Burmese Spirits: Meet U Shin Gyi, Owner of the Sea
Myanmar spirits or nats are highly revered in Myanmar — in temples, with fortune-tellers, and in almost everybody’s house. Consider a nat a “guardian spirit” for the house, one’s health, or one’s fortune. Some of the popular spirits are the guardian of Shwedagon Pagoda and the nat smoking a cigarette (easy to recognize by the burning cigarette offered to the nat statue).
U Shin Gyi (Lord of the Sea) is the guardian spirit of all waterways. This nat is usually respected in the Ayeyarwaddy delta region. Often you can find him standing side-by-side with a tiger and crocodile, holding a Burmese harp.
Originally U Shin Gyi was a young harpist from Kasin village in Bago, where his father taught him to play the harp. According to one version of the legend, while he was on an expedition with fellow lumberjacks to find food, they arrived at Meinmahla Island. On the island his harp playing attracted two female nat sisters. Unfortunately, the sisters wouldn’t allow the boat to depart until they were appeased with an offer. U Shin Gyi volunteered to sacrifice his life by drowning, pleasing the spirits and saving his fellow boatmen.
After his death he became a revered nat. Every March, a nat festival is held in his honour.
Many people believe that an offering to U Shin Gyi, before their boat trip to sea or on a river, guarantees a safe journey.
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