Mount Popa, Myanmar


We climbed to the top of Mount Popa, 777 steps.



Rendition of Nat spirits at Mount Popa
Nat Worship in Burma.

Some Buddhists in Myanmar, especially those in rural areas, worship Nats.  Nats are uniquely Burmese. They are spirits or guardians and protectors with dominion over people or things.  The worship of Nats  pre-dates Buddhism,  which became the national religion of  Burma in the eleventh century.   Nat worship was a form of animism, especially popular with the hill peoples of Myanmar, but practiced all over the country.
Mount Popa, Burma
Mount Popa, an extinct volcano in central Burma, was  home of the most important Nat, the Lord of the Great Mountain, and his Sister Lady Golden-Face.  In the ninth century they became the guardian gods of the city of Pagan.  Nat worshippers travelled to Mount Popa for a feast at the full moon in December.  Animals were sacrificed,  people drank palm toddy wine and danced. Full moon festivals were common throughout Burma in Nat worship.

Atop Mount Popa, monkey surveys Myanmar forest.
In the town below Mount Popa
Although pre-Buddhist practices, such as astrology, alchemy and the worship of Nats, were suppressed when King Anawratha unified Burma in the eleventh century and made Buddhism the national religion, Nat worship continued. The King eventually integrated Nat worship into Theravada Buddhism,  added one of his own to the traditional 36 primary Nats, and replaced other Nats with his own dead war heroes. 
Today in Myanmar, Nat worship continues, side by side Buddhism, with pilgrimages and festivals held throughout the country. Nats are similar to Saints. Some drink and smoke. Others protect the environment and dwell in the forest or mountains. Environmental destruction could bring their wrath.   Nats are spiritual friends of the Burmese people.



Nats guard Buddha in Bagan. Stop, and look, they seem to say.

Mount Popa is a day trip from Bagan. On the way to Mount Popa from Bagan, we stopped to see how palm oil, palm candy (jaggery) and palm toddy wine are made, the old fashioned way. The drinking of toddy, wild dancing and traditional hsaing music induce the trance at a Nat festival, and assist in the belief that revelers are possessed by the Nats.



Palm Toddy



Grinding to make palm oil

Mount Popa is as an important shrine to Nat worship. Monkeys inhabit the temples, and we enjoyed watching them, keeping our distance because they can be aggressive. The climb up to the top, 777 steps in bare feet, was not too difficult. Mount Popa does not have the beautiful old Buddha statues, pagodas and temples of Bagan, but Nat worship is still prevalent in Myanmar and Mount Popa is culturally important.  


In Mandalay, Myanmar