Recent Unrest Fails to Dampen Spirit of Mandalay Nat Festival

Recent Unrest Fails to Dampen Spirit of Mandalay Nat Festival

Minutes before the opening ceremony at the Taung Pyone brothers’ shrine. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

Minutes before the opening ceremony at the Taung Pyone brothers’ shrine. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

TAUNG PYONE, Mandalay Division — Located nearly 10 miles north of Mandalay, Taung Pyone is a small village with a big-time shrine dedicated to a pair of the Burmese spirits known as nats.

For most of the year, the building sees only occasional visitors, giving off a somewhat deserted vibe. But every year beginning in late July, the area near the shrine is transformed into a party grounds buzzing with cultural dances, music, magic shows, fortunetellers and tattoo shops, as spiritual revelers prepare for the most famous nat festival in Burma.

Named after the village where the shrine is situated, the Taung Pyone Nat Festival is held in honor of two brothers, Min Gyi and Min Lay, who would eventually achieve nat status. Tens of thousands of believers across the country flock to the shrine each year to pay homage to the fraternal duo.

Visitors offer them food, flowers, cash and alcohol—the brothers were famous for drinking—and many take to gambling while asking for the brothers to bless them with good health and prosperity. People commune with the spiritual realm to try to glean their future prospects, while traditional dances accompany nat-inspired songs late into the night.

Legend has it that the two brothers were executed by the famed King Anawrahta, who once

ruled over the region, but that a change of heart later saw the monarch deify them as guardian spirits of the area. They are the most popular of the 37 nats deified by the Burmese.

The five-day festival officially began on Tuesday with a ceremony paying respect to the brothers.

In the lead up to this year’s festival, some had feared that the event would draw fewer visitors due to communal rioting that took place about one month ago in neighboring Mandalay, which saw two people killed.

But with tens of thousands of people visiting the shrine this year, the riots seem to have had little impact on the festival. As an added bonus for attendees, the festival is exempt from a nighttime curfew that has been imposed in Mandalay since the violence.


2 Responses to Recent Unrest Fails to Dampen Spirit of Mandalay Nat Festival

  1. Freedom of religion is greatly enjoyed by the Buddhists and I hope these Buddhists also want people from other faiths to enjoy the same freedom.

  2. The Taung Pyone brothers were the sons of a Muslim “kalar” father from Lower Myanmar (at that time chiefly inhabited by Mon people) and a lady from the country side around Mount Popa described as “Bhilu-ma Popa May-daw”. She probably belonged to a non-Burman ethnic minority living there.
    They were very strong, good warriors, and faithful to the king. But they were not religious minded. Instead they drank alkohol, gambled, and ran after the ladies. This eventually led to their execution by the king.

    King A-naw-ra-hta (Aniruddha) is regarded as the founder of the Myanmar nation, in that he established the greatness of the Pagan empire.
    But how did he do it?
    - Depending on circumstances he employed foreigners, and people from ethnic minorities at his court, and raised them to important office., As long as they served him faithfully, he would be happy to employ them.
    The Nat festival was established by the king as an apology for killing his faithful servants unjustly.

    Modern Myanmar dignitaries should learn from him.

    Where is the Nat-festival for those killed unjustly in August 1988?
    And other treated unjustly or killed since 1962?
    Their spirits are claimouring for justice in the next world.
    The country cannot procede in peace, if these “old ghosts” are not pacified.

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