Myanmar’s Literary Heritage

By Lokethar

historical diaries quill ink parchment 72

During Myanmar’s history, beginning with King Anawrahta, there have been many literary luminaires, whose works have become classics of Myanmar literature. It started with the literary monks of the Theravada Buddhist Order. They wrote chronicles of the advent of Buddhism and it’s perpetuation in the land, now known as Myanmar. Some wrote tomes of proses and poetry of various kinds in Pali, Pyu, Mon, Myanmar and possibly other scripts, relating to the Buddhist religion.
There were also ministers of the kings as well as learned nobles and laymen who were well versed in literature and were themselves writers of history, events and happenings. Their writings have also entered the realms of Myanmar literary heritage. There were the princesses and court ladies as well as commoner ladies who composed beautiful songs for the ears of their lovers. There were also renowned warriors who composed memorable poems and songs.
The kings of Myanmar promoted and encouraged literary talent among the monks of the religious order, the literary luminaires in the king’s service as well as literary persons of the laity. They were offered rewards and showered with praises for their contribution to literature. Many wrote the inaugural messages and inscriptions of the pagodas and shrines (in paysars and on stone) built and donated by the kings, ministers, nobles, the wealthy and the laity.
Among the ministers of the royal courts, there was once a minister by the name of Ananda Thuriya, who due to some lapses roused the anger of the king who then ordered his execution. The minister, on the point of being beheaded, gave the executioner a poem to be presented to the king. The executioner, however, carried out the execution and only afterwards presented the poem to the king. Upon reading the poem, the king was filled with remorse and ordered the immediate release of the minister. But, alas! The deed was done and the executioner had to pay with his life for his omission.
I read Minister Ananda Thuriya’s poem in my college days, as part of the Burmese subject syllabus. Since then I have never forgotten it. Following is the translation into English of the poem. I hope I have done justice to the writer.

Minister Ananda Thuriya’s Last Supplication

One‘s status in life to rise causes another‘s to fall,
that is the profound law of nature accepted by all.
Even if Your Majesty take pity on me and set me free
I may regain my life now, but I’ll face death eventually.
That is the law of nature I cannot escape certainly
as all beings have to face that ultimate destiny.

The life of a king in his grand palace verily,
surrounded by his ministers with all the luxury
and regalia of a king is like the momentary
air bubble on the face of the sea.
I bow to Your Majesty in humble submission
and offer Your Majesty my last supplication.
My fate is the result of my previous life’s omission
that I have to face in this life of my reincarnation.

But in ‘Samsara’- life’s cycle of existence
should we ever chance to meet again
my noble master, I shall seek not revenge,
for I accept my fate’s happening
as the impermanence of my blood and being.

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