When you come to Myanmar, you will see so many awesome things which are very different from other parts of the world, not even similar to Asian countries. If you see the shrines (small houses) at the base of banyan trees or at the entrance to villages while you’re walking alone, usually small wooden structures with crossed roof beams, young bamboo shoots and incense as offerings, and sometimes a small empty bed inside, don’t think so much. It is Nats (Spirits) traditions.
Nat belief is somewhat different from Buddhism. The worship of nats reached its peak during the reigns of ancient kings who patronized them. But since the time of King Anawrahta (1044-1077AD), a devout Buddhist king of the Bagan dynasty, the popularity of spirit worship has been in decline. However, it continues to play a significant role in the lives of local people, particularly in rural areas. You can also see red and white streamers – nat’s colours – hanging from cars to bring good luck, and some Buddhist shrines will have Nat’s figures as guardians.
Nat is a kind of traditional local spirit, like angels or guardians that are worshipped all over the country. There are 37 Great Nats in total, and many other nats. But all were at one point humans who met sudden and unexpected deaths. Difficult to define, they are beings between a spirit and a god. They are powerfulfor their believers, and can be easily upset. They can bring both good fortune and bad luck on their followers. Every nat has numerous devotees, shrines and annual festival.
Among them, Ko Gyi Kyaw Nat, a happy one who loves to drink and gamble, is a quite popular nat in Myanmar, probably more than any other. You can see his worshippers sing, dance and be merry. People believe him as the patron of gamblers. The annual festival for him is celebrated in his home town, Pakhan in Yayza Gyo Township for eight days. If you ever get a chance on participating to this nat’s worshiping ceremonies (know as nat-pwe) you’ll get an experience of a lifetime.
The biggest influence on Burmese nats can be seen at Mount Popa, outside of Bagan, an old volcanic mountain, which is traditionally regarded as their primary home, just like Mount Olympus for gods in Greece. 777 steps (try to count when you reach) up the mountain is the Popa Taungkalat shrine, which worshippers visit while feeding bananas and candies to monkeys along the way. They believe doing so may bring good luck upon them.
There is another annual festival you shouldn’t forget regarding Nat. It’s Taung Pyone festival (Taung Pyong Pwe), most famous one of the country. It celebrates for Shwe Pyin Gyi and Shwe Pyin Lay, two famous adopted sons of the King Anawratha, and both of them had been executed for missing to properly complete a bricks wall at a Pagoda that the king ordered (the space for the missing brick is still there). This famous festival is cerebrated in a small village called Taung Pyone, where the brothers were executed, which is situated 10 km north of Mandalay, every August (the tenth waxing day of Wagaung in Myanmar traditional calendar), and is held for 6 days.
So if you ever visit Myanmar, you definitely should not miss to see and learn more about the nats, as they are part of the tradition and folklore of the country and it is probably the oldest belief that is widely followed in Myanmar.
Here is the official list of 37 Great Nats, which has been established by king Anawratha as he couldn’t get rid of this belief while he was trying to impose Buddhism upon his Kingdom.
Their count and names are still controverted, but most of Myanmar people accept the following list:
- Thagyamin (သိၾကားမင္း )
- Min Mahagiri (မင္းမဟာဂီရိ)
- Hnamadawgyi (ႏွမေတာ္ၾကီး)
- Shwe Nabay (ေရႊနံေဘ)
- Thonbanhla (သုံးပန္လွ)
- Taungoo Mingaung (ေတာင္ငူမင္းေခါင္)
- Mintara (မင္းတရား)
- Thandawgan (သံေတာ္ခံ)
- Shwe Nawrahta (ေရႊေနာ္ရထာ)
- Aungzwamagyi (ေအာင္စြာမႀကီး)
- Ngazi Shin (ငါးစီးရွင္)
- Aung Pinle Hsinbyushin (ေအာင္ပင္လယ္ဆင္ျဖဴရွင္)
- Taungmagyi (ေတာင္မႀကီး)
- Maungminshin (ေမာင္မင္းရွင္)
- Shindaw (ရွင္ေတာ္)
- Nyaunggyin (ေညာင္ၿခဴး)
- Tabinshwehti (တပင္ေရႊထီး)
- Minye Aungdin (မင္းရဲေအာင္တင္)
- Shwe Sitthin (ေရႊစစ္သင္)
- Medaw Shwezaga (မယ္ေတာ္ေရႊစကား)
- Maung Po Tu (ေမာင္ဘိုးတူ)
- Yun Bayin (ယြန္းဘုရင္)
- Maung Minbyu (ေမာင္မင္းျဖဴ)
- Mandalay Bodaw (မန္တေလးဘိုးေတာ္)
- Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw (ေရႊဖ်င္း ေနာင္ေတာ္)
- Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw (ေရႊဖ်င္း ညီေတာ္)
- Mintha Maungshin (မင္းသား ေမာင္ရွင္)
- Htibyuhsaung (ထီးျဖဴေဆာင္း)
- Htibyuhsaung Medaw (ထီးျဖဴေဆာင္း မယ္ေတာ္)
- Pareinma Shin Mingaung (ပရိမ္မရွင္ မင္းေခါင္)
- Min Sithu (မင္းစည္သူ)
- Min Kyawzwa (မင္ေက်ာ္စြာ)
- Myaukhpet Shinma (ေျမာက္ဘက္ရွင္မ)
- Anauk Mibaya (အေနာက္ မိဘုရား)
- Shingon (ရွင္ကုန္း)
- Shingwa (ရွင္ကြ)
- Shin Nemi (ရွင္နဲမိ)