“…. At the palace in the month of Nattaw, the King held a special audience to honour those who had literary accomplishments and those who had performed military exploits. It was called ‘Hpyin Htat Mingala Pwe’ meaning the ceremony of conferring titles and awarding Hpyin cloths and gowns. Men of letters and men of might were honoured by the King by giving them promotion, title, dress, gown, cloths, insignia, gift, land, houses, fief, or special Privilege….” (An excerpt from the Book “Myanmar Traditional Monthly Festivals” by Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja, Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt.)
The month of Nattaw (Na-daw), the ninth month in Myanmar calendar, is one of the significant months of the year. According to the historical records, during the time of Myanmar Kings, the nation had the tradition of honouring outstanding literati, princes and court officials with titles. And it is also designated as the month in which we make obeisance to the literati. The award presentation ceremony for the winners of lifelong Achievement National Literary Awards, National Literary Awards, and Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards is held on the auspicious Sarsodaw Nay, or Literati Day which falls on 1st Waxing of Nattaw. This is to enable the people to know the full essence of literature and to value the role played by the men of letters.
If we look back at the history of Myanmar literature, it had been flourishing through the successive dynasties of Bagan, Pinya, Inwa, Toungoo, Nyaungyan, Konbaung (First), and Konbaung (Second). According to the scholars and historians, we come to know that Mya Zedi Stone Inscription is the cradle of Myanmar language and literature. Being an ordinary layman whose knowledge is limited, I cannot definitely say that there were the ones prior to the Mya Zedi Stone Inscription.
A review of Mya Zedi Stone Inscription reveals the dawn of literature of translation and literature of aesthetic. We can say so simply because Mya Zedi Stone Inscription of Bagan Dynasty was written in four languages – Mon, Myanmar, Pali and Pyu. The theme was about a son who felt conscious of his father King Kyansitha’s gratitude and profound deeds of merit to repay it. In other words, the literature of aesthetic values can vividly be seen in the theme of the stone inscription.
Myanmar literature from the Bagan Dynasty to the end of the late Konbaung Period was a long history which covered ten centuries. Even from the early days, Myanmar literature, translation from other languages has been evidenced.
After the three aggressive wars waged by the British imperialists in 1825, 1852 and 1885, Myanmar became a British colony. During the colonial period, men of letters continued to carry on the banner of Myanmar literature and because of endeavours made by them, movements on national literature gathered its momentum.
In 1928, (the then) Burma Education Extension Association was formed, followed in 1933 by the Burma Book Society. In 1937, the Ngani Book Club was organized, but its books were mostly political in nature. In 1939, a translation bureau was established but it was nipped in the bud due to the war.
However, even during the war, a group of devoted literary men continued the task of creating Myanmar manuscripts while working in the Bureau of Libraries and Literature of the Directorate of Education. People like U Thein Han, Librarian of the University of Ragoon and leading author and literary critic, carried on this work in makeshift offices on the Shwe Dagon Pagoda Hill.
All in all, a study on various stages of literary development shows that men of letters played a vital role throughout the history. In the times of Myanmar Kings, they sharpened their pens in compiling literary works that contributed much to people of successive ages. Likewise, during the imperialist period, they used their pens in the freedom struggles. Myanmar has become a sovereign independent State since 4 January, 1948 through the combination force of pen and sword. Today, men of letters are using their might of pens in the nation-building endeavours.
In order to honour the mass of writers who took an active part in the struggles for freedom and democracy and those who wrote and are still writing literature for people’s sake, literary awards presentation ceremonies are held.
Traditionally, literati are honoured on the Sarsodaw Nay, or Literati Day as they have performed the task of developing and handing over literature to new generation by inheriting and preserving it. Today, the successive governments including the present government hold grand ceremony to present awards including Lifelong Achievement National Literary Awards, National Literary Awards, and Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Awards to the outstanding winners on the 1st. Waxing of Nattaw every year.
In doing so, we have seen the lofty aims of holding the ceremony since the time when the Burma Translation Society (BTS) was established on 26 August in 1947. Among the 14-point aims and objects, one of the objectives is “To institute or encourage research in Myanmar literature and the fine arts with a view to bringing about an improvement in mass education.”
To implement the objective, the literary award presentation ceremonies have been held since 1948. At that time, the Council of the Burma Translation Society (now Sarpay Beikman) chaired by the then Prime Minister U Nu presented the prizes (from 1948 to 1962). In 1965, the name of “National Literary Award” was introduced to the reading public.
However in 1969, the system of competition of both the works published and the manuscripts were abolished and the selection of the best one out of the works published in a calendar year was introduced.
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), the Secretary-1 gave away the awards. In the time of democratic governments including the present government, the Vice-President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar presented the literary awards.
The number of genres for national literary award has been increased up to 16 — novel, collective short stories, collective poems (both modern/Classic) belles lettres, Myanmar culture and arts, children’s literature, youth’s literature, translation (general knowledge), translation (aesthetic), general knowledge (arts), general knowledge (pure science), general knowledge (applied science), drama, political genre, English language book (General Knowledge), and English language book (aesthetic). From this year (2017) onwards, another two genres – Essay and Reference — have also been increased.
Formerly, the amount of cash prize for each award was Ks 300,000. The amount has gradually increased to Ks. 500,000 in 2011. Ks. 1 million in 2012, Ks. 1.5 million in 2013. The amount of Ks. 2.5 million has been set apart for this year (2017).
The winners of Lifelong Achievement National Literary Award, the highest award in the literary world, for 2017 are writer Pho Kyawt and scholar U Tun Yi (Archaeology).
Lifelong Achievement National Literary Awards have been presented since 2001 for excellent performance in the field of Myanmar literature during their lifetime. The awardees of the past were — Sithu U Hla Kyaing (Paragu) (deceased), Sithu U Htin Phat (Maung Htin) (deceased), Sithu U Htay Maung (Htay Maung), Sithu U Lay Myaing (Lay Myaing), Sithu Daw Yin Yin (Saw Mon Nyin) (deceased), Sithu Daw Kyan (Ma Kyan), Sithu U Kyi Aye (Sinbyukyun Aung Thein), Sithu Dr. Kyaw Sein (deceased), Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja, Sithu Dr.Khin Maung Nyunt), Sithu Dr. Thaw kaung, U Win Maung (Min Yu Wai), Daw Khin Swe Oo (Khin Swe Oo), U Aung Thin (Aung Thin) (deceased), U Tin Maung (Theik-pan Hmu Tin) (deceased), Dr. Khin Aye (Maung Kin Min-Danubyu), Sithu U Tin Hlaing (Lae-dwin-thar Saw Chit),
U Myint Kyi (Tekkatho Myat Soe), U Win Pe (Mya Zin), U Khin Maung Soe (Maung Paw Tun), U Ko Lay (Ko Lay Inn Wa Gon Yi), U Aung Khant (Tekkatho Win Mon) (deceased), U Tin Kha (Tekkatho Tin Kha), U Tha Noe (Maung Tha Noe), U Than Tun (Thein Than Tun), and U Kyaw Win (Nyo Win). Although the amount of intial cash prize was ks. 600,000, the amount for 2017 has been increased to ks. 5 million.
The Sarpay Beikman Manuscript Award came into being when the manuscripts which could not be published for various reasons were invited to competition for awards. Today, the genres have been increased to 13 in number. Unlike the National Literary Award, First, Second and Third prizes are set apart for the 13 genres (except the translation genre for which only First Prize is designated.) The 13 genres are-novel, collective short stories, collective poems, belles-lettres, Myanmar culture and arts, children’s literature, youth’s literature, political affairs, drama, general knowledge (arts), general knowledge (pure science and applied science), translation, and English language manuscription.
From this year (2017) onwards, the winners will be received ks. 1 million; Ks. 700,000, and ks. 500,000 for First, Second and Third prizes respectively.
1. “Myanmar Traditional Monthly Festivals” by Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja, Sithu Dr.Khin Maung Nyunt, Innwa Book Store, 2005
2. ‘Sarpay Beikman’, published in 1958
3. 2016? trsKd;om;pmayqk pdppfa&G;cs,f a&;aumfrwDESifh tzGJUi,frsm;tpDt&if cHpm? pmayAdrmef? 2017
4. jrefrmpmayordkif;? &efukefwuúodkvf ygarmu© OD;azarmifwif? py,fOD;? pwkw¬ tBudrf? 1987
5. The Global New Light of Myanmar, 24 – 11 – 2018.