Tens of thousands are gathering in Taung Pyone (Taung Byone) near Mandalay to celebrate the annual nat pwe (festival for spirits). The week-long festival starts this week with as many as 100,000 believers gathering to celebrate in the grand festival for the nats (spirits).
There are a number of nat pwes (spirit festivals) in Myanmar. Of these, Taung Pyone is the largest and the most important festival of all. This festival is to commemorate the fable of the two nat brothers Min Gyi and Min Lay, also known as Shwe Byin Nyi Naung (Shwe Phyin Nyi Naung or Shwe Byin Brothers). These two brothers were the heroes/worriors during the time of Bagan King Anawrahta. According to the legend, these two were drunk on their night of their duty to build a pagoda. This was found out by the king and were ordered to be executed. However, they were later proclaimed as nats by King Anawrahta, possibly due to their popularity among the ordinary citizens. Since that time, these two brothers had been worshipped by millions of believers all over Burma.
Ironically, the two brothers were not Buddhists. They were Muslim brothers. These were the only two nats in Burma who were Muslims.
During the Taung Byone festival, tens of thousands of believers all over the country gather at Taung Byone for the festival. Believers bring along expensive presents for the nats as well as plenty of liquors (they are really fond of good liquor). Ceremony is guided by the traditional spirit mediums (called nat-ka-daw or wife of nat) who are almost always transvestites. Participants in the festival believe the two brothers have power to grant richness and wealth to their followers. Many make pilgrimage to pay respect to the nats as well as to ask for fortune and favour from the nats.
Taung Byone festival is immediately followed by another grand but smaller Yadanagu festival.