In order to prevent from occurring religious-based conflicts, bring national reconciliations, and emerge peace, interfaith dialogues were held.
By Naing Lin Kyi,
Photo: Hein Sithu
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is not only implementing propagation of Sasana and conservation works but also preserving the national characteristics.
Moreover, the ministry is conserving Myanmar heritages and characteristics of culture, presenting traditional music and other art forms in order to bring them to international communities.
The majority of Myanmar’s population — more than 87 per cent — practices Theravada Buddhism with 72,000 monasteries and nunneries. Christians make up 6.2 per cent of the population with 7,600 churches, 4.3 per cent of the population is Muslim with 1,100 mosques, 0.05 per cent practice Hinduism with over 1,000 temples, 0.8 percent is animist, and 0.2 is other faiths.
Theravada Buddhism, a major religion of the country, which arrived in Myanmar more than 1,600 years ago, has over 500,000 monks and novices. Auspicious religious ceremonies including Waso Robe Offering Ceremony and Kathina Robe Offering Ceremony are held annually.
Pariyatti, the learning of the theory of Dhamma, is the root of the propagation of Sasana, and the religious examinations — Abdhimma/Visuddhimagga Exams, Tipitaka Exams, and Pali Pahtamapyam Exams are held annually.
The monks who can recite the entire Pali Canon with correct pronunciation and smooth flow were bestowed with Tipitakadhara title and the monks who can transcribe the entire Pali Canon were bestowed with Tipitakakovida title. During more than 70 years, a total of 15 monks have passed the Tipitaka examinations.
In 2017, only a monk passed the two Tipitaka examinations, and another monk passed in 2020.
Out of the five countries in the world with Therevada Buddhism, only Myanmar has the monks who are bestowed Tipitakadhara, Tipitakakovida, and Tipitaka Dhammabhandagarika titles.
The very First Congregation of the Sangha of All Orders was successfully held in 1980, and 300 Members of Sangha were selected by voting for the State Central Working Committee of the Sangha of All Orders. 101 State Ovadasariya Sayadaws who are aged 80s and 90s are currently leading the committee.
Propagating the Teachings of the Buddha in the world
In the religious affairs, Department of Religious Affairs and Department of Promotion and Propagation of Sasana is taking the duties of not only maintenance of disciplines, and Vinaya Dharmakan matters but also organizing parayatti examinations.
Department for Promotion and Propagation of Sasana has the State Pariyatti Sasana University, Yangon, and the State Pariyatti Sasana University, Mandalay. For foreign monks, nuns, and lay persons, the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University (ITBMU) was established with the aim of propagating the Teachings of the Buddha around the world.
In the culture affairs, Fine Arts Department has opened the State School of Fine Arts (Mandalay), the National University of Arts and Culture (Mandalay), the State School of Fine Arts (Yangon), and the National University of Arts and Culture (Mandalay).
Department of Historical Research and National Library has opened National Libraries in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay, and Centres for Archaeological Studies and Training.
With the guidelines from State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee’s Nayaka Sayadaws, and State Ovadacariya Sayadaws, the Shwedagon Pagoda, and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda underwent major renovations. Union Minister Thura U Aung Ko said, “Major renovations to the Shwedagon Pagoda were made. Each time of renewing gold leaves of the pagoda endures five years. Gold gilding to the pagoda has to be made every five years due to the weather. Only 30 per cent of the pagoda’s gilded gold was restored back, and 70 per cent of the pagoda’s gold was lost when the pagoda’s old gold plates were removed to replace them with new gold plates. The major renovation costs hundreds of billion kyats.”
“In search of effective techniques for enduring gilded gold and saving the losses, a one-square-foot gold leaf weighing six kyatthas (one kyattha= 0.576 oz) donated by the daughter of Mindon Min more than 120 years ago was found. When the gold leaf was cleaned, it is still glittering. Following the example, a gold plating plant that can produce one-square-foot gold leaves, each weighing six kyatthas, was ordered from Japan, and gold leaves was being made in the compound of the Shwedagon Pagoda. From the pagoda’s banana bud to lotus petals, from the lotus petals to turban band, from the turban band to the bottom will be gilded. This time gold gilding will endure hundreds of years.” said the Union Minister.
He also added, “The tiles covered on the pagoda’s platform are various in colours as they were donated by donors throughout the history. Additionally, they are very hot to walk on during the summer. They were also replaced with heat resistant tiles.”
According to the pagoda’s financial statistics in 2019, there are some K 90 billion, and over US$ 16 million as well as Japan Yen and Thai Baht in the pagoda’s fund. The funds were saved in the Myanma Economic Bank. The cash donation that is received daily and monthly by the pagodas meets and is over the pagoda’s requirements.
The pagoda festival of Kyaiktiyo Pagoda lasts seven months, and it is the longest pagoda festival in Myanmar. The pagoda’s crowded period is cool season when several hundred thousand of local and foreign travellers visited.
After major renovations were made with the guidelines from the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, free accommodations and heating system for cool season, and cooling system for summer could be provided.
“Buddhism is a distinctive religion for the country. Ceremonies offering uncooked rice were grandly held to fulfill the four requisites of more than 500,000 Members of Sangha.” the Union Minister said.
In January 2018, a mass alms-giving attended by 18,000 monks was organized in Yangon, a similar event attended by 10,000 monks was held at the Uppatasanti Pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw, and another ceremony attended by 20,000 monks was held at the Chanmyathazi Airport in Mandalay.
In November 2019, 5,000 monks attended the mass alms-giving ceremony at the Hpa-An Airport in Kayin State.
Eternal Peace Pagoda
Dedicating to eternal peace in Myanmar, the Eternal Peace Pagoda was built in Nay Pyi Taw. All-round development of the pagoda is underway.
Support of religions in the country
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is supporting all the religions in the country including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Animism. The Union Minister and officials from the ministry attended the religious occasions of the religions.
Myanmar is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Therefore, Myanmar Interfaith Group that includes central, region/state, district, and township level sub-groups was formed. There are a total of 173 groups including 121 township level groups, 40 district level groups, 11 region/state groups, and one central level group. During their four-year period, the group could hold more than 250 meetings.
In order to prevent from occurring religious-based conflicts, bring national reconciliations, and emerge peace, interfaith dialogues were held. With the cooperation from Religions for Peace (RfP), three Religion for Peace Forums were already held in Myanmar.
Since 2015 and 2016, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has faced many challenges, taking its pivotal duty to officially inscribe Bagan region as World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Thousands of year’s old cultural heritages in the region need to be conserved.
Bagan, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Throughout the history, towns and villages were located at the World Cultural Heritage Site. Therefore, it is said that a cultural heritage place mixed with urban villages.
After the multiple coordinating with international organizations, Bagan was officially listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee in Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan from 30 June to 10 July 2019. That is a victory for Myanmar people. Since Bagan becoming a World Heritage Site, thousands of pilgrims daily visited the site, creating job opportunities for local people.
MraukU region to be proposed for World Heritage Site List
After Bagan region had been listed as a World Heritage Site, the ministry has been trying to propose MraukU region in Rakhine State for UNESCO World Heritage listing, with the directives from the leaders of the State.
A proposal to be submitted to UNESCO
In September 2019, a draft proposal was submitted to the UNESCO to add MraukU region in the World Heritage Site list. The headquarters of the UNESCO agreed and asked to submit a detailed proposal for the region in January 2021.
“The Ananda Sandra stone inscription in Shitthaung pagoda, MraukU was enlisted as one of the Asia-Pacific cultural heritages in June 2018. It is a pride for Rakhine people and entire Union. A proposal to add the Shwedagon Pagoda in the World Heritage List was also submitted.” said the Union Minister.
Union Minister Thura U Aung Ko and guests attend the ceremony of 25th Convocation of Buddhist Monks and Vippasana Monastery opening.
Preservation of antique objects
During the fourth years of the incumbent government, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture awarded K 246.8 million for over 9,600 antiques, and could preserve 50 antiques handed over and donated by the public. If the cultural antiques are handed over to the Archaeological Research and National Museum and if it is gold, the current price of the objects will be given. In addition, artistic values of the objects depending on the objects’ era will be provided. In doing so, the number of antiques going out abroad can be reduced.
“The Protection and Preservation of Antique Objects Law that includes private ownership and the Protection and Preservation of Ancient Buildings Law were approved by the Hluttaw in 2015. To implement them, rules were enacted in 2016. With the law, not only the culture department but also Myanmar citizens can officially preserve the antique objects. Private museum can be established to preserve the objects. The ministry is helping the registration of the museum” said the Union Minister.
An earthquake in August 2016 destroyed a total of 389 pagodas in Bagan. Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture, in cooperation with Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Transport and Communications, and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Ministry of Border Affairs, is implementing renovation works.
E-Library to be established
Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is relocating the National Library (Yangon). An e-Library linking the National Library (Yangon) with the National Library (Nay Pyi Taw) will be created.
At present, the librarians who had served as deputy chief librarians at the UN headquarters are helping the library’s displays to be a world standard one.
An e-library is to be established linking the libraries in Yangon including Universities’ Central Library with the library in Nay Pyi Taw.
Efforts to become correct history
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture reformed the Myanmar Historical Group. The things being happened today will be the next generations’ history; therefore, the correctness of the historical facts is very important in order that the next generations can make the country more prosperous and developed.
Human Resource Development
During of the goodwill visits of the leaders of the State, Fine Arts Department entertained with traditional dances. The leader guests were fond of Myanmar traditional performances and welcomed to sign MoUs for cooperation in traditional arts. Moreover, the ministry is fulfilling the needs of the students of the State School of Fine Arts (Mandalay), the State School of Fine Arts (Yangon), the National University of Arts and Culture (Mandalay), and the National University of Arts and Culture (Mandalay).
Freedom of religion
The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture is helping individual citizens to support freedom of religion. Meanwhile, the ministry is implementing perpetuation and propagation of Buddha’s Sasana, which is a majority religion of the country, in coordinating with Sangha Committees.
Myanmar traditional dances and Buddha’s Great Birth Stories are being performed across Myanmar in order to bring them among the public.
Conservation of puppetry
“Paper reading sessions on Myanma Anu Thukhuma are regularly organized. The endangered Myanmar traditional puppetry is being conserved.” said Union Minister Thura U Aung Ko.
Proposing Myanmar Thanakha for UN Cultural Heritage List
Myanamr Thanakha will be proposed for UNESCO Cultural Heritage listing.
U Than Zaw Oo, Director of World Cultural Heritage Division under the Department of Archaeological Research and National Museum, said “In 2018-2019, the global norms and the matters related to the UNESCO on the Thanakha were prepared. Two months ago, Myanmar Thanakha Conference was held in Monywa, and registrations of Thanakha were made. The works on Myanamr Thanakha to be listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritages are underway.” As part of preparation for making the Thanakha to be Myanmar’s first UNESCO intangible cultural heritage, community involvements on the analysis of Thanakha were being sought with the installation of Quick Response (QR) Codes at the cultural museums, national museums and archaeological museums in the country. (Translated by Khin Wai Lwin)