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Myanmar's four-day traditional "Thingyan Water Festival" kicked off in Yangon on Saturday morning when the air temperature was still low, with people, young and old, starting to throw water at each other to enjoy coolness.
This year's water festival is significant because it was launched in the wake of a series of riots that took place recently in several areas of the country including Meikhtila in northern Mandalay region and in central Bago region where curfew is still in force.
With 3,500 police personnel out of a total of 7,000 claimed to be deployed to guard the security of the traditional water festival in Yangon amid rumored threats to disrupt the event, opening ceremonies of the festival were respectively launched at two water-throwing pandals of Yangon Region Government and Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).
The Yangon Region Government's water-throwing pandal was inaugurated by Chief Minister U Myint Swe, while the YCDC or Yangon Mayor's pandal was unveiled by Mayor U Hla Myint.
This year's Yangon Mayor Water-throwing Pandal is designed as a new curve-shaped one with modern sound and lighting systems equipped as new attraction.
The Yangon Mayor's water-throwing pandal, also known as the central and the biggest one in the city, has attracted large crowds of revelers, some being truckload. It features a wide variety of performances presented by Yein troupes, music bands and a group of comedians.
Besides the Yangon central water-throwing pavilion, there are also 37 others, including those erected by businessmen and private companies with their commercial advertisements appearing.
All these water-throwing structures are equipped with CCTV cameras to monitor the movement of people as a preventive measure during the festival since a series of riots and protests have happened recently in the country.
The authorities have warned that severe action would be taken against revelers holding weapons such as sticks and knives.
Mine clearance has also been carried out by experts twice a day with the help of the security forces which are expected to be reinforced if necessary to ensure peace throughout the festival.
In Mandalay, the second largest city, there are dozens of water-throwing pandals around the palace moat as in previous years including Mandalay Mayor's pandal, while in Nay Pyi Taw, only four pandals are erected around the hotel zones with the main Mayor's pandal lying at the City Hall.
Security measures are tightened in both Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw with thorough checks on revelers' cars entering the water-throwing areas for weapons including knives or clubs.
In riot-hit Meikhtila, unlike in the previous years, few water-throwing pandals have been set up for enjoyment as life in the aftermath of the unrest is yet to fully recover, according to local media reports.
Among the country's 12 festivals, the "Thingyan Water Festival" is considered to be the grandest since it is deemed to bring peace and prosperity to the people of Myanmar.
The water throwing symbolizes the washing away of the previous year's bad luck and sins. Though the style of celebrating the "Thingyan Water Festival" is slightly different among various ethnic groups in Myanmar due to geographical locations, it is basically based on the same customs and tradition that have existed for hundreds of years.
Ethnic groups in the country also have preserved some their own unique styles in celebrating the water festival. For instance, in the ethnic Rakhine, during the water festival young men and women stand face to face and drench each other with water while standing in long boats.
Offering smelly Thingyan rice is the tradition of Mon ethnic group when paying respects to the elderly, and providing free meal and performing Thaman Kyar dances are prevalent in Dawei and Myeik regions in the southern part of Myanmar.
Moreover, Myanmar people are also accustomed to making charity donation at this time and young boys are sent by their parents to Buddhist monasteries to serve as novices.
The water festival will run until next Tuesday after which the country will usher in its new year on April 17 according to Myanmar calendar.
Public holidays for the water festival have already officially begun on April 12 and would last for 10 days until April 21.
Philippines News agency