- BA THAN
The inspiring article commemorating the 96th National Day and pre-centenary of Yangon University, authored by Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt on 25th November 2016 of GNLM has awakened me to the flex my idling fingers again to tap the computer keyboard, recollecting in like manner, memorable years at the Mandalay University. Come to think of it, it is now just one year (nay) mere seven months away to hail the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Mandalay University, which was inaugurated as a modest Mandalay University College on the month of July 1947. In fact the auspicious opening day might have been selected much earlier before. But most tragically the founding leaders of our country including Bogyoke Aung San and Sayagyi U Razak were martyred on 19th July, postponing the opening to a much later date. Incidentally I remember the sayings of some gurus who said most wisely: “Don’t predict history before the fact for it can go awry. Only recount it after the fact, then you can never be wrong”. Our most renowned late historian Dr Than Tun also had advised that we must study history so that we may not be fooled. Guru Dr Nyunt with his inimitable and prolific literary flair had walked along the inroads of Rangoon University campus through the twelve memorable sheets of its 2017 calendar. Hurrah for your running commentary where the process of history has been taken for granted. But my theme touches on a different mode. It is a fact of history that the Rangoon University was inaugurated in the year 1920. Rangoon was then the most auspicious site chosen on many counts: first and foremost because it was a new emerging gleaming metropolis. Then it was the capital of British Burma, seat of government with the ornate Governor’s residence and the Secretariat, Centre of British colonial administration. It was also the nucleus of business, with its outlet towards the open sea from the thriving Port of Rangoon There was a gamut of sprawling buildings built grandiosely with distinctive colonial flavor. And there was the Pegu Club on Prome Road where white colonialists (white only) lounged exclusively as a home away from home. But then the author, a Mandalayan was wont to ask: “Whither Mandalay?” with reason! Mandalay was an integral part of our Anyar land with its intrinsic culture Buddhism, civilizations and seats of Burmese sovereign power throughout the first millennium, the first thousand years AD. During the pre-Bagan period, three kingdoms arose in all their glory and glamour: i.e Hanlin, Sri Khistra (Thray Khettayar) and Pyu respectively. All these ancient kingdoms had been acknowledged as genuine heritage sites by UNESCO, credit to Myanmar heritage anthology.
The Bagan Dynasty and the first Myanmar Emperor King Anawrathar heralded the first Anyar Kingdom of pomp power, magnificence and glory on 1044 AD. It was during his reign that the heretic Ari monks were disrobed and banished. Theravada Buddhism with its foremost missionary Ashin Arahan was most venerably introduced from Thaton, known as Suvanna-bhumi. Theravada Buddhism thrived as witnessed by enshrining thousands of Pagodas and temples. It was said that even a lowly widow could donate a pagoda to gain newly accredited merit. King Anawrathar’s military might had grown so phenomenally that he managed to consolidate the scattered mini-states into the First Myanmar Empire. Successive dynasties followed as the plight of kingdoms rose and fell with the dispositions of the reigning kings.
The Second Myanmar Empire was consolidated during the Toungoo dynasty under the reign of Emperor Bayint Naung. Likewise the Third Myanmar Empire was formed during the 1st Konbaung Dynasty by the reigning Emperor Alaung Phyayar U Aung Ze Ya. All these glorious thousand-year anthology of Myanmar Sovereign dynasties came to an abrupt end with the annexation of the Konbaung dynasty and the deportation of king Theebaw in 1886 by the British Imperialists.
With pomp and pageantry the University of Rangoon was inaugurated in Rangoon by the Colonial Administration on 1920. With the backdrop of a thousand years of continuous dynasties of Myanmar sovereign kings, and the predominance of Anyar culture and refined social mores, most Anyarthars and Mandalayans might tend ask, “Whither Mandalay?” These personages might have envisioned setting up an institute of higher learning, a college leading to a university in the Second City, Capital of the last reigning king, fine arts and royal social interrelations. Mandalay has long been and still is seat of learning in Buddhistic studies. Imposing seats of Buddhist scholastic teaching and learning, sponsored by reigning Myanmar kings were constructed supervised by Sasana-paing, venerable head monks, teachers (dhamma.kahtika) and thousands of learner disciple monks, making it a total of tens of thousands of sanghas in Mandalay alone at one time.
With such a magnificent setting, the Mandalayans and Anyathars might have pondered the justification of establishing an institute of higher learning even if it was a modest one, a fitting vindication to its past grandeur and heritage. Eventually after much discussion and collaboration, Mandalay Intermediate College was established in 1925. Many students with potential for future development attended its classes as a transit step towards the first degree courses in Rangoon and beyond. U Ko Lay, the future founder and principal of the Mandalay University College in twenty years hence was also one of the pupils. In this context I would like to interject with due respect to the eminent historians that I leave the historic dates for them to fill in as necessary as I proceed with momentum the interesting events as it has unfolded. Then to move the time gap fast-forward to July 1947, the first institute of higher learning, The Mandalay University College seated in Mandalay opened its welcoming doors to inspiring matriculate students from Anyar Land. Two memorable founding fathers were instrumental in making it happen: Sayagyi U Razak, the Minister of Education who was martyred on 19th July 1947, and Sayagyi U Ko Lay, a Master of Science graduate from London University, a dedicated Anayathar who became the first Principal selected by the late Sayagyi U Razak to groom the nascent college into greater heights of educational accomplishments. There were 24 founder teachers in respective faculties in Arts and Science. Initially it taught the two years intermediate course absorbing the Mandalay Intermediate College, and finally expanded into a 4 years degree college, conferring 1st degree graduate certificate in the first convocation of 1951. The Anyar matriculates who attended the 1947 first year course Arts and Science including myself amounted to only around 100.
Aesthetically we became the pioneer students of this ornate Mandalay College. The Mandalay Intermediate College, opened since 1925 still continued to survive barely for over 20 years. Some students attended the MIC as 1st year inter students in in the Post-war era of 1946. Now with the opening of Mandalay University College these students were merged as 2nd year Intermediate class, adding dignity and respect to both parties as MIC faded into history.
Mandalay is a sprawling city with well laid quarters, good road layouts and greenery all around. Commoners like us use bicycles as the cheapest transportation to attend the college as day students. Inter-relations among students were simple and friendly. Relations with teachers were based on respect and humbleness on the part of Anyar students, reciprocated by kindness, and compassion by the teachers. In fact student-teacher relationship of Anyar social network fringed on high school settings familiar to them. Rangoon University seated in metropolis opened since 1920 had matured considerably with campus environment and suave urban lifestyle. By comparison, Mandalay College was still a fledgling. The students were free to choose the subject combination to their liking in line with liberal education curriculum. We all were young, fresh brimming, with hope, vision, inspiration and expectation. How time had flown! I could still remember my teaching staff most vividly: Mr J. Moonie and Saya U Ko Ko Gyi of English, Saya U Sein Win (Tavoy), Saya U Toe Aung, Saya Ba Thaung (Mg Thuta), U Hla Tin and Daw Than May of Burmese, Saya U Mg Mg Gyi and Sayama Daw Ma Ma Gyi of History, Sayamagyi M.A Daw Ohn and Saya U Ko of Pali, Saya U Aye Hlaing of Economics, Saya U Ba Toke of Mathematics, Saya U Thein Maung of Geography, Mr B.K Pal of Chemistry, etc. There are many whom I had forgotten as memory faded with the growing years. On January 1948, Burma became fully independent opting to stay out of the British Commonwealth. Such a situation had added grace, dignity and prestige to the college, the collegians and Anyar community. The Anyar College moved onward, brimming with new aspiring matriculates, as the 1947pioneers proceeded class after senior class. Ultimately in 1951 the first ’47 intake received their first degree in Arts and Science. Mandalay College was also upgraded into a full-fledged 4-year degree college. Fresh and full of pride these new graduates applied for positions of tutors and demonstrators to teach the new intake of matriculates who flocked in ever increasing numbers as the reputation of the Alma Mater grew far and wide. I still remember dimly a few of my colleagues: U Ba Than and U Sein, Tutor in English, Naw Agnes Claipo in Geography, Daw Khin Hlaing in Pali, U Tun Yee, U Chit Swe demonstrators in Mathematics, U Thaung in Physics, U Khin Maung in Chemistry. How wonderful the world was – the first pioneer 1947 students becoming the first pioneer teaching staff in 1951. Sayagyi U Ko lay might have been beaming with delight indeed that his efforts have begun to bear fruit. Finally the Mandalay University College became a full-fledged independent university in 1958 materializing the vision and mission of Sayagyi U Ko Lay.
Time did not stop there but continued to move on. Graduate students now ventured beyond national borders to prestigious institutes of higher learning abroad: Oxford, Cambridge and London of UK: Harvard, M.I.T, Yale Princeton of USA etc, to study post grad studies of M.A, MSc and thenceforth towards PhDs. Imagine the reach the Anyar University of 1947 had travelled. We pay our deep respect and gratitude to the two venerable founders: Sayagyi U Razak and Sayargyi U Ko Lay for their vision and efforts through all these difficult movements in the passing of history. Graduates chose their professions according to their aptitude and avocation. Some chose to stick to the teaching professions, in schools and colleges with dedication and sense of mission. Many chose to venture to the wide borders of the world in exciting profession of administration, law, business, engineering, diplomacy, politics and international services. And a few chose to renounce the turbulent world and search for solitude and peace of mind by taking the robes of religion. Eventually come 60 years, with superannuation the working people began to retire from active service, giving way to upcoming generation to take up the mantle. Here again a new wave of respect and veneration began to take shape. Old students who have already been successful in their various vocations became aware of the plight of teachers of the high schools and universities, leading a lean existence in their old age. They congregated together to mobilize a puja meeting, most conveniently in the winter month open season to pay homage to their teachers and also to meet old friends and classmates again to recount those hilarious times. Old students and serving faculty members of the Mandalay University initiated such puja ceremony to pay veneration to their teachers. Seated in the front row of chairs, with wrinkles on their calm smiling faces were the founder faculty members of the Mandalay College, 24 of them headed by Sayagyi U Ko Lay. New generation of retired teachers also joined the ceremony. All old students cupped their hands and paid respects as the teachers gave their heartfelt blessings. Then offering were presented to the Sayas by the generous students. Such puja ceremonies were celebrated yearly as the number of retired teachers grew, as the founder members dwindled and the front row of chairs grew vacant year by year. In 1997 The University celebrated the 50 years of its momentous institutional work with presentation papers read by Sayagyi U Ko Lay himself. Eventually Sayagyi passed away in 2004 at the ripe age of 91.
The year 2013 was the centenary of Sayagyi U Ko Lay’s birthday. Devoted disciples and members called a meeting to celebrate the centenary, and one item included was to erect a bronze bust statue of Sayagyi Razak and Sayagyi U Ko Lay in front of the lawn of the entrance of the main University building, side by side of the bronze bell. Sayagyi U Ko Lay’s bronze statue was successfully mounted. However Sayagyi U Razah’s statue was postponed to a later date. Three years later on 24th November 2016, the tenth waning of Tazaungmone, coinciding with the 96th National Day, Sayagyi U Razak’s statue was erected in front of the Razak Hall of the Mandalay University building with pomp and pageantry by State dignitaries, Universities heads and faculty members and family of Sayagyi U Razak.
To the time of this writing only Sayagyi U Ba Toke, Born 26th December 1920 is still living at age 96, a miraculous feat indeed for such longevity. From among the 1947 first pioneer batch of students only very few remained alive in Yangon, virtual octogenarians: Ko Hla Moe, Ko Mg Mg (Myitthar), Ko Ohn, Ko Ba Than, Ko Kyaw Za, Khin Ma Lay (Betty), Terry Latt (now in Australia) and Naw Agnes Claipo. From among the 48 batch, my friends Ko Khin Maung Nyunt, and Kyi Kyi Hla (Dawn) still move about in literal society. Ko Khin Maung and Ko Chit Maung also belong to this grouping. The author hopes he may be forgiven if some are left out, due to failing memory.
In the Mandalay University Campus today many buildings have been added to accommodate surging growth and development from within and abroad. The halls, facilities and classrooms are bustling with educational activities: lectures, discussions, workshops, symposiums, seminars, paper reading sessions and conference from within and abroad. Many eminent scholars, learned dignitaries and readers pay frequent visits to this Anyar Institute. The MU has also gained maturity and now offers post graduate degrees leading to Doctors of Philosophy, Letters and Science.
Today at the time of writing, the Mandalay University now proudly boast the bust bronze statues of two most memorable founders: Sayagyi U Razak and Sayagyi U Ko Lay. Their untiring and most dedicated efforts extended to build the Mandalay College of higher learning in post war 1947 had led to successful inauguration of the College on July 1947. Now as the University has neared the 70th anniversary grateful students, staff members, Mandalayans and the Anyar community have repaid their gratitude with their statues reposing serenely on their beloved campus welcoming new generations for times to come.
In this manner the author most respectfully commemorates the chronology of the Mandalay University from its modest beginning on July 1947, to the approaching 70th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee on July 2017. Contemplating on the passing of time the author would like to conclude his endeavor with a rhyme from “The Brook” composed by Lord Tennyson (1809-1892). Thus: –
“ I chatter chatter as I flow
To join the brimming river:
For men may come and men may go
But I (Mandalay University) shall go on forever”