fishes are fed is about 2-3 miles from the pagoda itself, on the banks of the Mon Chaung. The road to Legaing Kyaung Daw Ya is an all-weather road.There are no accommodations at Pwintphyu or Legaing and visitors must return to Magway for hotel accommodations.

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