Time taken : ~10mins
Enjoy this story of how the Mahagiri nats (spirits) came to reside in the famed Mount Popa in Myanmar. Be sure to download the colouring sheet as well!
Once upon a time, there lived a respected blacksmith in the town of Tagaung, Myanmar named U Tint Daw. He had two beloved children, a son and a daughter. Both children possessed good looks, but his son became especially known by the town’s people for his incredible strength and his wonderful blacksmith skills. They were nicknamed Maung Thin De (Handsome Man) and Shwe Myet-hna (Golden Face). Visitors came from near and far to marvel at Maung Thin De, and soon word of the blacksmith’s children travelled to the royal palace, reaching the ears of the king.
The king, Tagaung Min, grew fearful once he heard of Maung Thin De. “Someone as strong, handsome and well-liked as him could very easily take my throne,” mused the king. The king grew more paranoid the more he heard of the blacksmith’s son, until one day, he decided to take action. “Men!” the king yells in the hall of his palace, “I want Maung Thin De captured at once, head into the village and find this man now!” His soldiers set off at once, but what the king did not realise was that his own men were admirers of the blacksmith’s son as well. They spread the word to people around them and before long, Maung Thin De caught word of the king’s plan to have him captured and fled deep into the forests.
By the time the king’s soldiers reached the village, Maung Thin De was nowhere to be found. Upon realising that his first plan did not work, the king decided that he had to be more strategic. He set off to the village himself and arrived at the home of the blacksmith, U Tint Daw. Unaware that the king had ordered the capture of his son, U Tint Daw graciously accepted the king into his home, in awe that such royalty had come to visit his humble abode.
“Sir, I will not waste my breath. The reason why I have come here today is to ask you for your daughter’s hand in marriage. I have heard much of her beauty and grace, and I would very much like her to become one of my queens,” the king expressed sincerely, masking his true intentions. Unaware of why his son fled, U Tint Daw accepted the king’s proposal without hesitation, eager for his only daughter to become royalty. Shwe Myte-hna wed the king soon after, finding herself unable to deny the request of such a powerful man.
Upon their return to the palace, the king immediately began persuading his new wife to reveal the location of her brother. He promised to bestow Maung Thin De a royal title as well, to have him be part of the court and contribute to the governance of the kingdom. While skeptical, Shwe Myet-hna wanted nothing but peace for his brother. She trusted that her new husband would not want to harm her family in any way now that they were married. Eventually, she agreed to retrieve her brother from his hiding place in the jungle.
Maung Thin De was relieved when Shwe Myet-hna showed up to his hiding place in the forest, explaining the king’s wish to have him join the royal court. He had grown weary of hiding and was eager to live life normally again. The blacksmith’s children made their way to the palace together, naïve to the king’s actual plans for them.
Once they arrived back on palace grounds, the two siblings were immediately captured by the king’s soldiers. “What are you doing? Release us at once!” Shwe Myet-hna cried out, feeling betrayed. “This was a trap all along! He’s nothing but a coward and liar,” Maung Thin De shouted, resisting the soldiers’ attack. However, even with his incredible strength, he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of soldiers. Both of the blacksmith’s children were bound tightly with ropes, brought outside of the palace and tied to a huge champak tree, left to perish.
Maung Thin De and Shwe Myet-hna passed away, their spirits possessing the tree that they were bound to. They became malicious nats (spirits), attacking and possessing passers-by who walked by the tree. To counter this, people began to leave offerings to the nats, hoping to appease them. Eventually, the shrine become so popular that people travelled from far and wide to leave offerings, much like how they travelled before to witness the beauty and strength of Maung Thin De and Shwe Myet-hna.
The king, infuriated that the two siblings were still popular even now, ordered for the shrine to be taken apart and the trees cut down. The soldiers tossed the logs of the felled trees into the rough currents of the Irrawaddy river, hoping for the tides to sweep them far away.
These logs drifted far down the Irrawaddy, eventually reaching a riverbank in the kingdom of Bagan, where a gracious king called Thinligyaung reigned. The spirits entered the dreams of the king, telling him the story of how they came to be trapped in the trees. Sympathetic, King Thinligyaung ordered that the logs be retrieved.
Human features were carved into the logs, then transported to the top of Mount Popa in a ritual procession. The spirits of Maung Thin De and Shwe Myet-hna were bestowed the title of Min Mahagiri, meaning “Rulers of the Large Mountain”. Two additional statues were also crafted and placed on both sides of Tharabha Gate, the entrance to the kingdom of Bagan. The Min Mahagiri nats thus became known as guardians of Mount Popa and of Bagan itself, and are still worshipped to this day.
Illustrations by: Shekinah Prisca