The Worshipping of Nats

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realised that he was turning the people away from Buddhism, rather than destroying their faith in the Nats, the king rescinded his total ban and allowed Nat images and shrines on paya grounds.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