|Festival in Myanmar ## Natto (Nat-taw) :
| Nat Festivals
Dry and sunny days with a touch of coolness in
the evenings begin with the month of Tazaungmone. By Nat-taw, cold season is in
full swing. In lower Myanmar towns like Yangon the weather is just pleasant,
not too hot or cold, but in upper Myanmar towns and northern hill areas it is
Agrarian people in the countryside have a spell
of leisurely days now that the fields are golden with ripening grain. The air
is filled with music and song as a succession of local pagoda festivals and
ritual feasts go no in the neighbourhood.
It is almost incomprehensible to foreigners that
animism and Buddhism should exist side by side in Myanmar society and Myanmar
personality. For an ordinary Myanmar Buddhist it is natural for him to believe
in the existence of nats and to give offerings to them if he wishes.
When King Anawrahta of Pagoda established
Theravada Buddhism in the 11th. century, images of nats are given niches in
pagodas (Shwezigon, Pagan for instance). People were allwoed to go on with
their traditional offerings to their nats. The non-serving of the animistic
ties was helpful in introducing the new faith, Theravada Buddhism. Any form of
offering to nats is within the teachings of Buddhism. Any form of offering to
nats is within the teachings of Buddhism so long as the Five Precepts are not
infringed. Hence sacrificial offerings of live animals are against the Buddhist
One of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that all
beings, humans and nats of all levels go round the cycle of lives meeting one
another in amicable or hostile circumstances. The state of level of all beings
is decided by one's own deeds, good or bad.
Nats are mentioned in many of the buddha's
discourses. The Buddha himself, before he was reborn as Prince Siddhatha, later
to become the Buddha, was a celestial in the regions high above. When as
Buddha, he preached sermons, nats form a great part of his congregation. Nats
became his devout disciples.
Consequently, when a Buddhist makes offerings to
nats, it is done in the spirit of kinship and loving kindness, as one might do
for a friend. Nats are beings like humans going round the cycle of life; they
exist on a different plane of existence, but sharing kinship and cntinuity of
life. Many nats are given niches on pagoda percincts because they too are
disciples of the Buddha. They are there to look after the welfare of the
pilgrims, as many people believe.
It is in this month of Nat-taw that ritual
feasts in honour of nats are held. Even when the feast is held by an individual
family, friends and neighbors join in to share the music, songs and dances.
When a ritual feast is held either by a family
or a community, professional mediums are called in. These mediums have images
of nats. A marquee is built and all the images and accessories and offerings of
flowers, candles and fruits are placed in there on an elevated dais.
A space is reserved for the orchestra, with the
elaborate decorations of mythical figures like dragons and pyinsayupa,
an animal with the body of a horse, winged like a bird, horned like an antler
and scaled like a fish.
Dances are spirited as might be expected, as the
mediums are possessed by the nats and the music is rollicking. It is a
colourful affair and the audience can join in and people often do.
Ritual feasts are, if anything, clan gatherings
with al lthe romance, mirth and fun. Many of the songs, dances and plays of the
Myanmar theatre have their roots in the ritual feasts.
There are often practices that overstep the
bounds of propriety and not in keeping with the teachings of the Buddha. Some
of the ritual feasts run wild like drinking bouts. Such are frowned upon by
good Buddhists. But things go on and will go on so long as people have their
need for feasts and rituals and above all, to let off steam once in a while.