Wednesday, August 15, 2012
He will now fill in the vacant post of Vice President vacated by U Tin Aung Myin Oo earlier
for details go to:
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
The Abode of Nats (or) Myanmar’s Mt. Olympus.
By: Harry Hpone Thant
Millions of year ago huge volcanic explosions ripped the Myingyan plains, the earth heaved and Mt. Popa was born. Rising out of the arid and dusty plains Mt. Popa over time became a green oasis, a prominent landmark in Central Myanmar, It is indeed a unique sight to behold. Mt. Popa is visible from miles away, a bit hazy but towering high above the Myingyan plain.
The main mountain is approximately 1200 metres high. Another small pinnacle is also visible beside it. This is called in the Myanmar language as the Taungkalat, a solidified volcanic pipe about 250 metres in height. The main Popa Mountain is covered with green and lush vegetation, many species of medicinal herbs, countless wildlife and swift flowing natural springs. Popa in Pali language means flowers as there are also many species of flowers growing around the mountain top. But the smaller Taungkalat is a special place. The Taungkalat stands alone, as a perpendicular mount. The sides are eroded after several millions of years and show layers and layers of solidified lava. These geological and natural phenomena make Popa a unique place in the otherwise hot and dusty central Myanmar region.
Buddhism was just taking roots in faraway Bagan and many people still believe in the supernatural. So this unique place, in their primitive perception of the universe, cannot be anything but the Abode of Nats(spirits), with their powerful influences over humans. It must be where the weikzas and the zawgyis( mythical personalities who dwell in the forest and are in possession of elixir of life) and ogresses(but not the violent kind) live.
Here the resident ogress eats only flowers and is a devout Buddhist. Her name even translate as Mei Wunna, the Pan Sar Biluma (Mei Wunna, an ogress who eat only flowers). But is she a real ogress? Some say she was a beautiful princess from faraway Thaton Kingdom in the south, brought to Bagan as a prisoner. However, she had made Popa her residence to spend her life in meditation with the unique ability to transform her features from a beautiful princess to the face of a frightening ogress. If someone with evil intent approaches her she will project herself in her fearsome guise but if she sees someone she fancies she will reveal herself as a beautiful maiden. But, whatever the truth is, it is a beautiful story.
The weikzas and the zawgyis also have magic wands that can turn female-looking fruits from a special kind of tree that grow in the forest into human forms and enjoy the company of the fruit-maidens. A jolly good equipment to possess. An instant create-a-girl magic wand.
On the Myanmar Mt.Olympus reign U Tint De, Chief of the Myanmar Pantheon of nats. His story is also one of interest; intrigues and power plays and finally a sad and heart-rending end. U Tint De was a strong and popular blacksmith at Tagaung, far to the north of Bagan on the Ayeyarwaddy River. His fame grew so much that the king at Tagaung became afraid of him. He was afraid that one day U Tint De would usurp his kingdom. So he sent word to U Tint De that he would like to make U Tint De’s beautiful sister, Thon Ban Hla, his Queen and persuaded them to come and live at his palace. As a consequence of much court intrigues U Tint De was condemned to die at the stake. His sister Thon Ban Hla saw her brother being burned alive and she also jumped into the inferno. So U Tint De and Thon Ban Hla both became nats. However, any living creature which encroached under the shadows of the Sagar tree, where the duo was burned alive, died. So the King had it cut and floated downstream. The tree beached at Bagan and the Bagan King made statues of the U Tint De and Thon Ban Hla out of the tree, enshrined them at Mt. Popa and people started to worship them.
Another legendary hero connected with Mt. Popa is Byatta. He was a mighty warrior at the court of King Anawrahta, the King of Bagan, on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Bagan and Mt. Popa seems near yet far. On clear days the silver ribbon of the Ayeyarwaddy River can be seen flashing in the sun from Mt. Popa. One of the daily duties of Byatta was to bring flowers for the royal palace from Mt. Popa. If history is to be believed Byatta runs to Mt. Popa and back in time to bring the flowers back to Bagan before dawn breaks. He could be the world’s greatest and earliest marathon runner then. Well, inevitably Byatta fell in love with Mei Wunna. Presumably she showed her more lovely face to Byatta to get his love. Anyway, they got married and Mei Wunna bore Byatta two sons, Shwe Hpyin gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay of Taungbyone fame. But that is another story.
One of the four Lords of the White Horse (Myinbyu Shin nats ) is also associated with Mt. Popa. Villagers living around Mt. Popa say that if rain clouds crown the main mountain, do not attempt to cross any of the dry creeks in the vicinity as the waters will rush down very swiftly. But there was one expert horseman who greatly believed in his own prowess as an excellent horseman. One day as the rain clouds covered the mountain peak he tried to cross over the Yamar Creek on his trusty steed. He was nearly across the creek ahead of the rushing waters but disaster struck. One of the hind legs of the horse was seized by the violent current and he drowned together with his horse. And he became a nat and is known as the Yamar Myinbyu Shin Nat(Yanmar Lord of the White Horse).
There are 37 official nats recognized since Bagan time, with many other local and regional natstoo. A long pavilion houses the statues of them at the foot of the Taungkalat. There are life-like statues of U Min Kyaw, the Nat of Bacchanalia, on his horse, the four Myinbyu Shin nats (Lord of the White Horse), Amae Yay Yin( who rules the poisonous creatures west of the Chindwin River), some Shan nats and even Indian nats. But a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky hanging from U Min Kyaw’s arm escapes explanation. Maybe his preferences had switched from the traditional slightly intoxicating toddy palm juice to a more potent and internationally recognized brand!
Taungkalat can be climbed up by a covered iron staircase clinging to its side. As you climb you will be accompanied by troops of wild monkeys begging for food handouts. Along the stairways are such places of interest as Bagan Hmaw, a place where the ogress Mei Wunna looks towards Bagan, waiting for her husband, another place where her two sons were born, a cave said to belong to Boe Min Gaung (another exalted personality who had found immortality by engaging in meditation) and many other such magical and mystical personalities. At the top are many pagodas, which make one marvel how the workers carried the necessary building materials up such narrow and steep steps. The view from the top, after a wheezing 700++ steps, is panoramic. In the west, the shimmering ribbon of the Ayeyarwaddy Rivers borders the endless Myingyan plain and to the east is another endless Meikhtila plain touching the blue, hazy Shan Mountains in the distance.
The main volcano is now extinct. One side had collapsed during one of its violent eruptions. But people at Popa village will swear that the mountainside caved in from the pounding hooves of King Kyansitta’s(another famous Bagan King) war horse.
However, quaint or old-fashioned these superstitions may sound, most Myanmar people still believes in them and worship these nats. Even the most sophisticated and educated person will still pay due reverence to these supernatural beings. Better to be on the good side of them than suffer the bad luck by ignoring them. Better safe than sorry! And a visit to Mt. Popa would undoubtedly be a unique eye-opener for a foreigner to these age old customs still being lovingly followed.
Mt. Popa is easily accessible by car from Bagan. It is just approximately 2 hours driving time. There is also a resort hotel on the side of the main mountain.
Photo: Sonny Nyein/Myanmar Polestar Travels.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Monday, August 16, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
TAUNGBYONE NAT FESTIVAL : A CURIOUS HOLDOVER OF ANCIENT BELIEVES
By: Harry Hpone Thant
Wagaung corresponds to the Christian month of August. It is the period when the monsoon rains reach Upper Myanmar and Ayeyarwady Rivers is full, stretching from one bank to the invisible bank on the other side. It is also the time when the waters of the Ayeyarwady River reach the small village of Taungbyone in Madaya Township, Mandalay Division.
Also this is the time of one of the most famous Nat (Spirit) Festival in the country, the one that dates back to the Bagan Dynasty, nearly 2 centuries ago.
Once upon a time during the time of King Anawrahta of Bagan there lived two mighty warriors, Byatwi and Byatta. Byatta fell in love with an Ogress-Princess Mae Wunna of Mt. Popa and had two sons, Shwe Hpyin Gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay. After their father had been murdered in one of the court’s intrigues King Anawrahtha took pity on these two young boys and made them his favourites.
Then King Anawrahta went to war against the Chinese to demand the Buddha’s Tooth Relic and on his way back made camp at the village of Taungbyone. The King also commanded that a pagoda should be erected at this site to mark his expedition. His edict was that all his followers should contribute one brick each to the construction of the pagoda to be called “Su Taug Pyi Pagoda”(Wish granting Pagoda).
But the two young adolescent boys were in their teens already and as usual more interested in merry-making, drinking the intoxicating toddy wine daily or engage in cock-fighting and other mischiefs. The elder even fell in love with a village maiden and both forgot to fulfill the King’s command. Two spaces were left vacant on the inside wall of the pagoda and nobody went out of the way to tell the two young brothers of their lapse.
This was the chance the other jealous members of the court were waiting for. The King came to pay homage at the Pagoda’s Consecration Ceremony and saw the two empty spaces. When told that the two brothers had ignored the King’s command, the King told his courtiers to punish the brothers for their violation. The King thought they would be caned lightly with willow stalks but the other members of the King’s entourage had other ideas.
Taking the King’s permission at face value the jealous court officials bound the two youths, took them to the river bank and because royal blood is forbidden to be split on the ground, bludgeoned them to death inside velvet bags. And as the story goes both of them became nats(spirits)
The time came for the King to leave for Bagan but his raft was unable to move. Enquiring about this mishap the two young nats revealed themselves and retold their tragic tale. The King took pity on them and commanded that they be given this region as their fiefdom. Two life size statues were made and this started the custom of the Taungbyone Nat Festival, every Wagaung.
And to commemorate the Consecration of the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, the King made it mandatory that a Festival be held yearly on the Full-moon Day of Wagaung. But, curiously, instead of the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda Festival being celebrated it has transformed itself into a nat (spirit) festival.
The Taungbyone Nat Festival gathers all believers and followers of Shwe Hpyin gyi and Shwe Hpyin Lay nat brothers from all over the country, as well as some curious foreign visitors. Mostly they are business persons. They come to pay respect to the two nats, ask for supernatural intervention in their business dealings or make good their promises for the success of their endeavours. And the spirit mediums ( nat gadaws) erect stalls and dance to entertain the two nat brothers for a fee. But why most of these spirit mediums are transvestites is beyond explanation or comprehension.
The Taungbyone Nat Festival itself is a very interesting spectacle: ancient beliefs and rituals that still linger into the 21st century. This is also a very lively and boisterous festival. Festival goers tease and shout, many with profanities and vulgar expressions to each other, but nobody take offence. This is to please and imitate the two young nat-brothers’ behavior when they were alive. A life they spent with much drinking and gambling and having fun. It is also a curious superstitious holdover that on the appointed day, the traditional village which had supplied roasted rabbits to the two brothers to take with their toddy palm beer still bring symbolic roasted rabbits to the festival grounds and offer to the Statues but the village that supplied the ropes to bind the brothers is banned to visit the festival and condemned to clean up the site after the festival. However, the new generations of believers now bring as offerings, bottles of Johnny Walker to the two nat brothers. Perhaps they had changed their preferences from the traditional slightly intoxicating toddy palm juice to a more potent and internationally recognized brand!
The most important date of this Taungbyone nat Festival is the day when the two life size statutes are taken for the bathing rituals (Cho Yey Daw Thon Pwe). Believers push and shove playfully to get as near to the palanquin carrying the statues, hoping that the nats would favour then with a blessing in their business ventures.
Taungbyone is easily accessible from Mandalay by car but as there are no accommodations for tourists it is a day trip destination only. Also because the Festival is celebrated according to the Myanmar lunar calendar, international visitors are advised to enquire ahead the exact dates from the travel agents. The two vacant spaces, said to be the quota of Shwe Hpyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Lay are still visible to this day.
Photos: Sonny Nyein