Nats, Thirty-Seven

Nats, Thirty-Seven

ALSO KNOWN AS:

Thirty-Seven Chief Nats; Inner Nats; Thounze Khunna Min Nat

ORIGIN:

Burma (Myanmar)

King Anawratha (reigned 1044–1077 CE), founder of the Buddhist Kingdom of Pagan and first to unite upper and lower Burma, sought to convert the nation to Theravada Buddhism and away from Tantra, shamanism, and animism. His attempts to suppress Nat veneration failed; it was too deeply ingrained. (How deeply? Almost one thousand years later, it still survives.) Instead a political decision was made to co-opt, control, and limit Nats by placing them under Buddhist supervision.

Thirty-six especially popular Nats were officially selected and endorsed. A thirty-seventh, Thagya Min, patterned after Hindu deity Indra, was added as the king of Nats. King Anawratha in conjunction with his Buddhist monk advisers embellished the stories of each of the thirty-six official Nats so that they became devout followers of Buddha.

Among the newly enshrined Nats was Anawratha’s father, Kunshaw, Lord of the White Umbrella. Anawratha reclaimed the throne after his father was deposed by his step-sons, who forced him to enter a monastery. As an ancestral Nat, Kunshaw is envisioned as a Buddhist monk, rather than as a king.

It was declared that there were no longer countless Nats, only these thirty-six plus one. Although new Nats sometimes replace old ones, the official number remains thirty-seven. Although called the Thirty-Seven Nats, there are not consistently thirty-seven of them. Historically, there have been fewer. Thirty-seven is, in essence, a category Demonstrating that Nats can be controlled, not a literal count or number. (For the sake of symmetry, there is also an official unofficial group of Thirty-Seven Outside Nats, even though there are really an infinite number of Outside Nats.)

ICONOGRAPHY:

The Thirty-Seven Nats are often accompanied by Buddhist imagery.

SACRED SITES:

Individual Nats generally have their own specific shrines and are not venerated in Buddhist pagodas, with one exception: Shwezigon Pagoda in Pagan, King Anawratha’s capital city. He had images of the Thirty-Seven chosen Nats moved to the new pagoda, allegedly saying that if men wouldn’t come for the sake of the new faith, they’d come for the old and gradually be converted.

SEE ALSO:

  • Bon Spirits;
  • Eight Dharma Protectors;
  • Indra;
  • Nats, Mahagiri;
  • Nats

SOURCE:

Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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