The story behind a Mandalay nat shrine
FLEEING from their wicked uncle, the two royal children took refuge under a dry teak tree not far from the banks of the Ayeyarwady River. They were young, aged only 13 and 15, but they were already rich. The taxes of all nine cities and 12 islands along that stretch of the river were payable to them, for they were the children of King Moe-meik Saobwagyi. But they were on the run from their jealous uncle Padone, who had attacked their realm in an attempt to usurp the throne.
Nobody knows why, but as Saw Nan Thwe and her brother Saw Nan Aung caught their breath under that teak tree, something happened inside its trunk. Without warning, it came crashing to earth – ending them both.
Their spirits live on, however, and the travails and deaths of Saw Nan Thwe and her brother Saw Nan Aung are still commemorated to this day during the annual Shwe Kyun Pin nat festival.
Held in Mingun village, the festival features wild music and rituals starting just before the waxing of the Wagaung moon in the fifth lunar month (for those not hip to Myanmar astrology, that’s right about now, in the midpoint of August).
Amid roses, bananas and other gifts, villagers attired in the costumes of a snake (for Saw Nan Thwe) and a tiger (for Saw Nan Aung) bathe in the river, while devotees visit local nat shrines and consult soothsayers.
The deadly teak tree has regrown along the riverbank, but its taboo has grown with it; no couple may approach, and no bamboo hats can be worn in its shadow. Shorts and bathing near the tree are forbidden. The site is marked by a small shrine, but the festivities are held at the Shwe Kyun Pin sibling shrine closer into town – and far from that wretched tree.
The way to the festival passes through Kho Taung village, renowned for its mote ti salad. Local craftspeople sell wooden sandals, mats woven from the outer rind of bamboo, baskets, fans, bamboo hats, earthenware, glaze and farm products. You can also buy very tasty pickled fish and root herbals.
The ceremony begins with an invitation to the elder spirits to hold a conference. The wraiths of the brother and sister bathe from a raft in the river on the second day of the full moon. Spirit lullabies are sung and the spirits of the children play in the gardens and the swings in a series of events over the next several days.
These events involve the Taungpyone two kings, the Yadanar Cave and other manifestations of local gratitude to the children, whose worship, they believe, keeps them from harm.