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Thirty-Seven Nats at Mount Popa
Thirty-Seven Nats at Mount Popa

Thagyamin King Of Nats In Burmese Culture

Up until the reign of King Anawrahta, the belief system of the ethnic Bamar people of Myanmar was a mix of animism, Nat, spirit, and cult worship. There were over 100 Nats during those earlier times, each of whom had special abilities related to their ability to forecast the weather, cast spells for both good and bad fortune pertaining to personal and family affairs, auspicious times to marry and the planting of crops and harvesting them.

King Anawratha influenced by the beliefs introduced to him by the Theravada Mon monk Dhammadassi Mahathera from Thaton, (later to become known as Shin Arahan), decreed that Theravada Buddhism was to be the main form of worship and that Nat and spirit worship be banned, in his efforts to bring this about he ordered the destruction of all shrines and statues related to Nat worship.

Realizing the futility of stamping out Nat worship completely, King Anawrahta designated Thirty-six main Nats, also referred to as Lords to be incorporated into the Buddhist doctrine with one extra Nat referred to as Thagyamin, the chief or head of Nats, or guardian god of Buddhism. Thagyamin is the highest-ranking Nat (deity) in traditional Burmese Buddhist belief. He is the Burmese adaptation of the Hindu deity Indra, the king of Heaven and the god of lightning, thunder and rain.

Thagyamin King Of Nats In Burmese Culture

Thagyamin King of Nats in Burmese Culture is the chief Nat, he plays an important role in the celebration of Thingyan, he is the king of the nats, or spirits, in Burmese mythology. He is also known as Sakka or Indra in Pali and Sanskrit. He is one of the most revered and powerful nats in the Burmese pantheon, and he plays a prominent role in many legends and stories. According to legend, he visits the earth every year during Thingyan to observe the deeds of humans and record them in two books: a golden book for the good ones and a dog-skin book for the bad ones. The fate of each person in the coming year depends on which book their name is written in.

Thagyamin is often depicted as holding a conch shell and a yak-tail fly-whisk and riding on a three-headed white elephant called Airavata. He is also known by his nickname U Magha, derived from his previous name. He is the leader of the official pantheon of thirty-seven ahtet nats (upper deities), which was established by King Anawrahta in the 11th century to harmonize animist and Hindu practices with Theravada Buddhism. He is the only Nat in the pantheon who did not die a violent death.

According to one legend, Thagyamin was once a human king named Okkalapa, who ruled over the city of Tagaung. He was a righteous and virtuous ruler, who performed many meritorious deeds. He also had a special connection with the Buddha, who visited him in Tavatimsa Heaven and taught him the Dhamma.

One day, Okkalapa decided to build a pagoda on a hill near his city, to enshrine a relic of the Buddha. He asked his subjects to donate gold and silver for the construction, but some of them were greedy and gave him copper instead. Okkalapa was unaware of this deception, and he proceeded to build the pagoda with mixed metals.

However, when he tried to place the relic inside the pagoda, it refused to enter. Okkalapa realized that something was wrong, and he ordered his ministers to investigate. They discovered the copper coins that were hidden among the gold and silver, and they reported it to the king.

Okkalapa was furious, and he decided to punish the culprits. He ordered them to be executed by throwing them into a pit of fire. However, as he was about to carry out his sentence, he heard a voice from the sky, saying: “Stop, O king! Do not kill these people, for they are your relatives from your previous lives. They have given you copper because of their ignorance and delusion, not out of malice. If you kill them, you will create bad karma for yourself and them. Instead, forgive them and teach them the Dhamma.”

Okkalapa looked up and saw Thagyamin descending from the heavens, riding on his elephant Erawan. Thagyamin was the guardian deity of Buddhism, and he had come to intervene on behalf of the Buddha. He told Okkalapa that he was his friend and benefactor and that he had helped him in many ways throughout his life. He also revealed that he was the one who had given him the relic of the Buddha, as a reward for his piety and generosity.

Okkalapa was amazed and humbled by Thagyamin’s words. He bowed down to him and thanked him for his kindness and guidance. He also apologized for his anger and violence, and he pardoned the offenders. He then asked Thagyamin to help him complete the pagoda, and Thagyamin agreed.

Together, they built a magnificent pagoda on the hill, using pure gold and silver. They also placed the relic inside it, and it entered without any difficulty. They named the pagoda Shwezigon, meaning “golden victory”, and they dedicated it to the Buddha.

The pagoda became a sacred site for Buddhists, and it still stands today in Bagan, Myanmar. It is said that Thagyamin visits the pagoda every year during the Thingyan festival, which marks the Burmese New Year. He brings rain and blessings to the land and its people, and he also judges their deeds from the past year.

Thagyamin is a symbol of justice, wisdom, compassion, and power in Burmese culture. He is worshipped by many people, especially those who seek protection, success, or enlightenment. He is also respected by other nats, who regard him as their leader and lord.

Thagyamin is revered by many Burmese people as a protector and a benefactor. He is also associated with various myths, stories and rituals that reflect the rich culture and history of Myanmar. He is one of the most fascinating and influential figures in Burmese religion and folklore.

The 37 Designated Nats in Modern Burma

The modern pantheon of Thirty-six Nats is made up of main Nats and lesser Nats, relating to people who had once lived or evolved through myth and legend.

schwezigon Pagoda in Bagan
Schwezigon Pagoda in Bagan, Burma

The list recognized by the hereditary attendants at Shwezigon also became fixed and finalised by the time the Kingdom of Pagan fell, although it varied from time to time even during the Pagan period. Some of the Nats mentioned in Anawrahta’s initial list of approved Nats disappeared after they were installed on the platform of the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Nat images at the Shwezigon pagoda are crude and primitive, they were gathered from the various Nat shrines in various parts of the country. The King’s architects and sculptors, whose handiwork still adorns the Pagoda, were never allowed to touch them. Thus the images have stood through the centuries fixed and unchanged, although some of their identities and some of their names have changed from time to time.

Referenced – ‘Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism’, written by Maung Htin Aung in 1959

NB: The original Nats in the Shwezigon Pagoda, built by King Anawrahta, to enshrine Buddhist relics and to house images of the Thirty-seven Lords have been moved from their original position to a small hall near the platform that they once stood on.

Shwezigon Pagoda is located 5 kilometres North East of Old Bagan near Nyaung U village. It is one of the oldest monuments in Bagan, with construction completed at the end of the 11th century during the reign of King Kyanzittcha.
During the rule of King Bodawpaya (1782 – 1819), a new list of official Nats was compiled by his Minister Myawaddi. Due to the fall of the Burmese Kingdom and Kingship in 1885, the list has remained unchanged.

Maung Htin Aung in his book describes each of the Nats whose strange and sudden deaths, roused feelings of terror and pity in the minds of their contemporaries.

His Analysis of the cult of the Thirty-seven Lords is merely a worship of dead heroes, but in actual fact, only a few of them are heroes.

The Thirty-seven Lords

Among the thirty-seven Nats, there were nine kings, which included the fallen king of Chieng-Mai, who was a prisoner of war at Pegu, four Queens, and eight Princes of the blood, including one from the fallen house of Thaton who was a prisoner of war at pagan.

Nats in service to the King

Include four women, Golden Sides, an official in her own right, Lady Bandy-Legs, lady bent and the Lady of the North, who belonged to families of officials in the king’s service. Four commoners, the Lord of the Great Mountain, Three Times Beautiful, the Little Lady and Master Po Tu. The first three fell into the orbit of the Great with dire consequences, but Master Po To was a real commoner and other.

Eleven Lords were executed, and Lady Bent is excluded as she belonged to the Ava period. Eleven died violently, excluding the second Valiant Lord Kyawawa as he too belonged to the Ava period.

Of the thirty-seven Nats, thirty-five died tragic and violent deaths, preventing them in accordance with Buddhist concepts from reincarnating, a little like the “Hungry ghost” concept believed by the Chinese regarding spirits that have died suddenly or violently, or were evil in life, and for this reason, have become roaming spirits unable to enter the spirit realm.

Nat and spirit worship in Myanmar is intertwined with Buddhism and it plays an important role in the lives of many Myanmar people. Each year there are special days and festivals held specifically to honour and celebrate the thirty-seven Lords.

The 37 NATS

  1.  Thagyamin – Thagyamin King Of Nats In Burmese Culture, Indra or Sakra, King of Nats in Indian legends and myths
  2.  Min MahaGiri –  Lord of the great mountain
  3. Hnamadawgyi –  Great royal sister of Magagiri
  4. Shwe Nabe –  Lady with Golden Sides
  5. Thon Ban Hla –  Lady of Three Times Beauty
  6. Taungoo Mingaung –  King Mingaung of Taungoo
  7. Mintara –  King Hsinbyushin
  8. Thandawgan –  The Royal Secretary to Taungoo Minkaung
  9. Shwe Nawrahta –  The young prince drowned by King Shwenankyawshin
  10. Aung Zawmagyi –  Lord of the White Horse
  11. Ngazishin –  Lord of the five white Elephants
  12. Aungbinle Hsinbyushin –  Lord of the white elephant from Aungbinle
  13. Taungmagyi –  Lord of Due South
  14. Maung Minshin –  Lord of the North
  15. Shindaw –  Lord Novice
  16. Nyaung-gyin –  Old man of the Banyan tree
  17. Tabinshwehti –  King of Myanmar between 1531-50
  18. Minye Aungdin –  Brother-in-law of King Thalun
  19. Shwe Sit thin –  Prince, son of Saw Hnit
  20. Medaw Shwedaw –  Lady Golden Words
  21. Maung Po Tu Shan –  Tea Merchant
  22. Yun Bayin –  King of Chiengmai
  23. Maung MinByu –  Prince MinByu
  24. Mandalay Bodaw –  Lord grandfather of Mandalay
  25. Shwebyin Naungdaw  also known as Min Gyi –  Elder Brother Inferior Gold
  26. Shwebyin Nyidaw also known as Min Lay –  Younger Brother Inferior Gold
  27. Mintha Maungshin-  Grandson of King Alaung Sithu
  28. Htibyusaung –  Lord of White Umbrella
  29. Htibyusaung Medaw –  Lady of White Umbrella
  30. Pareinma Shin Mingaung –  The Usurper Mingaung
  31. Min Sithu –  King Alaung Sithu
  32. Min Kyawzwa –  Prince Kyawzwa
  33. Myaukpet Shinma –  Lady of the North
  34. Anauk Mibaya –  Queen of the Western Palace
  35. Shingon –  Lady Hunback
  36. Shigwa –  Lady Bandy-legs
  37. Shin Nemi Little –   Lady with the flute
Thagyamin King Of Nats In Burmese Culture
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