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Myanmar's Nat Festival - and unofficial Trans Pride

Gemma Taylor | Taung Pyone, Mandalay, Myanmar

There are 37 nats, or spirits, that are worshipped in Myanmar. They have a little more cheek, and more vices, than the Buddhas. Most have met a violent death, and when they revisit earth via a medium (nat-kadaw), they must be kept happy. Apparently what keeps the Taung Pyone festival nats happy is chain smoking, dancing, and drinking their favourite tipple. Most nat-kadaws are gay or transgender. Gay relationships are illegal in Myanmar, so the festival offers kadaws a few days each year during which they are not just accepted but adored.

Leading up to August’s full moon, an estimated 250,000 visitors descend on Taung Pyone, a small rural village 20km north of Mandalay for the country’s largest nat festival.

Nats are spirits that have sat alongside Myanmar’s Buddhist culture, since the 11th century. There are 37 in total and they have a little more cheek, and more vices, than the Buddhas. Most have met a violent death, and when they revisit earth, they must be kept happy. Apparently what keeps these particular festival nats happy is chain smoking, dancing, and drinking their favourite tipple.

Most nat-kadaws are gay or transgender. Gay relationships are illegal in Myanmar, so the festival offers kadaws a few days each year during which they are not just accepted but adored. Each kadaw sets up a shrine for a week. With travel, food, board and glamorous outfit to pay for, the costs soon tot up. Luckily, offerings of food, alcohol, cigarettes and money are happily exchanged for blessings.

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