King Bagyidaw’s Edict on Marionette Show
The writer’s English translation
Amyint Thabin Ameint daw [Royal Edict on Marionette Show]
I. “The Amyint Thabin shall be hereafter named Yoke Thay [marionette]. The puppeteers must be educated men only. No woman must be allowed to participate in the performance of the show. The show may take themes and plots from the 550 Jatakas [Buddha’s birth stories], history Mahawun, Zimmey history, fables and pagoda thamaing [legends]. There should be altogether 36 puppet figures.”
“Homage to the Buddha should be paid at the place where the show would take place.”
II. Construction of puppet stage
“If a drama is going to be performed, a stage of nine divisions, each division measuring three cubits must be constructed. At the front of the stage there should be a bar of eighteen cubits fixed at a height of twenty one fists’ length. In the front of this bar, a long bamboo mat of five fists’ breadth must be spread out. From the front of the middle divisions to the back of the stage there should be a space of four divisions, each measuring three cubits’ length. From other divisions on the left and right sides to the back of the stage there should be spaces of four divisions of each three cubits’ length, two divisions of each three cubits’ length and one division of each three cubits’ length. The whole stage must have altogether eighteen divisions.”
III. Materials to be used in stage construction
“The stage must be made of bamboo and thatch only. It must not be constructed vis-à-vis East West, North or South. Kya Thaung and Kya Khat bamboo must not be used in the construction of the stage. Thatch should not be roofed face to face. The mat must be spread out from the right side of the stage to the left side.”
IV. The rituals
“The one who hires the marionette show must propitiate the nat spirit with the offering of a green coconut, bananas, and a quarter of one tical of pure silver [ကန္ေတာ့ေငြတမတ္].
The plot of the drama must be made known to the nat spirits. There should be two places of offering, one at the front [of the stage], the other at the back. “At the back” means at the musical ensemble “Saing Waing”.
There should be three performances for three successive nights. On the first night, the Saing [musical ensemble] must play the overtune of “Wind”, “Fire” and “Rain” three times followed by a votaress dance. She must enter the performance area from the right side because this country is Zabu-dipa the right sided island on the south.
First homage must be paid to the stage, second homage to the local authorities, and the third homage to the audience. Homage paying song must be sung by leading male and female puppet dancers [i.e. Prince and Princess]. No other person must sing it. The Saing Waing [musical ensemble] should play 37 ditties for the 37 nat spirits. After that, the nat votaress must exit from above the bar.”
V. The Himalayan Forest scene
“Next, to present three forests, three branches of trees must be set up on the stage. The three branches must be cut off from the astrologically auspicious trees. No creeper is allowed on the stage. To convey the image of the walls of the Universe, the three branches must be brought out from the beneath of the bar.
Then dragon and garuda must enter. The dragon must enter from the below the bar, the garuda must enter from above the bar, not from the sides. Then Yakha [ogre] and Gon-man [senior ogre] must enter –The former from the right side and the latter from the left side of the stage, the tiger from the right side. Next follows the horse, which enters facing the court scene, firstly making four-legged movements, secondly galloping, and finally running fast, and at exits from the side of the court scene.”
“The necromancer [Zawgyi or alchemist] enters dancing with agile and acrobatic movements, miming the making of herbal medicine with his magic wand. He must enter either from the middle entrance of the bar, or above the bar and exit from either.
Then, in accordance with the drama to be performed, the court scene must be set up on the right side of the stage. Should there be two rival courts, the right side court scene must be set up first. Should there be a hermitage, it should be set up simultaneously with the court scene.
A train of Prime Minister, Judicial Minister, Wun-dauk-taw Min, and Myo Wun Min enters from the left side. They walk majestically to the right side. Before they go in, for royal audience, they discuss state, legal and judicial matters with highly dignified and officious tones in elegant court language. The Saing Waing then plays the music announcing the royal entry of His Majesty the King. The king enters from the right side and takes his position on the throne. During the royal audience, the plot of the drama must be laid out in the conversation between the king and the ministers.
“The king must not weep, cry, in any kind of drama or play. He must retain his majestic dignity. In the dialogue the general outline of the drama [synopsis] must be hinted at.”
Poetical quotations and epigrammatic sayings should not be uttered in the premier show. They may be uttered on the subsequent shows. Any drama must always be performed three successive nights.
The nat spirit, the Thagyar, the Brahma, and the necromancer must enter and exit from above the bar. They must never enter or exit from the sides. Their feet must not touch the floor.
Water creatures like fish, tortoise, crocodile must not be lifted or raised above the floor.
Jungle creatures like dragon, garuda, tigers and lions must first enter from the left side.
VI. The carving of puppet figures
“Regarding the making of puppet figures, men, horse and nat spirit must be carved out of the Yamanay wood [Gmelina arborea] or thitmyitzu wood. All the rest are to be made of let pan, than thut wood.”
“All puppet figures must have all anatomical parts, including gender organs.
VII. Taboos or forbidding
“During the performance, special care must be taken so as not to cause any harm or offend religion, state, king and government. Jokes must not be so obscene as to insult the modesty and dignity of the monks, and Brahmins.
Anyone found guilty shall have either his body or hand or tongue mulitated.”
“No other musical ensemble Saing Waing except the State Saing Waing must be gilded and decorated with glass-mosaic.”
“The master of Saing Waing, the leading puppeteer and the stage manager have the right to punish their subordinates found guilty, either by beating up or detaining them in the lock-up. They can punish even those who are senior in age but junior in education and experience.
With the exception of king, queen, prince, prince regent, all who hire the puppet show must pay fort. Only with the consent of the puppeteers, may puppet shows be performed gratis.
Except in the case of pagoda and nat festivals no puppet show must be performed without the permit of Myo Wun [town governor].”
We thus notice that the above “Ameint daw” law bears strong witness to the place of precedence accorded to Myanmar puppetry in the past, and the significant role it had played in the history Myanmar performing arts. It is important to note that Myanmar is the only country which had a high official of ministerial status appointed by the king himself to look after the entertainments.
The minister for Royal Entertainment, Thabin Wun, was entitled to wear “Thakhar Thoyin” jacket, old head strap, two vermillion painted Thaings [insignia of his rank, long cane with white silk scurf tied to it] and a silver encased sword. He got a monthly salary of kyat 100 in pure silver. It is not easy to get appointed to this kind of post. Apart from the fact that he must be a most trustworthy man of the king, some educational qualifications were also required. He must be well-versed in Pali, Bedin [Vedas], cosmology, astrology, some knowledge of medicine, sculpture, classical literature, judicial matters, philosophy, and Tipitaka, Buddhist canonical texts and Jatakas.
It is therefore no wonder that with such strict conventions and long tradition, Ameint daw and supervision of the Thabin Wun, Myanmar puppetry and puppet show developed so much and had survived so long.