Ramayana Jataka, legendary in some Asian countries including Myanmar, is very famous as a classical novel in the world literature. The history of Indian literature recognizes Ramayana and Maha Bharata as the most classical stories. Despite a story, Ramayana much influences over social life of Hindu people.
Characters such as Rama, Lekkhana, Sita, Dassagiri and Hannuman involved in Ramayana Jataka dominate over cultures of India and Nepal. Likewise, Ramayana Jataka spread out to Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Ramayana Jataka was translated into various languages for winning hearts of Asian people by presenting the performances of such drama.
Although anyone did not know exact time of arriving Rama drama in Myanmar, Rama and Lekkhana plots carved on shale stones can be vividly seen in Myanmar. Thakhuttanei where reliefs of Ramayana Jataka were carved on shale stones in Konbaung era is distinct in Myanmar’s cultural arena. Thakhuttanei Pagoda where shale stones were carved as reliefs in mid-19th century takes a position in Ywathit Village of Budalin Township in Sagaing Region.
Thakhuttanei Village is located 36 miles northeast of Monywa and 15 miles north of Budalin. People from Monywa have easy access to Thakhuttanei Village by car. Such village produces fans made of toddy palm leaves for Buddhist monks.
Phayagyi Village where reliefs of Ramayana Jataka are located is two miles from Thakhuttanei. In fact, Phayagyi Village is involved in area of Ywathit Village-tract. But, the historical pagoda in Phayagyi Village has been named Thakhuttanei Pagoda in successive eras. Now, Thakhuttanei Village-tract is formed with 547 households for 2,120 people who are engaging in cultivation of beans and pulses.
Sayadaw U Ñeya
Maha Lawkamarazina Pagoda and ancient buildings scatter in Phayagyi Village. The pagoda was built by Second Maunghtaung Sangharaja Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya in 1846 AD. But, the pagoda was named as Natyetaung Pagoda regarding two hillsides of Natye Hill, south of the village.
King Thayawady (1837-1846 AD) supplicated The-in Sayadaw to serve Sangharaja on 31 May 1837 as well as offered Ñeyadhammalankara Maha Dhammarajadhipati Rajaguru title to Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya. When The-in Sayadaw passed away in November 1839, the King handed over Sangharaja duty to Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya. At that time, these Sayadaws served as missionary or Sasana guardian, and the word of Sangharaja was not used, according to veteran historian Dr Than Tun. In monarchical era, the king directly selected Sangharaja Sayadaws.
Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya had discharged duty of Sasana guardian for six years. In 1846 when King Bagan (1846-1853 AD) came onto the throne, Bagaya Sayadaw Bhaddanta Paññajota was assigned duty of Sasana guardian. So, Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya handed over duty of Sasana guardian to new Sayadaw and went to Phayagyi Village. While in Phayagyi Village, the Sayadaw emphasized Buddhist missionary tasks.
Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya started construction of a 108 elbows high pagoda and a 50 feet by 50 feet prayer hall on 26 November 1846. Within about two and a half years, construction of buildings completed in 1849. A holy umbrella was hoisted atop the pagoda on 1 May, and the pagoda was titled Maha Lawkamarazina. Two large black alms-bowls each can be seen at the eastern and western foot of the pagoda. Statues of Hinduism gods are found at the southern and northern arches to the pagoda but nobody knew the purpose of these statues.
Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya managed carving of plots from Rama Jataka on 18 by 18 inches shale tiles which were one inch thick. A total of 347 tiles were placed around the pagoda. After 35 tiles had been lost, the Department of Archaeology constructed a building in the precinct of the pagoda in 1972 and kept remaining tiles. The building was titled “shale relief tiles on Rama Jataka in Konbaung era” and “protect ancient cultural heritages”.
Shale relief museum
Rama Jataka shale relief museum displays 29 plaques each of reliefs in 10 rows and 16 plaques in two rows, totalling 312 plaques of reliefs in 12 rows. Each shale plaque bears about 0.5 inch high embossed reliefs depicting plots from Rama Jataka.
The styles of reliefs may be created in mid-19th century, most of which are in good condition. Some plaques were damaged at reliefs and some with cracks. Some reliefs were labelled in number and some plaques bore name of plots in the Jataka. Round alphabets such as Queen Sita, Hannuman, entrance to Hmawyon and offering the ring can be seen clearly.
With regard to relief of King Rama, veteran historian Dr Than Tun said, “Rama sits on the throne with full of royal regalia. His sitting style is seen with upside knee and hanging leg on the throne. He holds a yak tail fan in left hand. A betel box is laid in left side. Three umbrellas without opening are kept in right side. If white umbrellas open, it indicates the person is a king. I guess Rama is not a king at that time because his umbrellas are not opened.”
Although Rama Jataka has been for many years, sculptors created styles of characters with royal costumes in Konbaung era of mid-19th century. As such, everybody can observe cultural characters of such era.
Presiding Nayaka of Phayagyi Monastery in Phayagyi Village Bhaddanta Ukkamsa said that only when ancient Myanmar’s cultural heritages and artistic works are systematically maintained, can new generations observe higher status of Myanmar’s cultural fine arts.
Ancient prayer hall
An ancient prayer hall built by Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ñeya can be seen at southeast corner of the pagoda till today. Such building is 42 feet and nine inches long and 40 feet and nine inches wide. The roofless building has cracked brick walls and it slightly tilts to the west. The grand prayer hall bears archways, arts and crafts as well as statues on beams. A throne is located in the southern part of the monastery without Buddha images.
Multi-coloured mural paintings can be seen on interior walls of the monastery but some concrete parts bearing mural paintings fell from the wall. Other mural paintings are also damaged.
A mural painting on the western wall of the monastery distinctly depicts a picture of a prince and another one giving a hand to a princess from the throne. Ink inscriptions in black round alphabets were seen under the mural painting on the eastern wall. Except the words “coming to Himalaya”, all words were not distinct.
It can be assumed that the old building in northeast corner of the pagoda might be a public rest house. Now, it has been fenced with brick wall. The double roof may be original. An old site of the chamber of Buddhist image can be seen at the end of entrance. The building was formed with 28 posts, and each post is 63 inches in diameter on the average. 13 inches high shale sculpture works were stuck to the post. Most of shale plaques might be plots from Rama Jataka. Some of shale statues were damaged.
A site for stage of Sangha can be seen in the north of the hall. It might be used as a building for Dhammathabin or donation ceremonies. Now, floors were reconstructed as part of maintaining the building.
It is a nature that there remain tangible and intangible ancient objects in the countries with high culture. Scattering of ancient buildings and ancient objects in Myanmar show high culture of the country. Among them, ancient reliefs of Rama Jataka located in the precinct of Thakhuttanei Pagoda nobly prove sculptural works in Konbaung era despite some damage.