The cult of the Thirty-Seven Nats

Avaf_600Will Boast at Guernica:

The cult of the Thirty-Seven Nats is unique to Burma. A loose form of spirit worship has existed in this part of the world for countless centuries, but in the eleventh century, King Anawratha, the father of the Burmese nation, found himself in a reforming mood. A zealous Buddhist convert, Anawratha tried to outlaw his people’s popular folk religion—and succeeded instead in institutionalizing it. Acknowledging that the old beliefs wouldn’t die, he assembled a royal court of the spirits, bringing many of the best-known nats into the temples he’d begun building around Bagan and making them vassals to the Buddha. “Men will not come for the sake of new faith,” Anawratha reputedly said. “Let them come for their old gods and gradually they will be won over.” A thousand years later, Buddhism and nat worship exist side by side, one represented by gleaming, golden-spired pagodas and sprawling monasteries, the other by small shrines in homes and villages and along the sides of dirt roads. This highly local communion with the spirits

There is a pantheon of spirits in Burma, and at its top are the Thirty-Seven Nats, mytho-historical figures from the country’s ancient past. Stories about the Thirty-Seven often portray them as rebels and mischief-makers, nobles who willfully disobeyed their king and suffered death at his hand.

more here.