By Maung Tha (Archaeology), Translated by Than Tun Aung
Discovering evidence for history and culture in Myanmar mainly rely on results of excavating stone inscriptions and archaeological objects. Records from stone inscriptions and evidence from the excavation were applied in shaping the histories. Myanmar Encyclopaedia mentioned observation of stone inscriptions could contribute to assess faiths, isms, cultures, fine arts and social relations in the eras when the stone inscriptions were carved, much supporting the history of the country.
The Archaeological Survey of Myanmar was formed in 1902 for maintaining and conducting research on movable and unmovable historical, cultural objects which existed before 1885. At present, the excavated archaeological survey branch of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture takes responsibilities for stone inscriptions while storing the collected stone inscriptions at original sites, museums and chambers.
Some 3,000 stone plaques were found across Myanmar. Stone inscriptions were carved on shale and marble rocks. Most of the stone plaques were found in central Myanmar, according to archaeologist U Myint Aung. Among ancient stone inscriptions in Myanmar, 729 stone plaques bearing inscriptions of Tri Pitakat treatises erected in the precinct of Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay and Rajakumar stone plaque on the platform of Mya Ceti in Bagan were recognized as Memory of the World by the UNESCO.
Stone inscriptions in original works, re-carved works and combined works
Some stone inscriptions were carved in original works. Some stone inscriptions were carved again in line with the original works. Some stone inscriptions were combined with one or two or all kinds of original works.
Although any stone plaques were not named, these stone inscriptions were titled with the names of carvers such as Rajakumar stone inscription, Shin Dispramuk stone inscription, Manuha stone inscription and Dhammaceti stone inscription. Titles of some stone inscriptions were based on carving locations such as Thaton Myathabeik Pagoda stone inscription and Bago Kalyani ordination hall stone inscription. Titles of some stone inscriptions depended on their locations such as Shwezigon Pagoda stone inscription, Htilo Minlo stone inscription and Kuthodaw Pagoda stone inscription. Some stone inscriptions were based on reasons such as King Kyaw Swa’s order stone inscription and Sawrahan ordination hall stone inscription. And, some stone inscriptions were regarded as their locations such as royal palace stone inscription, Htupayon stone inscription and Hanlin chamber of stone inscription.
As stone inscription found across Myanmar were carved in Pali, Sanskrit, Myanmar, Mon, Pyu and Rakhine languages, background histories could be discovered by studying languages, religious affairs, social and economic progress in respective eras. Although the majority of stone inscriptions bore records of meritorious deeds, some significant stone inscriptions were also found.
Minwaing stone inscription mentioned natures of landlords, tenants and land trading, Laymyethna stone inscription trading of slaves, Dhammarazika stone inscription politics in Bagan era and titles of districts, Khemar Pagoda’s stone inscription eight levels of hell, Nyanawisi stone inscription artistes, North Gugyi Pagoda stone inscription musical instruments, Sawrahan ordination hall stone inscription architectural science, Dispramuk stone inscription records of diplomatic relations with China, Shinpin Bawdi stone inscription use of metals and Phonthemin Anantathu stone inscription way to making the palm leaves.
Two Myanmar stone inscription ministers
Historical treatises were published in the history of Myanmar literature from the late 18th century to early 19th century. U Kalar History was compiled in the reign of King Taninganwe (1714-1733 AD) in Nyaungyan era, Twinthin New History in the time of King Badon (1782-1819 AD) in Konbaung era and Glass Palace History in the tenure of King Sagaing (1819-1837 AD). These histories were expressed on palm leaves. At a time when printing technology developed, the books of history were printed to publish.
King Badon in Konbaung era ordered to collect stone inscriptions from the entire country for separating religious lands and the lands of the king depending on stone inscriptions. Twinthin Minister Maha Sithu and Thetpan Secretary Bala Raza Kyawhtin who supervised stone inscriptions became the first stone inscription ministers of Myanmar.
As King Badon found differences between ancient histories and expression of stone inscriptions, he ordered Twinthin Minister Maha Sithu to compile a new history in conformity with the stone inscriptions. As such, the Twinthin New History, which was the first history based on stone inscriptions, came out. It mentioned, “If descriptions are different between histories and stone inscriptions, it is necessary to rely on the expression of stone inscriptions.”
Books on stone inscriptions
Books compiled by scholars in successive eras on observation of stone inscriptions were published by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Culture. Dr E. Forchhammer, who became the Superintendent of Archaeological Survey from the Professor of Pali Language of Yangon University, copied stone inscriptions in ink in entire Myanmar in 1881. After Forchhammer had passed away, books were published on stone inscriptions in Bagan, Pinya and Inwa, 1892, the Inscriptions copied from the stones collected by King Bodawpaya and placed near the Arakan Pagoda Vol. I, II, 1897, the Inscriptions collected in upper Burma, 1900 and 1903 and Original Inscriptions collected King Bodawpaya and now palace near the Patodawgyi Pagoda, Amarapura,1913.
The archaeological survey published seven series of Epigraphic Birmanica within 20 years starting from 1919 and collected seniority of stone inscriptions found till 1921, dates, finding places, current locations, languages used in stone inscriptions and reasons and published the book on a list of inscription found in Burma.
Likewise, Professor U Pe Maung Tin and GH Luce published the book on selected Bagan stone inscriptions in 1928 and five volumes of the indigenous Myanmar stone inscriptions in 1956, and Professor U E Maung the selected stone inscriptions in Bagan in 1958. The Department of Archaeology also published five volumes of ancient Myanmar stone inscriptions carved from 474 to 998 Myanmar Era collected by Assistant Archaeologist U Nyein Maung and the book on Myanmar ancient stone inscriptions.
Two chambers of stone plaques in Mandalay Royal Palace
In the reign of King Badon in Konbaung era, stone plaques from various corners of Myanmar were conveyed to the Royal Palace. But, these stone plaques scattered in the croplands near Hsinkyo Pagoda of Amarapura for many years. So, the Archaeological Survey of Myanmar built a temporary chamber of stone inscriptions near the wall of Maha Wizayaranthi Stupa in Amarapura where stone plaques were vertically kept for storage.
However, cattle entered the chamber as well as some people discarded waste. As such, a chamber for stone inscriptions was built in Mandalay Royal Palace one year ahead of the Second World War, and stone plaques with least damage were moved to the new venue. These stone plaques were 489 in number. A book mentioning inscriptions from originally carved stone inscriptions collected by King Bodawpaya in the precinct of Pahtodawgyi Stupa in Amarapura was published in 1913.
Moreover, the stone plaques with least damage were connected with damaged parts, erected in the precinct of Htupayon Pagoda in Sagaing and kept in Bagan museum. The newly carved stone inscriptions which were copies of the much-damaged plaques were erected in the southwest corner precinct of Maha Muni Buddha Image in Mandalay. Some stone plaques were carved with original inscriptions combined with names of later donors. Among them, 187 shale stone plaques were maintained in the eastern chamber and 523 marble plaques in the western chamber in the precinct of Maha Muni Buddha Image.
During the Second World War, roofs and walls of the stone plaque chamber in Mandalay Royal Palace were damaged into pieces. Some stone posts were totally damaged in bomb blasts. As such, the chamber was repaired in 1948, and a new chamber with a capacity of 200 stone posts was built. And, stone plaques from number 1 to number 433 were kept in the large chamber and stone plaques from number 434 to 552 in the small one.
A total of 36 stone plaques were found from the culvert near Wataya corner on Mandalay-Amarapura road in Mandalay in December 1962. These plaques were moved to the chamber in Mandalay Royal Palace. Actually, the large chamber stores 451 stone plaques and the small one, 114. These stone plaques are kept on 1.5 feet high concrete benches for easily reading and copying the stone inscriptions.
The large chamber of stone plaques in Mandalay is 114 years old. Stone inscriptions carved in various languages were collected from various corners of Myanmar in successive eras. Now, two chambers of stone plaques in Mandalay Royal Palace systematically store invaluable stone inscriptions as cultural heritages.
Myanmar Encyclopaedia Volume II, IX
Year-wise Archaeological Reports
Records on events of stone inscriptions in Mandalay Royal Palace (U Myint Soe Aung)
Research on Myanmar ancient culture (U Myint Aung)