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March Events & Festivals

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A list of events and festivals in Southeast Asia throughout March.

March 1: Sekaten Fair (Indonesia)

Sekaten is celebrated to commemorate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The celebrations are usually centered around the local royal palace, or kraton.

In Jogjakarta, the kraton at this time is filled with stalls, games, and cultural shows. The feast culminates with the procession of food mounds known as gunungan, which are blessed and distributed to the people. Devotees believe that good luck and a good harvest come to those who can secure a piece of the gunungan.

Solo (Surakarta) celebrates the festival with almost non-stop gamelan music - devotees believe the traditional music brings good luck to those who hear it.

March 1-10: Phu Giay Festival (Vietnam)

At Phu Giay Temple in Nam Dinh province, tribute is paid to Lieu Hanh, one of the Vietnamese "four immortal gods", and the only one based on a real person (a princess of the 16th century who died young). Many devotees from all over make a pilgrimage to Phu Giay Temple to join the festival, taking advantage of the traditional lull in work during the third lunar month. Traditional diversions like cock-fighting, "keo chu", and folk singing are held all throughout the festival.

March 1-21: Perfume Pagoda Festival (Vietnam)

The Perfume Pagoda is Vietnam's most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site, welcoming hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who arrive at the sacred cave to pray for a happy and prosperous year ahead. This stream of pilgrims reaches its peak at the Perfume Pagoda Festival - devotees travel through a picturesque gauntlet to the sacred caves, first boarding boats that pass a landscape of rice paddies and limestone mountains, then going by foot past historical shrines and up hundreds of stone steps.

March 5-7: Chu Dong Tu Festival (Vietnam)

Downstream from Hanoi on the Red River, the Da Hoa and Da Trach temples in Khoai Chau district host a festival to Chu Dong Tu, one of the four immortal gods worshiped by Vietnamese. Ceremonies are performed at both temples between the 10th to the 12th day of the second lunar month. These then give way to traditional games and activities like human chess, wrestling, and Vietnamese dances.

March 6-8: Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival (Indonesia)

The Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival (JJF) is the largest jazz festival in the region, and one of the biggest in the world.

The festival attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year, with 69,000 attending in 2008. Numerous international jazz artists perform during JJF, sharing stage space with Indonesia's very own jazz scene. The festival lasts three days, encompassing more than a hundred shows and thousands of artists.

The organizers work different styles of jazz and other genres into the lineup - soul, R&B, jazz, funk, blues, roots, pop jazz, rock jazz, smooth jazz. Local versions of jazz also take center stage, like keroncong jazz and jazz dangdut.

March 8: Colours of Malaysia (Malaysia)

A month-long celebration of Malaysia's culture, Colours of Malaysia kicks off a series of cultural events, culinary exhibitions, and fancy parties. Tourists will get a close look at the cultures and traditions that make Malaysia what it is today. Colours of Malaysia will be launched at Dataran Merdeka, in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, with roadshows to follow in the states of Johor, Sabah, Negeri Sembilan, Terengganu, and Penang.

March 13-21: Penang International Food Festival 2009 (Malaysia)

Penang is widely considered to be Malaysia's food capital, and the Penang International Food Festival confirms it - visitors get to sample Penang's delicious culinary tradition, through numerous events and parties throughout the island.

March 14-15: Raptor Watch Weekend (Malaysia)

Raptor Watch Weekend is an annual ecotourism event that celebrates the migration of raptors (birds of prey) flying back to their breeding grounds further north. We're talking about thousands of predatory birds migrating north and stopping by Tanjung Tuan to rest. Raptor Watch Weekend visitors get a rare chance to see goshawks, honey-buzzards, sparrowhawks, and many other avian species in flight. Official site.

March 15: Bau Nyale (Indonesia)

The Bau Nyale festival is held in Lombok to commemorate the disappearance of a princess. Forced to choose among her suitors, the princess instead threw herself into the sea. When the townsfolk searched for the princess, they found nothing but masses of sea worms ("nyale").

"Bau nyale" literally means "to catch the worms", and takes place when the sea worms come to the beaches to spawn. The feast begins the night before the worms are caught, as fires are set on the beach and traditional Sasak cultural arts are performed. At dawn, the townsfolk catch the worms. A local priest reads omens, predicting the condition of the forthcoming rice harvest. The worms are usually eaten raw or fried, and are considered an aphrodisiac.

March 18: Galungan (Indonesia)

Galungan is the most important holiday in the Balinese religious calendar. The day marks the victory of good over evil; the Balinese also believe that their ancestors' spirits descend back to earth to visit their old homes. The ancestors are welcomed and feted by the living.

Balinese set up decorated bamboo poles, or penjor, at the entrance of their family compounds. An amazing amount of food is prepared for Galungan, some of it going to the many offerings to the ancestors, and much of it going to feed families celebrating the holiday together.

March 31-April 2: Thay Pagoda Festival (Vietnam)

If any Buddhist monk deserved worship, it was Tu Dao Hanh, innovator and inventor. He made numerous advances in medicine and religion, but is mainly remembered for inventing water puppetry. The Thay Pagoda Festival celebrates Tu Dao Hanh's life with a procession of the monk's worshipping tablet, borne by representatives from four villages. The festival is celebrated by laymen with many water puppetry performances, particularly at the Thuy Dinh House in front of Tu Dao Hanh's pagoda. The festival takes place from the 5th to the 7th day of the third lunar month.

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