Sayagyi U Pe Maung Tin

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Former President U Htin Kyaw, Union Minister Dr Myo Thein Gyi cut ribbon to open a statue of U Pe Maung Tin at Yangon University in Yangon on 20 December, 2019. Photo:MNA

By Dr. Saw Mra Aung

U Pe Maung Tin was the only Myanmar to be appointed to the post of Principal of University College (Yangon University) during colonial period. He was as well the one who raised the status of Mynmar-sar shelved by the British at that time. He was the writer of many books in Myanmar and English and the English translator of two well-known Pali commentaries-Visuddhimagga and Atthasalini. He also served in various prestigious capacities throughout his life.
He was born to an Anglican family at Pauktaw in Insein township, Yangon on 24th April, 1888. His parents were U Pe and Daw Myaing, both Baptist Christians hailing from Central Myanmar. His parental grandfather was the first Myanmar pastor of Hinthda while the maternal grandfather, the Sasana-baing ( Primate)of the Taungkwin Sangha Sect of Upper Myanmar. U Tun Nyein, who compiled one of the earliest English-Myanmar dictionaries in Myanmar , was his paternal uncle. Although he belonged to a Christian family, he was sent to a monastery near the house, where he learnt basic Pali texts for three years from 1893 to 1896. This helped him secure an enhanced opportunity of becoming a Pali scholar when he grew up.
In 1896, he joined a government high school where he got scholarship and many prizes. In 1906, he entered Yangon College. Then he got a B.A degree from it in 1909 and a M.A degree from Calcutta University in 1911. Due to his competence in Pali, he was known as Pali Maung Tin or M.A Maung Tin. During his first years of life, he was called Maung Tin but the name was prefixed with his father’s‘ Pe’, when he came of age.
In 1910, he became a founding member of the Journal of Burma Research Society (JBRS) and started contributing articles to it. In 1912, he was appointed Pali Professor of Yangon College and Librarian of Benard Free Library. Moreover, he was on the editorial board of the JBRS the same year. He as a Pali Professor, made contact with the Pali Text Society and started to translate into English the Atthasalini( The Expositor), the commentary on the Dhammasangani, in 1916.
He was the only Myanmar on the commission formed in 1918 to establish the Yangon University independent of Calcutta University. In 1920, he was despatched to Oxford University where he translated the Visuddhimagga ( The Path of Purity) and got a B.Litt degree. While staying in England, he also translated the Hman-nan-raza-win into English under the name of ‘The Glass Palace Chronicle’. In 1924, he returned to Myamnar and became Professor of Oriental Studies comprising Persian, Pali and Myanmar studies at the Yangon University. As he then noticed that Myanmar-sar was relegated by the university authorities and the teaching of it was low, he decided to promote importance of Myanmar-sar at the university. So he brought out some Myanmar-sar texts with the assistance of the JBRS. Besides, he appointed such new Myanmar-sar teachers as U Lin and U Tin in addition to U Pwar who had been appointed before he went to England. Moreover, he demanded to the University Senate that the curriculum of Myanmar-sar should be extended and that more opportunities of teaching Myanmar-sar should be created. So the University Senate prescribed that Myanmar Myanmar-sar must be a compulsory subject for all students including Myanmar and foreigners. It also proffered him 1,000 rupees to buy more Myanmar-sar texts. Therefore, soon, he was able to open Myanmar-sar honours and master classes with the aid of the newly-appointed teachers. Thus he could produce a brood of outstanding Myanmar-sar students like Maung Sein Tin, Maung Wun, Maung Thein Han, Maung Aye Maung, Maung Toe Aung, etc who, some years afterwards, pioneered a new form of Myanmar-sar called Khit-san-sar-pay (Age-testing literature), which marked a turning point in the history of Myanmar literature.
The Second Yangon University Boycott broke out because of the expulsion of Ko Nu and Ko Aung San from the university in 1936. Subsequent to the boycott, Principal D.J.Sloss was transferred to Hongkong University. U Pe Maung Tin was appointed in his place. Thus he became the only Myanmar to be appointed to the position of Principal of University College in 1937 under the British rule. He, in the capacity of the principal, used to protect Myanmar staff from the oppression of British university authorities as much as he could. One day, Chemistry Professor Mr Peacock punched in the jaw Ko Ba Nyunt, a staff of the laboratory for a trivial case. The blow was so severe that a tooth of Ko Ba Nyunt came off. So he reported the incident to Principal U Pe Maung Tin. Then, the latter summoned demonstrator U San Tun, who was the only eye-witness to the case, and interrogated him whether Mr Peacock really did so. When U San Tun answered in the affirmative, he called Mr Peacock to come to his office-room immediately. Having known that U Pe Maung Tin would blame him, Mr Peacock stomped with trepidation into his room and retorted sordidly to him, treading on the edge of his table with his shoes. However, U Pe Maung Tin choked back his anger and got Mr Peacock sedately out of his room. The same day, he issued the order of dismissal of Mr Peacock from his position for affronting his superior and committing physical offence against his staff. That news circulated quickly around the university campus. Although the case reached Lieutenant-Governor, he also agreed to the decision of U Pe Maung Tin. Then he ousted Mr Peacock from his position and transferred him to England.
U Pe Maung Tin became President of the JBRS in 1939. The Myanmar-sar Department was separated from the Department of Oriental Studies in 1941. U Aye Maung became the first Professor of the Myanmar-sar Department that year. U Pe Maung Tin retired from the position of the principal in 1946. However, due to his eclectic academic knowledge, he was dragged back into the academic field and appointed again to the position of Principal of the University of Adult Education in 1947. He also became Chairman of the University Translation and Publication Advisory Board and Emeritus Pali Professor the following year. He was awarded an Honourary Doctorate LL.D by Yangon University in 1952. In 1957-58, he visited Chicago University and lectured on Buddhism. It conferred an Honourary Doctorate on him. Moreover, he took the helm of the Myanmar Translation Association. And he had to serve as Chairman of the Myanmar Historical Commission from 1960 to 1964. He died at the age of 85 on 22 March, 1973.
In conclusion, it is found that although U Pe Maung Tin was one of the most educated Myanmars during Colonial Period and reached his heights as Principal, Chairman and President of many institutions and organizations, he was never puffed up with the feeling of superiority. He was a humble, perfect man to every inch, in whose footsteps the new generation should follow. Really, he dedicated all his life to the academic field of Myanmar. So the writer thinks that ,especially, Yangon University and the Myanmar-sar Department should owe much to him for what he did more for them.
-Takatho Khin Maung Zaw, Takathilar Myagyun-thar, Khait-pya-taik Publishing House, Yangon, 2014
-Sayagyi U Pe Maung Tin, University and Myanmar Literature, Diamond -Jubilee Commemorative Magazine, Printing and Publication Department, 1995
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