TAUNG PYONE, Mandalay Division — Located nearly 10 miles north of Mandalay, Taung Pyone is a small village with a big-time shrine dedicated to a pair of the Burmese spirits known as nats.
For most of the year, the building sees only occasional visitors, giving off a somewhat deserted vibe. But every year beginning in late July, the area near the shrine is transformed into a party grounds buzzing with cultural dances, music, magic shows, fortunetellers and tattoo shops, as spiritual revelers prepare for the most famous nat festival in Burma.
Named after the village where the shrine is situated, the Taung Pyone Nat Festival is held in honor of two brothers, Min Gyi and Min Lay, who would eventually achieve nat status. Tens of thousands of believers across the country flock to the shrine each year to pay homage to the fraternal duo.
Visitors offer them food, flowers, cash and alcohol—the brothers were famous for drinking—and many take to gambling while asking for the brothers to bless them with good health and prosperity. People commune with the spiritual realm to try to glean their future prospects, while traditional dances accompany nat-inspired songs late into the night.
Legend has it that the two brothers were executed by the famed King Anawrahta, who once
ruled over the region, but that a change of heart later saw the monarch deify them as guardian spirits of the area. They are the most popular of the 37 nats deified by the Burmese.
The five-day festival officially began on Tuesday with a ceremony paying respect to the brothers.
In the lead up to this year’s festival, some had feared that the event would draw fewer visitors due to communal rioting that took place about one month ago in neighboring Mandalay, which saw two people killed.
But with tens of thousands of people visiting the shrine this year, the riots seem to have had little impact on the festival. As an added bonus for attendees, the festival is exempt from a nighttime curfew that has been imposed in Mandalay since the violence.