- Mount Popa
Elevation 1,518 m (4,980 ft) Prominence 1,150 m (3,773 ft) Location Location Burma Coordinates Geology Type Stratovolcano Last eruption 442 BCE Climbing Easiest route Hike
Mount Popa (Burmese: ပုပ္ပားတောင်; MLCTS: puppa: taung; pronounced [pòupá tàuɴ]) is a volcano 1518 metres (4981 feet) above sea level, and located in central Burma (Myanmar) about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Bagan (alt: Pagan) in the Pegu Range. It can be seen from the River Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) as far away as 60 km (37 mi) in clear weather. Mount Popa is perhaps best known for the nearby stunningly picturesque Popa Taungkalat monastery atop an outcrop. The Popa Taungkalat (Taung Kalat) Shrine is home to 37 Mahagiri Nats, or spirits. Statues depicting the Nats are at the base of the Shrine.
The main edifice of the volcano is composed of basalt and basaltic andesite lava flows, along with pyroclastic deposits and scoriaceous material, originating from strombolian eruptions which are thought to have made up the later stages of the volcano's growth. The volcano also contains a 1.6 km (0.99 mi) wide and 0.85 km (0.53 mi) deep caldera that is breached to the northwest and is thought to have formed due to failure of the volcano's slopes. A 3 km3 (0.72 cu mi) debris avalanche can be found to the north of the caldera's breach. It covers an area of 27 km2 (10 sq mi).
Southwest of Mount Popa is Taung Kalat (pedestal hill), a 737 metre (2,417 ft) sheer-sided volcanic plug. A Buddhist monastery is located at the summit of Taung Kalat. At one time, the Buddhist hermit U Khandi maintained the stairway of 777 steps to the summit of Taung Kalat. The Taung Kalat pedestal hill is sometimes itself called Mount Popa and given that Mount Popa is the name of the actual volcano that caused the creation of the volcanic plug, to avoid confusion, the volcano (with its crater blown open on one side) is generally called Taung Ma-gyi (mother hill). The volcanic crater itself is a mile in diameter.
From the top of Taung Kalat, one can enjoy a panoramic view. One can see the ancient city of Bagan; behind it to the north, the massive solitary conical peak of Taung Ma-gyi rises like Mount Fuji in Japan. There is a big caldera, 610 metres (2,000 ft) wide and 914 metres (3,000 ft) in depth so that from different directions the mountain takes different forms with more than one peak. The surrounding areas are arid, but the Mt Popa area has over 200 springs and streams. It is therefore likened to an oasis in the desert-like dry central zone of Burma. This means the surrounding landscape is characterized by prickly bushes and stunted trees as opposed to the lush forests and rivers Burma is famous for. Plenty of trees, flowering plants and herbs grow due to the fertile soil from the volcanic ash. Prominent among the fauna are Macaque monkeys that have become a tourist attraction on Taung Kalat.
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.
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. Brother and sister Mahagiri (Great Mountain) nats, from the kingdom of Tagaung at the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, sought refuge from King Thinligyaung of Bagan (344-387). Their wish was granted and they were enshrined on Mt Popa. Popa Medaw (Royal Mother of Popa), who according to legend was a flower-eating ogress called Me Wunna, 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.
Many Burmese pilgrims visit Mt Popa every year, especially at festival season on the full moon of Nayon (May/June) and the full moon of Nadaw (November/December). Local people from the foot of Mt Popa, at Kyaukpadaung (10-miles), go mass-hiking to the peak during December and also in April when the Myanmar new year called Thingyan festival is celebrated. Before King Anawrahta's time, hundreds of animals were sacrificed to the nats during festivals.
Burmese superstition says that on Mt Popa, one should not wear red or black or green or bring meat, especially pork, as it could offend the resident nats, although Byatta and his brother Byatwi were the only Muslims who had shipwrecked and landed in Burma.
It is now a designated nature reserve and national park. Nearby lies Kyetmauk Taung Reservoir that provides sufficient water for gardens and orchards producing jackfruit, banana, mango and papaya as well as flowering trees such as saga (Champac) and gant gaw (Mesua ferrea Linn). A pozzolan mill to supply material for the construction of Yeywa Dam on Myitnge River near Mandalay is in operation.
However, there are downsides to the development of the Mount Popa area. Tourism can be both a positive and negative factor for the economic and social development of the area. Since the mountain is so unique from the surrounding lands it attracts much attention from the Burmese citizens. There are many Burmese myths about the mountain, especially the one that said victory for any man who collected their army on the slopes of the mountain was guaranteed. The belief that victory can be guaranteed by visiting Mount Popa is interesting because it shows the cultural identification of life and prosperity with the mountain. The still current popularity of Mount Popa exemplifies the fact that Burmese people still rely heavily on ancient traditions in daily life. It is these ancient traditions that characterize the culture of the surrounding area and beyond. People travel great distances to assure their good luck into the coming years to Mount Popa, host to an immense annual festival which actually takes place in the temple atop the mountain.
The festival involves a transgender medium being possessed by a nat spirit which give him the ability to communicate between the nats and the people. It is these types of festivals, the type that are unique to the region but also incredibly important to the participants, that attracts tourists to Burma. The tourist business is booming in Burma, however this new source of income is not propelling the Burmese population to prosperity. The Burmese tourist trade is actually causing many problems in the country and assisting the military government oppress its people. One major problem of the tourist trade is the religious importance of Mount Popa is being exploited . In Burma the government is more focused on the expansion of tourism as opposed to the defense of cultural practices. There are no security measures in place to keep religious sites, like Mount Popa, away from the detrimental effects of tourism. It has even been asserted that the government turned to promoting tourism in order to fund the oppression of ethnic minorities. It is with the extra revenue that tourism brings that the military government is still able to fund its relocation and other projects.
Sites like Mount Popa are located on many websites describing the “must see” sights of Burma. The military junta is utilizing the novelty of the ceremonies being performed on Mount Popa to entice tourists to visit the religious site without protecting the sites and the local people from the effects of such an increase in tourism. The government has actually been accused of using forced labor in its efforts to promote tourism. However, while there are many negatives to the tourist trade, there are also many people living near Mount Popa who rely on both the religious pilgrims and the tourists to fulfill their economic wants. The town of Kyaukpadaung at the foot of Mount Popa builds its market place around the selling of flowers for worshipers, peanuts for the monkeys that live in the Mount Popa forests and souvenirs for the tourists. It is this double-edged sword that makes tourism so hard to stop in Burma. While the government funds its operations with such tourism it has also quickly become the livelihood of many of the people living near these tourist sites.
Macaque mother and child on Taung Kalat
- Burmese Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, p. 61. Printed in 1963.
- "Popa". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0705-08-.
- ^ a b "Popa: Summary". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0705-08-.
- ^ "Popa: Eruptive History". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0705-08-&volpage=erupt.
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- ^ a b c d Htin Aung, Maung "Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism", Oxford University Press: London, 1962.
- ^ a b Fay, Peter Ward "The Forgotten Army: India's Armed Struggle for Independence 1942-1945", University of Michigan Press: 1995.
- ^ a b Spiro, Melford E (1996). Burmese Spiritualism. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781560008828. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=yF69_7jFbisC&pg=PA114&lpg=PA114&dq=mount+popa&source=web&ots=jNh2TMjIhh&sig=AtWLfDb7Pn_ig-1JeHipuM2XIPo&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result#PPA109,M1. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- ^ Marshall, Andrew (2005-04-07). "Mount Popa Burma". TIMEasia. http://www.time.com/time/asia/2005/boa/boa_burma.html. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- ^ U Win Kyaw et al.. "Yeywa Hydropwer Project, an Overview". Vietnam National Commission on Large Dams. http://www.vncold.vn/Modules/CMS/Upload/13/Documents/YHPPEW.pdf. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- ^ “Time Asia Inc.”  copyright 2006. Last viewed Feb 9, 2009
- ^ a b c d e f Ed. Poku, Nana and David T. Graham "Redefining Security: Population Movements and National Security", Praeger Publishers, New York: 1998
- ^ Byrne, Denise "Surface Collection: Archaeological Travels in Southeast Asia", AltaMira Press, 2007
- The petrology and mineralogy of Mt. Popa Volcano and the nature of the late-Cenozoic Burma Volcanic Arc D Stephenson and T R Marshall, Journal of the Geological Society, July 1984
- WORLDWRX Mount Popa
- Wiki Travel entry on Mount Popa
- Britannica Article on Mount Popa
- Myanmar's Ministry of Ecotourism page
- Mt Popa Flickr photo pool
- Legend of the Mount Popa Evelina Rioukhina, Magazine UN Special, March 2003
- Ancient Burmese Fable from Mount Popa: Tiger in the Jungle
- Spiritual Land of Prayers and Pagodas Andrew Sinclair, New York Times, June 8, 1986
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