When you ask about Myanmar, the belief in Nat (spirit) is one of the most important part of the culture. Buddhism and spirituality are a consistent part of Burmese life. Burma ranks as the most religious country in terms of donations, merit-making ceremonies and festivals. Most Buddhists partly believe in Nats. Nat belief is more common in rural areas than in urban areas. There are a number of spirit festivals honoring different spirits in different regions of Myanmar. Taung Pyone Nat festival is the most famous one and the largest Nat Honoring festival. It is held annually in August in honor of the two Nat brothers called Shwe Phyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Nge. Taung Pyone, situated 10 km away from Mandalay is the major site holding this 6-days-festival. Those who have strong beliefs in Nats come from far to that special site to participate in various Nat shrines or palaces which host the 37 Great Nats separately. Shwe Phyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Nge brothers (statues) are honored together in a grand palace.
Thousands or even ten-thousands of local and foreigners flock at midnight! It’s a gathering of people who believe in Nats. Statues of Nats ,lots of flowers, liquors, fruits, food and uncountable cash are offered. It’s really crowded and sometimes you even cannot walk, no matter if it is 2 or 3 in the morning. Mediums entertain the crowds with fantastic Nat dances and songs. They help you to send messages to the lords. How? Nat occupies the body of the medium and ask for for what he wants. Shaking violently, the medium dances but doesn’t blink! Intoxicating music from sound boxes fills your ears and hearts with inspiration. Of course, there are a lot of liquor and music but that’s what Nats like!
No worry if you get to Taung Pyone by chance but you are not actually a Nat believer, circus, cultural dances and magic shows will entertain you at any time. Another awesome thing that you should not miss is to see a fortuneteller. Several fortunetellers wait to foretell your future. Get yourself excited with local food and accessories from souvenir shops as you walk passing and flocking among different types of people. That’s the place where you’ll be able to meet up people, from the rich to the poor. Thousands of people come to worship Nats during this 6 days festival. Some wait the whole year to take part to this special event because their wishes came true and fulfilled after they worshiped the two brothers. They believe that the two brothers have power to grant wealth to their followers. Are they that powerful? Yes! They are. It’s believed that they died but they are still alive and still bring the best of luck and prosperity to those who believe in their supernatural power. All Nats have stories of human life behind them. They lived, died violently and became Nats.
Shwe Phyin brothers were very talented and reliable soldiers when they were human beings, they served for King Anawrahta’s army during Bagan period. It was at the time the King and his troops camped at Taung Pyone village that the two brothers were killed. Canning ministers played a trick and got them killed by the King on the way back. After their deaths, their spirits stopped the ship on which King and his troops were. Since the time that the King let them down and be the guardians of that area (Taung Pyone), they became Nats. They are the most popular among 37 Nats. Please make sure that you don’t eat pork or beef at the festival. As far as the documents said, they were Muslim. It’s even better not to bring or keep pork with you on the way to Taung Pyone.
You wonder about how the locals’ lives during the festival time. The small road to festival area becomes lively with a lot of traffic jam. Young and old people on roadsides are busy asking for money from vehicles. Tanned skin appeared under dark brown shirts with smile at the sun. Who cares? This is the only and best time to get money from travelers. They look as wild as wind of season. Fighting over flying notes of cash from vehicles, what they all yell in unity is “Pour out the money”.
Signs of clouds and rain make people excited, heartfelt and free. As soon as you get off the car, you will see plenty of crowded shops. Saing-wine (traditional music orchestra) play loud music of Nat Doe( spiritual music) covering the peaceful sounds of bells from Pagoda built by King Anawrahta. You can see that two tiles are still missing in pagoda. That is the reason why the two brothers were killed. Kings, back at this time, were very strict and easy to get angry. When he found out that the two brothers were drunk and failed their duty of placing these two tiles, they were killed. They were tricked by canning ministers!
However, people are happy on the festival day. They forget what happened once. Shops selling coconuts and bananas count for one third of the roadsides booths. “Pwe” is the special donation of a bowl including two to three branches of banana, a green coconut and some perfumed stuff. Nats have human characteristics, needs and wants. If you honor them with what they like, they will bring you wealth and success in return. During the night, delicious smell of local food is mixed up with village girls’ perfumes, lipsticks and powders under night searchlights. Just reading all the different names of liquor shops will already make you drunk! Be careful, a certain number of local beauties could be lady boy. Wherever you glance, they’re just behind you. After passing food booths, you will see temporary shelters of Nats(which we call Nat-Ka-Nar) colored in bright glittering gold. Yellow bulbs make Nat statues look alive. Mediums in colorful dress and heavy make-up are wobbly and clumsy with excitement. Hoping to get many audiences to their shelters, they prepare carefully, beautifully and attractively. Through the crowds, you will see a grand palace where the two brothers lived. “Zun Pann”, white beautiful flowers are symbol of this season. The loud sounds of florists echo the temple as visitors wander around to buy bunches of different flowers. Later those flowers will be tied with beautiful shawls and donated to the brothers. The first day is the best day because the two brothers are much more pleased on first day and help you more. And visitors are pushing to the entrance. It’s hard to see the brothers’ faces since a number of people already block the way. Nobody is going back as soon as they pay homage. They are waiting for the flowers which local authorized people take off from statues. Keeping those flowers make you safe, healthy and prosperous throughout the year.
If you are around Mandalay during August, I recommend you to attend this festival. I am sure it will be an unforgettable memory.