Sometimes naq or na', spirits or gods, encompassing a wide variety of divine or supernatural beings in traditional Burmese religion. Although nat worship antedates the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the state religion by King Anawrahta in the 11th century, and in some cases can be equated with animism, it has coexisted, though in a subordinate position, with Burma's dominant religion. Nats include the following categories, which are not mutually exclusive: gods borrowed from Indian mythology, including Thagya Min, the king of the gods who is the protector of the Buddhist religion, and Thurathadi (Saraswati), goddess of learning, to whom students pray to pass examinations; spirits of nature, such as those inhabiting rivers, storms, and trees (especially banyan trees); spirits associated with human activities, such as the construction of houses or cultivation of rice; and spirit guardians of specific places or territories. In addition, the spirits of dead persons are often recognized as nats.
   The pantheon of Thirty-seven Nats established by Anawrahta consists of legendary or historical figures, who usually met violent ("green") or tragic deaths, often at the hands of a king. Because of the nature of their demise, they could not be reincarnated and roamed the world at large, causing havoc. To appease them, the king instituted a state-supported cult that transformed them into protective deities. Their images were placed on the platform of the Shwezigon Pagoda. Their number, 36, reflected Hindu cosmology, to which Anawrahta added Thagya Min, to make 37. In this way, Anawrahta and his successors sought to keep nat worship under state control. Over time, the individual figures in the nat pantheon have changed, but the number has remained the same. Festivals (nat-pwe) are held in their honor, especially around Pagan (Bagan) and Mandalay. The most important center of nat worship is Mount Popa, in Mandalay Division. Nat shrines are found in villages, at the entrance to pagodas, and in Burmese households, where offerings are made to an unhusked coconut, which is hung in an elevated position and represents Min Mahagiri, one of the 37 nats who was especially esteemed by King Kyanzittha. Statues of nats, such as the Sule Nat at the Sule Pagoda in Rangoon (Yangon), associated with the legendary founding of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, are a prominent feature of Burmese religious art (though of less importance than Buddha images).
   Belief in nats is fluid, like Western belief in ghosts, and many Burmese today still believe that the place where a person met a violent death is haunted by a dangerous nat who must be placated with offerings. In 1998, it was said that nats caused strange phenomena (the sounds of disembodied screams, the appearance of blood) near the Myeinigone Market in Rangoon, the site of a massacre of student demonstrators by the Riot Police in June 1988.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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