Update: 2013-02-04 04:05 PM +0630


Nine Gods in the 21st Century


by U Kyaw Tun (UKT) (M.S., I.P.S.T., USA), and staff of Tun Institute of Learning (TIL). Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL  Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , http://www.softguide.net.mm , www.romabama.blogspot.com

index.htm | Top

Contents of this page

Nine Gods of 21st century
Back into prehistory and to geologic periods
The Burmese Mandala : {sa.Da.ba.wa.}
Social aspects
Preparations for the ceremony
Fabrication of a Mini-Monastery
Setting up the Alter
Buddha and Eight Arahats
The Planets : the term "Gods of the Planets" is misleading
Who are the Five Great Gods? : UKT's conjecture based inter-language study
Five Great Gods and now nine
A Social Evening
A Long Night
Ceremony beings

UKT notes

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02.1 Nine Gods of 21st century

-- by UKT, 050106, 130123

The following account was based on the Nine-God {Bu.ra:ko:hsu} Puja {pu-zau-pw:} performed at my home at 35 Thantadalan, Sanchaung, Yangon, Myanmarpr, on the evening of 2005 Jan 4th which extended into the early morning of the 5th. Though it is not usual for my family to do this puja, I did this with the sole aim of preparing this paper on the practice current at the end of the 20th century.

Since, I am using my old home as a research centre of TIL and a teaching institution, this puja is done for the sole purpose of writing this paper, and of course for a social evening. Unlike other communities such as the Christians with their Sunday church services, the Bur-Myan Buddhists do not have social meets where boys can meet girls.

This aspect of the culture has been overlooked by Buddhist elders who looked down on such events as contrary to Theravada Buddhism. Another such event is the annual Nat puja performed in the individual homes quite common in my childhood days. When such social events are being derisively looked upon, it results in direct attack on the very basis of the Bur-Myan culture.

Call it animistic if you will, but I hold such practices extended back into history of the Burmese ethnic group to Pagan of Anawrahta, and possibly into the pre-history of Tib-Myan speaking peoples of the Indian subcontinent extending into Myanmar.

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Back into prehistory and to geologic periods

The geography of Myanmarpr is quite unique which is the result of plate tectonics or shifting of the earth crust of the geologic Permian period. The land of Myanmarpr might even be the original home of the Homo erectus. I base my assumption on the fossil findings of Pondaung-Ponnya range, and on cave drawings of the prehistoric man in the Padalin caves. Our peoples might never have been the immigrants from anywhere, but have been evolving in the very same place.
See Geography & Geology -- geo-indx.htm (link check 130201), and
Prehistory -- prehist-indx.htm (link check 130201)

The Permian is a geologic period and system which extends from 298.9 0.2 to 252.2 0.5 (Million years) or about 300 million-years ago. [300x106 yrs.]. Man has not appeared on Earth. Most of the life forms including the dinosaurs had die at the end of the Permian period. This event is known as the Permian-Triassic Extinction. 

The world at the time was dominated by a single supercontinent known as Pangaea, surrounded by a global ocean called Panthalassa. The extensive rainforests of the Carboniferous period had disappeared, leaving behind vast regions of arid desert within the continental interior. Reptiles, who could better cope with these dryer conditions, rose to dominance in lieu of their amphibian ancestors.

An example of an amphibian disappearing in our time is the {r-poat-ing} of the Shan State, and the small green tree frog, Rana chalconota (species identification chk needed), which were very abundant when we were young. Those who would like to go more into this, see NEW COUNTRY RECORDS AND RANGE EXTENSIONS FOR MYANMAR AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES, by G. O. U. Wogan, J.V. Vindum, J.A. Wilkinson, M.S. Koo, J.B. Slowinski, Htun Win, Thin Thin, Sai Wunna Kyi, San Lwin Oo, Kyi Soe Lwin and Awan Khwi Shein, in Hamadryad Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 83 96, 2008. http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/Herpetology/myanmar/PDFS/Wogan%20et%20al%202008.pdf 130102


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The Burmese Mandala {sa.Da.ba.wa.}

See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandala 130123

I now hold that the Myanmar script has links to the Vedic -- not to the modern Hinduism of Bhagavagita, nor to the Buddhism of the Asoka period. I opine that the origin of the Myanmar akshara, based on the circularly rounded shape, is the basis of the secret Mandalas of the ancient peoples. The Bur-Myan {sa.Da.ba.wa. ing:} is probably akin to the "writings" found in the ruins of ancient cities of Indus-Saraswati basin, such as Harapa and Mohenjodaro.

The circularly rounded shape in Myanmar script is unique among the scripts of the world and is not found in the hieroglyphics of the Nile valley, nor in the cuneiform of the Euphrates-Tigris. Of course since it still assumed that the Harapans of the Indus-Saraswati valley were without writing -- illiterate even though they could build larger cities than those of the Nile or Euphrates-Tigris -- there is no comparison with the Myanmar script.

The culture of the ancients of Chindwin-Irrawaddy valley had been summarily ignored by the Western scholars. They had even doubted the antiquity of the Pyus and dismissed the records of Myanmarpr such as the Glass Palace Chronicle, and had called our people no better than the wild tribes of the mountains.

The circularly rounded shape is not found even in Prakrit (or Pali) script of the Asoka pillars. Yet there is a 33% commonality between the Asokan and the Myanmar script. I hold that the circularly rounded shape is a derivative of secret writings, exemplified the {sa.Da.ba.wa. ing:} and picture-{ing:} which are actually  Mandalas of Myanmarpr. The {sa.Da.ba.wa. ing:} gives an idea -- the idea of perfection of the circle, and is an ideograph. Now lets see the possible connection to the Nine-god puja where the alter layouts are in the form of Mandalas.

It seems that the ancients recognized the relationships of the square, the triangle, and the circle. Because of this, they have used the three-dimensional mandala in building pyramids and stupas. In terms of numbers, the number 60 seems to be the most important, and the basis of 60, the number 3 is used in the Nine-God Puja.

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Social aspects

Though it was quite common for the Nine-god puja to be held in individual homes in the early 1930s, in villages and small towns, such as Kungyangon in Hanthawaddy District where I was born, this practice is slowly dying out -- at least in Yangon. I am now in my late 70's, and it was the second time that I have seen it done at home: the first time in 1944 in my parents' home in Kungyangon, and this second time, this time, in my own home in Yangon. On my wife's side, my wife's eldest sister who is 88 and who is living with us, said it was the second that she had seen it done in the home where she is living.

The first time in my home in Kungyangon -- I was still a child before the age of 10 - was also done as a research at the instigation of U Aung Zan, one of the early movie-directors of A1-Films. I called him BaBaGyi because he was older than my parents. It was during WWII, and after Burma got her independence from Japan who had driven out the British from the country. U Aung Zan and his wife Daw Than Nyunt, and ULayGyi U Aung Din (the original boycotter #4 - Maung Aung Din on the stone pillar at the Saturday-corner of Shwdagon Pagoda platform) were our frequent house-guests. Eventually, ULayGyi got married to one of my mother's ex-students, Daw Hla Myint of South-shore quarter.

Our home was marked as that of the groom, and we had a plethora of the groom's guests: Thakin Mya, Deedoke U Ba Cho, Sayagyi Thakin Kodaw Mhyeing, and Thakhin Nyi Lay. U Aung Zan and U Aung Din, especially U Aung Din, chided my father for bringing me up without traditional Burmese values. Thus the Puja was held as an excuse to educate me, but in actuality trying to form a Asia-Lu-Ng Asi-a-yoan with my mother as one of the main organizers. When it was formed, my uncle U Ba Thaung became the first secretary.

It now appears that the Thakhin politicians were testing the waters to form cells for resistance against the Japanese! It was by sheer luck that we came out the WWII alive and unscathed.

There are several reasons why the Nine-god puja is dying out.

The first: it is expensive.

The second: because it is held to be out of line with the Theravada Buddhism that is prevalent in Myanmar. It is taken to be a Hindu puja of Skt-Dev speaking Brahmin-Poannas {brah~ma.Na. poaN~Na:}. However, I now hold that it was of Vedic origin which probably was the original religion of Tib-Bur (Tibeto-Burman) speakers the original inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent extending into the present-day Myanmarpr.

The third: the puja-masters or masters are losing touch with the tradition and innovating on mere whims and fancies just to please their clients who themselves are equally ignorant of the traditions.

To perform this second puja of 2005, I had to engage a professional puja-master. To my horror I found that the procedure he followed was quite different from what Dr. HtinAung had described. I have with me a book on the procedure of this puja which was written and published in 1954 by a small private press: Nine-God Puja Procedure or {Bu.ra:ko:hsu pu-zau-n:} (in Burmese) by Thiri Maha Pandait U Sein Pe, {pi.Ta.kat sa-oap nhing. in-kn: pa.raik~hka.ra hseing}, Yangon 1954. The procedure given by U Sein Pe was in general agreement with what was described by Dr. HtinAung.

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Preparations for the ceremony

Though Dr. Htin Aung had stated that the ceremony of the Nine Gods {Bu.ra: ko:hsu} is usually held when there is sickness in the house, it is not my family practice. As of old, the ceremony begins with the issue of invitations by my daughter and myself to relations and friends. And since I have lived in the same street in modern Yangon for well over half a century, and in the case of my wife's family, for more than 90 years, we have to extend the invitation to the whole street and to some of my friends who lived in other parts of Yangon. Sad to say, when this puja was held, my wife had passed away exactly one month ago, on the 5th of December 2004. The puja-master who we had engaged was Dagon Saya Win of Kyundawlan, Sanchaung. He was a professional -- the 'Saya of the Nine-Gods Ceremony'.

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Fabrication of a Mini-monastery

The Puja-master had a ready-made miniature monastery of wood in his house, but since we would like to record how a mini-monastery was made from banana stem, we had requested him to make one for this occasion. Of course, the monastery would be used only once. And after the ceremony was over, the miniature monastery with the votive flowers, paper-flags, etc. would be floated down the river. See (ch02-21-shrine.htm) how a miniature monastery was made from banana stem.

It takes about three hours to construct a disposable mini-monastery. The material used is banana-stem which is a leaf-sheath bundle. These leaf-sheaths can be peeled off until you come to the very centre which can be eaten. Wild banana stems are a source of food and water for travellers among the mountains in northern Burma. Peeling a banana stem is like peeling an onion, however the onion has no centre part. Bur-Myan term for such a miniature monastery -- a doll-house -- is {kyaung:hsaung}. It represents the abode of the Buddha or a nat. The real one is {kyaung:}.

The only kind of banana tree suitable for such a construction is {ra.hkeing nghak-pyau:}. The plant must be mature but young (i.e. it must not have borne fruit). The reason is not religious, but for ease of construction.

Left: The assistant, U Tin Aung cutting a banana plant.
Right: Saya Win inspecting the stem for peeling off the leaf-sheaths, and some leaf-sheets which had been peeled off.


Of course, the first step is the construction of the base. Notice how the ends are joined together -- with a pin made from bamboo.

Then, the pillars. Notice how a pillar is fixed to the base -- of course, with a longer bamboo pin.

Left: The central pillars to support the crown (and the roof if there is to be one) are fixed.
Right: Decorative pieces are made. Depending upon the artistic skill of the constructor, there is no end to how beautiful these pieces could be made.

Left: A voila, the mini-monastery is complete! And how fresh it looks and how fresh it smells.
Right: Buddha is attended by his disciples.

Note: There must be only one Arahat, Shin Ananda, seated right in front of the Buddha. In the above photograph, there were two - an unofficial practice innovated by Saya Win which I am sure would be disapproved by traditional Puja masters.

As stated above, the monastery would be used only for one evening, and when the ceremony was over in the morning, the miniature monastery with the votive flowers, paper-flags, etc. would be floated down the river the next morning. Of course, the golden images would not be disposed off.

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Setting up the Alter

The Puja-master had come to our house in the morning to construct a disposable banana-stem mini-monastery. The mini-monastery was ready, but left covered with a damp-cloth to prevent the banana pieces from drying out.

In the early evening the Puja-master came with the necessary paper umbrellas, paper flag-poles with streamers, and a slew of paraphernalia. All other items made for the ceremony are made to scale: little umbrellas, little flag-poles with miniature streamers, and little prayer-flags. In the front-room, he sets up the monastery that he had made in the morning.

Left: multicolored Sasana flag, white paper fan, cylindrical streamer, and white flag printed with figures.
Middle: triangular flag, and white and red umbrellas.
Right: Main white umbrellas for Buddha only.

streamers -- Streamers are of two kinds: {tn-hkwun} and . U Hoke Sein gave the meanings as:
{tn-hkwun} -- a long cylindrical streamer -- p.326
{koak~ka:} -- a paper streamer -- p.30

Sasana flag -- It is an innovation of the second half of the 20th century. It was unknown at the first time when this puja was held in my home.


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Buddha and Eight Arahats

The seating arrangements for the invited guests, from Buddha and his Arahats, through Mother Goddesses, down to the Planets are as important as in the modern diplomatic protocol. Who sits on the right-side of the Buddha, etc. can be as important as in an embassy reception or at the sessions of the United Nations. The protocol must be strictly observed. For the modern diplomatic protocol, see: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/99260.pdf 130201

The correct set-up is the one on the left. The right configuration is the one set-up by Saya Win at our house is an aberration because the corners are unprotected.

The monastery is setup in the front room. However, in modern Yangon where living space is at premium, the monastery may be facing in any direction, not necessarily due west as was described by Dr. Htin Aung. On the present occasion, the monastery was facing North.

Though the cardinal points are of the utmost importance in the ceremony, the modern day Burmese people have to do away with this important point. Of course, the audience will be facing the monastery.

The Puja-master then sets up the images  he has brought with him. Right in the centre of the monastery he places the image of the Buddha, and, he places the images of eight of his disciples, all Arahats, about the monastery with their faces turned towards the Buddha. In all cases, Puja-master is always hampered by lack of space -- an evil of modern times.

The particular set up by the Puja master at my own home in Yangon in Jan 2005 was an aberration because it leaves the corners unprotected:

Sariputta, the Chief Disciple of the Right, {lak-ya-rn}, next in wisdom to Buddha himself, was accompanied by Revata.

Moggallana, the Chief Disciple of the Left, {lak-w:rn} , next in supernatural powers to Buddha himself, was accompanied by Gavampati.

UKT: The terms "Left" & "Right" are always troublesome because the reference point may be you - the observer - or the Buddha. Note, the full terms are: "Chief Disciple of the Right", and "Chief Disciple of the Left" -- "of the Buddha" is clearly indicated:

{lak-ya-rn} - n. Buddha's disciple-arahat who sits on the right-flank of the Buddha. -- MED2006-444.

{lak-w:rn} - n. Buddha's disciple-arahat who sits on the left-flank of the Buddha. -- MED2006-446.

What's so important about the Right-Hand and the Left-Hand? If you think of the Swastika -- the left-handed one of the Nazis and the right-handed one of the ancient "Aryans", you will see there is a deeper meaning to the words Right-Hand and the Left-Hand.

An ordinary translator who knows only the surface meanings of the words in the languages that he is handling, but not the deeper ones, would lead the reader to wrong feelings.

Reading the Buddhist texts translated from Pali (Pali that was written in Sri Lanka -- not the Pali of Magadha) would give us what can amount to half-truths, when Western Christian translators are doing the work! I hope Dr. HtinAung had looked into the Bur-Myan sources written before the British incursion into our country. -- UKT130202

Kodanna, was one of the eight Brahmin astrologers who had invited to see the new born Prince Siddhatha.

Question: How do we know that Kodanna was a Brahmin-Poanna? Just because he was an astrologer did not make him a Brahmin-Poanna.-- UKT130202

All the elder astrologers predicted that the new born baby would either become a universal monarch or a buddha, but Kodanna the youngest predicted that the new born baby would surely become a buddha and not a universal monarch.

To be the foremost disciple of the new buddha, Kodanna, became a recluse and waited for the prince to attain buddhaship. Kodanna was one of the 'Five Recluses' to whom the Buddha preached the First Sermon. Kondanna saw the truth of the natural law discovered by the Buddha -- the Principle of Mental Suffering & the accompanying three other principles. He was counted as the first member of the Buddhist Monastic Order.

The traditional commentary usually concluded "from that time, there were two Arahantas (Arahats)" -- implying of course that the Buddha was the first. My co-brother, SarpBaikMhun U Aye Maung, pointed out this passage to me -- that the Buddha and all the Arahats are equal in knowledge of liberation. The only distinction the Buddha had over others was being the {zi.na.} [UHS-PMD0415] - the originator. In the set-up, Kodanna was placed by the side of Rahula (Prince Siddhatha's own son).

Ananda was a cousin and the attendant of the Buddha. Though he knew all the teachings of the Buddha, he was still not an Arahat at the time of Buddha's death. When Ananda realised that Buddha's final hour had come, he was human enough to cry like a child until the Buddha consoled him. Ananda was now accompanied by Upali in the set-up.


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The Planets

UKT 130202:
The term "Gods of the Planets" is not wholly correct. They are neither deva-gods nor demon-asuras. They are luminaries given human-forms. It is a case of anthropomorphism - a literary device for story-telling. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphism 130202 from which the following is taken:
   "Anthropomorphism or personification is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to other animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid-1700s. [1] [2] Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (nthrōpos ), "human" and μορφή (morphē), "shape" or "form"."

Because of anthropomorphism applied, instead of saying Sunday-Planet, I will say Planet-Sunday, to be inline with Bur-Myan usage. English speakers do not realize this that in their usage of a two-letter word the first is the adjective and the second the noun being described: Bur-Myan usage is opposite. Thus in my usage, Planet-Sunday is a planet that rules Sunday, Planet-Monday is a planet that rules Monday, etc.

After placing the images of the above-mentioned Arahats in position, the Puja-master sets up the figures of the nine Planets or navagraha. Katu or Kate {kait} (rhyming with <maid>) as pronounced by the Burmese, being the king of all the Planets, is surrounded by the eight other Planets. 

Just as the gods of Hindu mythology ride on particular animals as their 'vehicles', the nine Bur-Myan Planets have their own animal vehicles.

1. Planet-Sunday
rides a Galon {ga.Loan}, who is the eternal enemy of the Naga {na.ga:}.

2. Planet-Monday
rides a tiger {kya:}.

3. Planet-Tuesday
rides a lion {hkrn~.}.

4. Planet-Wednesday
rides a tusked-elephant {hsing}.

5. Planet-Rahu
rides a tuskless elephant {heing:}.

6. Planet-Thursday
rides a mouse {krwak}.

7. Planet-Friday
rides a guinea pig {pu:}.

8. Planet-Saturday-planet
rides a Naga {na.ga:}.

9. King Planet-Kait
rides on an 'Animal of Five Beauties', {pyi-sa.ru-pa.} a composite. Being a composite the result of the artist's conception, it need should not be described as "mythical". It is not a mythical animal".

The Puja-master places all the Planets facing the Buddha. Due to the lack of space, they are set in a matrix of 3x3 on the front-left side of the alter.

The Puja-masters, with only the knowledge of their trade, are dying out. In the case of this Puja-master, you can see how much he valued his Planets by the amount of gold leaves he had applied on them so that you can hardly make out the form of their vehicles. The Planets are truly their providers!

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Who are the Five Great Gods?

Caveat: The following is my conjecture based on my study of languages: Skt-Dev, Mon-Myan, Pali-Myan, & Bur-Myan. My position as of today, 130202, may change as I get more input from my peers and as my study progresses.

Who are the Five Great Gods? I propose to solve this problem as follows:

#1. Goddess Thurathati  {u-ra~a.ti} on a {hn~a}.
She is a Mother-goddess, {m-dau}. So she should be acknowledge as Mother-Goddess {m-tau} and not as a God or a Deva {d-wa.}. Her mount is a Hamsa {hn~a} --  a yellow water-fowl that flies and nests in the Burmese-Himalaya, and forages in the the Chindwin river and its tributaries. The bird should not be mistaken for the Indian species.

#2. Goddess Sandi  {sn~i} on a {hkrn~.} 'lion'.
She should not be addressed as a God or a Deva {d-wa.}.

#3. God Param-Thwa  {pa.ra.m-wa} on a bull. Here is an issue.
The Hindu god that rides a bull -- not a castrated ox -- is Shiva {i-wa.}. How come the #3 is {pa.ra.m-wa} and not {i-wa.}? Has he taken over {wa}?. From {wa} we can get to {waa.} or {wa:.} which is स्वः  sva. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayatri_mantra 130115

If my conjecture is right, then #3, is the Great Mother-Goddess herself whose position has been usurped by the later-comer Shiva.

#4. God Maha-Peinne  {ma.ha-pain~n:} on a mouse.
The Hindu god that rides a mouse is Ganesha. But I still cannot get the connection between the Bur-Myan name {ma.ha-pain~n:}Ganesha  गणेश gaṇeśa = ग ण े श --> {ga.N-sha.}. The closing sound is dental-hissing-fricative /ʃ/ which is not present in Bur-Myan. The name is Sanskrit.
   Next, proceeding from Pal-Myan, we know that {ma.ha} means 'great', but what is {pain~n:} ?  We note that, according to Hindu stories, Ganesha has lost one of his tusk, i.e., he has only one tusk. If only he had no tusk, his head would be that of an [heing:} and not a {hsing}. I wait for input from my peers. -- UKT130202 .

#5. God Gawra-manta  {Gau:ra.mn~ta.} on a {ga.Loan}. See MYN/ ghoramanta.htm (temp lnk chk on 130202.) I do not have time to do a thorough revision for this edition. My only observation is the God-on-Galon as depicted by U Sein Pe reminds me of Hindus worshiping the rising Sun in the morning and reciting the Gayatri Mantra.

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Five Great Gods and now nine

Then the Puja-master sets up his last group of figures. They are the Five Great Gods (note: none of them has weapons in their hands), namely:

1. Mother-Goddess Thurathati  {m-tau} {u-ra~a.ti} on a {hn~a}-bird.


2. Mother-Goddess Sandi  {m-tau} {sn~i} on a {hkrn~.} 'lion'.


3. God Param-Thwa  {pa.ra.m-wa} on a bull.


4. God Maha-Peinne  {ma.ha-pain~n:} on a mouse.


5. God
{Gau:ra.mn~ta.} on a {ga.Loan}.


According to Dr. Htin Aung, all these goddesses and gods are Hindu in origin. If they were, they, except for Saraswati, would be holding weapons. You may argue that since they are worshipping the Buddha, they might have come without weapons.

Burmese Buddhists, unlike the Hindus regard the goddess in their own rights and not as the consort of some other god. Thurathati to the Hindu is goddess Saraswati (who is probably the goddess of the "vowel" {tha.ra.} in speech or language). Sandi is goddess Chandi, Paramay-thwa is Siva himself; Maha-Peinne is the Burmese name for Ganesh, the elephant-headed god and Gawra-manta (who is probably not of Hindu origin.). Though the eight Arahats, and the nine gods of the planets, are in attitude of worship, the gods were not, and at least the gods were not even facing the Buddha. However, this might just be an aberration of a single puja-master.

Saya Win insisted that the four guardian gods of the world known as {sa.tu.ma.ha-ra-za} should also be included in the Puja. Since their role is to guard the world they are also known as Loka Palas. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lokapala 130202.

Thus I have named them Pala East, Pala South, Pala West, & Pala North.

Skt-Dev for "guardian" is पालक  pālaka

1. Pala East {Da.ta.raT-Hta.} -- of the eastern side of Mount Meru

2. Pala South {wi.ru-pak~hka.} -- of the southern side of Mount Meru

3. Pala West {wi.ru-Lha.ka.} -- of the western side of Mount Meru

4. Pala North {ku.we-ra.} -- of the northern side of Mount Meru

Due to the lack of space, they were set on the same table but on the right-hand side of the little monastery.

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  Left: Images are placed.

Right: The alter is almost ready


Now, that all the figures had been set in their own places, it was time to set up flowers and fruits.

  The complete altar -- what the guests would see. Note that the fruits are just ornaments at this stage. They would be peeled and made ready to be "eaten" with cooked rice only at dawn -- the next morning.  

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Burmese-Buddhist pujas, unlike the Hindu and Mahayana pujas, are almost free of music. At the most, there would be blowing of conch shell at the beginning of an incantation, and the striking of a triangular brass gong.

The principal offerings are food: {hswum:} to the Buddha and his disciples and {groh-sa} to the Planets and {nt sa} to the Nats. The food offered to the three parties might be the same, but Bur-Myan use different terms:
to the Buddha and monks -- {hswum:kp}/ {hswum:kyw:}
to the Planets -- {groh-sa kyw:}
to the Nats -- {nt-sa kyw:}. This term is used only in conjunction with Nine-god puja. However, if the Nat is the principal to which the food is offered the term changes to {nt-ting}.
to the humans -- {hta.ming:kyw:}
to the dogs -- {hkw:sa kyw:}. The Bur-Myan term {sa} from {a.sa} literally means 'feed', such as 'animal feed'. The same term is used for the Nats and Planets.
See how the offerings are made.

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A Social Evening

  The guests are treated to either light refreshments or to a dinner. There is no music to entertain the guests. On this occasion, the guests were treated to rice-noodle chicken soup {kra hsan chak} -- almost a full dinner.  

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A Long Night

A long night for the Puja-master and his assistants. While one was doing the rites, the others took rest. Of course, there were those who would meditate while listening to the incantations.

  Left: One of the Puja-masters striking the triangular gong at the end of an incantation.

Right upper: A devout member of the family meditates.

Right lower: A break for another Puja-master.



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Ceremony begins

On the roof of the mini-monastery there fly miniature prayer-flags and streamers. The Puja-master now places flower-pots in position. He then places in position the alms-bowl, etc. The flower-pots contain three kinds of flowers each, but the alm-bowls are empty. Finally he sets up candles lights them. He then starts to recite extracts from Buddhist texts and offers special prayers on behalf of the household.

By this time the guests have arrived. They kneel before the monastery and make obeisance. The guests are served with light refreshments: in villages pickled tea and plain tea, in towns ice-cream and cakes. It is a social occasion and the guests chat and laugh. At about nine or ten o'clock the guests leave, the inmates retire to their bedrooms, and the Puja-master and his assistants are left alone in the room, still chanting extracts from the scriptures. At midnight the Puja-masters, too, goes to sleep in the room.

About an hour before dawn the inmates get up and prepare the food to be offered to the Nine Gods. Three kinds of fruit (for the present occasion, nine), usually banana, coco-nut, and plum, and three kinds of jam are kept ready.

The rice to be offered to the Buddha and the Arahats is supposed to be cooked in an earthen pot which has never been used before, and the rice to be offered to the gods of the planets is supposed to be cooked separately in another new earthen pot, however, for the present ocassion, the Puja-master just asked us to cook as usual -- in the same way that the rice is cooked for the family. The reason is simple: earthen ware is becoming less common in modern Yangon.

At dawn, the alms-bowl before the Buddha and the Arahats and the leaf-bowls before the Great Gods and the Planets are filled with cooked rice, fruits, and jams. The Puja-master first chants some more extracts from Buddhist texts and offers the alms-food to the Buddha and the Arahats.

Then he invokes the Planets to come and accept the food. He recites a particular formula of invocation for each Planet, in the following order: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Thursday, Rahu, Friday. And then King-Planet Kait. [Note: Usually most people followed the easy way out and spell the word "Kait" as "Kate" -- with the silent "e" at the end. This can be disastrous sometimes, and the foreigner can mis-pronounce it as "k-ti".]

After the Planets have been invoked, the Puja-master remains silent for a few minutes and then he recites the formula of dispersal. Again for each Planet a particular formula is used, but the order is changed.

The Planets are feared by the Burmese, particularly the Malefics: Sunday, Tuesday, Saturday, and Rahu. The Benefics, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, are also feared but to a lesser degree. King-Planet Kait is considered to be the most powerful and a Benefic. Thus the four Malefics are dispersed first, then the four Benefics, and finally the Kait Planet. The formula of dispersal is really a formula of expulsion or exorcism. And with it the ceremony closes.

In the ceremony no special prayers or scriptures are prescribed for the worship and offering of alms-food to the Buddha and the eight Arahats. The Puja-master chooses the prayers and the scriptures at his discretion, but certain set formulas of worship and offering for the nine Planets are prescribed, and the Puja-master must recite those particular formulas. The Buddha and the Arahats are never invoked nor dispersed, but the Gods and the Planets are not only invoked but carefully dispersed.

The present day Burmese do not bother about the Nine-God Puja anymore. And, whether the cult of the Nine Planets was superimposed on existing native cults or otherwise, is at present a moot point. It was definitely non-Buddhist -- so maintain those who consider themselves to be true Theravada-Buddhists. For a non-Buddhist cult to survive it was necessary to give it a colouring of Buddhism, and also to admit that the Gods and Planets were inferior to the Buddha. The cult of the Nine Planets had to bow to the new order of things and is dying out.

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