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July 09, 2020

Myanmar Heritage in “Memory of the World”

Maung Thar (Archaeology)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has started the program “Memory of the World” in 1992 to do assessment on the heritages of the countries and select the heritages that meet the required criteria to be registered in the “Memory of the World” UNESCO had issued the list of heritages that went as far back as 1700 AD registered in the “Memory of the World”.  Those heritages registered in “Memory of the World” included both tangible objects and intangible culture.
The aims and objectives of the “Memory of the World” program is primarily to promote the conservation works on historical and cultural heritages of the respective countries.
104 countries in cooperation with 5 organizations had carried out the program and could have registered 338 heritages in the “Memory of the World.” till 2015. Out of 338 heritages which won the registration in “Memory of the World”, 3 heritages were from Myanmar. UNESCO usually makes the assessment on the heritages submitted and issues the list of winner biennially. The three winners from Myanmar are Pitakas Stone Slabs in the Maha Lawka Marazein Pagoda of Mandalay, Gold Leaf letter of Alaung Mintaya U Aung Zeya, Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription.

Pitakas Stone Slab
UNESCO has put the 729 stone slabs with inscription of Pitakas on both side of it in the list of “Memory of the world” in June, 2013. Those 729 stone slabs with Tripitakas texts inscribed on both side of each slab is metaphorically  coined as the World Biggest Book.
The stone tablets with inscriptions of Tripitakas text in Pali were the merit of King Mindon  and the inscriptions had been done from 1860 to 1869 taking 7 years 6 months and 14 days to finish the inscription. One stone slab measures 5 length, 4.5 ft in breadth, 0.5 ft. in thickness and 1 ft. underground.
King Mindon convened a fifth Buddhist Synod from April 15 to 12 September in 1871 with 2400 revered monks discussing and citing the Pitaka texts and after five months of deliberation a new authorized version was agreed on. Those agreed version of Tripitakas were inscribed in Pali on the 792 stone tablets. The texts were also published in 38 printed books, each book having 400 pages. If the Pitakas books are read 8 hours a day, it will take 1 year and 3 months to finish all the books.
Maha Lawka Marazein (World Biggest Book Pagoda) is the one among seven primary buildings which were built contemporaneously with the Yadanabon City (Mandallay city) and it has three wallings around it and the small stupas housing the Pitakas Stone Slabs were set up in the spaces between the walls. The Maha Lawka Marazein pagoda and its world biggest book were built in 1871 and hence the age of the structures is 146 years old.
King Mindon had his men inscribe the Pitakas on the stone slab with intent to safeguard the Pitakas from damage and to make them last till the end of the world, otherwise the scriptures were highly vulnerable as they were traditionally recorded on the palm leaves. Tripitaka consists of 5 treatises on Vinayas recorded on 111 stone slabs, 7 treatises on Buddha Abhidhamma recorded on 208 stone slabs, 5 treatises on Nikaya and 3 treatises on Sutta recorded on 410 stone slabs. The space inside the inner wall had 42 slabs, inside the middle wall had 168 slabs and inside the outer wall had 519 slabs. Total cost of this work was kyats 22 crores and 6 millions.
Maha Lawka Marazein pagoda is also known as Kuthodaw Pagoda of King Mindon (Kuthodaw  means merits of royal king) as the Pitakas stone slabs were set in the precinct of Maha Lawka Marazein pagoda at the expense from King’s treasury. A memorial stone slab with records of event was fixed at the south-east angle of the pagoda. Those pitakas stone slabs are the memory objects of Myanmar with full record of Buddha’s Teaching on them. We, Myanmar people have to take pride in the vision and farsightedness of King Mindon.

Gold Leaf Letter
The gold leaf Letter of King Alaungphaya, a phenomenal documentary heritage which has been selected to include in the register of “Memory of the World” in 2015 is now in a foreign country. Alaung Mintaya U Aung Zeya, who founded Konbaung Dynasty sent the gold leaf letter to King of Great Britain, Jorge II in 1756. It is also a prominent historical landmark in 18th century between Myanmar and Great Britain.
The gold leaf letter had been in the underground chamber of  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library  of Hanover , Germany for over 250 years. It had emerged and gained attention of public thanks to the effort of Dr. Friedrich Hulsmann. After keeping the code number Ms IV 571a of the letter at the library, he sent the gold leaf letter to Dr. Jacques Leider, an expertise in history and oriental linguistics from Institute of Asian and African Affairs, Hamburg  University in July 2006 with request to disclose the meaning and language of the alphabets written on the gold leaf Dr. Jacque Leider studied the ancient history of the Gold Leaf Letter and distinct political characteristics of Britain and Myanmar. Then, he could discover the fact in 2007 that the gold leaf letter was the authentic one that had been considered being lost for many years. Dr. Jacque Leider wrote a paper in 2009 under the title “Letter from King Alaung Phaya to Jorge II of England” containing 141 pages. The paper described that King Alaung Phaya sent the letter (gold leaf letter) to the British King, Jorge II through the East India Co., with the intention to foster friendly relation between the two countries. The king had his minister, Letwe Nawrahta write the letter on the gold leaf.
The gold leaf letter is rectangular in shape having length 55cm and breadth 12cm. The manuscript itself is pure gold leaf on which the letter has been written in Myanmar language. 12 pieces of ruby has been embedded on each end of the gold leaf. King Alaungphaya sent the gold leaf letter to king of Britain on 8 May 1756. The gold leaf letter was put in the ivory casket together with the translated version in English and sent to London, a royal capital of United Kingdom of Great Britain. It had to take about two years to reach the destination and King Jorge II accepted  the letter in 1758 and transferred it to the Library of Hanover which, then was the region under the jurisdiction of Great Britain. Hanover was the native land of King Jorge II, that is why he sent gold leaf manuscript to his native land Hanover .
The letter begins with lavishing the glory and epithet of the king describing the splendor and  great wealth of the King’s State, vast lands of vassal states, immense power of armed forces fortified with great elephant and horse forces and etc. and the letter was ending with strong urging to his own progeny to sustain the amicable and friendly relation with Great Britain.
According to the golden leaf letter, Myanmar had to allow the East India Co., to open the port station at Pathein Port. Before that East India Co., had to station at Hainggyi Island a bit isolated from the main land where inclement weather was more liable to occur. It was expected British owned East India Co., was highly satisfied with the provision, but no reply had been received from British government.
Golden Leaf Manuscript sent by King Alaung Phaya U Aung Zeya to the British King 261 years ago was very momentous and invaluable historical evidence for not only Myanmar but also for Britain.  The gold leaf letter is of outstanding aesthetic value and it is considered a unique attestation in world history as well as in the history of Myanmar and Europe. The digital copy of the Gold Leaf letter is now shown at National Museum in Yangon. This manuscript is considered to be the only one that has been left undamaged, out of many gold leaf letters issued by Myanmar Kings.

Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription
Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription is also known as Myazedi Stone Inscription. The Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription have won the entry in 2015 to the list of the documentary heritage of world significance known as “Memory of the World Programme.” Out of many stone inscriptions of Bagan Period, Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription, a prominent documentary evidence of cultural heritage of Bagan was found in two places, one in the precinct of Myazedi Pagoda and another one in the Bagan Archaeological Museum. One of the two stone inscriptions was found near Myazedi Pagoda of Myingabar  village, one and half mile away in the south of Bagan. It was in good condition and now had been placed in the Archaeological Museum (Bagan). Another one found near Gubyaukyi Pagoda was broken into three parts, but fixed them intact again and placed in the precinct of Myazedi Pagoda. As the inscriptions on both stones were the same, Professor U Pe Maung Tin considered the one is the copy of the other one.
Yaza Kumar prince, son of King Kyansittha had his men engrave the letters on the stone in four languages, Pyu, Mon, Pali and Myanmar. The inscription was believed to have been engraved in 1112 AD. The stone was rectangular pillar in shape , hence having four faces that accommodate one language on each face of the stone.
There was a controversy among the historians whether Yaza Kumar was Kyansittha’s own son or not, however, most of the historians believed Yaza Kumar was son of King Kyansittha.
The Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription described the same historical account in different four languages on four sides of the stone. It manifested the significant value in linguistics and also the historical accomplishment of King Kyansittha. Moreover, it records the administration, social and economic affairs, literary works of religion, construction of pagodas, the enslavement of villages by royal princes and princesses, respect for parents and meritorious deeds of Bagan Period. Dr. Bladdin of London University had translated the stone inscription into English and published in1919. U Pe Maung Tin also translated it into Myanmar and published in 1955.
Yaza Kumar Stone Inscription is a quadrilingual document  that rendered the historical, religious and cultural account of Bagan period in four languages, Pyu, Mon, Pali, Myanmar and it was the oldest of all stone inscriptions of that type. Therefore, it has won the recognition to be included in the “Memory of the World” register.
Now, the letter on Bayinnaung Bell which is located on the platform of Shwezigon Pagoda is submitted to be listed in “Memory of the World.” The richness of the archaeological heritages indicates the cultural standard of a nation. Therefore, all people have the obligation to passionately love, take value and conserve the nation’s cultural heritages that have already been discovered across the country.—(Translated by Khin Maung Win)


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