Nats rumbling

Burma defines itself as a Buddhist nation, a Theravada one at that, as it has been for roughly the past millennia. But within the folds of the country's often-intermeshed history and myth, there is a silent but quite ubiquitous realm – a spirit realm dominated by the cult of the nat. A nat is essentially the spirit of a dead person, a ghost with personality and distinctive animistic qualities. That it is separate from the institutional religion is without doubt, but its relationship to mainstream religion and society is very ambiguous.

Kyal Thee (pronounced chey tea) is a Burmese musician who performs in variety shows, featuring song, theatre, dance and comedy, in exile in Thailand. He says that every show since the time of the famous musician U Po Sein (1877-1952) has had to start with a reverential dance to the nats. He performs as part of a troupe called Thee Lay Thee ('Four Fruits', in Burmese) but all such troupes do the ritual dancing that is required at the beginning of ceremonies and performances.

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Himal Southasian