Mount Popa Geopark and Its Aesthetic Values

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Popa Taungkalat (pedestal hill). Photo: Chan Tha (Meikhtila)

By Than Htun (Myanmar Geosciences Society)

Under the National Geopark Committee, National Geopark Executive Committee has been striving to establish, by the collaborative effort of Myanmar Geosciences Society, Forest Department and Geology Departments of various Universities, the first National Geopark in Mount Popa region. With the approval of Union Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Ministry and Chief Minister of Mandalay Region, Geopark field party started reconnaissance survey and assessment in Mount Popa Area in December 2016. The geology, vertebrate palaeontology, palaeobotany, forestry, cultural and archaeology sites have been selected for geosites in a total area of 1964, the whole Kyaukpadaung Township, NyaungU District in Mandalay Region.

Historical Record

Mount Popa seems to be a great mountain because it stands solitary, almost in the centre of the plain of Myingyan. It has stood sentinel over the varying fortunes of the Burmese people, whose first settlements in the middle Irrawaddy valley where in the Myingyan plain. It is extinct volcano whose subterranean fires first saw daylight some two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, but whose raging fires died out only in historic times. According to the Burmese Chronicles, in 422 B.C. there was a great earthquake and Mount Popa ‘rose like a cone from the plain’. There is a crater at the top of the cone, but one side of the crater had been blown away during one of the volcano’s many eruptions (Maung Htin Aung, 1959).

Thagya Nat Mahagiri Nat
Popa Taungkalat

The Mount Popa was visited by King Pyusawhti in A.D.167. King Thinlikyaung established a new cult by proclaiming that Popa Ywa was given as a perpetual fief to U Tint De and his Sister, Nat spirits in A.D.352. And King, ministers and people visited them once a year.
To an early chief at Bagan, Popa Sawrahan 613-40, is attributed the introduction of the present Burmese era (Kacchapancha), starting in March 638. Siam uses it under the name Chulasakaraj. Doubtless it was drawn up by Hindu astrologers at one of the courts in Burma. Popa Sawrahan’s name suggests wizards and primitive beliefs at the volcanic peak of Popa, and perhaps it was about this time that the noble Mahagiri myth took its present shape (G.E. Harvey, 1925).

In the flower forests of Mount Popa, moreover, there actually lurked robbers and outlaws. Anawrahta himself, while striving to regain his father’s throne usurped by another, formed his army on the slopes of Mount Popa in A.D.1044. There are many remanences of traditional furnaces in the western part of Mount Popa, for smelting iron concretions from Irrawaddy sandstone so as to make weapons for the battle against Bagan King Sukade.

Kyansittha, after the defeat of the forces of Anawrahta’s son by the Peguan rebels, led the remnants of the Burmese army to Popa Hill to be re-quipped and reorganized. Perhaps at one time the hill itself was worshipped as separate from the gods and goddesses, and it was probably considered to be ‘a hallowed ground of victory’ whose very touch would give success to ‘men of endeavour’ in their ‘mighty undertakings’ (Maung Htin Aung, 1959).
After having many serious problems with his alchemistic experiments and replacing his eyes with eyes of goat and bull, Monk Goat-Bull (Shin Isa Gawna) obtained the Philosopher’s Stone on the top of Mount Popa.

In A.D.1249, Uzanar took thrown and after visiting Nat festival at Mount Popa, Pwa Saw of Kanpyu village became Queen of Bagan.

The Thirty-seven Nats

Throughout human history people of all races have pictured their gods and goddesses as living on a mountain. The Buddhists believe that their gods and goddesses live on Mount Mayu, just as the Ancient Greeks believed that their gods and goddesses dwelt on Mount Olympus.

In the same way, the early Burmese came to believe that Mount Popa was the home of their gods and goddesses. They came to believe, too, that beautiful ogresses, who lived not on flesh but on flowers, played hide-and-seek in the groves of Mount Popa, and that on its slopes there wandered magicians and alchemists in search of potent herbs and roots.

Under King Thinlikyaung in A.D. 344-387 the religion of the Bagan people must have been very similar to that from the animism now practiced by the remoter hill peoples of Burma. Nat spirits were worshipped everywhere in the country but each village restricted its worship to its own local Nats. After reaching Saga tree the new city of Thiripyissaya King Thinlikyaung had an opportunity to establish a new religion or at least a new cult. The king’s carvers soon carved out of the tree trunk images of U Tint De and his sister, and then covered them with gold. The images of the two Nats were put on golden palanquins and attended by the king himself, they were carried along the road to mount Popa. The procession reached the summit of Mount Popa on the full moon day of the golden Nat shrine, awaited the two images. The images were set up in the shrine with great pomp and ceremony, and the king proclaimed that the village on the slope of the hill, Popa Ywa, was given as perpetual fief to the two Nat spirits.

With the exception of one of the 37 Nats-namely Thagya Nat-all are spirits of deceased heroes, and in most cases they also have royal blood, or are linked to royalty. Most are associated with historical figures who lived between the 13th and 17th centuries. The 37 Nats are: 1.Thagya Nat, 2. Mahagiri Nat, 3. Hnamadawgyi Nat, 4. Shwe Nabe Nat, 5. Thonban Hla Nat, 6. Taung-ngu Mingaung Nat, 7. Mintara Nat, 8. Thandawgan Nat, 9. Shwe Nawratha Nat, 10. Aungzwamagyi Nat, 11. Ngazishin Nat, 12. Aungbinle Sinbyushin Nat, 13. Taungmagyi Nat, 14. Maung Minshin Nat, 15. Shindaw Nat, 16. Nyaung-gyn Nat, 17. Tabinshweti Nat, 18. Minye Aungdin Nat, 19. Shwe Sippin Nat, 20. Medaw Shwesaga Nat, 21. Maung Po Tu Nat: a trader from Pinya who was killed by a tiger, 22. Yun Bayin Nat, 23. Maung Minbyu Nat, 24. Mandale Bodaw Nat, 25. Shwebyin Naungdaw Nat, 26. Shwebyin Nyidaw Nat, 27. Mintha Maung Shin Nat, 28. Htibyu Saung Nat, 29. Htibyu Saung Medaw Nat, 30. Bayinma Shin Mingaung Nat, 31. Min Sithu Nat, 32. Min Kyawzwa Nat, 33. Myaukpet Shinma Nat, 34. Anauk Mibaya Nat, 35. Shingon Nat, 36. Shingwa Nat, 37. Shin Hnemi Nat.

To be continued

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