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irrawaddy - A handcuffed statue of a revered woman who exists only in Burma’s spirit world is at the center of debate and speculation among even the country’s intellectual elite.
“It is very interesting and mysterious story,” said Khin Maung Kyi, a writer on cultural affairs.
He and an increasing number of others interested in occult practices in Burma are following the story of a statue in Rangoon’s Bo Ta Htaung Pagoda which is handcuffed every night between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“It is a sign of superstition,” said Khin Maung Kyi. “So we need to watch and observe it.”
The statue is of a prominent nat, or spirit, named Mya Nan Nwe and revered for the good deeds she is said to perform in the name of Buddhism. It is believed that she can transform herself into a beautiful girl and that she is the guardian of a treasure trove that she uses to build pagodas and other religious buildings.
Mya Nan Nwe is also known as Thike Nan Shin (a guardian spirit) and Amadaw (royal elder sister). All three names inspire reverence among a large number of devotees—Mee Mee, a university student, is a typical follower who visits the statue whenever she needs solace.
So why are the hands of Mya Nan Nwe’s statue, draped in green robes, handcuffed every night? Speculation is rife, but the most popular rumor says that the statue—and perhaps another one at a second Rangoon pagoda—is handcuffed on the orders of junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe.
Mya Nan Nwe is said to have appeared in her green robes before Than Shwe in his sleep and to have warned him of the bad consequences of his suppression of the Burmese people and of the country’s monks.
Ye Aung, an astrologer in Upper Burma, said Than Shwe could be linking Mya Nan Nwe with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi—“So handcuffing the statue might be intended to suppress Suu Kyi and perhaps bring misfortune to her.”
Snr-Gen Than Shwe and many members of the ruling military are deeply superstitious and rely on astrologers and other soothsayers to advise them. Than Shwe is known to seek the advice of astrologers when making major policy decisions, and his wife Kyaing Kyaing is reputedly even more superstitious and a long-time believer in nats.
She and her husband, and many other members of the military elite, also indulge in yadaya, a kind of voodoo said to ward off ill-fortune, and are said to have employed its rituals in an occult bid to suppress the influence of Suu Kyi.
Kyaing Kyaing is said to have been told by an astrologer in the 1980s that her husband would one day head the government. The astrologer, a monk, also told Kyaing Kyaing that her husband had been a king in his past life.
After the first prediction came true, Than Shwe became interested in astrology and yadaya and began to seek the advice of astrologers and soothsayers—including Rangoon’s most famous fortune-teller, ET (also known as E Thi).
In October, the All Burma Monks Alliance excommunicated Than Shwe, naming him “Mecchadhtti,” meaning a man who is ignorant with no idea about religion.
A monk at the International Theravada Buddhist University in Rangoon said Than Shwe and other members of the junta “are very superstitious and all their ideas and decisions disillusioned. According to Buddha’s Dhamma, bad people see only bad omens and their minds are always insecure and they do only misdeeds.”
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