December 16, 2016

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MYANMAR CULTURE : AN ASSESSMENT OF LETWE NAWRAHTA U NE CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF HISTORICAL LITERATURE (1)

Introduction
“History” and “Culture” are interdependent. They cannot exist and prosper independently. Metaphorically speaking, they are two essential parts of a tree – “History” is the root and “Culture” is the fruit. “Culture” without “History” has no root, whereas “History” without “Culture” bears no fruit. A nation is like a tree. If it has no “History”, it will never survive and grow, and if it has no “Culture”, it will never develop and progress. A nation with “History” and “Culture” alone is a long-living and flourishing tree that can weather any storm and withstand any climate. Literature is one element of “Culture”, and to study literature, historical background is necessary. {This is an extraction from Prologue of a book known as An Outline History of Myanmar Literature (Bagan Period to Kon-baung Period) written by Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt in 1999.}
Methodology
It is going to present Lives and Attempts of some prominent Contributors who contributed to the development of Myanmar historical literature in the Konbaung period (1752-1885). According to the historical approaches, an assessment of each Contributor is focused on Times that he lived and contributed to flourishing the literary genres such as Yazawin (Chronicle), Ayeidawbon (Treatise on Royal Affairs), Mawgun (Poetic Record), Travelogue and Diary. In this assessment, it is trying to be capable of making the concluding remarks for some events in accordance with the historical method of examining cause and effect.
Life and Attempts of Letwe Nawrahta U Ne (1723-1791)
Letwe Nawrahta U Ne started his service as an official at the Court from the time of the last king of the Nyaungyan dynasty, King Mahādhammarājādhipati (1733-1752). He continued his service at the Court in high positions under the early kings of the Konbaung dynasty: King Alaungmintaya (1752-1760) at Ratanāsińgha Capital; King Dapayin (1760-1763) at Capitals of Ratanāsińgha and Mahājeyapûra; King Myedu (1763-1776) at Ratanāpûra Capital; and King Singu (1776-1782) at Ratanāpûra Capital. He served these Konbaung Kings first as a clerk for the
reading and writing of letters, then later as a minister in the Palace. In the final portion of his life (1782-1791), Letwe Nawrahta U Ne served as     ‘Atwin-wun Mahathetdawshay’ meaning ‘Minister of Long Life of the Inner Palace’ under King Badon (1782-1819) at Amarapûra Capital.
Letwe Nawrahta U Ne, during his service at the Court in the late Nyaungyan and early Konbaung periods, produced various literary works that contributed to the development of Myanmar literature, especially to the development of historical literature. His works covered court, administration, ethics, history, grammar, literature and music, but most of his works were concerned with providing knowledge (only his songs belong to the literature of imagination.) although there were other writers of his time who wrote imaginative literature. During his life of service at the Court, U Ne was conferred the title of Letwe Thondara, a title which was also conferred on U Myat San later. With both U Ne and U Myat San receiving the same title – Letwe Thondara, U Ne has been confused with U Myat San who was prominent in the field of imaginative literature and many students commit mistakes in attributing the authorship of some literary works. U Ne, after receiving the title of  Letwe Thondara, was later conferred the title of Letwe Nawrahta by Alaungmintaya and from the evidence of his works in which he used the title, U Ne seemed to take pride in the title of “Letwe Nawrahta”.
Letwe Nawrahta U Ne was born as Maung Ne in July 1723 in Monywei village, Monywa district (now, in Sagaing Region). Unfortunately, account concerning his parents have not been found yet in any sources and records. Although his parents’ lineage cannot be traced, it is known that he had a younger brother, Maung Myat Tha Wai and a younger sister, Amae Phyu. Maung Myat Tha Wai became a Minister Thiri Mahathura in King Badon’s reign. Letwe Nawrahta and his younger brother built Laykyunn-yan-aung Pagoda in Monywei in 1783. Of his later lineage, he had two sons, Maung Chan Nyein Ya and  Maung Chan Nyein Tha, and a nephew, Maung Pu who was born from his younger sister {Stone Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1773}. Maung Pu could build Zetawun Monastery in Monywei in 1763-1765. Personal accounts of Maung Ne’s wife have not been found yet in the records that have been studied. Similarly, the lineage of his wife has not been traced in any document. It seems that Maung Ne was born to a common family and his parents attained no particular prominence in their native area; however, he showed himself capable of acquiring
the knowledge that contributed to his gaining eminence in the service of the Court in the early Konbaung period.

“Although Letwe Nawrahta U Ne was the author of many works, literary works make no mention of his pursuit of education in the early stage of his life”.

Although Letwe Nawrahta U Ne was the author of many works, literary works make no mention of his pursuit of education in the early stage of his life. Even though the details are not available, it can be assumed that Maung Ne received the traditional monastic education, and acquired much religious and secular knowledge from learned Buddhist monks in his native village as well as in the neighbouring villages. Although his monk-mentors are not known definitely, Ashin (the Reverend Monk) Gunavanta and Ashin Mahā Vicittabirāma in Monywei village were likely to be his monk-mentors. Ashin
Gunavanta was Abbot of Monywei Thasanmin Monastery and Ashin Mahā Vicittabirāma was First Monywei Zetawun Hsayadaw (Abbot of Monywei Zetawun Monastery). The King also offered Ashin Mahā Vicittabirāma the title of Vicittalankāra Sāsanadhara Mahādhammarājādirājaguru. Maung Ne filled out his education with copious reading, being guided by other learned monks who lived in the surrounding areas.
During his life of royal service, he must also have acquired knowledge of the theories and concepts regarding the system of royal government through studying traditional manuals and texts in the Palace. His study particularly focused on texts about royal ceremonies and etiquette. Through an examination of his accomplishments in the conduct of various court practices, and especially in the establishment of new Capitals of the Konbaung Kings, it becomes evident that Maung Ne was an efficient royal servant and an intelligent counsellor throughout his life of service from the latter part of King Mahādhammarājādhipati’s reign to the early part of King Badon’s reign.
Although it is not clear how he came into the service of the Court, it is known that Maung Ne began his service at the Court of Innwa in the reign of Mahādhammarājādhipati of the Nyaungyan dynasty. At the age of twenty, in 1743, the King ordered Maung Ne to serve under Viceroy of Sagaing, Sagaing Bayin, giving him the position of Akyeedaw (Chamberlain or Mentor) of Sagaing Bayin’s eldest son, Sîrimahāsudhammarājā. Sagaing Bayin means the person who was appointed to govern Sagaing as a Viceroy by King Mahādhammarājādhipati due to an evasion of omen. Formerly, Sagaing Bayin had been a Tutor, Shwe Phyo with the title of “Bayin” (King), and a Counsellor with the title of Rājananda, of the Crown Prince (later, King Mahādhammarājādhipati). Then, he became Atwin-wun with the title of Nandameitkyawhtin and later, Bayint Naungdaw (King’s Brother) and Myauknan Bayin (King of the Northern Palace). He was also known as Sagaing Rājā. When Hanthawady forces captured Sagaing, he moved to Innwa. There is no information about him thereafter. {Letwe Nawrahta, Chronicle on Royal Affairs and Biography of Alaungmintayagyi called Letwe Nawrahta Yazawin, typescript, 25579}
Maung Ne was given Taungdwin village while serving as Akyeedaw. Although the reasons for the conferment of the titles is unknown, he was conferred the titles of Yantakyawswa and Pyanchikyawhtin by King Mahādhammarājādhipati {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765}.
When the Hanthawady forces captured Sagaing City in February 1752, occupied Innwa, and took away King Mahādhammarājādhipati to Hanthawady in March 1752,   Maung Ne went back to his native village of Monywei. In Maung Ne’s early career in the royal service (1743-1752), he showed his skills of teaching and supervising his charge the young Prince Sîrimahāsudhammarājā. However, the struggle between his patron, the King of Innwa and the rebellious ruler of Hanthawady that ended with the fall of the Nyaungyan dynasty in March 1752 brought an end to Maung Ne’s career of service for the Nyaungyan dynasty.  In any case, it seems probable that Maung Ne had his first exposure to court practices in this period.
U Aungzeya assumed the title of “Alaungmintaya” in April 1752, and endeavoured to unify the upper regions of Myanmar and defeat the various rival forces. Here, “Alaungmintaya” means the King who aims at gaining the nascent Buddha (the would-be Buddha) and who rules his kingdom as a King abided by the Dhamma (Teachings and Doctrines of Lord Buddha).
When his Commander Minkhaungnawrahta brought Maung Ne before King Alaungmintaya, the King was satisfied with Maung Ne’s intelligence and experience at the Court of the Nyaungyan dynasty. The King considered that the name “Ne” was a good omen; and that it would light on a new victorious dynasty. Thus, in April 1752, the King included Maung Ne as the last member of the Elite Corps of sixty-nine that had been organized earlier of his trusted comrades. After the inclusion of Maung Ne in the Elite Corps, the total number of its members increased to sixty-nine and it became known the Elite Corps (Myin-yee-tet) of sixty-nine {Letwe Nawrahta, Chronicle on Royal Affairs and Biography of Alaungmintayagyi called Letwe Nawrahta Yazawin, typescript, 25579}
In 1753, Alaungmintaya conceived the idea that Moksobo possessed the qualities for the founding of a new Capital; that people would be peaceful and happy to live in the new Capital; and that he would gain distinction in posterity as founder of a new Capital       {Letwe Nawrahta, Chronicle on Royal Affairs and Biography of Alaungmintayagyi called Letwe Nawrahta Yazawin, typescript, 25579}. Alaungmintaya therefore decided to build a new Capital at Moksobo. He assigned Maung Ne to planning the disposition of the capital city of   Ratanāsińgha (Focal Point of Jewels) and to building the Seven Htanas (Places or Departments) in line with the traditions and procedures of the building of former royal Capitals. The Seven Htanas are City Palace, Moat, Mahānanda Lake, Shwe-chettho Pagoda, Shrine of Devas, Drum and Tower. At the ceremony of occupation of the Golden Palace in Ratanāsińgha, Alaungmintaya conferred the title of Letwe Thondara on Maung Ne in 1754 {Letwe Nawrahta, Chronicle on Royal Affairs and Biography of Alaungmintayagyi called Letwe Nawrahta Yazawin, typescript, 25579}.
The King appointed Maung Ne as an official (Royal Clerk) for the reading and writing of royal letters, and as a counsellor in the conduct of the military campaigns leading to the creation of the Konbaung Kingdom. Close to the King as an official for the writing of letters and records, Letwe Thondara U Ne accompanied Alaungmintaya on his march to Hanthawady. After occupying Guhtut Lunsei, the King renamed it Myan-aung (Town of Speedy Victory), Letwe Thondara gave his services to the King in rebuilding the town and in planning the town’s administration. Similarly, after capturing Dagon, the King renamed it Yangon (Town of Ending Strife). Letwe Thondara participated in the rebuilding of the town and assisted the King in the reorganization of his forces to seize Dala and Thanlyin. Thus, Letwe Thondara accompanied and served the King in the military campaigns for the capture of Hanthawady.
Letwe Thondara had to take responsibility for the establishment of two fortresses: a town at Se-tee (Zetuwati); and a station near the moat of Hanthawady that were two important points in attempting to conquer Hanthawady. After overcoming strong resistance, Alaungmintaya’s forces occupied Hanthawady in May 1757. Afterwards, the King pleased with the final occupation of Hanthawady, and conferred titles on his followers for their efforts in the campaign. Thus, Letwe Thondara was conferred the title of Letwe Nawrahta in Hanthawady Palace in 1757.
Receiving the titles of Letwe Thondara and Letwe Nawrahta from Alaungmintaya, Maung Ne studied the eighteen branches of knowledge1, knowledge of the world, the religion and the king, the ten qualities of composing verses2, the ten attributes of reading3 and the essential attributes of clerks4 in order to become an efficient minister. He became possessed the seven attributes of a good and noble man5, the eight attributes of the ethical code to be followed by Ministers6 and the eight attributes of the ethical code to be followed by Atwin-wuns7. His attempts appear in a passage of the Stone Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda which he inscribed in 1773:
“Lokādhipati Mintayagyi (Absolute King of Worldly Affairs) conferred the titles of Letwe Thondara and Letwe Nawrahta on me. Mintayagyi made me serve in the Palace because I studied the eighteen branches of knowledge, knowledge of the World, the Religion and the King, the ten qualities of composing verses, the ten attributes of reading, the essential attributes of clerks. And, I possessed the seven attributes of a good and noble man, the eight attributes of the ethical code to be followed by Ministers and the eight attributes of the ethical code to be followed by Atwin-wuns.”
On Alaungmintaya’s return to Ratanāsińgha, Nanmadaw Queen (Daughter of ex-King Mahādhammarājādhipati, Minmyatswa) passed away at Innwa. The King ordered           Letwe Nawrahta to supervise the funeral ceremony in accordance with the customs of the funeral ceremony for Chief Queens. Letwe Nawrahta also had to take a charge of the royal ceremony of paying homage to Alaungmintaya at Ratanāsińgha by the Lords of Dawei, Kalain-aung and Nyaungshwe. Thus, Letwe Nawrahta was made responsible for the conduct of various royal ceremonies.
When Dapayin succeeded his father, Alaungmintaya, he held two ceremonies: the Ceremony of Opening the Throne Room (Htee-saung Mingala Mahā U-kintawphwint) and the Ceremony of Assuming the title of Sîripavara Mahādhammarājā at the Palace in 1760. The King appointed Letwe Nawrahta as Atwin-wun to take the lead in the performance of these ceremonies. Recognizing the efforts of Letwe Nawrahta, the King conferred the title Sithukyawhtin on him in these ceremonies (Letwe Nawrahta, Record of Head-Anointing Ceremony, hand-written manuscript, 324773). It is assumed that during the reign of Dapayin, Letwe Nawrahta took part in the building of the new Capital of Mahājeyapûra (Great City of Victory, Sagaing) in 1763 because of his previous experience in the building of Ratanāsińgha. It is also certain that Atwin-wun Sithukyawhtin continued to serve in facilitating court affairs, in holding royal ceremonies and in handling royal administration.
While serving in the Palace, Sithukyawhtin produced various literary works including a Shaukhtone (Treatise on Questions) and a collection of verses that had been prominent through the ages; he also studied these works with the intention of developing classical literature. Later, Dapayin conferred the title of Nandathurakyawhtin {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765} on Sithukyawhtin for his services and literary efforts. Because of the short reign of Dapayin, Letwe Nawrahta’s performances concerning court affairs were not as prominent in Dapayin’s reign as they had been in Alaungmintaya’s reign.
When Myedu succeeded his elder brother in 1763, he rebuilt Innwa as his Capital in accordance with traditions. The King performed the Consecration (Rājabhiseka) Ceremony and assumed the title of Sîrisudhammā Mahārājādhipati in 1764. After the ceremony, the King conferred the title of Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765} on Sithukyawhtin and appointed him Atwin-wun in the Byedaik (Department responsible for the administration of the Inner Palace and the private affairs of the King). Furthermore, in forming the Corps of Forty Comrades (Laysedaw) and the Corps of Fifty Comrades (Ngasedaw) by the King, Atwin-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin became a member of the Nemyothinkhaya Corps of Forty Comrades {U Maung Maung Tin (1), K. S. M.,        A. T. M. (1989), Great Chronicle of Konbaung Dynasty, Volume I}. Laysedaw and Ngasedaw mean members of the Corps followed and guarded the King in royal ceremonies.
The King gave Atwin-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin the honour of attending the obeisance ceremony at the grade of Du. In 1765, the King completed the rebuilding of Innwa, greatly expanding and strengthening it, and took occupation of the Golden Palace of Ratanāpûra (City of Jewels, Innwa). It is assumed that Atwin-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin took part in this rebuilding of Ratanāpûra because of his previous experience in the building of former Capitals.
After capturing Ayuddhaya (Capital of Siam), Myedu again performed the Ceremony of Opening the Throne Room (Mahā U-kintawphwint) and the Victory in War (Jeyabhiseka) Ceremony in 1767. It is assumed that Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin took charge of the holding of these ceremonies because of his experience in these tasks. After assuming the title of Hsinbyushin (Lord of the White Elephant) on receiving the white elephant that was offered from Magway on 7 June 1771 {Second Monywei Zetawun Hsayadaw, The Great Celebrated Chronicle, hand-written manuscript, fourth bundle}, Myedu appointed Atwin-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin as Myaukbettaik-wun. Here, Myaukbettaik-wun means Governor of an administrative region (Myaukbettaik), north of the Royal Capital. Myaukbettaik consisted of seventy-one villages including Monywa, Chaung-oo, Moksobo, Moksochoan, Myinmu, Kyaukka and Kyeimon. The White Elephant was named Chaddanpyaungmon. It can be concluded that King Myedu wished to become a Cakkavatti (Universal Ruler), so, he took the white elephant that included in the seven Ratanā (Treasures) of a Cakkavatti, and he assumed the title of Hsinbyushin. Moreover, due to his accomplishments in court affairs, administrative functions and literary works, Myaukbettaik-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin received the further titles of Nemyomahakyawhtin and Nemyomahathinkhayakyawhtin {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765}. Of the three titles that he had received, he was most satisfied with the title of Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin. In later times, he mostly referred to himself by the title of Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin.
When King Singu succeeded his father in 1776, he performed the Auspicious Ceremony of Opening the Throne Room (Htee-saung Mingala Mahā U-kintawphwint) and Royal Consecration (Rājabhiseka) Ceremony, and assumed the title of Mahādhammarājādhirājā. Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin continued to enjoy his position and to take responsibility in the Palace. Furthermore, the King conferred the title of Mingyikyawhtin {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765} on Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin. He also continued in his previous position as Myaukbettaik-wun.  However, his life of royal service was not very prominent during the reign of Singu.
Among the activities of Mingyikyawhtin, a prominent one was that he submitted questions concerning religious and secular matters to the First Monywei Zetawun Hsayadaw         Ashin Vicittabirāma {Letwe Nawrahta (1963), Supplication of Letwe Nawrahta}. Moreover, throughout the reign of Singu, Mingyikyawhtin seems to have devoted himself to research regarding literature. He endeavoured to make a collection of literary treatises that had been lost or displaced in the fall of Innwa in 1752 and made a list of the treatises collected with the assistance of learned monks. Thus, during the reign of Singu, Mingyikyawhtin contributed the fruits of his research to the development of Myanmar literature.
When King Badon seized the throne from his nephews, King Singu and                King Phaungka-sa in February 1782, Mingyikyawhtin continued to serve in the Palace as      Atwin-wun. Probably, due to his old age, Atwin-wun Mingyikyawhtin seemed not to have taken part in the building of the new Capital of Amarapûra (City of Immortal Delights). Nevertheless, it is possible that he made application of his experience and guidance in the building. In 1783, the King ordered Atwin-wun Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin and two other Atwin-wuns to take the responsibility of the Consecration Pavilion for the performance of the Head-Anointing Consecration (Muddhābhiseka) Ceremony {Letwe Nawrahta, Treatise on Royal Ceremonies and Etiquette, palm-leaf manuscript, 509}. In the ceremony of organizing the Byedaik (Department responsible for the administration of the Inner Palace and the privy affairs of the King) as  a part of the  Head-Anointing  Consecration  Ceremony, the King conferred the title of Mahāthihathura {Bell Inscription of Monywei Tiloka Pagoda, 1765} on Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin who was also known as Mingyikyawhtin. During the reign of Badon, the title of Mingyikyawhtin was not prominent, the title of Nemyothirizeyakyawhtin being more commonly used.
Atwin-wun Mahāthihathura and other Atwin-wuns arranged the Ceremony of Opening the Throne Room and the First Head-Anointing Ceremony {Letwe Nawrahta, Record of Head-Anointing Ceremony, hand-written manuscript, 324773} for the King, and also the Ceremony of Taking Possession of the Royal City and the Ceremony of Taking Possession of the Golden Palace. In the same year, Atwin-wun Mahāthihathura took responsibility for the performance of the Appointment of Prince Shwetaung as Crown Prince in accordance with traditions {Letwe Nawrahta, Treatise on Royal Ceremonies and Etiquette, palm-leaf manuscript, 509}. In 1784, Badon assumed the title of Hsinbyushin after obtaining a white elephant (Royal Elephant of Upawpyaungmon) from Myothit forest, thus becoming the Second Hsinbyushin of the Konbaung dynasty {Second Monywei Zetawun Hsayadaw, The Great Celebrated Chronicle, hand-written manuscript, fourth bundle}. Later, Atwin-wun Mahāthihathura and other Atwin-wuns arranged the performance of the Second Head-Anointing Ceremony for Badon after making a calculation of the proper year, month, day and planetary sign for the ceremony {Letwe Nawrahta, Treatise on Royal Ceremonies and Etiquette, palm-leaf manuscript, 509}.
According to a royal order, in 1784, Atwin-wun Mahāthihathura composed an official letter to the rulers of India requesting permission to copy the rare religious and secular treatises dealing with Buddhism that they had in their possession {Letwe Nawrahta, Treatise on Royal Ceremonies and Etiquette, palm-leaf manuscript, 509}. In the letter, Mahāthihathura referred to himself as “Atwin-wun Aggamahāsenāpati Min Thetdawshay Min Mahāthihathura who had to manage state and religious affairs”, attesting to the fact that Atwin-wun Mahāthihathura was entrusted with such affairs.
[To be continued]

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