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Nat (spirit)

Nat (spirit)

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The nats are spirits worshipped in Burma (or Myanmar) in conjunction with Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats and all the rest (i.e., spirits of trees, water, etc.). Almost all of the 37 Great Nats were human beings who met violent deaths . They may thus also be called nat sein . It is important to note that the word 'sein', while meaning 'green', is being used to mean 'raw' in this context. There are however two types of nats in Burmese Buddhist belief.

Nat spirits are termed lower nats or auk nats , whether named or unnamed, whereas ahtet nats or higher nat dewas
Deva (Buddhism)
A deva in Buddhism is one of many different types of non-human beings who share the characteristics of being more powerful, longer-lived, and, in general, living more contentedly than the average human being....

 inhabit the six heavens. Much like sainthood, nats can be designated for a variety of reasons, including those only known in certain regions in Burma. Nat worship is less common in urban areas than in rural areas, and is practised among ethnic minorities as well as in the mainstream Bamar
Bamar
The Bamar are the dominant ethnic group of Burma , constituting approximately two-thirds of the population. The Bamar live primarily in the Irrawaddy basin, and speak the Burmese language, which is also the official language of Burma. Bamar customs and identity are closely intertwined with general...

 society. It is however among the Buddhist Bamar that the most highly developed form of ceremony and ritual is seen.

Every Burmese village has a nat sin which essentially serves as a shrine to the village guardian nat called the ywa saung nat . An offertory coconut is often hung on the main southeast post in the house, wearing a gaung baung (headdress) and surrounded by perfume, as an offering to the Min Mahagiri (Lord of the Great Mountain), also known as the ein dwin or ein saung (house guardian) nat. One may inherit a certain member or in some instances two of the 37 Nats as mi hsaing hpa hsaing from one or both parents' side to worship depending on where their families originally come from. One also has a personal guardian spirit called ko saung nat .

Nat worship and Buddhism


Some disagreement in fact exists in academic circles as to whether Burmese Buddhism and Burmese spirit worship are two separate entities or just different dimensions of a single entity. Many Burmese themselves would say it is merely superstition and tend to downplay its role in society. Since the institution of the official 37 Nats was founded by King Anawrahta
Anawrahta
Anawrahta Minsaw was the founder of the Pagan Empire. Considered the father of the Burmese nation, Anawrahta turned a small principality in the dry zone of Upper Burma into the first Burmese Empire that formed the basis of modern-day Burma...

 (1044–1077) of Bagan
Bagan
Bagan , formerly Pagan, is an ancient city in the Mandalay Region of Burma. Formally titled Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana and also known as Tambadipa or Tassadessa , it was the capital of several ancient kingdoms in Burma...

, albeit with later alterations, it has been argued that this may be interpreted as a process of Burmanisation and establishment of Bamar supremacy in the Irrawaddy
Ayeyarwady
Ayeyarwady can mean:*Irrawaddy River, the primary river of Myanmar*Ayeyarwady Region, an administrative division of Myanmar...

 valley after the unification of the country and founding of the First Burmese Empire was achieved by the king.
Worship of nats predates Buddhism in Burma. With the arrival of Buddhism, however, the nats were merged, syncretistically, with Buddhism.

Nat worship and ecology



The widespread traditional belief among rural folks that there are forest guardian spirits called taw saung nats and mountain guardian spirits called taung saung nats appears to act as a deterrent against environmental destruction up to a point. Indiscriminate felling particularly of large trees is generally eschewed owing to the belief that they are dwellings of tree spirits called yokkazo and that such an act would bring the wrath of the nat upon the perpetrator.

Popular nat festivals


The most important nat pilgrimage site in Burma is Mount Popa
Mount Popa
Mount Popa is a volcano 1518 metres above sea level, and located in central Burma about southeast of Bagan in the Pegu Range. It can be seen from the River Ayeyarwady as far away as in clear weather. Mount Popa is perhaps best known for the nearby stunningly picturesque Popa Taungkalat...

, an extinct volcano with numerous temples and relic sites atop a mountain 1300 metres, located near Bagan
Bagan
Bagan , formerly Pagan, is an ancient city in the Mandalay Region of Burma. Formally titled Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana and also known as Tambadipa or Tassadessa , it was the capital of several ancient kingdoms in Burma...

 in central Burma. The annual festival is held on the full moon of Natdaw
Traditional Burmese calendar
The traditional Burmese calendar is a lunisolar calendar based on both the phases of the moon and the motion of the sun. Within each month of the Burmese calendar, a major festival, often Burmese Buddhist in nature, is held...

(December). Taungbyone, north of Mandalay
Mandalay
Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Burma. Located north of Yangon on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River, the city has a population of one million, and is the capital of Mandalay Region ....

, is another major site with the festival held each year starting on the eleventh waxing day and including the full moon in the month of Wagaung
Traditional Burmese calendar
The traditional Burmese calendar is a lunisolar calendar based on both the phases of the moon and the motion of the sun. Within each month of the Burmese calendar, a major festival, often Burmese Buddhist in nature, is held...

(August). Yadanagu at Amarapura
Amarapura
Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa in the south...

, held a week later in honour of Popa Medaw (Mother of Popa), who was the mother of the Taungbyone Min Nyinaung (Brother Lords), is also a popular nat festival.

Nats have human characteristics, wants, and needs. They are flawed, having desires considered derogatory and immoral in mainstream Buddhism. During a nat pwè, which is a festival during which nats are propitiated, nat kadaws (nat mistresses or mediums) dance and embody the nat's spirit in a trance. The roles of nat kadaws are sometimes fulfilled by transvestite men. Music, often accompanied by a saing waing (orchestra), adds much to the mood of the nat pwè, and many claim to be entranced. People come from far and near to take part in the festivities in various nat shrines called nat kun or nat naan, get drunk on palm toddy
Palm wine
Palm wine also called Palm Toddy also called "Kallu" written in Malayalam and கள்ளு in Tamil or simply Toddy is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree such as the palmyra, and coconut palms...

 and dance wildly in fits of ecstasy to the wild beat of the saing music, convinced that they have become possessed by the nats.

Whereas nat pwes are annual events celebrating a particular member of the 37 Nats regarded as the tutelary spirit in a local region within a local community, with familial custodians of the place and tradition and with royal sponsorship in ancient times, hence evocative of royal rituals, there are also nat kannah pwes where individuals would have a pavilion set up in a neighbourhood and the ritual is generally linked to the entire pantheon of nats. The nat kadaws as an independent profession made their appearance in the latter half of the 19th C as spirit mediums, and nat kannahs are more of an urban phenomenon which evolved to satisfy the need of people who had migrated from the countryside to towns and cities but who wished to carry on their traditions or yo-ya of supplicating the mi hsaing hpa hsaing tutelary spirit of their native place.

List of official nats




King Anawrahta
Anawrahta
Anawrahta Minsaw was the founder of the Pagan Empire. Considered the father of the Burmese nation, Anawrahta turned a small principality in the dry zone of Upper Burma into the first Burmese Empire that formed the basis of modern-day Burma...

 of Bagan (1044–1077) designated an official pantheon of 37 Nats, after he had failed to enforce a ban on nat worship. His stratagem of incorporation by bringing the nats to his Shwezigon Pagoda
Shwezigon Pagoda
The Shwezigon Pagoda or Shwezigon Paya is a Buddhist temple located in Nyaung-U, a town near Bagan, in Burma . It is a prototype of Burmese stupas, and consists of a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines...

 in positions of worshipping the Buddha, and by enlisting Thagya Min
Sakra
Śakra or Sakka is the ruler of the Heaven according to Buddhist cosmology. His full title is |deva]]s". In Buddhist texts, Śakra is the proper name and not an epithet of this deity; conversely, Indra in Sanskrit and Inda in Pali are sometimes used as an epithet for Śakra as "lord".In East...

 at the head of the pantheon above the Mahagiri nats, eventually succeeded. Seven out of the 37 Nats appear to be directly associated with the life and times of Anawrahta. The official pantheon is made up predominantly of those from the royal houses of Burmese history, but also contains nats of Thai
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

 (Yun Bayin) and Shan
Shan State
Shan State is a state of Burma . Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and five administrative divisions of Burma in the west. Largest of the 14 administrative divisions by land area, Shan State covers 155,800 km², almost a quarter of the total...

 (Maung Po Tu) descent; illustrations of them show them in Burmese royal dress. Listed in proper order, they are:
  1. Thagyamin
    Thagyamin
    Thagyamin , considered King of the Nats, is identified with the Buddhist deva Śakra and the Hindu deity Indra. He is often portrayed atop a three-headed white elephant, holding a conch shell in one hand, and a yak-tail whisk in the other. In traditional Burmese Buddhist belief, Thagyamin rules the...

     
  2. Min Mahagiri
    Mahagiri
    Min Mahagiri , son of a famous blacksmith, U Tint Daw. His given name was Maung Tint De or Mr Handsome. He was extremely strong, able to break the tusks of an elephant. The King of Tagaung was worried, least he attempt to usurp his throne, so Maung Tint De hid himself in a village...

     
  3. Hnamadawgyi
    Hnamadawgyi
    Hnamadawgyi is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. She is the nat representation of Myat Hla, sister of Maung Tint De. According to tradition, she was a queen of the King of Tagaung. When she saw her brother Tintde being burned alive, she leapt into the fire, but only managed to...

     
  4. Shwe Nabay
    Shwe Nabay
    Shwenabay |nats]] in the Burmese pantheon of nats. According to belief, she was a beautiful woman of Mindon Village who married a Naga. Later, her husband deserted her and she died of a broken heart. Another story maintains that she was actually the wife of Maung Tint De. She is portrayed standing,...

     
  5. Thonbanhla
    Thonbanhla
    Thonbanhla is the fifth of nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. She was a native of a Mon village called Takunnwan. She was "beautiful in three ways within one day." She was given to King Duttabaung of Pyay, but the queen was jealous of her beauty and told the king that she was actually...

     
  6. Taungoo Mingaung
    Taungoo Mingaung
    Taungoo Mingaung is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. He is the nat representation of the historical Minkhaung, who was viceroy of Taungoo and the third younger brother of King Bayinnaung of Taungoo dynasty. He is portrayed sitting crosslegged on a simple couch wearing...

     
  7. Mintara
    Mintara
    Mintara is the nat representation of King Tarabya of Ava. According to the legend, the king met a fairy in the forest, made love to her, and went insane when the fairy disappeared. While he was in this state, one of his followers, Nga Nauk Hsan, governor of Tagaung, murdered the king...

     
  8. Thandawgan
    Thandawgan
    Thandawgan is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. The nat is a representation of historical Yè Thiha, a royal messenger of Minkhaung, the viceroy of Taungoo and brother of King Bayinnaung. According to the belief, Ye Thiha went to the forest to gather flowers, contracted...

     
  9. Shwe Nawrahta
    Shwe Nawrahta
    Shwe Nawrahta is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He is the merged personalities of two historic Nawrahtas. The first source is Anawrahta of Ava, son in law of King Minkhaung I of Ava. Anawrahta was appointed governor of Arakan in 1406, and later married to the king's daughter...

     
  10. Aungzwamagyi
    Aungzwamagyi
    Aungzwamagyi is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He is the nat representation of Aung Zwa, a commander in the service of Crown Prince Narapatisithu of Pagan, and the assassin of King Naratheinkha...

     
  11. Ngazi Shin
    Kyawswa I of Pinya
    Kyawswa I of Pinya or Ngarsishin Kyawswa was the third king of Pinya Kingdom from 1343 to 1350. Kyawswa, who descended from both Pagan and Myinsaing dynasties, ascended the throne of Pinya in 1343 after his half-brother Uzana I abdicated the throne...

     
  12. Aung Pinle Hsinbyushin
    Aung Pinle Hsinbyushin
    Aung Pinle Hsinbyushin is the nat representation of King Thihathu of Ava who was assassinated in an ambush by the men of Sawbwa of Onbaung at Aung Pinle near today's Amarapura. He is portrayed sitting cross-legged on a throne on elephantback in full regalia, with one of the elephant attendants...

     
  13. Taungmagyi
    Taungmagyi
    Taungmagyi |nat]]s. He is one of two sons of Maung Tint De and Shwe Nabay. The King he and his brother were serving under became fearful of their strength and forced them to fight each other to death....

     
  14. Maungminshin
    Maungminshin
    Maung Min Shin , also called Shin Byu , is one of the 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. He is a representation of historical Min Shin, brother of Taungmagyi , both of whom served under King Duttabaung of Prome. According to belief, the king became fearful of the brothers' strength...

     
  15. Shindaw
    Shindaw
    Shindaw is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He was a young novice monk of Innwa and died of a snake bite. He is portrayed standing on a pedestal with headwear, and a yellow robe. He holds a fan in his right hand and rosary beads in his left....

     
  16. Nyaunggyin
    Nyaunggyin
    Nyaunggyin is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He was a descendant of the captive King Manuha of Thaton. He died of leprosy during the reign of King Anawrahta of Pagan. He is portrayed standing on a pedestal with a topknot, his left hand raised and holding a staff in his right....

     
  17. Tabinshwehti
    Tabinshwehti
    Tabinshwehti was a king who unified Burma in 1539 and known as the founder of the Second Burmese Empire.Tabinshwehti succeeded his father Mingyinyo as ruler of the Toungoo dynasty in 1530...

     
  18. Minye Aungdin
    Minye Aungdin
    Minyè Aungdin , husband of Princess Shwe Sin Tu, daughter of King Thalun and his queen, who was daughter of Sawbwa of Monè in Shan State. He died from an excess of opium smoking. He is portrayed sitting on a pedestal with a topknot and holding a harp....

     
  19. Shwe Sitthin 

  1. Medaw Shwezaga
    Medaw Shwezaga
    Medaw Shwezaga is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. She was the mother of Shwe Sitpin, and died of heartbreak over the sorrowful plight of her son. She is portrayed sitting on a pedestal with her right hand on her bosom and her left hand resting on her lap....

     

  2. Maung Po Tu
    Maung Po Tu
    Maung Po Tu is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He was a tea trader during the reign of King Minkhaung I of Ava, and was killed by a tiger on his way to Shan State. He is portrayed sitting on a tiger, a stick in right hand and left hand on his thigh....

     

  3. Yun Bayin
    Yun Bayin
    Yun Bayin is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. He was Mekuti, the captive king of Lanna Kingdom, who died of illness during the reign of King Bayinnaung of Toungoo . He is portrayed sitting with right knee raised, right hand holding a sheathed sword across the shoulder,...

     

  4. Maung Minbyu
    Maung Minbyu
    Maung Minbyu is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. He is the nat representation of Crown Prince Minyekyawswa, and son of Minkhaung I of Ava Kingdom. The fiery prince, whose birth name was Min Phyu , died of wounds in the Forty Years' War in March 1417....

     

  5. Mandalay Bodaw
    Mandalay Bodaw
    Mandalay Bodaw is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. Son of a Brahmin, he was killed for not properly supervising Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw and Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw, who were negligent in their duties. He is portrayed standing on a pedestal with a sword on his shoulder and a hand...

     

  6. Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw
    Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw
    Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw , also called Shwe Hpyin Gyi or Min Gyi , is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. He is the elder brother of Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw....

     (‌)

  7. Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw
    Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw
    Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw , also called Shwe Hpyin Nge or Min Lay , is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. Together known as Shwe Hpyin Nyinaung or Taungbyon Min Nyinaung , he and his brother Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw were sons of Byatta, the royal messenger, and Me Wunna, a...

     

  8. Mintha Maungshin
    Mintha Maungshin
    Mintha Maungshin , is one of 37 recognized in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He was a grandson of King Alaungsithu of Pagan , son of Min Shin Saw. While he was still a young novice monk , he fell off a swing and died....

     

  9. Htibyuhsaung
    Htibyuhsaung
    Htibyuhsaung is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. He was King Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu, father of Anawrahta. He was deposed and forced to become a monk by his stepsons, and died later....

     

  10. Htibyuhsaung Medaw
    Htibyuhsaung Medaw
    Htibyuhsaung Medaw is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. She was a grandmother of King Anawrahta of Pagan, and died of illness. She is portrayed with hair knotted and dangling, sitting on folded knees with hand on her lap....

     

  11. Pareinma Shin Mingaung
    Pareinma Shin Mingaung
    Pareinma Shin Mingaung is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. He was King Kyiso of Pagan, and brother of Anawrahta. He was accidentally killed by a hunter's arrow while hunting deer....

     

  12. Min Sithu
    Min Sithu
    Min Sithu is one of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. He is the nat representation of King Alaungsithu of Pagan, who was assassinated by his son Narathu in 1167. He is portrayed sitting on a throne with one knee up and his foot on the seat, wearing royal garments....

     

  13. Min Kyawzwa
    Min Kyawzwa
    Min Kyawzwa , is one of the 37 nats in the official pantheon of Burmese nats. He is a composite representation of multiple historical personalities. One version puts him as a son of King Theinhko of Pagan; he was murdered by his brother. Another version puts him as an adviser to King Alaungsithu...

     

  14. Myaukhpet Shinma
    Myaukhpet Shinma
    Myaukhpet Shinma of the 37 nats in the Burmese pantheon of nats. She is the nat representation of the wet nurse of King Tabinshwehti, and a native of North Kadu. She died in childbirth. She is portrayed on her knees, right hand on her bosom and left hand on her knee....

     

  15. Anauk Mibaya
    Anauk Mibaya
    Anauk Mibaya is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. She was Queen Shin Mi-Nauk, consort of King Minkhaung I and mother of Crown Prince Minyekyawswa and King Thihathu of Ava...

     

  16. Shingon
    Shingon (nat)
    Shingon is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. She was a maid of King Thihathu and accompanied him to the battlefront. She died on her return to the capital Ava . She is portrayed walking limply with her hands dangling....

     

  17. Shingwa
    Shingwa
    Shingwa is one of 37 nats in the official Burmese pantheon of nats. She was the sister of Mandalay Bodaw, and killed together with her brother for hiding the brothers Shwe Hpyin Nyidaw and Shwe Hpyin Naungdaw....

     

  18. Shin Nemi
    Shin Nemi
    Shin Nemi , also known as Ma Hne Galay or Shin Mihne , is the 37th Burmese nat in the official pantheon of nats. She is the daughter of Thonbanhla and died of grief from her mother's death....

     


  19. External links