The Worshipping of Nats, Spirits in Myanmar

The Worshipping of Nats


The worshipping of Nats in Myanmar is a kind of a traditional heritage from generation to generation.

Legend

Before King Anawrahta came to power in Bagan in the 11th century, it was common for the Burmese to build small shrines or spirit houses dedicated to land Nat who were displaced by the construction of houses, monasteries or other buildings, or by the planting of rice and other crops. The owners or tenants of the buildings made daily offerings of food, incense and flowers at the shrines to placate these "guardian" Nat.

The older generations also believed that if a person from a royal family had died violently, then that person becomes a Nat. These superhuman Nats, when correctly propitiated, could aid worshipers in accomplishing important tasks, vanquishing enemies and so on.

When King Anawrahta wanted to make Theravada Buddhism the national faith, he tried to ban the Nat worship in Bagan. As part of his anti-Nat campaign, he ordered the destruction of all Nat shrines in the kingdom. He also forbade the practice of animal sacrifice at nearby Mt Popa, a volcanic outcropping considered the abode of the 36 most powerful human Nat. Instead of abandoning their belief in Nat, however, the Myanmar merely took their practices underground, rebuilding the guardian Nat shrines in their homes.

Finally, when the King realised that he was turning the people away from Buddhism, rather than destroying their faith in the Nats, the king rescinded his total ban and allowed Nat images and shrines on paya grounds.

He himself led the way by placing images of the 36 Nat from Mt Popa at the base of the sacred pagoda of Shwezigon. To these universally recognised 36, Anawrahta added 37th, Thagyamin, a Hindu deity based on Indra, who he crowned "King of the Nat". These 37 Nats are listed as follows :

No. Name Meaning
1 Thagyamin Indra or Sakra, King of Nats
2 MahaGiri Lord of the great mountain
3 Hnamadawgyi Great royal sister of Magagiri
4 Shwe Nabe Lady with Golden Sides
5 Thon Ban Hla Lady of Three Times Beauty
6 Taungoo Mingaung King Mingaung of Taungoo
7 Mintara King Hsinbyushin
8 Thandawgan The Royal Secretary to Taungoo Minkaung
9 Shwe Nawrahta The young prince drowned by King Shwenankyawshin
10 Aung Zawmagyi Lord of the White Horse
11 Ngazishin Lord of the five white elephant
12 Aungbinle Hsinbyushin Lord of the white elephant from Aungbinle
13 Taungmagyi Lord of Due South
14 Maung Minshin Lord of the North
15 Shindaw Lord Novice
16 Nyaung-gyin Old man of the Banyan tree
17 Tabinshwehti King of Myanmar between 1531-50
18 Minye Aungdin Brother-in-law of King Thalun
19 Shwe Sit thin Prince, son of Saw Hnit
20 Medaw Shwedaw Lady Golden Words
21 Maung Po Tu Shan Tea Merchant
22 Yun Bayin King of Chiengmai
23 Maung MinByu Prince MinByu
24 Mandalay Bodaw Lord grandfather of Mandalay
25 Shwebyin Naungdaw Elder Brother Inferior Gold
26 Shwebyin Nyidaw Younger Brother Inferior Gold
27 Mintha Maungshin Grandson of King Alaung Sithu
28 Htibyusaung Lord of White Umbrella
29 Htibyusaung Medaw Lady of White Umbrella
30 Pareinma Shin Mingaung The Usurper Mingaung
31 Min Sithu King Alaung Sithu
32 Min Kyawzwa Prince Kyawzwa
33 Myaukpet Shinma Lady of the North
34 Anauk Mibaya Queen of the Western Palace
35 Shingon Lady Hunback
36 Shigwa Lady Bandy-legs
37 Shin Nemi Little lady with the flute

Since the Bagan era, the house guardian Nat has stayed indoors and merged with Mahagiri to form Eindwin-Min Mahagiri. In most homes, this dual Nat is represented by a large, un-husked coconut which dressed with red Gaung baung , perfumed, and hung from a pillar or post somewhere in the house. This Nat must receive daily offerings from the house's inhabitants; for many Burmese, this is the only Nat worshipped on a regular basis. Other Nat, particularly in Bamar dominated central Myanmar, have shrine in Paya or monastery grounds, which receive occasional offerings only during pilgrimages, or bimonthly full-new-moon visits.

Knowledge of the complex Nat world is fading fast among the younger Burmese generation, many of whom pay respect only to the coconut-head house guardian. Red and white are widely known to be Nat colours: drivers young and old tie red and white strips of cloth to side-view mirrors and hood ornaments of their vehicles for protection from the Nat. Those with a general fear of Nat will avoid eating pork, which is thought to be offensive to the spirit world. The main fear is not simply that spirits will wreak havoc on your daily affairs, but rather that one may enter your mind and body, then force you to perform unconscionable acts in public - acts that would cause other Myanmar to shun you. Spirit possession or metaphysical - is a real phenomenon in Myanmar.

The Nat festival

The Nat festival or the Taungpyone festival is usually held in Taungpyone in Mandalay Division. This place is known to be the territory of the two princes "Min Gyi" and "Min Lay".

The Nat Pwe is usually held for three days. The first day is for the Summoning the Nats. The second day is the Nats' feast. The third is the day for the Nats' departure.

The Nats are offered with coconut, bananas, flowers, scents, candles, liquors, soft drinks, fried chicken, fried fish, sweets, and many more.

Devotees from all over Myanmar, comes to this special festival and offer their donations and enjoy themselves with the blessings of the spirits, every year. They pray for prosperity, fame, and luck for the next coming year.

So, if you can have a visit to Myanmar, to learn about new cultures and to have extraordinary experience, we recommend that you should visit this special festival of Mount Popa.



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