Myths & Legends of Myanmar
By Amrita Kundu
Myanmar is a mysterious land that has changed a long way over time. With 135 ethnic groups living in the country, Myanmar is a milieu of different kinds of people, traditions and cultures. Mythical stories have been passed through generations and take a central place in the country. As a traveller, you will be amazed to know these fascinating stories and how they are firmly rooted in the minds of the people.
The Fabled Beasts
The country has stories of mythical beasts, the depiction of which can be found in the carvings of monasteries and pagodas. Hintha, bird-like creatures which look like swans are commonly featured in the stories of Mon State and Bago Region. They have golden-neck feathers which glow in the sun and gigantic wings that they stretch with grace. Apparently, two princes saw a pair of Hintha on an island on the lake in Bago and decided to create the Bago town. The island was so small that the hamsa, which was the female hintha, was perched on the back of the male. This led to the belief that Bago men are chivalrous and make good husbands.
Another notable mythical creature that can often be seen in the pagodas are Nagas, which are 2-3 metres long and possess supernatural powers. They can swim easily in the ocean and can even fly into the sky. The locals believe that Buddha was a Naga prince in his past life.
Kyut is another creature which looks like a pangolin and can imitate human voices. They have long limbs and can even walk on two feet. Legends say that Kyuts lure villagers and take them into the forests. The villagers will get lost, but find their way back the next day.
A fascinating folklore of Shan involves the Giant Spider of Pindaya. The legend says that once sever princesses were bathing in a lake near Pindaya Cave. Eventually, they lost track of time and couldn’t find their way back. Hence, they sought shelter in two caves located nearby. A giant spider that resided in those caves sealed the entrance with its web with the intention of eating the princesses, one on each day. Not knowing what to do, the princesses cried for help. Fortunately, a prince was nearby and he fought and defeated the spider, saving the princesses and safely escorting them back to their kingdom. The king was so impressed with the prince’s bravery that he decided to marry one of his daughters to the prince.
The Hybrid Creatures
The pagodas of Myanmar has statues of hybrid creatures, the most common among them being Kinnara (male) and Kinnari (female). They are a human-bird hybrid who are famous for their eternal love for each other. They are humans with wings and possess feet and tail like a bird. In fact, these creatures are famous all across Southeast Asia, not only Myanmar.
The legend involving Kinnara and Kinnari in Myanmar is that of love and loss. Apparently, the lovers died of broken hearts after they were separated due to a flood that happened for 700 nights. They are compassionate creatures which help humans in need.
Another common hybrid character featuring in many stories is the Manote Thiha, a half-human, half-lion creature with two heads connected on one human body. The locals believe that the monks summoned Manote Thiha in order to defeat ogres that were terrorising Mon villagers. They also protected children from being eaten by ogres.
Myanmar is a country that is strongly rooted in its values and beliefs. Throughout the country, you will find plays and puppet shows depicting these stories and legends. They are an essential part of the culture. If you want to understand the pulse of the local people, why not attend a puppet show and be enchanted by these magical stories?