John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

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alone or in combination, the prepositions, conjunctions,
interjections, adverbs, etc., of the language. The mascu-
line {Apo) and feminine (Amd) genders are recognized,
but the noun radicals have no gfender whatever. For
example, an elephant is Szn, a word having no gender of
its own, and giving no indication of the gender of the
animal spoken of. A male elephant is Sindi, and a female
Sinma ; Kyetbo is a cock, and Kyetma a hen. Two
elephants are SinJmitsi or " elephant, two beasts of
burden." These generic affixes to substantives are a
peculiar feature of the language, and are often extremely
useful. Many mistakes occur about a boat (////) or a
cart {Hie); but HUiazin, "boat, one long thing,"
cannot easily be confounded with Hlctazi, " cart, one
thing for carrying." Again, a cheroot, Setaleik,
" tobacco, one rolled thing," is easily distinguishable from
a pill, Setalon, " medicine, one round thing."

The sequence of words and phrases in Burmese
sentences is such that one can very often, and is some-
times even obliged to, begin translating from the end of
a sentence and working back. This peculiar arrange-
ment of words in sentences, their reversal of their natural
order judged by our standard, is common to the other
two branches (the Chin-Lushai and the Kachin) of the
Thibeto-Burman family, in which respect it differs from
the other three families (M6n-Annam, Shan, and Karen)
of the polytonic class.

There can be no doubt that Burmese is a very poetic
language. It is one of the most fascinating languages
that an etymologist can conceive. Of course, as might
be expected, one finds many words and ideas clearly
derived from India, as, for example, Gytm, " wheat,"
Lelan, " an auction," Zat, " race, birth - story," Sadi,
" birthplace," Bilai, "a western country," clearly identical
with the Indian words Gihoii, Lelan, J at, Sadi, and
IValayai. The strong desire to have obsequies performed
by sons or daughters is likewise a remnant of Upper
Indian custom.

A vast number of words and phrases in ordinary



everyday use are full of beauty, or of suggestion. One's
birthplace {Cketmyok) is the place where " the navel-cord
is buried." Youth [Lulin, pronounced Nalin) is " the
dawn of manhood." A gun [T/idnal) is "the spirit of
death," while a percussion-cap {^Ngayemi) is " hell fire."
A mischief maker i^Kalauksati) is " a bell clapper." A
pensioned official {Anyeinsa) " eats repose," and one
who lives at ease without requiring to work for a liveli-
hood (Taingsa) is said to "sit and eat." To make a
mental estimate of any one's character [Akekatthe] is
"to assess the alloy." To ruin a man is "to break his
rice pot." To be annoyed by hearing unpleasant news
is "to feel it bitter in one's ear," while pleasant news are
" sweet in the ear." The soloist or leader of a chorus
(Thansondaing) is he "who gives the warp in (weaving
a) song," while the chorus furnishes the woof and plies
the shuttles. A lenient magistrate writes " with a soft
quill pen," while the severe judge uses " a hard quill."
The late twilight, " when two brothers meeting can scarce
recognize each other," is succeeded by the time " when
one cannot see the interstices between one's fingers " ;
and this is followed by the "utter darkness." From
8 to lo p.m. is "bachelors' courting time" ; about 9 p.m.
is "when footsteps are noiseless"; and after that is "when
youths return from courting." Death is merely " depar-
ture," and a funeral [Mathd) is neither more nor less than
an "unpleasant" ceremony.

Place-names offer almost equal attraction to the etymo-
logist. The vast majority of towns, villages, and hamlets
are named either after physical features of the country or
other natural objects, and especially after trees. Then
follow names arising out of special occurrences which
have happened locally. Thus Sagaing, a corruption of
Sitkaing, is so called from the raft of the two princes who
founded the city having there been caught in " the branch
of a Sit tree" [Aldizzia p7'Ocera),2iCQ.or(\\ng to the legend.

Villages abound with names like Tantabin, " one toddy
palm," Nyaunglebin, " four Fic2is trees," Zibinhla, " beau-
tiful jujube tree," Kyungon, "teak knoll," or Letpangon,
"cotton-tree knoll." Magwe and Myitkyo both mean " the
bend of the river," while Myitkyina is " near the great



river." Chaungzauk is " the steep bank of a stream," and
Kanbyo stands " where the river bank has fallen in."
Magyilaha is " the tamarind plain," and Kyatpyin " the
narrow plain." Toungoo is Taungngu, " the spur of the
hill," while Shwegyin is "the gold sifting" town. Myohla
is *' the fair city," Kyaukse " the stone weir," Moksobo
" the hunter's cooking pot," and Hngetthaik "the bird's
nest." Taungnyo is " the brown hill," Kyauktalon " the
one rock " village, and Sinthe " where the elephant died."
At Yedashe traces can still be seen of " the long embank-
ment " to which the town owes its name ; Akyab, the
chief town of Arakan, is only known to the Burmese as
Sittwemyo, " the city on the battlefield " ; and its
northern suburb Satyogya, corrupted by the English into
Cheerogia, is " where the stag shed its antlers." The
town of Zalon has some connexion with " a large bowl " ;
while the town of Bhamo is a corruption of Bamaw, " the
village of the earthenware water pot," derived from two
Shan words. Ban, "a village," and Maw, "a chatty, or
earthen water pot." In addition to its interesting and
important geographical position, Bhamo has the unique
peculiarity of being practically a Chinese town, though
bearing a Shan name, and located in Burmese territory.

In conversation and everyday language the use of
rhyming increments having no really definite meaning is
frequent. Thus, at a railway station, one's servants may
be heard speaking of Wzm sdgale pdgale, where Wun
means " baggage " and the rhyming increment is not only
added by way of euphonic effect, but also to convey an idea
of something like " odds and ends of baggage."

From this it may at once be anticipated that the
Burmese are prone to onomotopoeia ; and this is the case,
though their ideas of imitative sounds sometimes differ
from ours. Thus Lele is used in calling pigs, Tidi in sum-
moning fowls, and Yawyaiv for collecting cattle and ponies;
but for cats Mmmm and Nyaiuiguyazmg are unmistakable.

As can easily be understood from what has above been
remarked about the language, Burma possesses two kinds
of literature, Pali and Burmese.

The Pali literature is of course by far the most ancient,
including, as it does, the Buddhist scriptures that origin-



ally found their way to Burma from Ceylon and Southern
India. Comprised in the Bidagai-th6ndd?i, or " three
baskets," these scriptures consisted of the three divisions,
Thuttan or instructions to laymen, Wiiii or discipline
of religious men, and Abidamma or metaphysics
applicable to dwellers in spirit-land and in the celestial
regions. They are metrical, and consist of eighty-four
thousand sections or verses. All of these are ascribed
to the Buddha himself, except two thousand added by
his disciples. Supposed to have been preserved for
about four centuries by oral tradition, they were only
reduced to writing about 80 B.C., when the literary period
of Upper India began. An abridgment of the Wini is
to be found in the Patimauk or " supreme beatitude," the
manual of Buddhist monks. The whole of the Pali litera-
ture concerns itself exclusively with religious subjects.

The Burmese literature is also for the most part
metrical, and consists of religious romances, chronological
histories, and songs.

The religious romances are of two kinds, Zat and
Wuttil. The Zat or Zattagd, the Jataka of India, are
" birth-stories," supposed to have been related by
Gaudama himself ; while the JVuitu are religious
romances or narratives extracted from the Buddhist

There are in all no less than five hundred and fifty
Zat contained in the Burmese sacred writings, all referring
to different existences of a Buddh — and particularly of
Gaudama, the last Buddh ; and all of them are expressly
intended to inculcate some special moral lesson. Ten of
these stand out as great works in respect of length,
interest, reputation, and literary value, namely, the Temi,
Zanekka, Thuwunnashan, Nemi, Mahaw, Buridat, Sanda
Gumma, Ndrada, Widura, and Wethandara. Both in
popular estimation and as a literary work, the last named
is the most important of all these ten great Zat. It is
the masterpiece of Burmese literature, and as such, a
rdsiini^ of it is given in the chapter following this. The
remaining five hundred and forty are comparatively minor
productions, often merely simple fables, many of which
have a close resemblance to those current in Western



lands. All of this early Burmese literature bears
unmistakable evidences of Indian origin and influence.

The Wuttil are worksof considerable interest and merit,
the best of which were written by a native of Moksobo
(Shwebo), who only died within the last hundred years.
Several kinds of these narratives are distinofuished as
Abidamma, Zat, Dammapada, Manikuntala, Mileinda,
Yadanagara, Thukawaha and Hitawpadetha Wuthl.

The Maha Yazawin or " Royal Chronicle" forms the
great historical work of Burma. Histories of this sort
are a characteristic of Indo-China, as all the various king-
doms throughout Further India maintained their own

The Burmese chronicle may be roughly divided into
a purely mythical or fabulous, a legendary or quasi-
historic, and a more or less actually historic portion.
Even the latter can hardly be truly termed history, how-
ever, as it never records anything but the triumphs of
the Burmese kings, and the victories and conquests
achieved by the Burmese arms. When an army was
forced to retire, the King had simply been graciously
pleased to forbear from punishing his enemies to any
excessive extent. When Arakan and Tenasserim were
ceded to the British in 1826, the King merely permitted
the British to reside there. After the second Burmese
war no record was ever made in the Yazawin that Pegu
had been torn away from Burma. It was certainly an
authorized history, but one in which everything unflatter-
ing to the Burmese monarchs has been rigidly sup-

The legendary portion of the chronicle carries back
the foundation of the kingdom of Burma to early in the
tenth century B.C., or some six hundred years before
Alexander the Great invaded Northern India. Even
before Maha Thambawa established a dynasty at Thare
Khettara (Prome) in 483 b.c, a long list of mythical
kings is given, who are supposed to have come from
India and to have ruled at Tagaung. And at best the
chronicle can only be considered as legendary or quasi-
historic till the reign of Anawratazaw during the eleventh
century. After that the royal records rest on a more



substantial basis of facts, but these reduce themselves to
a comparatively small compass. Still Xki&Maha Vazawin
is instructive as a specimen of Burmese literature, and
as a practical illustration of the national character : for
of this it is very characteristic indeed.

The Royal Chronicle contains interesting anecdotes
illustrative of legal decisions, reminding one strongly of
the judgments of Solomon. And altogether, in many
respects, an interesting parallel might well be drawn
between it and the Old Testament forming the Maha
Yasazvin of the Jews.

Three versions of the chronicle are known, which
differ from each other both in their rendering of the
legends and in the dates assigned to the events. Recent
discoveries of lithic inscriptions are, however, of use in
helping to fix dates, and future discoveries will probably
also be of great assistance in this direction.

The Maha Yazaiuin is, it should be recollected, purely
a monkish work. It was written either by monks, or
by those who had become laymen again after a long
period of monastic life. It was put into its present form
by a body of learned monks, and of laymen who had
been monks in 1824 at the time of the first Burmese war.
The fact of this monkish origin explains the constant
praise of gifts to monks continually met with both in the
Royal Chronicle and in the Zat forming the chief por-
tions of the national literature.

From the Zat has sprung the modern Burmese drama
or Pyazat (from Pya, " to show "), first of all in the
form of religious performances, like the early English
Mysteries or Passion Plays, and subsequently in a less
religious but more popular form. Even these later
" play-actor " Zat are all, however, taken from ancient
stories referring either to events in the various exist-
ences of Gaudama or in the lives of princes supposed
to have ruled near where Buddhism had its origin.

The chief legal works in Burmese are the Dani-
viatlidt or Digests of Buddhist Law. The orio^inal dio^est
is supposed to have been drawn up during the reign of
the legendary King Maha Thambawa in the fifth century
B.C. by Manu, who from being a cowherd when a child



rose to the rank of a great law-giving judge or minister.
From time to time this legendary code seems to have
been revised to suit changing requirements, for the
statute law {^Damniathdt) was occasionally modified by
fresh enactments of Government { Yazathdt).

The standard edition known as the " Laws of Manii,"
already referred to in detail (vol i., page 179) was drawn
up in the Burmese language — the ancient laws having
been in Pali — about the year 1775 a.d. But a new
Digest of Buddhist Law, the AttasankJiepa Vannand
Dammathdt, first published in Upper Burma in 1882,
has recently been revised and printed in 1899 by the ex-
Kinwun Mingyi or late Prime Minister of the kingdom
of Ava. This monumental work, consisting of a digest
of all the laws obtaining in Upper Burma during the
reigns of Mindon and Thibaw, is the last and the most
authoritative word on modern Burmese Buddhist law-
texts (see vol. i., pages 190 and 454).

As a classic specimen of Burmese literature, however,
the Thudammasari Pyatdon or " Decisions of the
Princess Thudammasari," though brief and fragmentary,
can hardly be overlooked. They strongly resemble por-
tions of the Royal Chronicle and of the Laws of Mani'i
in relating legal decisions in the form of short stories,
somewhat in the manner in which moral truths are
exemplified in the fables of ^sop and Phaedrus.

Other characteristic forms of national literature are
the works on astrology and magic, the books of dietist
and druggist medicine-men, those relating to the inter-
pretation of signs and dreams, the book of proverbs
and so forth, to which specific reference has been made
in the chapter relating to Science and Art. Though
now written in Burmese they are thickly strewn with
Pali phraseology, and were doubtless derived directly
from Indian sources.

Along with the more recent of the Pyazat, modern
Burmese literature is chiefly made up of Linga or lyric
poetry. The songs are often sung separately, besides
being incorporated in the theatrical performances. Many
of the dramatic artists [Zatthafna) have a good gift of
improvisation, to which they give free rein while acting.



Most of the lines contain from four to seven syllables,
and they even frequently rhyme in all four syllables
when the shorter metre is adopted. With a free use of
rhyming increments and affixes this is an easy enough
matter. It would be impossible to reproduce such
monosyllabic Linga with anything like approximate
accuracy in English; but the following is something like
one of the most popular of the songs of recent years in
Rangoon, though I have only tried to give the general
drift and feeling of the lay, without attempting the impos-
sible task of reproducing the original form of the
poem : —

Ma Kin's Lament : a Burmese Love SonCx.

I lie on my bed and weep ;
I fret, and I cannot sleep,
While with other girls you stray,
Faithless and fickle Maung Pe.

Even my sandalwood bed
Is wet with the tears I've shed :
Naked I lie, cold, shiv'ring,
With grief my heart all quiv'ring.

Come back, O Lord of my life.
And end this wearisome strife.
That tortures both heart and brain,
Driving poor Ma Kin insane.

Like a torrent fed by rain
Flow the tears I can't restrain ;
With burning heart all the day
I long but for thee, Maung Pe.

I beg, beseech, and implore —
Come back to me : stray no more.
'Tis only close to thy breast
Poor Ma Kin can feel at rest.

The census of 1891 showed some 3,000 men classed
as earning their livelihood from literature. But these
are almost entirely scribes engaged as copyists in mon-
asteries. Here, on palm leaves, they transcribe with
an iron style {Kanymtdan or "asparagus stalk") the
sacred writings for the monastic libraries. Owing, how-
ever, to the extensive use now made of the printing
press for reproducing both religious and secular litera-
ture, these scribes belong to what will probably soon
become almost an extinct profession.


Chapter XIII


AFTER Gaudama attained omniscience he journeyed
forth into the country of Baranathi (Benares), where
he gave knowledge of the truth to five hermits and over
a thousand other recluses. Thence he went with his
converts to Razagyo, in accordance with a promise
made before he became Buddha, and spent the winter in
the Weluwun monastery. Here two heretic priests, be-
coming converted, attained a high state of knowledge,
and the number of holy men of high degree waxed
greatly, rising to ten thousand.

Learning that his son was in Razagyo, King Suddaw-
dana ten times sent an invitation to him by a nobleman
with a retinue of a thousand attendants ; but all these
became converts, and remained with Gaudama. At last,
however, he yielded to the paternal wish and set out for
Kappilawut, marching twelve miles each day, and spend-
ing two months on the journey.

Arriving in company with his 20,000 monks, like
a glorious moon surrounded by innumerable stars, he
took up his abode in a monastery specially built for his
reception. His haughty kindred, proud of their royal
lineage, wished that only the members younger than
Gaudama should make obeisance to him, while they
themselves should first receive a greeting from him.
Divining their thoughts, Gaudama rose miraculously in
the air, so that all the princes, from King Suddawdana
downwards, made humble obeisance before him. The
haughty pride of his relatives being thus broken and
humiliated, Gaudama descended again to the earth and

VOL. II. 321 Y


took the seat prepared for him. As he did so a thunder-
storm rent the air, and ruddy brown raindrops fell to the
g^round, Hke rain faUing gently among the tiger-lilies.
But it wetted only those who wished to be wet, while
those who wished to remain dry felt no rain.

After performing this miracle Gaudama meditated for
some time, and then related the Wdthandayd Zat in an
unbroken flow of words, which welled forth like water
from a pitcher ; and this is what he said, —

Part I. — Prince WethandayA, the " PayAlaung."^

Ages ago, a king named Thiwa reigned over Sedut-
taya, in the land of Thiwa. He had a son named
Thainsi, who took unto himself as chief Queen Pothadi,
daughter of another King called Madda. Pothadi was
then sixteen years of age, and surpassed all other
maidens in loveliness and beauty. Her marriage with
King Thainsi took place with splendid ceremonies, the
southern palace being appointed as her residence, and
her maids of honour and female attendants numbering
16,000. But this great distinction was not merely

Many cycles of years before the present era of
existence, when Wipathi Buddha was living in the
Migadawun grove, the King of Bandumadi received
gifts of costly sandalwood and a necklace of gold.
Giving them to his two daughters for their own use,
these bestowed them on the Buddha. In presenting the
perfumed sandalwood the elder daughter desired that she
might in future time become the mother of a Buddha,
while the younger more modestly asked that, till such
time as she might attain Neikban (Nirvana), her body in
each term of existence should bear imprinted on it a
semblance of the necklace.

In course of time the princesses died, and were trans-
lated, after the manner of kings and queens, to the
abode of the Nat (spirits). For ninety-one cycles of
years the elder princess passed to and from the land of
men and the home of the spirits without once falling into
demerit, and at the end of this period she became the

^ Paydlaung means " the Incarnation of a Buddh."


blessed Maya, the mother of Gaudama Buddha. The
younger sister likewise passed through many states of
existence before she became one of the eigrht daughters
of King Kiki, when she attained Neikban. One of her
sisters, Thudamma, by virtue of the many charitable deeds
she performed, after passing several existences between
the abodes of men and of spirits, was eventually born as
the daughter of King Madda by his chief queen, and
was given the name of Pothadi because she was born
all fragrant as though her body had been washed with
water perfumed with sandalwood.

Just before entering upon this last existence Pothadi
was the wife of the Thagya Min (Indra), or chief of the
spirits (Deva). Knowing from five different signs that
the life of his consort was about to end, the Thagya
bore her, accompanied by her attendants, to the Nanda-
wun garden. Here, placing her on a richly jewelled
couch and seating himself beside her, he sang her praises
in a thousand stanzas, and promised, because of the love
he bore to her, to grant her any ten favours she might

Unwitting of her impending change of existence,
Pothadi understood nothing save that she felt ill in body
and uneasy in mind. Then the Thagya made known to
her that she was soon about to pass over into another
state of existence, and besought her, by his affection
for her, to accept the ten favours offered.

Now perceiving the situation, and knowing that the
law of transmig^ration cannot be obviated, Pothadi
looked round to see where a new existence could best be
commenced, and then made the ten requests. These
were that she might be the chief Queen in the palace of
King Thainsi ; that her eyes might be brown like those
of a fawn ; that her eyebrows might also be brown ; that
her name might be Pothadi, as whilst consort of the
Thagya during this present existence ; that she might
have a son worthy, on account of his merits, to receive
homage from kings, and ready to bestow upon suppliants
all they might ask for, even were it his head, his eyes,
his heart, his royal white umbrella, his children, or his
wife ; that the natural beauty of her body might remain



unimpaired, even though she were about to become a
mother ; that though she might bear several children yet
she should not become aged in appearance, but have a
swelling bosom as in the flower of her youth ; that her
hair might not whiten with age, but retain its colour as
during her prime ; that her bodily beauty should be pre-
served unblemished, pure and clear ; and that she might
be gifted with influence to save from death those who
might fall under the King's displeasure.

These ten requests being granted, Pothadi passed
forth from the Nat country and became reincarnate in
the womb of King Madda's chief queen, to reappear
among men as Princess Pothadi.

On her marriage with King Thainsi, the Thagya
looked down from the land of spirits to see how it now
fared with his late consort in her new state of existence,
and then set about fulfilling her desire as to a son.
Searching for a being worthy of such a mother, he found
in the abode of spirits the future Gaudama, whose
existence among the Nat was about to end on his be-
coming a Payalaung (or embryo Buddh). He there-
fore arranged that the Payalaung should become incarnate
of Pothadi on passing over to the world of men. To
provide suitable companions on such an auspicious
occasion, he also urged 60,000 Nat, whose periods for
transmigration were also approaching, to become like-
wise incarnate in the noble families of Thiwa.

From the time of her conception Pothadi delighted in
making religious offerings, and begged King Thainsi
to have six rest-houses built at each of the four main
gates of the city and at the four palace gates, so that