Monday, April 8, 2013

Temples and Nats

We spent 3 days in Bagan, known for its more than 3000 payas (temples) built during a building frenzy from the 11th to 13th century. The first were built at a time when Buddhism was  spreading into this area from other kingdoms. The building styles change as time passed, proof of the influence of new beliefs and styles.
 There are many stories about the area’s temples. The most gruesome is of the king who felt guilty after killing members of his own family, noteably his wife because he discovered she was worshipping Hindu images. To atone for his sins he built a huge temple. But he was a cruel task-master, insisting that the bricks be laid so tightly together that a needle could not pass between them. Those workmen who did sloppy work had their arms cut off.  There are stone chopping blocks still at the entrance to parts of the temple.
                                                              Biking in Bagan

The payas and paytos are spread over a 25 square mile plain and can be seen from anywhere in Bagan. We spent a morning cycling over the dirt roads, riding between these buildings, some of which are still in ruins, others rebuilt, often in a fashion that does not always respect archeological norms. But the result is still beautiful. By biking around and stopping periodically to go inside some of the Payas, we got a good feeling of past dynasties and their beliefs and culture.

                                                                Bagan Temples

The temperature in Bagan is hot and dry, over 42 degrees by noon. Cycling was hard in the heat, especially with a bike that has no gears, making for a very slow, arduous ride. The pool at the hotel was a welcome relief. Morning and evening are the best times for pagoda visiting, with gorgeous sunsets over the many payas.
Many Myanmar people worship spirits and have found a place for them juxtaposed with their strong Buddhist belief. We visited Mount Popa, a volcanic mountain that is the home the the 37 Nat(spirits) of Myanmar belief. There we climbed to the top, on stairs that pass many small shrines where offerings can be made to the many Nat. It is believed that by doing so the Nat will protect you from harm. Throughout the country one can see signs of Nat worship in trees where little shrines are built and offerings made to the Nat of the tree. In the museum at Mt Popa where all 37 Nat are displayed, we saw the Nat that protects children, among others that include a happy fellow on a horse who is an admitted drunkard and the Nat for those who like to imbibe. Perhaps he could be the Nat for Pierre!

                                                       Lord Kyawswa (aka Drunken Nat)

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