By Maung Hlaing
“…Myanmar kings used to honour and award cash and kind, and title to men of letters and men of might in Nattaw. It was called Hpyin Htat Pew (ဖျင်ထပ်ပွဲ). Hpyin is a cloth woven by textile of homegrown cotton white or deep red colour. These clothes were presented to men of letters and might.”
Late Sayagyi Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja, Sithu Dr Khin Maung Nyunt said so in one of his articles that appeared in the Global New Light of Myanmar (16-12-2020). It reminds me of the history of literary awards presented by the Government of the State.
On the 1st Waxing of Nattaw, the award presentation ceremony for the winners of the National Lifetime Award for Literary Achievement, National Literary Awards, and Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards is held. This is to enable the people to know the full essence of literature and to value the role played by the men of letters.
As nations of the world have their long histories, literature and culture are solely dependent on their political movements. Similarly, our literary and cultural development is akin to our national movements. Actually, talking about literature and culture will not be complete without the historical background of the nation.
Myanmar’s history dates back to the early 11th Century when King Anawrahta unified the country and founded the First Myanmar Empire in Bagan. It was in 1044 AD. A review of Myanmar Literature reveals that it is rich in profound outlook and knowledge, high morals and aesthetic values. Mya Zedi Inscription of the Bagan Dynasty was written in four Languages—Mon, Myanmar, Pali and Pyu. Historians say that Mya Zedi Stone Inscription is the cradle of Myanmar language and literature.
Myanmar literature from the Bagan Period to the end of the late Konbaung Period was a long history which covered ten centuries. During that period, Myanmar people witnessed the ups and downs of Myanmar’s political life. However, Myanmar literature reflected the cultural and social standards of Myanmar people and also served to highlight the political, economic and social affairs of Myanmar society.
Myanmar became a British colony after three Anglo-Myanmar wars in 1825, 1852 and 1885. As a result, the diminishing of national literature was a dire consequence. However, men of letters kept the flame of literature burning in the colonial period. In brief, Myanmar has become a sovereign independent State since 4 January 1948 due to the might of both pen and sword. It was because the mass of writers and journalists took an active part in the independence struggles.
In order to honour the mass of writers who took an active part in the struggles for freedom and those who wrote and are still writing literature for people’s sake, literary awards presentation ceremonies are held.
In this way, Literary awards have been presented since 1948. With a view to bringing about the development of Myanmar Literature, Sarpay Beikman, formerly known as Burma Translation Society (on behalf of the State), started to present the ‘Sarpay Beikman Contemporary Novel Award (စာပေဗိမာန် ကာလပေါ် ဝတ္ထုဆု) in 1948.
In the following years, the names of the awards have been changed to ‘Sarpay Beikman Award’ (စာပေဗိမာန်စာမူဆု), ‘Fine Arts Literary Award (အနုပညာဆိုင်ရာစာပေဆု), and ‘National Literary Award’ (အမျိုးသားစာေပဆု) in accordance with the situations of the periods we have passed. It was in 2002 (for 2001) that the National Lifetime Award for Literary Achievement (အမျိုးသားစာေပ တစ်သက်တာဆု) was successfully introduced. To date, 38 veteran writers and literary figures have won the National Lifetime Award for Literary Achievement.
National Literature Award for Literary Achievement has been presented either to one person or two persons previously. This year (for 2021), State has awarded the lifetime award to four literary figures – Tekkatho Myat Thu, Myinmu Maung Naing Moe, Dr Myo Thant Tin and Dr Ma Tin Win – who have contributed literary works which provide general knowledge and works of aesthetic literature continuously.
To implement the objectives of the then Burma Translation Society: BTS (Now Sarpay Beikman), the literary award presentation ceremonies have been held since 1948. At that time, the then Prime Minister presented the prizes. In 1965, the name ‘National Literary Award’ was introduced to the writers.
However, in 1969, the system of competition of both the works published and the manuscripts was abolished and the selection of the best one out of the works published in a calendar year was implemented.
In the time of the Revolutionary Council, or the Burma Socialist Programme Party, the Minister for Information presented the awards. In the time of the Tatmadaw Government (State Law and Order Restoration Council and State Peace and Development Council), then Secretary 1 gave away the awards.
This year (for 2021), K10 million cash awards will be presented each to the recipients of the National Lifetime Award for Literary Achievement for their commitment to lifetime outstanding and excellent performances for the development of Myanmar Literature. And K3 million will be presented each to awardees of the National Literary Awards.
Moreover, the first, second and third winners of the Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards will be honoured with K1.5 million, K1 million and K0.7 million respectively.