Nat Festivals

In the times of monarchy in Burma, the official number of Nats Myanmar was limited by royal decree to 37 and likewise, the major festival (Pwe) was restricted to 8. But with the number of Nats, so too the festivals far exceed the set number. Any Nat-Kadaw worthy of his name, if he wishes to maintain his clientele and reputation, must attend the Taung Byone festival where the highest dignitaries of the cult each year assemble. His life will be organized around a cycle of festivals consecrated to the individual Nats that incarnate themselves in him.

The festival lasts 5, 7, and even 15 days depending on their importance. They have numerous common features: the ablution of the Nats, offerings, and dances; the inflow of merchants and hawkers; the constant arrival of bullock carts bearing groups of pilgrims; the intensive use of loudspeakers; the liberal use of perfume and alcohol, day and night.

A festival will either start or finish on the night of a full moon. People are visibly affected by the sounds and colorful visual displays, particularly at night when the gleam of the full moon is supplemented by electric lights supplied by numerous private generators. On their own, the crowds are a performance: tough women with fragrant blossoms pinned to their hair buns: other well-formed young countrywomen carry a child in one arm and a coconut offering in the other; children from the villages their hair tied in the traditional to knot; the odd Buddhist novices looking a little shifty, old folk readjusting their longyis; merchants of peacock feathers, of sugar cane drinks of sticky rice, doughnuts, flowers, sunshades; tattooers, healers, hairdressers, hawkers; homosexuals covered with make-ups; policemen in uniform, or out of uniform; merchants holding an ashtray beneath their giant green cheroots to collect the ashes; there are the ill who hope to be cured, boys in search of adventure. The main festivals take place in December, March and during the Buddhist Lent or Waso which coincides with the monsoon in July and August. Book a Burma trip to participate in the festival season!