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The Nats

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Title: Thai spirits not welcome in Myanmar
Date of publication: 19 April 2013
Description/subject: "...The majority of people in Nabule are Buddhist and celebrate nat festivals but they do not keep nat statues to worship at their home. ‘We do believe and worship the village’s nat but now seeing Thai spirit houses in the area, it is like a guest is taking forced residence in our house. We do not want spirit houses in a religious Buddhist area like this. There is a possibility for cultural mixing and I am concerned about our culture being threatened by another culture’, said U Aung Ba, member of the Nabule Spiritual Group. Nabule famous for it’s ancient religious sites has more than 2000 households and around 10,000 Buddhists. Local people are [majority] Tavoyan and Tavoyan is the main language spoken in the area. In Thailand, it is common to see spirit houses at people’s residences, corporate buildings and mega shopping malls in the city. It is believed that worshiping and making offerings to spirits can bring luck to one’s occupation and business."
Author/creator: Violet Cho
Language: English
Source/publisher: "New Mandala"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 16 July 2014


Individual Documents

Title: "Nats' Wives" or "Children of Nats": From Spirit Possession to Transmission Among the Ritual Specialists of the Cult of the Thirty-Seven Lords
Date of publication: 22 September 2009
Description/subject: Transmission processes in the Burmese cult known as the cult of the Thirty- Seven Lords are examined here through the analysis of three succession cases among the ritual specialists of this cult. I seek to understand how transmission works in a cult whose main ritual manifestation is spirit possession that involves the logic of inspiration and vocation, rather than the logic of reproduction and succession. A careful examination of contrasted cases reveals that succession among spirit mediums, rather than obeying fixed rules, actually involves the differentiated transmission of assets made of ritual property, functions, positions, and knowledge. Various combinations -- of spirit possession and affiliation or fictive kinship, of inspiration and tradition -- appear to operate at different levels of the cult, with inversions of values sustaining both its dynamics and its reproduction. keywords: spirit possession--ritual specialists--transmission--succession--tradition
Author/creator: Benedicte Brac de la Perriere
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Asian Ethnology" Volume 68, Number 2, 2009 via The Free Library
Format/size: html
Alternate URLs: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Asian+Ethnology/2009/September/22-p52621
Date of entry/update: 22 December 2010


Title: A New Palace for Mra Swan Dewi: Changes in Spirit Cults in Arakan (Rakhine) State
Date of publication: 2009
Description/subject: This article illustrates the relationship between religion and political power in a particular process of contemporary Burmese nation building. I highlight the symbolic appropriation of a specific national territory through the mediation of a spirit, and the recent building of a sanctuary in Arakan state by the wife of a Burmese military officer posted in the region, an action that is akin to concluding an agreement with a local spirit and then establishing the foundation of central authority over a local population. It highlights a process whereby the use of religion by the Burmese in the configuration of territory is observed as a way of maintaining or legitimizing hegemony over the country's marginal population groups. The article also shows how this process is made possible thanks to a specific segment of the local Arakanese elite, perceived to be the referring authority... keywords: Arakan state--spirit cults--nation building--territory-- locality--authority and power--tradition
Author/creator: Alexandra de Mersan
Language: English
Source/publisher: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture: "Asian Ethnology" Volume 68, Number 2, 2009
Format/size: html
Alternate URLs: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Asian+Ethnology/2009/September/22-p52621
Date of entry/update: 22 December 2010


Title: Festival Time at a Nat Shrine
Date of publication: September 2004
Description/subject: "A village celebrates its invisible rulers... Text By Aung Lwin Oo and photos by Olivier Pin-Fat Burma’s biggest nat festival takes place every August in the village of Taung Pyone, original home of two of the 37 original names in the nat pantheon. For five days each year Taung Pyone village becomes a fairground. Taung Pyone, 14 km north of Mandalay, has about 7,000 nat shrines, nearly 2,000 of them elaborate ones dedicated to the village’s famous sons—the brothers Shwe Phyin Gyi and Shwe Phyin Lay. They are said to have been executed by the 11th century Pagan ruler King Anawrahta for failing to help in the construction of a chedi to enshrine Buddha relics. The story is kept alive today by the symbolic absence from the ancient chedi of two bricks which the two brothers were instructed to contribute..."
Author/creator: Aung Lwin Oo
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 12, No. 8
Format/size: html
Alternate URLs: http://www.irrawaddy.org/print_article.php?art_id=4029
Date of entry/update: 11 November 2004


Title: Friends in High Places (about)
Date of publication: 2001
Description/subject: directed by Lindsey Merrison – Burma, 86 minutes. 56 minute version also available. video sale $225 rental $65 “Buddhism and nat worship are like mangoes and bananas” "...Whether contending with a deceitful daughter-in-law, forecasting financial prospects for a tea shop, or freeing a husband from government detainment, Friends in High Places reveals the central role of nats and spirit mediums in alleviating the day to day burdens of modern Burmese life..".
Author/creator: Lindsey Merrison
Language: English
Alternate URLs: http://www.der.org/films/friends-in-high-places-preview.html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: The Cult of the 'Thirty-Seven Lords'
Date of publication: October 2001
Description/subject: "The cult of the 'Thirty-Seven Lords', known in Burma as the thirty-seven 'naq' is commonly viewed as being a remnant of practices prevalent before Buddhicization, that is to say, as superstitions having their origins in the obscure period predating the establishment of Burmese civilization. This article will argue against this assumption and will assert that this cult cannot be properly understood if it is not considered as a part of the Burmese religious system still evolving with Buddhist society. The socio-religious structure of the 'naq' cult shows that it is neither a pre-Buddhist remnant, nor is it borrowed from India. Close analysis of the actual cult, of its legends of foundation, and of the historical evidence, clearly shows that it is a construct of Burmese Buddhist kings or, in other words, a produce of the localization of Buddhism in Burma..."
Author/creator: Benedicte Brac de la Perriere
Language: English
Source/publisher: Newsletter, Issue 25, International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden)
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003


Title: Where Spirits Dwell
Date of publication: September 2004
Description/subject: Ancient nat cult still rules in Burmese households... The wedding announcement in a Burmese newspaper read like any other. But there was one startling discrepancy—the bridegroom was dead. The bride, though, believed she was marrying someone who could support her as well as any living being. Her chosen partner was a nat, an influential member of the spirit world. She became a nat kadaw, or nat spouse. Such “unions” are quite common in Burma, even though the country is devoutly Buddhist. As in neighboring Thailand, Theravada Buddhism exists happily enough alongside a widespread belief in the existence of a spirit world, and it’s commonly accepted that the Lord Buddha himself went through cycles of being a nat..."
Author/creator: Yeni
Language: English
Source/publisher: "The Irrawaddy" Vol. 12, No. 8
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 11 November 2004