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Sunday, June 27, 2010

ASK AND YOU SHALL HAVE ANSWERS

ASK AND YOU SHALL HAVE ANSWERS

Once upon a time, in a small village far from Tagaung, a city state up north on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, a young lad by the name of Pauk Kyaing was quickly growing up. Unlike others of his generation he was unique. He wants to know about other places, he is always inquisitive and seeking answers and he is always alert and vigilant.

Then he started on an epic journey from his village to see the world. Arriving at Tagaung he saw that people were excited about one thing or other. He asked about the cause of their excitement and got back the answer that the kingdom had lost another ruler and there would be an occasion to select a new king. This would be done by sending a gilded royal carriage around the area with a wish that it finds a suitable candidate. Pauk Kyaing was tired so he quickly fell asleep inside the nearby forest but was awaken suddenly.Surrounding him were courtiers of court and they were asking him to become their king. The Gilt Royal Carriage was waiting to carry him to the palace!

Pauk Kyaing accepted the offer and come night time he started wondering about the mysterious deaths of his predecessors. He remembered what his mentor, the village Abbot had taught him. He had travelled and now is in Tagaung. the second teaching had made him ask questions and he had got answers about the sudden deaths of the previous kings. Now what about the third teaching of his mentor? The third that admonished him to be vigilant. What might that be, he thought? The deaths could not be natural. And every death was on the bridal night, inside the royal bed chambers. The Queen must be involved, was his conclusion. He must be vigilant.

So secretly he brought the trunk of a banana plant and laid it beside the Queen and made it as if it was a sleeping human. But he himself hid behind a pillar with a sword in hand.

The night became quiet. Nobody stirred. Midnight. There was a stirring somewhere inside the bed chambers and the curtains parted. A hissing sound and a giant Naga (a mythical serpent with supernatural powers to transform themselves into human forms at will) appeared. Seeing a man lying beside his beloved queen it became agitated and struck out with its fangs. So that was what happened with the previous kings, Pauk Kyaing now understood. The Naga was the secret lover of the queen and murdered everybody who dare to sleep with his lover. But this time it was a different story. The Naga's fangs became entangled in the fibres of the banana stem. He could not extricate them. The Naga was trapped. Pauk Kyaing came out of hiding and slew the Naga with his sword and was saved and the story ends ........................................and they lived happily ever after!

So, remember Maung Pauk Kyaing and his credo: Thwa Par Myar Hka Yee Yauk, Mae Bar Myar Sa Kar ya, Ma Eight Ma Nay A Thet Shay!

Or for our English readers to understand: Start travelling and you shall see new places, ask and you shall have answers, be vigilant and you shall live long.




Thursday, June 17, 2010

PRAYING TO THE RAIN GOD

PRAYING TO THE RAIN GOD
Myanmar is dependent on the monsoon rains for growing rice, the staple food for her people. The farmers depend on the rains to plant the paddy and villages rely on the rains to replenish their ponds and lakes where water is taken for drinking, cooking and other household chores. Normally the black rain clouds gather above the Bay of Bengal by mid May and by June monsoon rains are in full swing in the delta. Then the farmers get ready to go to the paddy fields. But sometimes the rains are late.

When the rains are late there are several ways to make the rains come. No modern method of seeding the clouds, no. But more ancient and, believe it or not, reliable ways are used. The town people ask the monks to recite the "Nga Yant Min Sutta" and circling around the town.This Holy Sutta is supposed to be uttered by Lord Buddha in one of his earlier Lives when he was incarnated as a Nga Yant(a species of butter fish). Reciting this sutta is thought to be conducive to bring the black rain clouds to pour their loads on to the parched land.

Near Mandalay, looking towards the East, is a solitary hill, named Yankin Taung. where Lord Buddha was believed to have lived there in one of his previous incarnations as a nga yant. Wheezing up uncountable steps will get one up the top of this hill. There are many Buddhist monasteries on the top as well as natural springs. And there is also a deep cut in the hill, called nga yant dwin(a hole for the nga yant) where a big nga yant fish statue is seen. Pilgrims paste gold leaves on this statue and pray to it.

Another option to bring the rains is more fun. Teams gather to play tug-of-war between them, with appropriate offerings to the Rain God Moe Khaung Kyaw Swa Nat. This simply consist of the customary coconut and three hands of banana, plus some eugenia leaves as offering. The nat kadaw(spirit medium) pleads to the nat for his intervention before the competition. Everybody cheers their favourite teams with much clapping and encouragements.

But somebody still has yet to explain the co-relation between the tug-of-war and the Nat Moe Khaung Kyaw Swa. However, be it coincidence or not, rains had fallen soon after these ceremonies had completed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

THE LORD OF THE WHITE HORSE OF KANI

THE LORD OF THE WHITE HORSE OF KANI
by:Harry Hpone Thant

Kani is a small town on the western bank of the Chindwin River. It is inhabited mainly by Myanmar people and supposed to be set up since the Bagan period.The main occupation of the town people is agriculture.It is also believed to be the origin of the legend of the Kani Myinbyu Shin Nat (Lord of the White Horse of Kani).

As one approaches the town from the south by boat up the Chindwin River, a steep cliff is visible on the left hand side while the right side is flat agricultural land. And this cliff face is an important historical landmark that makes Kani unique.

Once upon a time during the early Bagan period this small community was under a governor appointed by the court at Bagan. One of the main duties of the governor was to travel to Bagan annually to pay his tributes and pledge allegiance to the King. Being far away from the King's centre of power the governor slowly began to drift way and his power grew. He began to miss his annual visits and the King became suspicious of his loyalty. So the King sent an army to bring back the recalcitrant governor back to Bagan for punishment.

However, Kani was situated on a very strategic place. With the swift flowing Chindwin river and the steep cliff acting as natural barriers the town was difficult to conquer. It withstood all assaults by the King's troops. After a prolonged siege the King's army was ordered to withdraw without achieving any success.

The town's inhabitants were jubilant when they saw the attackers withdrawing. One of the town's women became so jubilant that she went up the cliff and taunted the retreating forces with not only profanities but also with vulgar gestures. The King's troop were so angry and insulted by the actions of this woman that they turned back and attacked the town with renewed ferocity. This time, however, the town fell. The governor,sensing that he would find no mercy at the hands of his overlord, tied a strip of cloth over his warhorse's eyes, rode up to the cliff and jumped into the Chindwin River and became a nat(spirit). And so was born the legend of the Kani Myinbyu Shin nat.

Even to this day the town pays homage to Kani Myinbyu Shin Nat annually in a nat dance. The hereditary spirit mediums(nat kadaws) dance and pay homage to the Nat and ask for his patronage and intervention, to make the town safe from natural disasters, have a good harvest and generally look after its wellbeing.

This is but another example of ancient beliefs that had been lovingly preserved and of customs followed even into the 21st century.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

WHY DO WE HANG A COCONUT INSIDE OUR HOUSES


WHY DO WE HANG A COCONUT INSIDE OUR HOUSES

By: Hpone Thant

Once upon a time, there was a very strong blacksmith who lived at a small town called Tagaung, on the upper reaches of the Ayeyarawaddy River, north of Bagan. His name was U Tint De (Mr. Handsome).He was also a very popular man. Then the King of Tagaung heard about his feats and was afraid that one day U Tint De might usurp his kingdom. So he sent words to U Tint De that he wish to make his beautiful sister, Thon Ban Hla, his Queen and also invited U Tint De to come and live at his palace.

But one day, on one pretext or another, U Tint De was condemned and set to be burned at the stake. When his sister saw the brother being burned at the stake she rushed out of the palace and jumped into the fire. The King tried to hold on to his Queen but was able to save only her head from the inferno. So, to cut the story short, both U Tint De and his sister, Thon Ban Hla became nats(spirits).

However, to spite the King, the nats haunted the Sagar tree where they were put to death. Every creature which came into its shadow died. The King had it cut down and floated down the Ayeyarwaddy River where it came to rest at Bagan. The Bagan King heard about the beached tree and after consultations with his royal astrologers made statues out of the Sagar tree to be worshipped by his subjects. Here the story became blurred. Nobody can tell for sure how U Tint De became the guardian nat or spirit of a house. Nobody can say why he became the chief of all the official 37 nats that are said to reside at Mt. Popa. But one thing for sure is that in almost all Myanmar houses in a corner near the Buddha Images(but a bit lower) one will see a coconut hanging on the wall. It will have a red and white band, resembling a headcloth, around it and a fan standing beside.

Most Myanmar believes that U Tint De guards the house against all evil. He is the guardian of the house. If there is a death in the house the coconut is taken out of the house to be hung elsewhere on the road. This is to let the butterfly spirit of the deceased have free access into the house until after a merit making lunch(soon) is offered to the monks after a week and free the butterfly spirit to roam freely. Otherwise U Tint De would bar entrance to the deceased’s butterfly spirit. After the traditional lunch(soon) is offered to the monks and to friends and relatives of the deceased a new coconut is brought back into the house for U Tint De to reside again.

Also the coconut must be replaced if the water inside dries out or the top part becomes loose. Otherwise it will bring bad luck to the household. Then before the Myanmar Lent begins in the month of Waso(June/July) and at the end of it is Thadingyut(September/October)the coconut must be replaced with a new, green one.

The coconut has to be screened from light too because U Tint De was burned at the stake and he hates heat. And it is a common belief that coconut water is fed to the burn victims to ease the pain. The housewife would also fan the coconut as a daily ritual or to ask for any supernatural intervention to overcome a difficult situation.

For us living in the 21st century these superstitious rituals might seem strange and quaint but they make up the character and beliefs of the Myanmar people making them unique in this world. An instant world with many ready made answers on Google!