Climb Mount Popa and Breathe in The Mist of Legends
13 Jun 2019 by Admin
Mount Popa is the name of an extinct volcano situated in the Pegu Range in the central region of Myanmar. In the tongue of locals, the volcano is often referred to as Taung Ma-gyi, meaning the “mother hill”, partly due to its mighty appearance.
From the ancient city of Bagan, you have to drive about 45 minutes through approximately 50 kilometers to reach this mountain. Appearing in many tourism postcards, Mount Popa is an iconic sight of Myanmar which attracts thousands of tourists coming here every year.
People are drawn here because of not only the beautiful view from atop, but also the legendary tales about Mount Popa.
The Mighty Appearance of Mount Popa
Things You Might Not Know about Mount Popa
Apart from being a tourist attraction of Myanmar, Mount Popa also serves as a pilgrimage site for Buddhist with a gilded monastery built on top of Taung Kalat (meaning pedestal hill) which is a plug of the volcano. Confusingly, people sometimes call the Monastery as Mount Popa.
After climbing 777 steps to the top of Taung Kalat, visitors will be rewarded with the spectacular view from atop and the chance to admire the gilded monastery and hear tales about the Great Nats residing on Mount Popa.
Taung Kalat Monastery
According to the beliefs of Burmese people, nats is a group of different kinds of spirit ranging from forest spirits to guardians. Before Buddhism arrived in Myanmar in the 3rd century B.C, Burmese people had practiced worshiping nats. The Great Nats is a particular group of 37 nats who play an important role in the spiritual life of Burmese people across the country.
The majority of these nats were human being who suffered brutal deaths. Most of the life stories of these nats are believed to be just legends, though it is possible that the person involved in the tales were real.
Despite the fact that there are 37 Great Nats which are worshiped on Mount Popa, only four of which actually are native nats of Mount Popa. They are Mai Wunna and Byatta, Maung Tint Dai and Saw Me Yar. Below are the legends of how these people became Nats.
Yokkaso - The Guardian Spirit of Trees
The Legend of Nats on Mount Popa
The first legend dates back to the 6th century B.C about Maung Tint Dai, a blacksmith from Tagaung Kingdom, and his sister, Saw Me Yar. It is said that Maung Tint Dai was so strong and his great strength even made the King feel afraid.
Consequently, the King planned a plot to kill him using trickery. Then, Maung Tint Dai was captured, tied to a laminated champa tree and burnt to death. Upon hearing of her brother’s death, Saw Me Yar also jumped into the flame and perished. The two siblings became nats residing in the burnt tree and cursed people who walk under the tree.
Thus, the King ordered his men to take down the tree and throw into Irrawaddy River. The tree then floated along the flow to Bagan. King Thlgyang of Bagan then salvaged the tree and turned it into the images of Maung Tin Dai and his sister and consecrated them on Mount Popa
Images of Nats
The second legend tells the tales of Byatta and Mai Wunna, who are believed to live in the 11th century A.D during King Anawrahta’s reign. Byatta was an Indian flower picker of the King who could run from Bagan to Mount Popa (nearly 50 km) 10 times a day to supply fresh flowers for the King.
One day, he met Mai Wunna, a flower-eating mistress who lived on the mountain, and fell in love with her. They married and had two sons together. When news flew to the King, he ordered Byatta to be executed. When Mai Wunna knew that Byatta was killed, she died of agony and sorrow. In the end, the couple became nats who resided on Mount Popa alongside Saw Me Yar and her brother.
The Image of Mai Wunna
The legends of Mount Popa is still an essence of Myanmar culture with celebrations and festivals held every year and thousands of visitors going on pilgrimage to make offerings to the nats to wish for good luck in the next year.
You can also visit other mythical places along Irrawaddy River and Chindwin River in Myanmar with our River Cruises in Myanmar