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Nathlaung Kyaung (နတ်လှောင်ကျောင်း)

Burmese. ‘Shrine Confining Nats or ‘Monastery Holding Spirits’. Name of a Hindu temple in Bagan dedicated to the god Vishnu and located inside the city walls of Old Bagan. Some historians believe it is the oldest temple in Bagan and that is was built in 931 AD during the reign of King Taungthugyi Min, more than a century before Theravada Buddhism came to Pagan following the conquest of Thaton in 1057 AD, though others date this temple to the 11th century and claim it was constructed during the reign of King Anawrahta (fig.). Archaeological evidence suggests that the square brick temple building seen today was once the core of a much larger complex with surrounding galleries, yet much of the original structures have over time have crumbled and disappeared. The temple originally contained free-standing images of Vishnu, as well as bas-relief of this deity on each of the four sides, while the outside walls once contained statues of the 10 avatars of Vishnu, including of the Sakyamuni Buddha, though only seven remain today. The temple has an almost cube-like form, i.e. a square layout with steep rising terraces, which is topped with a dome and a crumbled sikhara-like spire (fig.). The name of this temple refers to a time when King Anawrahta allegedly tried to banish nat worship in his kingdom. He is said to have confiscated all non-Buddhist religious images, including indigenous nats and Hindu devas, and ordered them to be placed in this shrine as part of an effort to institute pure Theravada Buddhism during his reign. However, the king eventually gave in to the cult, which resulted in the standardization of a pantheon of 37 principal nats, whose images were later placed in a hall at Shwezigon Phaya (fig.).