Nat, 19th century
Wood, paint, horsehair and metal 54 in. x 23 in. x 56 in. (137.16 cm x 58.42 cm x 142.24 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift from Doris Duke's Southeast Asian Art Collection2003.53.5
The people of Burma practice Theravada Buddhism and pro- pitiate indigenous spirits or nat, a word related to the Sanskrit word for “lord.” The thirty-seven nat are nature spirits tied to specific locations or drawn from legendary or actual historical personages. They are believed to reside on Mount Popa near Bagan and are known to be volatile and easily offended.
In the 11th century, King Anawrahta established Buddhism as the national religion and banned nat worship, but he soon realized he was alienating the people from the very religion he promoted. Rescinding his order, he allowed images of the nat to be placed in shrines on Buddhist temple grounds; he then shrewdly identified the Buddha as the supreme nat. Bud- dhism’s success outside of India, where the Buddha was born in the 5th century bce, is due in part to this willingness to absorb local, pre-existing traditions.
This nat represents one figure in this animistic pantheon that retains its popularity in Myanmar (Burma) to this day. Nat may be identified by various attributes, and this Nat likely depicts Aung-zwa-ma-gyi, a late 12th-century soldier in the royal army of Bagan, who is typically shown in uniform and depicted on a white horse.