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Various Nat Spirits and Deva of Burma

The Various Nat Spirits and Deva of Burma described in the written work related to the “thirty-seven Nats by Sir R. C. Temple in 1906,” portrays knowledge and interest in the history of Nats that is both descriptive and highly interesting. Although he himself has said that this work is only his view.

His answer to the question: “What is a Nat? quoteOne is greatly tempted to derive it at once from the Indian Natha, especially in view of the probability that before the advent of Indian culture there was no generic term for spirit and that Natha means all that Nat does, a protector, savior, Lord, Master, chief and in India both a lofty and humble application, both to the mightiest of the Gods and the lowest of the godlings or superhuman heroes“.

In the Pali scriptures, it is a frequent epithet of the Buddha himself. Although it might be argued that the Burmese borrowed it as a designation for the thirty-three angel inhabitants of the Tavatimsa Heaven who are now represented by the thirty-seven Nats, the Nats par excellence, the innumerable remainder being merely hangers-on.

The ancient form of Nat worship in Upper Burma was that of the Naga or Serpent, which was traditionally the religion of Pagan and was overturned by King Anawrahta in 1048 A.D.

Accepting thirty-seven official Nats subordinate to the Buddha has resulted in a unique blend of Buddhism and Nat worship which is still evident in present-day Myanmar.

THE VARIOUS NATS OF BURMA

Burmese Antique Wooden Nat Min Gyi
Min Gyi Nat Spirit

MIN GYI NAT

Min Gyi and Min Lay are the sons of the Nat spirit MeWunna, also referred to as Popa Me Daw nat or Popa Medaw meaning mother of Popa.

A festival on Mount Popa each year in March celebrates the two brothers. Mount Popa and Taungkalat monastery is built on top of an extinct volcano with a 360-degree panorama. Taungkalat monastery is home to the thirty-seven official Nats.

Gyi and his brother Min Lay are Burmese mythological Nat spirits popularly known as the Taungbyone brothers. The story of these two brothers dates back to the 11th century when they were chosen to be two of the main pantheon of 37 Nats by King Anawrahta of Pagan when endeavoring to establish the Theravada school of Buddhism as the dominant religion of Myanmar.

Throughout Myanmar also referred to as Burma, there are a many Nat spirit festivals. One of the biggest festivals is dedicated to the Taungbyone brothers, Min Lay and Min Gyi. During this festival, they commemorate the fable or legend of these two Nat spirits who are also sometimes referred to as the Shwe Phyin Brothers (Shwe Phyin Nyi Naung).

Min Gyi and his brother Min Lay are Burmese mythological Nat spirits popularly known as the Taungbyone brothers. The story of these two brothers dates back to the 11th century when they were chosen to be two of the main pantheon of 37 Nats by King Anawrahta of Pagan when endeavoring to establish the Theravada school of Buddhism as the dominant religion of Myanmar.

Left Side view Burmese Nat Spirit Min Lay
Min Lay Nat Spirit

MIN LAY NAT (brother of Min Gyi)

Nat spirit Min Lay, one of a family of three nats, the mother Maw Wana, and his brother Burmese Min Gyi Nat Spirit, also known as the Taungbyon brothers.

Burmese Wooden Gilded Nat Figure Min Mahagiri
Min Mahagiri Nat

MAHA GIRI NAT

(also known as Eindwin)
Min Maha Giri, also referred to as Eindwin, is one of the 37 pantheon of Burmese nats. He is known throughout Burma as the inside house nat spirit or the house guardian. Min Maha Giri is usually seen together with a coconut red curtain placed at the east-south corner of the house alongside a Buddha shrine.

The Maha Giri nat stems from the legend related to a blacksmith who lived in Tagaung, known as U Tin Te, he was famous for his strength. The King of Tagaung was afraid of his strength and tried to trap him, whereupon U Tin Te ran away into the forest.

The King called U Tin Te’s sister into the palace and persuaded her to beckon her brother to the palace. Upon his arrival at the palace, the King arrested him under a saga tree (Indian Champac tree or michelia champaca tree), and set him on fire, whereupon the sister jumped into the fire and perished with him.

Min Maha Giri and his sister were immortalized in the form of nats and brought evil to anyone who came near the shadow of the tree. The King of Tagaung then ordered the tree to be uprooted and thrown into the Ayarwaddy River. The tree floated down the river and arrived near the Pagan kingdom.

The King of Pagan made them the guardian spirits of Pagan and they were enshrined at Mount Popa.

Burmese Taungmagyi or Maung Min Shin Nat Statue

Burmese Wooden Nat figure with Six Arms
Burmese Wooden Nat figure with Six Arms

According to Burmese folklore, this Nat represents either Taungmagyi known as Lord of Mainpeak, also known as Shin Nyo, “Lord Brown”, OR Maung Min Shin, Lord of the northern hill, also known as Shin Phyu “Lord White”, they are also referred to as Lord of due South and Lord of the north.

These two Nats have shrines dedicated to them in the towns of Prome and Taungdwingyi and are usually represented with six arms.

Both brothers in life were believed to be employed as tax officials by their brother King Duttabang, King of Pyay (Prome), in the ancient Pyu city of Sriksetra.

The kingdom at that time was divided up into two, main tax regions the north and the south.

The king, afraid that he would be deposed by his two brothers requested that they have a wrestling match, whereupon both brothers died of exhaustion, thus they became Nats. Today, they are two among the pantheon of thirty-seven Nats. This is just one of the tales which have survived relating to these two brothers.

They are believed to be the sons of the Lady Golden Sides, although this is not determined, however, she did have two sons serving the king at Prome. They were later executed, but no details of these sons exist. Lady Golden sides is worshiped but not as a member of the pantheon of the Thirty-seven Nats. In the Prome area, they were called the “Lords of the Royal Cave”, possibly because their images were placed in a cave for worship.

Lords Brown and White were worshiped separately from the other nats at Prome up until the second quarter of the 20th century.

According to Burmese folklore, most of the Pantheon of 37 Nats died sudden, violent or tragic deaths, all connected to royalty, therefore being chosen by King Anawrahta would ensure that they would always be bound to royal servitude and to the area in which they met their demise, although according to those who have studied Nat cults in Burma consider most of the present day pantheon of thirty-seven Nats evolved well after King Anawrahta’s reign.

19th C Burmese Popa Medaw Wooden Nat Spirit
Burmese Me Wunna Nat

Burmese Popa Medaw Nat Spirit – Mother of Popa

Mother to Min Lay and Min Gyi

Although Popa Medaw Nat, also referred to as Me Wunna is not included in the pantheon of 37 Nats, but she is nevertheless an important Nat figure in Burmese mythology.  Me Wunna’s less commonly known name “Lady Golden Face was the sister of the Lord of the Great Mountain (Mt. Popa).

In the ninth century, they became the guardian gods of the city of Pagan and its Kings. There was an annual Nat feast on Mount Popa itself, hundreds of animals were offered as sacrifices to the Lord of the Great Mountain and his sister Lady Golden-Face and people from all around came to celebrate.

The myth and legend of Popa Medaw or Lady Golden Face also referred to as Me Wunna goes back to the time of King Anawrahta, who ruled pagan between 1044 – 1077 AD., when he commanded Byatta, a Muslim, who became a senior commander in his army after being shipwrecked at Thaton, was told to go and fetch fresh flowers ten times daily from Mt Popa.

Following the orders of King Anawrahta, Byatta went to Mt. Popa to pick flowers, whilst there he fell in love with Me Wunna the flower ogress, eventually, she conceived two sons Min Lay and Min Gyi also known as Shwe Hpyin Nyinaung meaning brothers or also referred to as Brothers Inferior Gold, both becoming two of the 37 official Burmese Nats. Me Wunna died of a broken heart after her husband Byatta was executed. King Analwrahta was stricken with remorse at the death of his senior commander and sent for Me Wunna’s two sons, he gave them presents of gold which was considered a mark of special favour for the children, but as presents of gold could only be given to princes of royal blood, the gold given to the two young boys was deliberately made a little impure. The brothers were placed under a tutor (a minister at Mandalay) and when they reached the age of fifteen years of age they joined the army.

They gained great distinction in Anawrahta’s Chinese Campaign, but when the army returned they were executed at the village of Taung-byon near Mandalay for a minor breach of discipline.

Referenced “Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism”

Author: Maung Htin Aung

Various Nat Spirits and Deva of Burma

Various Nat Spirits and Deva of Burma

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