Deity figure, Nat figure
Wood lacquer, gold leaf and glass.
25.25 in. tall X 8 in. across widest part X 7.5 in across at base 8.8 lb.
64.2 cm. X 21.3 cm. X 19. cm. 4kg
Fair condition. Both elbows have lost lacquer but are in secure stable condition. Various nicks and chips as well as wear to the gold leaf due to age and use. Some areas such as lips, necklace, fingernails, bracelets and toenails have been touched up with paint to retain their beauty.
This Nat figure is very popular for Mon and Bamar peoples in lower Burma but can be found throughout the country. She is known by several names and spellings. “Nan Ka Yine Medaw” Mother of Nan Ka Yine, “Bago Medaw”/ “Pegu Medaw” (Bago/Pegu Mistress), “Nanqueyain Nat” The Lady from Pegu, “Nankaraing”
As the story for Bago Medaw goes, the king of Hanthawaddy (currently the town of Pegu), the former Mon capital, had a son after he had died. The king’s younger brother who inherited the throne saw this as a threat to his kingship and ordered a search for the boy to be killed when found. The former queen, hearing about the approaching team, brought her boy down to hide him in the area where the buffalo graze. She begged the female buffalo to take him and gave him over to her for safe keeping. The queen was then captured and killed by the king’s team. The mother buffalo raised the boy as her own. The boy’s father, the former king, was reincarnated and returned. He named the boy “Prince Nan Ka Yine”. As the prince grew older, he recognized his royal blood and attempted to challenge the throne. He knew he wasn’t powerful enough so he enlisted the help of some powerful spiritual beings. In order to be granted such power, he was told he needed to sacrifice his adoptive mother the buffalo by cutting off her head. Prince Nan Ka Yine felt he had no choice and went forward with the demand. Immediately his buffalo mother was uplifted to Nat status, and named Bago Medaw and is worshiped widely around lower Burma.
This figure is carved out of a single piece of teak wood with attached arms, ears and horns. She is dressed in Amarapura style dress with a Lun-taya kyoe gyi geik design dress, breast cloth and traditional Burmese jacket. The teak wood is lacquered over with Natural black lacquer called thit si. Applied on top of that is the classic Burmese design technique of mixing lac with ash or bone to create a pudding-like substance called thayo, which is used to form the 3-dimensional designs and accents. When dried it is lacquered over again then gold leaf is applied as well as other top pigments of red and black. It is then further embellished with cabochon pieces of glass in red and amber. White glass makes up her eyes. Chips of mirror glass is embedded into the buffalo headdress using a technique called hman zi shew. The fish that traditionally is laid in her hands is missing. Traces of illegible writing in white lime is found on the front side of the pedestal she is standing on. She is not part of the list of the thirty-seven royal Nats, but she is recognized all over Burma, strongly worshiped in lower Burma by the Bamar and Mon peoples.
Nat worship in Burma seems to stretch back to the time before Buddhism arrived in the area. Nats are spiritual beings that have attained mystical powers and are worshiped in homes and temples. They are not technically a part of Buddhism but seem to run parallel with Buddhism in Burmese society. They can bring good fortune and luck but also can be malevolent and destructive if displeased with some action of the devotee. Nats were actual people who lived within society but have died a violent or unusual death.
Statues like this are said to embody the actual spirit (leik pya) of the Nat through a ceremony called leik pya thwin. When displayed during a ceremony, Nat pwe, they are accompanied by their caretaker or “wife”, Nat Kadaw. These people are men, woman and transvestites who have gone through the same ceremony and have embodied the same Nat spirit, leik pya. During these ceremonies or dances they act the part of the Nat they are representing. Some dancers drink and smoke non-stop while others dance continuously to the loud music played by a traditional Nat pwe band. People can have sittings with the dancers, can get advice and sometimes they are given talismanic pieces. The statues are placed on an altar where they can watch all that is taking place and they will show their approval or disapproval through the Nat Kadaw. If an offering or action is not of their liking, the Nat Kadaw will let the devotee know so. But often they give out gifts that are cherished by the receiver. “Nat money” is one such gift and is a fake currency that the receiver would bring home and place on an alter or possible carry-on person to ward off evil spirits or misfortune and to bring good luck.
Sculptures like this are usually passed from a retiring Nat to a novice to be looked after and kept satisfied and worshiped.