Nat in the Snake MonasteryBuddhism enjoys of a very good health in Burma, because as we know, around ninety percent of the population practices it with devotion. But this is not an impediment to coexistence in perfect harmony with other animist beliefs prior to arrival of Buddhism to this country; we talk about the cult of the nats or spirits. It was the devotee king Anawratha, main sponsor of Buddhism which integrated the cult of nats within the new official religion and cataloged them, establishing that there were thirty-seven official nats.

The Burmese pray to Buddha from a more spiritual level, but for specific problems and everyday earthly conflicts ask nats for help because there is quite superstition in general. No religion has managed to expel them, neither the Buddhists, nor the Baptists, so close to the mountain tribes, nor the Methodists, Christians or Mormons. The prevailing idea is that spirits are malign and must placate them, in order not to provoke them and be a victim of its harmful influences. The nats are around us, in a forest, cultivated fields, the side of a road, are everywhere. Are invisible and malicious and display a tireless activity. In each village there is a temple and a monastery surely, but the nats have their own little altar in every house where they are worshiped. They are consulted on all decisions every day, when going to build a house, to marry, to sign a contract or to start the daily work should be consulted if the auguries are good.

At the time there were indigenous government in Burma, the State recognized formally the festivals and fairs of spirits and had long treatises on the rites and ceremonies that were held in this cult. During the month of Nayon (May-June) and the Nadaw (November-December) it is celebrated the annual festival of spirits and people all over the country come to Mahagiri shrine at the foot of the stairs up to Taung Kalat where are held the statues representing the 37 nats. It really is a minor cult but is widespread, and it is also true that in other neighboring countries are also animistic beliefs. In Thailand they are called something else, but it’s almost impossible not to cross with a house of spirits when traversing rice fields. There is always a small wooden house shaped shrine where they make daily offerings for a good harvest. It also occurs in many areas of Nepal, such as Dolpo.

Taung KalatPerhaps for many people the Taung Kalat name does not say much, but everyone has heard of Mount Popa, in fact, wrongly most people confuse one with each other. 250,000 years ago, a major earthquake struck central Myanmar and from the barren plain of Myingyan emerged Mount Popa. Volcanic ash on the slopes of mount fertilized the land that today is a garden full of lush vegetation and flowers. For this reason it is called Mount Popa, which is the Sanskrit word for “flower”. For the inhabitants of the surrounding regions, the summit became the home of the gods, the “Mount Olympus” of Myanmar. Alchemists and occultists made their home on the mountainside, and others were convinced that mythological creatures lived in the forests and among flowers. For this reason Mount Popa became the center of national worship of nats and official home.

From the top of Mount Popa (1,518 meters), or, from Mount Popa Resort (798 meters) on its side, we observe a high volcanic cone of vertical walls below, surrounded by spectacular vegetation that seems to float between.This is the Taung Kalat (737 meters) at the foot, as I said before are the images of the 37 official nats. At the top of that there is a picturesque complex of monasteries, stupas and shrines, and stunning views, of course, but the climb is not for everyone, it is done through steeped stairs with more than seven hundred steps.

The temperature here is much more pleasant than in the plateau and the breeze is scented with sandalwood forests around us, I recommend you to sit down to contemplate it from Mount Popa Resort, it is a pleasure for the senses and a balm for the mind. No doubt it is a curious place, as many special places in Myanmar, and an excursion almost natural if we pass a few days at the archaeological site of Bagan as it is only thirty miles from here.

Taung Kalat from Mount Popa