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Friday, August 20, 2010

IS IT THE DRAGON'S LAIR? THE NAGA PYWET TAUNG AT MINBU

IS IT A DRAGON'S LAIR?
THE NAGA PYWET TAUNG AT MINBU
by:Hpone Thant

Long, long time ago, even before Buddhism had taken roots in Myanmar people were awed with the forces of nature: the clashing of thunder and bolts of lightning that flashed in the sky must be of Gods fighting in heaven, the visitation of illnesses are but punishment from the Gods to those who had defied them. And smoke and fire belching from a volcano must have seem to them like a dragon(Naga in the Myanmar language) spitting out his fiery breath from the bowels of the earth.

Naga worship is not new in Myanmar. In Buddhist stories and folk lores there are many mentions of these mythical creatures. In a tale of old Tagaung, a vigilant youth, Pauk Kyaing, slayed a dragon( who was also a secret lover of the Queen with powers to transform himself into human form) and became King himself. King Kyansitta of Bagan era had a dream where he was shielded by a dragon under its hood and took it as an omen that he will become King one day. This episode is said to be honoured at Bagan when King Kyansittha built the Nagayon(meaning shielded by the dragon) Pagoda. Many pictures of Lord Buddha can be seen where He sits under the spreading hood of a large dragon.

And also among our hill cousins there are many fables where the naga(either a female or male) is named as one of the couple, whose union produced their linage.The Akha beliefs that their womenfolks turn into sleeping female dragons at night and so they sleep apart from their husbands. The Pa O girls of southern Shan State remember their matriarch in their dresses; three layers of clothes that resemble the scales of the dragon plus a circular hairpin that they say is to resemble the naga's eyes. A statue of a mythical female figure with a dragon headdress, Mya Nan Nwe, inside a pavilion at the Botatung Pagoda in Yangon, commands great respect from the female folks as one of their benefactors.

A Myanmar proverb also admonishes unbelievers "Never lie to a Nat or a Naga"or misfortune will fall on you.

So it is no surprise that anything connected with the nagas will have a great interest for the people of Myanmar.

Near Minbu, in central Myanmar, there is a unique geological site. It is called the NAGA PYWET TAUNG"( Mountain where the Naga Breathes). Pilgrims going to the nearby Naga pywet Taung Pagoda invariably also go to see this geological phenomenon. Actually for the scientifically-minded it is an ordinary mud volcano but to the ancient primitive people of the area, with their beliefs in supernatural beings, this must have been seen as a manifestation of the existence of the fiery dragons(naga) living deep inside the earth.

This mud volcano is not very high. In fact it is just about 10-20 feet high. But it belches grey, oozy mud periodically, accompanied by distinctive noxious sulphur fumes, further consolidating the peoples' belief in the mythical creatures.

However, there is one mystery here. In the Myanmar calender we have a notion that the Naga points its head to a certain direction at certain time of the year. Myanmar people belief that it is bad to travel down the direction of the Naga's tail as it will bring misfortune, either when travelling or moving house. Better to transverse the Naga's body or to go in the direction of the mouth. And the curious thing is that the flow of lava from this mud volcano inexplicably shifts direction according to the direction of the naga's tail as shown in the appropriate Myanmar calender month.

So the US of A has its geysers in Yosemite but we have Minbu Mud Volcano. Maybe this is truly the lair of the fire-breathing dragon. Who knows???????????

Minbu is just across the Ayeyarwady River and accessible by car using the bridge at Magway. The NAGA PYWET TAUNG is not far out of town.


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