August 19, 2016

Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription which the credit of World Cultural Heritage is long overdue (Part I)

The first Myanmar entry into the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, memory of the world, was the world largest marble book of 729 marble stone slabs, each measuring 5 feet 6 inches high, 3 feet 6 inches wide, and 6 inches thick with two faces of inscriptions. Tipitakas [Buddha’s Teachings] are of three categories (1) 3 Treatises of Suttas [Discourses] (2) 5 Treatises of Vinaya [Monks’ Disciplines] and (3) 7 Treatises of Abhidhamma [Buddhist Philosophy]. 410 slabs record Suttas, 111 slabs record Vinaya and 208 slabs record Abhidhamma. Bind 729 inscribed marble slabs into a book form, you will get a marble book of 364 feet and 6 inches thickness, with 1485 pages, weighing 520 tons [each marble slab weighs 13.9 hundredweight.], a colossal book of a skyscraper’s height in thickness.
These 729 inscribed marble slabs are arranged like a book, set up in serial and pagination order in the spacious precincts of Maha Loka Marazein Pagoda which king Mindon built in 1857 A.D. to the north-east of his palace city. The precinct is apportioned into three square courtyards. In the innermost courtyard are 42 inscribed stone slabs, the middle square has 168 and the outermost 519. Each inscribed marble slab is housed in a brick structure designed on the reliquary of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha at Kandy in Sri Lanka. Buddhists, clergy and laity alike from far and near, at home and abroad come to this marble book for reference whenever they have points of differences and controversies.
Among many “memories of the world” across the country, Myanmar, either in stone inscriptions, ink writings on ceilings and walls, on folding papers, or inscriptions on palm leaf or any metal plates, Yaza Kumara Stone Inscription at ancient Bagan deserves priority for many reasons – archaeological, historical, epigraphical, philological, religious and socio-cultural.
The inscription is known by three names. First it is called Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription because it was Prince Yaza Kumar who inscribed and set it up. Second, it is also called Mya Zedi Stone Inscription because it was first discovered in the precinct of Mya Zedi pagoda. Thirdly it is also known as Gu Byauk Kyi Stone Inscription because an identical contemporary copy of it was also found in the Temple of Gu Byauk Kyi at Myinkaba, Bagan. The Gu Byauk Kyi inscribed stone pillar was found broken in 3 pieces which were joined and set up in the precinct of Mya Zedi pagoda. The perfect one originally found near Mya Zedi pagoda is now on display at the Archaeological Site Museum, Bagan.
Dr. E. Forchammer, a German medical doctor and scholar, the first Superintendant of the Epigraphic Office, Burma Branch, Archaeological Survey of India in the early days of the British colonial rule discovered both pillars in 1886-1887 A.D. The two pillars are of sand stone, each measures 5 feet 11 inches high, 1 foot 2 inches wide with the inscribed area of 3 feet 6 inches. The one now on the platform of Mya Zedi Pagoda has the two sides wider than the other two sides.
Both pillars are quadrangle, each side bears an inscription in a different language. So there are four languages in total – (1) Pali (2) Pyu (3) Mon and (4) Myanmar. The date of the inscription was 1112 A.D. [Myanmar Era 474]. Today in 2015 A.D. [Myanmar Era 1377] the inscription is nine hundred and three years [903] old. It is one of the early stone inscriptions so far discovered in Myanmar. Hence its archaeological value is universal.
Its background history reveals the events of the important period of old Bagan in its heydays, which had far-reaching impact on later Myanmar history.
Commander Kyanzittha was one of the five outstanding knights errant, commanding the armed forces of King Anawrahta – (1) the Elephantry (2) the Cavalry (Horses) (3) the Chariotry and (4) the Infantry. His peers were (1) Nga Htwe Yu (2) Nga Lone Let Phe (3) Nyaung U Hpe and (4) Byatta. Kyanzittha fell under royal anger, as he was suspected of a secret love affair with a princess who was presented as a tribute to King Anawrahta. So Kyanzittha had to run for his life, changing his hidings. At one monastery where he was hiding for some times, he fell in love with the niece of the Abbot. She was Thumbula. When he was to move to another hiding place, he left his ruby ring with his pregnant wife Thumbula telling her that if a son was born, she should come to him with that ring as proof, as he was sure to become king. If a daughter was born, she should sell the ruby ring to buy land, slaves and cattle to live a comfortable life.
Prince Saw Lu succeeded his father Anawrahta, but he being a bad king was slain by his rival Nga Mankan who was also put to death. The court gave the throne to Kyanzittha. Kyanzittha was crowned with chief queens in accordance with the tradition and rites of coronation. None of the chief queens bore male child. But one of their daughters got a son, who became the only male issue in Kyanzittha’s family. Kyanzittha was so overjoyed that he issued royal order appointing his only grandson [who later became King Alaungsithu] a regent king to succeed him.
Many years later, Thumbula and her grownup son arrived at the court with the ruby ring. King Kyanzittha was overjoyed but very repented for having chosen his grandson his successor. But he made good arrangements. He raised Thumbula to his queen titled “U Sauk Pan”, and his son raised “Prince Yaza Kumar” and Lord of Seven Districts of Dannyawady hill regions, and three villages of farm slaves, feudal lands and farm cattle were given to him. Thumbula and Prince Yaza Kumar accepted Kyanzittha’s arrangement without complaint and grudge against him. They lived happily at the court.
When King Kyanzittha grew very old and was about to die of wipe age, Prince Yaza Kumar made a gold Buddha Image in honour of his royal father. It was enshrined in the pagoda with three villages of slaves [farm workers] his father gave him, dedicated to that pagoda.
These stone inscription bear (1) archaeological (2) historical (3) religious (4) epigraphical (5) philological and (6) socio-cultural values of world standard. First, their archaeological value lies in the fact that they are today 2015, 903 years old [nine hundred and three years]. They belong to Myanmar’s earliest stone inscriptions so far discovered on ground across the country.
Their historical value lies in the contents of the four-language inscriptions. They described the important events of the period of ancient Bagan in its heyday. Anawrahta, Saw Lu, Kyanzittha, Yaza Kumar and Alaungsithu. As the dates of their successions, the duration of their reigns, and the date of their deaths were given in the inscriptions, historians can refer to and counter-check with these dates in the inscriptions, in their research. Dr E Forchammer said he was able to decipher some words in Pyu inscription with the help of those counterparts in Pali, Mon and Myanmar inscriptions. [Epigraphia Birmannica, 6 volumes, Indian Archaeological Survey, Epigraphic Office, Burma Branch]. Hence, the historical value of these inscriptions is beyond measure.
As to its epigraphical value, scholars can comparatively study alphabets, script writings, grammar, composition and punctuation of four languages on the pillars. They differ in alphabets, writing and grammar and composition. But they are short sentences, direct in meaning, no simile, metaphor or idioms were used. In the National Museum, on Pyay Road, Yangon, on the ground floor, there is a room in which history of epigraphs of Myanmar is displayed. There you can study a replica of Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription and other epigraphs.
Pali was the sacred language of Buddhism and it was the lingua franca of Bagan of those days, all literate people understood Pali. That implied that Theravada Buddhism was well established and widespread. Pyus, Mons, Myanmars and all other literate ethnic groups professed Buddhism. Pariyatti, monastic schools taught three Rs education and moral and religious instructions to young generations of all ethnic groups, regardless of race, religion and status with free tuition, messing and lodging by monk teachers. Therefore, Pali was understood by literate people of Bagan, judging by the Pali inscription of Yaza Kumar stone pillar.
Besides, going back to the text of the inscription we learn why Prince Yaza Kumar made that gold Buddha Image and how the ceremony of that religious merit was conducted. The inscriptions mentioned in detail of the dedication of the gold Buddha Image brought in and placed in front of the aging father Kyanzittha, around whom were the whole court and the assembly of Maha Thera monks, including Primate Shin Arahan. Yaza Kumar told the audience that he did that dedication as a token of his thanks to his royal father Kyanzittha who he owed infinite gratitude. When the merit sharing ceremony was conducted by the Maha Thera monks, and great religious merit was shared out, Kyanzittha joyfully uttered “Sadu” [well done] three times and the audience repeated after him.
This recorded event reveals the profound impact of the teachings of the Buddha on the Bagan society from royal family down to that of the grassroots. Prince Yaza Kumar proved a faithful son to his royal father by performing his filial duties in the true tenets of Buddhism. Buddhism is not only for the improvement of your life hereafter but also for the betterment of our present mundane life. As such Buddhism prescribes rights and duties between the ruler and the ruled, the master and the subordinates, the teacher and the pupil, the parents and the children, the husband and the wife, between siblings and relatives and friends. To perform religious works dedicated to parents and share the good merit of that work with the parents is one of the filial duties of the children to the parents, which the Buddha had prescribed.
Caring for one’s mother and father
Supporting one’s spouse and children
And one’s relatives are the highest blessings [Mangala Sutta of the Buddha]
Thus from these inscriptions we can vividly sketch the picture of the socio-cultural conditions of the Bagan community of those days when Bagan was at the height of its glory.


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