Various NatWho are you going to take along this year? My mother asked. Uh… I had not planned on anyone but the usual pantheon (see main blog-tab). After all this was a Buddhist country and I have my trusted Bhaisajyaguru along, the Medicine Buddha who has served me so well for years. With the Hindu god Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and St. Christopher, the Christian patron saint for travelers, I am usually well served.

But I do like to take local deities along whenever possible, preferably females, to round out the pantheon. I just did not think there were any other noteworthy ones in this predominantly Buddhist land but I was wrong! 37 so-called Nat spirits are worshipped in Myanmar. There are many more than 37. Hundreds of local nats are known, associated with natural places, people, events, but 37 are considered the official core. I could not help but think of parallels to Shinto worship in Japan.

The 37 ones mainly worshipped today are the product of a losing battle the 11th Century King Anawrahta fought trying to outlaw pre-Buddhist practices. When he realized that Buddhism would never succeed against the indigenous spirit pantheon, he decided instead to embrace it and go with it. Ultimately of course, he found a way to make it subservient to the Buddha, but that is another story. The scheme worked. Syncretism! A formula which had been successful in Japan as well. If you can’t conquer the previous religion, accept and absorb it! I am sure I will learn a lot more about these spirits as I travel and encounter their places of worship.

For starters, I went through the list to see if any one of them would appeal to me. The unfortunate thing about these 37 is that most of them are associated with historical personalities who died a violent and premature death. Not exactly desirable travel companions. But then I found who I was looking for:

Shin Nemi (Little Lady), a Pyu goddess, guardian and protector for children who is holding an umbrella! In her role as guardian she will connect me with my grandchildren and my son, for whom I will pray to her. Not to forget, we all are children and I am sure my mother will appreciate someone else looking after me. And finally, with her umbrella she will be most useful for me during this most likely wet monsoon season.

And so I will invite her to join me and hope she will take me up on it.

Go Pantheon!