Myanmar diaries: Mount Popa, abode of the Nats

Nats are human spirits worshipped by the local Bamar people long before the founding of the Bagan Empire.

Nats were all once human beings who have met with violent deaths and who were later worshipped and declared as guardians of the home, forests, villages and almost every aspect of daily life.

Even though they are spirits, Nats have human weaknesses like desire, wants and needs.

To the followers of Theravada Buddhism, Nat worship is therefore considered derogatory and immoral.

Nat statues at Mount Popa.

Nat statues at Mount Popa.

During the reign of the  first King Anawrahta of the Bagan Empire,  he wanted to create a Budhhist kingdom, having himself just  converted to  Buddhism.

He tired to destroy all Nat shrines in the kingdom and banished all Hindu  images to a desecrated Vishnu temple known as the Monastery of Prisoner Nat.

However, so strong was the belief and practice of  Nat worship amongst the local Burmese people that many took their worship underground, rebuilding small Nat shrines in their homes.

King Anawrahta, realising that he was actually turning the people away from Buddhism, rescinded the ban and allowed the people to continue with their worship.

Sunset at Mount Popa, abode of the Nats

During that time, Mount Popa, an extinct volcano 65 kilometres ways from the Ayeyarwaddy River was already the revered home of 36 Nat spirits.

The King added the 37th called Thagyamin, who is the Hindu deity Indra.

He then crowned Thagyamin as the King of the Nats. The Burmese people were then allowed to continue with their practice of Nat worship.

Effectively the King had made Nat worship subordinate to Buddhism. The staunch Buddhists pay no attention to Nats even though there are Nat statues in many Buddhist temples.

The present generation of Burmese people especially those staying in the urban areas are showing a declining interest and belief in Nat worship.

However, Mount Popa remains as the abode of the Nats and is fast regaining its importance in Burmese culture and beliefs, mainly due to  the large influx of local devotees and foreign tourists.

At night the temple on top of Mount Popa lights up.

The top of Mount Popa is 4900 feet above sea level and one has to climb up 777 steps to reach the temple at the top.

Section of the 777 steps leading to the top.

A young devotee walking barefoot up to the top.

The temple on top of Mount Popa.

The stupas and roof top of the temple.

A statue of the Hindu God, Lord Ganesha is a reminder of  Hindu  influence in Myanmar.

This is the statue of Thagyamin, King of the Nats at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.