via Religions, 30 January 2024: In this paper by Iannone et al., an iconographic analysis of the Nat Yekan sacred water tank in Bagan reveals its dual role in the ancient Burmese capital’s water management system and spiritual life. Situated in the dry zone, the tank collected and sanctified rainwater, embodying kingly legitimacy and promises of fertility and prosperity through its auspicious symbols, deeply intertwined with water cosmology and Buddhist iconography.
Bagan, the imperial capital of the Burmese Empire (11th–14th centuries CE), was situated in what is now known as Myanmar’s “dry zone”, Southeast Asia’s most arid region. This setting necessitated the development of a subtle, yet extensive rain-fed water management system that channeled water from the Tuyin mountain range in the southeast to the walled and moated royal city in the northwest. Nat Yekan tank, a rock-cut reservoir located on the western edge of the summit of the Thetso–Taung portion of the Tuyin range, played significant utilitarian and spiritual roles in collecting, sacralizing, and then channeling waters down into the vast Mya Kan reservoir, which, in turn, fed the water management system that redistributed this valuable resource across the Bagan plain. The iconographic elements carved into the stone walls of the Nat Yekan tank attest to its spiritual importance and tie it to an ideological program of kingly legitimacy grounded in guarantees of fertility and prosperity for all.