The term Nat indicates “power” and names a vast variety of Burmese deities, including ancestral spirits and those of rivers, trees, snakes and other creatures. Many of the most famous and widely venerated Nats are the souls of people who died tragic or violent deaths. Technically, countless Nats exist, with more emerging daily.
Centuries of attempts to tame Nats (and their devotees) have never been completely successful. Thirty-seven Buddhist Nats were officially designated as acceptable for worship. All other Nats are considered disreputable (as are their devotees by extension), especially those that hew to indigenous shamanic and animist traditions and do not acknowledge the superiority of Buddhism. (
Nats, Thirty-Seven.) The Thirty-Seven Nats are called the Inner Nats because they are permitted into the Buddhist pagoda precinct. All others are called Outer Nats.
Nats are involved in all facets of human life. They are invoked:
• For protection
• To prevent and heal illness
• At every stage of the agricultural cycle
• To fulfill desires
Individual Nats demonstrate their own unique personalities, but generally Nats protect those who feed them. If not appeased and propitiated, many are volatile, fast-tempered, and sometimes mean-spirited beings.
Nats are honored with small private rituals but also celebrated with huge public festivals featuring singers, musicians, and shamans. A festival for Nats is known as a Pwe. Nats engage in voluntary ritual possession of shamans. As in other spiritual traditions, individual shamans may possess a specific repertoire of spirits whom they channel.
Although individual Nats are associated with different locales, the spiritual home of Nat veneration is the extinct volcano Mount Popa (“Flower Mountain”), also known as Mahagiri (“Great Moun tain”), approximately thirty miles southeast of Pagan, now designated a national park. A partially covered staircase ascends to the top.
Images and music from a Nat Pwe may be witnessed on the 2004 DVD Nat Pwe: Burma’s Carnival of Spirit Soul.
In terms of devotion by individuals, the standard offering is one coconut and two bunches of bananas. An individual seeking to offer something more substantial can make a pilgrimage or sponsor a Pwe. Nats love loud, lively music and vivid colors, so these are integral to rituals and Pwes. Food is served to Nats, they consume the spiritual essence via the aroma; the food itself is generally eaten by participants and devotees.
Koumyoumin; Nats, Mahagiri; Nats, Thirty-Seven; Taungbyon Brothers; Youkhazou
SEE ALSO:Koumyoumin; Nats, Mahagiri; Nats, Thirty-Seven; Taungbyon Brothers; Youkhazou
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.