Thou­sands hon­our de­ity at Myan­mar fes­ti­val

New Straits Times - - World -

YANGON: The medium spins around in a frenzy of red and gold while glug­ging from a bot­tle of whisky, part of an age-old rit­ual to hon­our Myan­mar’s spirit guardian of drunk­ards and gam­blers.

Ev­ery year, thou­sands of peo­ple pour into a small vil­lage south­west of Man­dalay for a twoweek fes­ti­val, many packed into boats clutch­ing bags of food and bed­ding or pulling up on rick­ety old bul­lock carts.

The event hon­ours Ko Gyi Kyaw, one of Myan­mar’s best­loved 37 “Nat” spir­its and is known for his pen­chant for booze, danc­ing and cock­fights.

“He is the un­ri­valled Nat and the king of Nats, the mas­ter of Nats,” said medium San Hlaing Tun, his huge di­a­mond and ruby rings glint­ing.

Most peo­ple in Myan­mar are pi­ously Bud­dhist, but many turn to lo­cal deities for help with ev­ery­thing from busi­ness deals to car en­gines. Each day of the fes­ti­val, wor­ship­pers hold dif­fer­ent events to hon­our Ko Gyi Kyaw, from bathing to cock­fights.

Beg­gars dressed up as Nats and clutch­ing wooden bowls line the road, seek­ing do­na­tions from the devo­tees. Dozens of stalls sell roast chicken to help sober up fol­low­ers who overindulged in their whisky-fu­elled wor­ship.

Oth­ers flock to small pop-up shrines dot­ted around the vil­lage to make of­fer­ings, while the rich throw hand­fuls of money into the air.

In­side one small hut, medium Naing Naing sits dressed as Ko Gyi Kyaw in a sparkling red and gold out­fit, in­clud­ing a head­dress be­decked with pink or­chids.

“I came here from Yangon to pay re­spects to the Nat and it was an ar­du­ous jour­ney to get here,” he said, his face caked with lip­stick and eye­liner.

“I pay my re­spects to the Nat with all that I am. Any­one who

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