By Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
Nayon, the third month of Myanmar Lunar calendar of 12 months corresponds to June. Summer, Rain, Cold Winter are the three Seasons of the year each with four months. Summer covers Tabaung, Tagu, Kason and Nayon. Rain [monsoon] last for four months – Waso, Wakhaung, Tawthalin and Thidingyut and Winter has 4 months-Tazaung mon, Nat taw, Pya tho and Tabo twe.
Nayon is the last month of Summer. As the monsoon wind begins to come from the south-west direction, bringing rain-bearing clouds to Myanmar tiny precipitations spray the perched lands which in no time into light green carpets of tender grasses. Hence there is a Myanmar folk rhymed couplet e,kefrdk;ao;? jrufom;arG; [Little showers of Nayon nurture tender grasses]. From skeletons of trees yellow green buds peep out to herald a new life of nature, followed by springs of varieties of flora and fauna.
Myanmar astrology term is Nayon “May Hton” (arxkef) mithuna [Germini]. It is a derivative word of Pali word rdxke [mihtuna] meaning a couple of man and woman Nayon’s astrological symbol in the diagram of Zodiac is a couple of man and woman holding a long rod and a harp. Sometimes a couple of Kein-nara and Kein-nari [mythical male and female birds with human heads] is presented to symbolize Nayon. In day time in Nayon the sun and migathi asterism togather reach noon. In night time the moon and Jeta asterism together mid night. As jesmin and all its related species bloom profusely in Nayons this white and fragrant flower is traditionally designated as the flower of Nayon.
In significance of the month Nayon in terms of religion and culture of Myanmar people bears three auspicious counts. Firstly Nayon is the month of ploughing. It is the first month of wet cultivation in Myanmar. In the times of Myanmar Kings Lei Htun Mingala (v,fxGefr*Fvm) Royal Ploughing Ceremony was held by them without fail, so that there would be good rain and good harvest secondly it was on the full moon day of Nayon that Lord Gotama Buddha delivered his famous Maha Thamaya Sutta to the devas and Brahmas of all Universes. So Nayon Full moon Day is designated as Maha Thamaya Sutta and doing religious works. Thirdly it is in this month of Nayon that annual religious examinations are held for Buddhist monks.
Buddhism has three types of teaching, propagating promoting and practicing called three Sasanas- (1) Pariyatti Sasana – acquisition of a sound knowledge of the Dhamma [The law and religious literature through extensive and intensive learning (2) Patipatti Sasana which means being accomplished in the knowledge of Buddhism and (3) Priveda Sasana which means acting [or practicing] according to the knowledge communicated and acquired. Pariyatti-learning the Dhamma [Buddha’s Teachings] is primarily important.
Tipitaka [literally 3 Baskets to mean 3 Repositories of canonical Texts] are (1) Five treatises of Vinaya [Disciplinary rules for monks} (2) Three Treatises of Suttas [Discourses of the Buddha] and (3) Seven Treatises of Abhidhamma [Smatha concentration of mind and Vipasana [Insight] meditation. All Buddhist monks and novices must learn them and pass the examinations annually held in the month of Nayon.
Royal patronage and public support provided all the needs of the examiner and examine monks. Cash and kind donations were collected for the holding of religious examinations. The learning period [academic year] ends in Nayon. Examinations are held to test the academic progress of the scholar monks. A festive atmosphere is imported to these examinations by the public offering of mea and priestly utensils to the monks at the examination centers.
History of religious examinations in Myanmar may be traced to Myanmar chronicles, inscriptions and literature. The earliest mention of it, is found in vol III of Myanmar chronicle Hamannan Yazuwun Taw Kyi [Glass Palace Chronicle]. On page 239, we read the following paragraph:
“In the year 1000 ME [1638 A.D] the monk teachers examined the student novices on the subjects they had learnt. Hundred and eight novices passed the examinations. Seven of them were ordained at noon, on Sunday the 14th waxing moon of Kason”. So it is commonly assumed that Religious Examination Festival originated in the region of King Tha Lun [1629-1648 A.D]. But the month mentioned in the paragraph was Kason not Nayon.
But there are other references and records prior to Tha Lun’s reign which say that Examinations were held in Nayon. For example in Loka Byuha Kyan [or Inyone Sardan] a compiled by Thiri Uzana, the Minister of Inyone, we find that religious examinations were held under royal patronage in the month of Nayon. Successful novices were ordained in the next month Waso. Therefore Nayon and Waso were in sequences of two events.
Religious examinations took place in Thudhamma Zayats-examination halls built by king. Preparations were made in advance-cleaning, renovating and redecorating exam halls. Pavilions were constructed for feeding the monks daily meal, visitors offering them cash and kind mostly robes. A special Min Lan Royal road was made lined on both sides with bamboo Yazamat fences [diamond shape designs of a-tice fences and decorative floral pots. The surface of the royal road was covered with smooth white sand. At the end of the royal road was a grand sumptuous Pavilion for their Majesties and the court to occupy to watch the proceedings of the examinations to pay aspect to the monks and give prizes, rewards and awards of religious titles to the deserved.
Religious examinations could take almost a month from the 8th Waxing moon of Nayon to the 8th Waxing moon of Waso. As religious examinations are very arduous, demanding too much of physical and mental energies, monk candidates were permitted to partake afternoon meal in order to replenish their energies.
Religious examinations take three modes Recitation by heart, oral examination and written examination, Correct and prompt answers to the questions are expected.
In the reign of King Mindon [1853-1878 A.D] religious examinations reached the peak of progress and perfection. He convened the 5th Buddhist Synod in 1871 which revised and edited Tipitakas and all religion literature, commentaries and sub com mortuaries. The edited revised texts were recorded on pages of 729 Sagyin marble stone slabs set up on the vast precincts of Maha Loka Marazein Pagoda, Mandalay. These slobs were arranged in the order of a book. Today they are collectively called the world’s largest marble Book, recently engraved in the UNESCO list of world memories.
There were four grades of examination – (1) Pahtama Nge or Lower Grade (2) Pahtama Lat or middle Grade (3) Pahtamakyi or Higher Grade and (4) Pahtama Kyaw or Highest Grade.
Successful candidates received lavish rewards presented by the king. The pahta ma kyaw candidate was carried on a palanquin borne by 40 young men with gold umbrellas shading him. The other grades candidates rode horses or carried on sedan Charis according to their positions in the exam results. Royal musical Ensemble Saig Waing Taw played religious music to welcome them. Their Majesties and the Court appeared on the podium of the Hluttaw. After their Majesties had performed the Libation ceremony successful candidates queued up in line to receive prizes and awards from Their Majesties. The Lower grades got k 1000 each in pure silver, the middle grades, each k 1250 in pure silver, the higher grades each k 1500 in pure silver and k 2500 for highest grades in pure silver. In addition, the privilege of tax immunity was granted to their parents and nearest relatives.
Should highest grades choose career, the king recruited them in royal service. They were first employs as clerk. But depending upon their loyalty and brilliant performance they could rise up to the minister’s level. Some out standings were raised to Raja Guru king’s Adviser for monks and Akyita (counselor) for laymen.
Religious examinations were well preserved, inspite of political changes of Myanmar, the British Governors even patronized them. The British were highly impressed by high literacy of Myanmar which was much higher than that in Britain of that time. They respected and highly regarded the learnedness and missionary works of monks. Even during the second world was when Myanmar was under the Japanese occupation, the attempt to revive this tradition of religious examinations was made in 1943 by the then Adipati Government. It was called Vinaya Examination. Only Vinaya Pitakas were prescribed for examinations.
Today this tradition of holding religious examinations is kept alive by the Government and the public in co-operation.
By Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt