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Nats

by Micha F. Lindemans

The generic name for the spirits of indigenous Burmese religion and folk belief. They are spirits of the wind, air, rain, sky, earth, forest, rivers and streams, hills, etc., and also of the house and the cultivated fields. The ghosts of the dead are Nats, as well as the supernaturals of Buddhism. The Nats can be harmful unless constantly appeases and propitiated. The Buddhist monks propitiate them as zealously as any Nat-cult priest; there is a Natsin (Nat house or spirit shrine) in the shade of every pagoda, as well as one at the end of every village, where periodic ceremonies are performed.

The Nats serve as guardians of the house, village, tribe, and personal property. The eleven Nat maidens who guard the eleven royal umbrellas in Mandalay are called Nat Thami. They also protect boats and treasure.

The Burmese have a specific list of thirty-seven Nats who, with two exceptions, are national heroes and heroines of five groups of pseudo-historical tales. There were originally thirty-three of them, but their number was expanded with four more in modern times. Their images can be found in the Shwe Zigon pagoda at Pagan.

There are different groups of Nats, whose names may vary according to their domain of influence. The tree-dwelling Nats are: Akakasoh, Boomasoh, Shekkasoh, and Hmin. The Nats who inhabit the air are: Jan, Shitta, Mbōn, and Mu. Other Nats include: Saba-Leippya, Sinlap, Thien, Trikurat, and Upaka.


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