Singing Anyeint and Dancing Anyeint

Maha Saddhamma Jotikadhaja Sithu,
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

A fresco depicting an Anyeint dance group on the wall of a temple in old Bagan.
A fresco depicting an Anyeint dance group on the wall of a temple in old Bagan.

Anyeint dance is a kind of entertainment in which singing, music and dancing are harmoniously blended. It provides sensual pleasure to sight and hearing. The word “Anyeint” itself suggests “softness” “suppleness” “grace” and “harmony”. There is no harsh music, no vulgar song, and no jerky movement in Anyeint performance.
Some Westerners try to find its counterpart in their dances. They say that Anyeint dance is somewhat similar to operetta or cabaret. The writer has seen the performance of operetta and cabaret in France, Italy, Germany, Russia and United Kingdom many times. He begs to disagree with them. The following are the meanings and definitions of operetta and cabaret quoted from The American Heritage Dictionary.
Operatta – A theatrical production that has many of the musical elements of opera, but is lighter and more popular in subject and style and contains spoken dialogue. It originated in Italy.
Carbaret — A restaurant or night club providing short programs of live entertainment. The floor show billed by a cabaret.
The operatta the writer saw in Russia also had comedians who made jokes to raise laughter among the audience, while the dance was taking a short rest.
The cabaret the writer saw, in France and Italy was at the Restaurant and night club. The performer was a female singer — dancer who could sing and dance classical, pop and hip hops. She moved around the diners and audiences, who gave her cash award if they appreciated her talent.
Myanmar Anyeint is not similar to operatta or cabaret. Though singing, dancing, music and jokes are combined in it.
Myanmar Anyeint is so soothing and pleasing that it is believed as well as experienced to have a refreshing and stabilizing effect upon the watcher. It is said that in days of yore Myanmar medicine men prescribed Anyeint performance with string instrument especially harp to mental patients for cure. Even today some Myanmar psychiatrists would recommend mentally deranged patients to listen to soft music and to watch soft dance for releasing their stress and strain.
Generally, there are two types of Anyeint, namely
1. Singing Anyeint and
2. Dancing Anyeint
The former preceded the latter in development. Originally, both types were performed at the royal courts, great houses of nobility and aristocracy for private entertainment.
Evidences of early Anyeint performances can be traced in the mural paintings and sculptures of ancient temples and pagodas and references to Anyeint dances can be gleaned from Myanmar chronicles, history, archaeology and literature.
The following are some pictorial evidences of early Anyeint performances:
(a) In the mural paintings inside the Ananda Brick Monastery (Ananda Ok Kyaung) at Bagan, there is a mural picture of an Anyeint performance of the Konbaung Period of Myanmar history. In it you see two female dancers dancing, one female musician playing a string musical instrument called Mi-chaung, one lady squatting nearby watching the performance, two ladies of high rank sitting in the verandah of a mansion house watching the show, and another female dancer holding a mirror to her face and completing her facial makeup Unfortunately, this brick monastery was destroyed by the great earth quake of 1975. But most of its frescoes were traced and copied by the local branch of Archaeology Department.
(b) Within the Sulamuni Temple at Bagan, there is another picture of Anyeint dance of Konbaung Period, depicting one drumlet, one wind instrument a pair of “Khatsi drum, one harp and a female dancer dancing.
(c) In one white parabite (folding papers) belonging to King Mindon (1752-1878 A.D) there is a miniature painting of an Anyeint show held in the interior chamber of the palace. In it we find one female dancing to the music of the two female musicians, one playing harp and the other beating drum. In the background is a queen or a princess watching the show, while reclining leisurely on her golden couch, as her court maid is massaging her.
Literary evidences tell us performance of Anyeint dime as early as Bagan Period. In the lithic inscriptions of Bagan we oftetamd mention of such professional artists as “drum player” (စည္သည္) “cymbal player” (ခြက္ခြင္သည္) “wind instrumentalist” (ႏွဲ၊ ပုေလြ မႈတ္သူ) dancer (ကေခ်သည္) singer (သီခ်င္းသည္) and at the opening ceremonies of newly built temples, pagoda or monasteries, cultural performances were held, we may safely assume that Anyeint must have included in the program.
In history, the Glass palace chronicle records the performance of an Anyeint pwe at the royal reception of a religious delegation from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by Bagan King Narapati Sithu. One of the members of the delegation monk Ashin Yahula was so bewitched by the charms and grace of a talented Anyeint female dancer that he persistently by begged his leader monk Ashin Sapada to re-iert him to a layman so that he could marry the dancer. Ashin Yahula was banished. He went to Marlaryu to become a layman and he came back to Bagan to marry the dancer.
There were mentions of Anyeint dancers in the verse of the Inwa period of Myanmar literary history they described special Anyeint musical instruments as follows:
The first two lines are quoted from two Pyo poems and the second one line is quoted from one Linka verse.
1. ညင္းႏွင့္မိေခ်ာင္း၊ ေစာင္း၊ ေအာင္း ကေလး၊ ေရႊေရး၊ ပတၱလား၊ အၿငိမ့္မ်ားကို
(Kuthu Pyo by monk poet Mongway Sayadaw) Hnyin, Michaung’ Saung ( Hurp ) Aunggalay, Gold gilt Xelophone ( string and wind instrument and percussion)
2. ေစာင္း၊ ညႇင္း၊ မိေခ်ာင္း၊ ေအာင္းကေလး၊ တျခားပတၱလားႏွင့္ လက္ဖ်ားသံေႏွာ၊ တေယာဟူသည္၊ ေျခာက္မည္ၿငိမ့္မ်ိဳး
(Narada Pyo by monk poet Monyway sayadaw Ashin Adesa Yanthi) Harp, Hnyin, Mi-chaung, Aunggalay, Xelophone and Violin are six musical instruments used in Anyeint
3. ေစာင္း၊ ညႇင္း၊ မိေခ်ာင္း၊ ေအာင္း၊ ပတၱလား၊ တေယာအားျဖင့္၊ ေျခာက္ပါး ၿငိမ့္မ်ိဳး
(Magadewa Linka by monk Manlei sayadat)
Six Anyeint musical instruments are Harps, Hnyin, Mi-chaung, Aung galay, Xelophone and Violin.
All the six instruments mentioned in the above quoted lines are of soft music especially played at the palace, court and great houses. So they are qualified to be classified as Anyeint musical instruments.
Origin and development of Anyeint
According to the so far available and traceable research data, one may say that the singing Anyeint (ထုိင္ဆုိအၿငိမ့္) must have originated prior to the Bagan Period. In the early kingdoms of Pyu and Mon, there were court bards, singers and jesters who attended the royal audience to inform, to educate and to entertain by means of their professional skill and talent. Court poets were also chroniclers (historians of the time) to record in prose or verse great events of the time that took place at the court or in the kingdom or achievements (especially of social and religious works of the kings). Their prose or verses were read out to the king sitting in court in professionally trained tone and style by royal readers (စာေတာ္ဖတ္). As verse-reading was always in a sing song style, music had to accompany the verse-reading. We can find this kind of singing Anyeint even today. At the wedding ceremony or novitiation ceremony today ratu verse or Mingala aubasa are read out in a sing song style by a professional lady or gentleman singer with accompaniment of soft music played by string and wind instruments such as harp (ေစာင္း) and flute or oboe (ႏွဲ၊ ပုေလြ). That kind of entertainment in course of time came to form a singing, Anyeint.
Anyeint — a trio of the reader (စာေတာ္ဖတ္), the singer (သီခ်င္းသည္), and the musician or instrumentalist (တူရိယာသည္). Since no male, other than their relatives, was allowed in the Apartments of the Queens and Princesses, both singing Anyeint (ထုိင္ဆုိအၿငိမ့္) and later dancing Anyeint (အကအၿငိမ့္) performed in these buildings were by female artists. In Bagan Period, mural paintings depicted the singing Anyeints performed not only in indoor but also outdoor in royal parks.
Later dancing was introduced into singing Anyeint for two obvious reasons: namely;
(1) Continuous singing is quite tiresome for the performer and becomes boring to the audience, so to alternate it, dancing was introduced.
(2) Court maidens were accomplished performing artists. They were trained by art masters in classical performing arts.
They, each in turn, were obliged to display their talents. So dancing maidens participated in the singing Anyeint much to the pleasure of the royal audience. At first it was a solo dance (တပင္တုိင္ အက) or prima donna. Later more female dancers were added to become couplet (for two dancers) triplet (for three dancers) quartalet (for four dancers) and group dance called Yein (ယိမ္း) for more than four dancers. But “Yein” performed at the court did not exceed more than eight as the performing area was limited in the court.
Until the end of the Konbaung Period of Myanmar history, the Anyeint of both types remained the exclusive entertainments of the royalty and the courtiers. However, with the British annexation of Upper Myanmar in 1885 and the termination of Myanmar monarchy after the last Myanmar King Thibaw and his family were deported to Eatanagiri in India, all royal entertainments including Anyeint began to emerge out of their royal seclusion, and they soon developed into public entertainment and popularity of Anyeint was due to the following reasons. Firstly, it had escaped from royal taboos and restrictions and was now free to make innovations and improvements. Secondly the middle class which appeared in the British Colonial Period consisting of wealthy merchants and high salaried government servants patronized Anyeint, because Anyeint was a lively entertainment lasting only for not more than a couple of hours unlike the whole night show of drama (zat pwe) and puppet showi was most suitable for social occasions. Thirdly, unlike dramatic show, puppet show and musical Ensamble (saing waing), Anyeint could easily absorb the impact of Western cultures, especially English. Fourthly, comparatively, Anyeint performance cost less and involved less labour and required less performing space. It can be performed, anywhere, at anytime and on any occasion. Because of these favourable factors and circumstances, we may rightly, say that Anyeint reached the height of its progress glory and popularity during the British colonial period.
Anyeint dance II
To substantiate the above statement we may take note of the following innovations and improvements of Anyeint brought about during the British colonial , period
(a) From a courtlyfloor show, Anyeint grew up to become a public stage show
(b) Anyeint dance steps and style, Anyeint songs and music were systematized thanks to the proper training and supervision by .such, veteran accomplished artists like Ma Htwe Lay, Daw Sein Thone, U Chit Hpwe, U Pe Pyu, Einda deva U Maung Gyi, U Kan etc.
(c) Composition of Anyeint troupe was enlarged — three to five musicians, two dancers and two comedians (Lu Pyet)
(d) Later with the introduction of western musical inkrutnents such as piano, horn violin, band, Indian gingle etc, more instrumentalists were added, so that a modern Anyeint troupe came to consist of ten or twelve- members. Later two types of instrumental music appeared in Anyeint performance (1) traditional Anyeint music and (2) western Anyeint music band popularly known to Myanmar public as English band (England Band – အဂၤလန္က၊ ဘင္သံ)
(e) Procedure of Anyeint performance was formalized.
(f) Stage decoration and dance costumes, hairdos of the dancer were stylized.
A typical Anyeint show may be described thus;
A stage of about 12 to 14 square feet with four poles at the four corners is constructed of bamboo and mats. There is no curtain, no backdrops, nor setting. The stage is open on all sides. The only hanging on the stage i3 a silk or velvet piece of oblong shape on which the name of the Anyeint troupe, the names of the dancers and the names of the comedians are either painted or embroidered. It is hung above the musicians who occupy the back part of the stage but in the centre. A wooden xelophat and its player are placed in the centre, and other instrumentalists squat around them in a semi circular position. Night show begins about 8 pm or 9 pm and fmishes at about 11 or 12 pm.
The procedure begins with two comedians coming out (sometimes three) first and by turn sing “Khan Htaut” song which is either a description of the season, or beauty of nature or the significance of the occasion for which the Anyeint is performed. Then they announced the name of the first dancer and call upon her in an extempore verse. The dancer comes out from the right side of the musicians and sits in front of the xylophone, facing its player but backing the audience. The comedians then call upon the dancer to rise up and dance. The call is always in verse form properly rhymed with fine high flown Burmese. The dancer sings the first part of her song and dances. To give her short respite, the comedians crack jokes, or mime that stir up laughter. They introduce the dancer to the audience extelling her youth, beauty and talent. The dancer pays her respects to the audience and blessings. Then her singing and dancing are interluded by the jokes and mimicry of the comedians.
Both song and dance of Anyeint have each three parts (movements ) composed in accordance with three types of timing namely Naree (နရီစည္း) wa latt (ဝါးလတ္စည္း) and si sone wa sone (စည္းစံု၊ ဝါးစံု) respectively. In international musical scale parlance s these three types are slow, medium and high. When the first performer has completed her part she goes in, followed by the principal dancer. The same procedure is repeated Round about 12 pm or so, the performance is concluded. All musicians, comedians and dancers come out and pay respect to the audience by putting their two hands together in a worshipping mariner and bowing their heads while the audience was clapping their applause.
In 2001, Ministry of Culture published a “Dictionary of Myanmar Performing and Plastic Arts” fully illustrated. On pages 124 and 125 of this dictionary “Anyeint” is defined and explaired in both Myanmar and English as follows:-
“အၿငိမ့္-သာယာၿငိမ့္ေညာင္းေသာ အတီး၊ အဆို၊ အကကို အေျခခံ၍ ဇာတ္လမ္း ဇာတ္ကြက္မပါဘဲ၊ မင္းသမီးႏွင့္ လူျပတ္သာ ပါဝင္ကျပေသာပြဲ”
“Anyeint in is a non-dramatic performance in which an artiste signs and dances to the accompaniment of light music, supported by comedions.
The dictonary also gives the names of the five musical instruments of Anyeint performance.
Myanmar Comedians (Lu Pyet)
Here we need to explain Myanmar Comedians. Originally the Anyeint had no comedian. But there was a male elocutionist
(စာေျပာဆရာ) or mime (သံစံု၊ ထုိင္ဆုိ သံျပတ္၊ သံတု) who initiated actions or voices of animals and men, women, children and babies so as to raise laughter among the audience, which the dancer and musicians are having a brief rest. Out of such men of mimickery grew Comedians. Their role is many sided, not only to fill the time groups between performances but to break the monotony by cracking jokes, and to inform and educate the public. Myanmar comedians are a jack-of-all trade’s type. They are mostly products of monastic education, well versed in Pate, Buddhist scriptures and Myanmar literature. They can dance, sing and compose impromptu speech and cans extemporize verses. They possess sense of humour, wit, sharpness of mind and up-to-date in current affairs. They are the mouthpiece of Myanmar public (ျပည္သူ႔ ဟစ္တုိင္). In a joking fashion they expose or inform about bribery and corruption of the government, ministers and servicemen. They report news of the world by means of their talents in speech, singing action and mimichery. It is said that a good singer or dancer is made but a good comedian is born.
(To be continued)

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