Mount Popa is a volcano 1518 meters (4981 feet) above sea level, and located in central Burma (Myanmar) about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Bagan (Pagan) in the Pegu Range. It can be seen from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River as far away as 60 km (37 mi) in clear weather. Mount Popa is perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, with numerous Nat temples and relic sites atop the mountain.
The name Popa is believed to come from the Pali/Sanskrit word Puppa meaning flower.
History and legend
Many legends are associated with this mountain including its dubious creation from a great earthquake and the mountain erupted out of the ground in 442 B.C. It is possible that the legends about Nats represent a heritage of earlier animist religions in Burmese countryside, which were syncreticised with Buddhist religion in the 11th century. There are legends that before the reign of Bagan king Anawrahta (1044 – 1077) hundreds of animals were sacrificed here as a part of nat worship rituals.
Mount Popa is considered the abode of Burma’s most powerful Nats and as such is the most important nat worship center. It has therefore been called Burma’s Mount Olympus.
One legend tells about brother and sister Mahagiri (Great Mountain) nats, from the kingdom of Tagaung at the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, who sought refuge from King Thinligyaung of Bagan (344-387). Their wish was granted and they were enshrined on Mt Popa.
Another legend tells about Popa Medaw (Royal Mother of Popa), who according to legend was a flower-eating ogress called Me Wunna, she lived at Popa. She fell in love with Byatta, whose royal duty was to gather flowers from Popa for King Anawrahta of Bagan (1044–1077). Byatta was executed for disobeying the king who disapproved of the liaison, and their sons were later taken away to the palace. Me Wunna died of a broken heart and, like Byatta, became a nat. Their sons also became heroes in the king’s service but were later executed for neglecting their duty during the construction of a pagoda at Taungbyone near Mandalay. They too became powerful nats but they remained in Taungbyone where a major festival is held annually in the month of Wagaung (August).
Although all 37 Nats of the official pantheon are represented at the shrine on Mt Popa, in fact only four of them.
The Mahagiri nats, Byatta and Me Wunna have their abode here.