Myanmar certainly holds thousands of attractions that lure visitors to come and see the country. In addition to its wealth of natural and cultural marvels, Myanmar is popular for its diversity of cultures and long tradaitions. Shortly, Myanmar will surely be the best psychic and spiritual destination in the world. Whatever is your reason for visiting Myanmar, Nat statues will amaze you and will inspire your curiosity.
Myanmar is well-known for its tangible and intangible cultural assets. Among the intangible cultural attractions of Myanmar, 37 Nats and its ritual may be one of them. According to history, the word ‘Nat’ came from the word ‘Nahta’ which means lord, saviour or protector. To be a nat, there are four main characteristics while they were human beings-
- They were famous or popular.
- They had a supernatural power or strength.
- They were killed or unexpectedly died.
- Met a violent or cruel death.
History of Nat Worshipping in Myanmar
People say that nat worshipping in Myanmar began in AD 400, in the ancient Bagan time and is found during King Thaelaekyaung Era, the 7th King of Bagan Dynasty.
There was a strong man called Maung Tint De a blacksmith in Tagaung. The sound of his hammering could be heard from the palace and King Tagaung was so worried about his throne. So, he ordered his men to arrest him. But Maung Tint De was too fast and managed to run away. After that, the king then married his sister – a cunning strategy. The king promised her that he would give Maung Tint De a great post if she took him to the palace. Maung Tint De and his sister believed the king so he went to the palace but of course, the king did not keep his promise and killed Maung Tint De by tying him to a ‘Zaga Tree’ and burning him to death. At the time, Maung Tint De’s sister who felt the guilt jumped down into the fire and killed herself. This brother and sister became prominent and influential nats. They bewitched and killed whatever cattle and humans came in the vicinity of the tree they lived in. So, King Tagaung ordered people to cut down the tree, throw it into the Ayeyarwaddy river and it finally ended up in Bagan. They come to Thelakyaung, King of Bagan, in a dream and ask for a shrine to dwell. Thus the King built a shrine for them at Mount Popa which is known as Maha Giri and so Maung Tint De became Min Maha Giri.
And then King Anawrahta Era, the two brothers Shwe Pyin Nyi Naung Nats have appeared. Shwepyin Gyi is the elder brother and the younger one is Shwepyin Lay. They were good and powerful soldiers of the King Anawrahta army. Once the king ordered every member of entourage was required to contribute a brick and a handful of sand each to the construction of the pagoda at Taungpyone village. They failed to do the king’s order. So, they were executed and became Nats. But the King Anawrahta gave Taung Pyone village to the spirits of two brothers in honor of their good service and brave in his army. The king also makes an order for the people around that village to have a shrine to make a regular offering.
In this way, you can know the history and the beginning of nat worshipping in Myanmar. But some believe that there was nat worshipping since Sri Kestra Era before Bagan Era. There was also worshipping of Shwenabae Nat in Mindon since Sri Kestra Era.
According to history, King Anawrahta came to believe Theravada Buddism and then fought against Evil beliefs including Nats worshipping. So, he collected all nat statues and put them inside the wall of Shwezigone pagoda. Therefore the nats inside the wall became inner 37 and those from outside are called outer 37. There are differences in the Nat list from different records.
Nat Festivals and Soothers
Nat Worshipping is more popular in rural areas than in urban places of Myanmar. Some worshippers celebrate small private Nat-pwe in front of their houses when they gain a lot of profit from their business. They hire Nat-kadaws (Nat Soothers) to entertain the nats and it takes about 3 days. Normally nat-soothers are males and they apply make-up and wear suitable dresses and behave in suitable manners and sing different songs for different kinds of nats.
Taungbyone Nat Festival
One of the most popular and the main annual nat event is held in Taungbyone near Mandalay, where dozens of natpwe groups gather for their rituals. The festival is usually held during August or September. The ceremony is usually held at least three days. The first day is for the Summoning the Nats. The second day is the Nats’feast and the third is the day for the Nats’ departure. This festival includes the following matters: preparation for the ritual, the offerings, the orchestra, and the possession. The ceremony held nightly has the feeling of a music festival, as different stages host different natkadaw. Fans and followers go to see their favorite nat, perform rituals at their particular stage. Devotees from all over Myanmar come to this special festival and offer their donations and enjoy themselves with the blessings of the spirits. They pray for prosperity, fame, and luck for the next coming year.
Nowadays, you can see Nat shrines in front of some Myanmar people’s houses and those are built lower than the holy room for the image of the Buddha. They offer ‘Ka-daw-pwes’ for at the beginning of the events. Some people go and respect the statue of Nats at Pagodas and offer ‘Pwes’. In this way, the majority of people in Myanmar still believe in nat worshipping.
That doesn’t mean that this ritual is not very popular and all use to it but the marvelous attraction of Myanmar will never disappear as long as Myanmar exists.
Whether you’re looking for enlightenment or just a little peace of mind, Myanmar is the best vacation spot for spiritual transformation.