11. Influence of pre-Buddhist religious beliefs reflected in Bagan folk poems and Songs

There are folk poems and songs of Bagan Period that reflect the lingering prevalence of pre-Buddhist beliefs among the people. Here one poem and one song are given as examples. Their composers were unknown. They were folk poem and song handed down to generations by words of mouth.

The poem quoted here describes a water reservoir built at the foot of the Tuyin hill range and the song narrates the sad saga of the two Nats (Spirits) brother and sister dwelling on the Mount Popa.


မြကန်သာ၊ တောင်ကျချောင်းဘေး၊ ရေဝင်ပြေးလှည့်၊ ရေအေးကြည်စွာ၊ ကန်မာပိုင်လျက်၊ ကြာပေါင်းထုံထုံ၊ ငှက်မျိုးစုံသည်၊ ဘုံဝတိံသာ၊ နန္ဒာပေလော၊ တူစွဟုတ္တာ။

The poem entitled ” Pleasant Emerald Lake ” runs as follows:

Pleasant Emerald Lake

Fed by a brook from the hill cascades.

Cool and clear is its water,

With a strong intact dyke thither.

Fragrant lotus flowers abound

Different avian feathered creatures around.

Hark! Is it the Lake ” Nanda”

Of the Celestial Realm “Tavatimsa” ?

Yae, looks like it.

This folk poem was composed in the form of a linka. Linka is the simplest form of Myammar verse which has exact metre, rhyme and rhythm. It describes about a lake called Mya Kan (Emerald Lake) a water reservoir built at the foot of the hill range called Tuyin hills, about seven miles to the south of Bagan. It is now in ruin, silting and drying up. But it must have been a very pleasant lake with lush vegetation and wildlife especially birds in the heyday of Bagan.

Mention of Legendary Lake ” Nanda ” and the Celestial Kingdom Tavatimsa ” prove the influence of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism.

East View of Set-Ku Taik, North of Myakan Tank, was still standing in 1905. And the stone was being furtively removed by villagers. It was totally disappeared now.

There are very few stone structures left at Bagan. Out of the present total figure of over two thousand monuments and pagodas, only four are found to be built of stone. They are :

Set-Ku Taik : Set-Ku means paper and Taik mans building. (See more: Recent Pitaka Taik in Bagan)

The folk song ” An ode to the Nat-spirit of Mt. Popa ” is as follows.

၁။ သိုးကလေ၊ ပုပ္ပါးနတ်တောင်၊ အခေါင်မြင့်ဖျား၊ စုံတောပြား၌၊ နံ့ရှားကြိုင်လွင့်၊ ခါတန်ပွင့်သည်၊ ရွှေနှင့်ရိုးမှား၊ ပန်းစကား
1. Oh Nat spirit with the headdress of Tho-saung
In the thicket of dense forest on the summit of lofty Mt. Popa.
Are the fragrant Champac flowers which bloom seasonally.
And their colour can be mistaken for gold.
၂။ သိုးကလေ၊ စကားပွင့်နှင့်၊ နှိုင်းတင့်နိုးသည်၊ ရဲမျိုးသမီး၊ မောင်ကြီးနှစ်မ၊ ညက်လှပြာစင်၊ မယ့်သည်ပင်သည်၊ ခရီးသွား။
2. Oh Nat – spirit with the head dress of Tho-saung
She was the daughter of the brave man.
Her beauty could be compared to the Champac flower.
She was brought up under the care of the kind brother
She had a lover kept in the heart of her heart.
He was not with her. He was a service man away on a journey.
၃။ သိုးကလေ၊ မြိတ်လွတ်စုလည်း၊ အငယ်တည်းကကျွမ်းဝင်ကြသည်၊ မွေးဖတူရင်း၊ မျိုးသည်မင်းနှင့်၊ ချစ်ခြင်းစုရုံး၊ သက်ထက်ဆုံးသည်၊ နှလုံးမခြားစောင့်တရား။
3. Oh Nat spirit with the headdress of Tho-saung
Since childhood while she still wore
“Myeiklutsu” hair knot on her head
The twain were fond of each other
He was a nephew of her father
He was thus related to her
The twain were united by attachment
till the end of their lives
They kept their mutual faith
၄။ ဆွေမိမင်း၊ မျက်သုတ်နီစင်၊ ရထည်းဖျင်နှင့်၊ ကျိုင်းစင်မြဝါ၊ မတ်ကြီးလျာကို၊ မယ်သာကြိုက်မိ တုမရှိ။
4. Her relative lover wore a red towel
And a fine Lenin jacket
He was strong, handsome and manly,
He was a knight – designate
She loved him so much
Her love for him was beyond measure.

This folk song also is in linka form. It describes the tragic story of a mighty black smith named ” Maung Tint De ” and his cousin sister ” Shwe Myet Hnar” both of whom met violent death, and are believed to have become Nat-spirits dwelling on Mt. Popa. Till today. Myanmar people venerate them as guardian spirits of the house.

According to tradition, Maung Tinde (မောင်တင့်တယ်) was a blacksmith of great strength living in the country of Tagaung who, in a previous existence, had prayed, “May I be a spirit whom kings shall worship!” So great was Maung Tinde’s strength that the King feared for his throne and sent men to kill him. But Maung Tinde escaped and went away deep into the forest. The King thereupon made the younger sister of Maung Tinde his wife and asked her to call upon her brother to return so that he could be given office.

However, on his return to the city, Maung Tinde was seized, tied to a tree and burned. His sister, too, jumped into the burning flames and died together with him. The spirits of the brother and the sister continued to dwell in the tree, but as the tree troubled everyone who went near it, it was dug up by the roots and floated down the Ayeyarwady. The tree eventually reached Bagan.

At that time Bagan was ruled by King Thinlikyaung (သေဉ်လည်ကြောင်), 7th King of Bagan dynasty. (See more: Bagan Dynasty)

And their images were carved of the brother and sister and kept on Mount Popa. Every year, in the month of Nadaw (November-December), the kings of Bagan ascended Mount Popa to worship the Mahagiri spirits.

The legend of Mount Popa related to the myth of Mahagari Nat Spirits. (Maha means great and Giri means mountain. So Mahagari means ‘Great Mountain’.

(See more: Mount Popa)

Nowadays, the images of brother and sister of Mahagiri spirits can be found at the Tharaba Gate of Bagan. In front of the Gate are two massive shrines containing images of the Mahagiri (“Great Mountain”) nats, the brother Maung Tinde on the left, the sister Thonbanhla on the right.

The Tharaba, the main gate of the eastern wall, is the only one left of the twelve gates of the walled city which King Pyinbya (34th King of Bagan Dynasty & Founder of Recent Bagan) established in 849 AD. The Gate is interesting because it is the only piece of secular architecture left.

(See more: Tharaba Gate)

Reference Books:

  • Khin Maung Nyunt, Dr., An Outline History of Myanmar Literature (Pagan Period to Kon-baung Period)
  • Htin Aung, Dr., Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism,
  • Sir R. C. Temple, The Thirty-seven Nats: A Phase of Spirit-Worship prevailing in Burma.

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