E-Pao! Features - The Precious Myanmar

The Precious Myanmar
By:- Dr. Dhanabir Laishram *

Myanmar is much more than a neighbor to the Manipuris. They are mandatory part of our history since time immemorial so in brief the History of Manipur can never be completed without the Myanmarese.

The history of the two nations before the advent of British had been a story of struggle between the two people of Burma known to the Manipuris as Awas after the Ava dynasty that ruled Myanmar from Mandalay in upper Burma.

There have been stories of triumphs and defeats on both sides of the fluctuating fortune. The decades long connection with the Myanmarese doesn't end only with the war and conflict. In the process, there had been another side of the coin where many Manipuri princesses had been married to the Ava Kings so as to foster better relationship between the erstwhile Kingdoms.

Now all these have merely become the history of the past and stories of war and hatred have been swept away by the powerful force of time, the greatest healer. Today very hospitable and cheerful Myanmarese receives us.

For the border areas, trade and commerce have already come of age and friendly ties appear to be deepening day by day. These sight and thought have made me more determined to penetrate further and further into the Teak Curtain.

Traveling into Myanmar is like a journey to the dreamland. It has its own environment and charm different from others. As our tourist bus accelerated through the stillness of the silent valley, my heart became heavy for the reasons I can't explain.

The long sleeping ranges of Ango Mountains and Molcham hill ranges came into view one after another. The exotic side of Kabaw valley and the gentle breeze that blows with a refreshing touch seems to be whispering, "Come back again".

When you travel bisecting the three provinces of Kabaw valley namely Samjok, Kaley, and Khampat in Myanmar, you will soon lose yourself at thought for this is the vast sprawling valley that Manipuris still adores. Yet again, a cruise on the Ningthi Turen (River) evoked something special.

When the light of the day sank into darkness and the roar of the stream become louder, a question sprang up in my mind: "How our forefathers had forayed here?" At far a faint galloping sound of the Manipuri warriors advancing towards Mandalay seemed to have penetrated through the ears and later I realized it was just a flashback of the history.

The journey from Kalemyu to Kalewa had been a historic journey. Kalewa is a small town by the river of Ningthi Turen. Kalewa was once an important commercial center where the activities of trade and commerce were being carried out between Myanmarese and Manipuris.

Whenever we go to any roadside eatery Inn, we are received by the hospitable Myanmarese in an adorable standing ovation. There we enjoy the same cuisine and dishes available in Manipur. They serve the same vegetable and our fish species that is already extinct in Manipur long ago.

Such species are abundantly available in Myanmar at a considerably cheap price. There are no extra charges on vegetables and rice. This is something that does not occur when we go beyond Dimapur in India.

Now the larger questions that have emerged are, where is your right direction and to whom you may give your love and compassion and from whom you received a reciprocal moral intimacy and love? The answer comes only when you take a trip to Myanmar and parts of South East Asia.

I was one of the tour members in one of the tourist packages organized by one Tour Agency Indo-Myanmar Fraternal Tourist Center in 2004, November. Among others I was touched by the striking similarities of our Kangla and Royal Palace in Mandalay.

There is strong resemblance between the Royal Palace of Mandalay and Kangla Fort in Manipur with the moat encircling them and we cannot deny the fact the Royal Palace and Kangla are of same character and models. The only heart breaking truth is that the Kangla Fort is totally neglected and is in a pathetic state.

The Lai Haraophams and sacred shrines of Umang lai are seen in Shan State in many locations as they are in Manipur. Ponies were seen grazing in the lush green fields of Shan State. The housing patterns in Shan state are very much similar to ours.

The long 24 hours journey in Shan state revealed and retold a lot of forgotten chapters of history. The traditional threshold gate of every household with three bamboo poles is exactly the same to the Manipuris traditional Konthong.

It is high time for the historians and other researchers to personally verify the place. There had been debate in Manipur to the genesis of our roots and migration chapter. Visiting of Shan State will amply provide certain clues leading to our roots and genesis. Let not big volumes in the dusty shelf argue.

It is better to go and have a physical verification for the Shan State that hardly a day or two's journey from your border. Being an educationist without practical knowledge could sometimes harmful to the society.

Lastly I would like to share one of the folklores narrated by one of the old natives in Myanmar. It is about the tale of a Naga (Dragon), which was worshipped by the Myanmarese in the olden days. The character of the Naga and the way Myanmarese worships it has the same character to our Meitei deity Pakhangba. Let us take a hard reckoning together.

The regional of Burmese before 1044 was a mixture of three difficult elements:

(1) the worship of Ari Monks, who preached a form of Buddhism deteriorated almost beyond recognition, and who were great exponent of magic and alchemy;
(ii) worship of Nat-spirits, and
(iii) worship of the Naga; and definitely, the Naga that was worshiped was a dragon and not a man.

Anwrahta suppressed the existing religion into different ways. He unfrocked the Ari Monks and forced them to join his army as ordinary soldiers, thereby impressing upon the people that the monks they worshiped were inferior to him and he put images of the Nat-spirits and figures of the Naga in the attitude of worship before the images of the Buddha in his pagodas, thus impressing upon the people that their old gods themselves worship the Buddha.

Anwrahta made the ship of Ari illegal, but did not make the worship of the Naga and the Nats illegal provided the worship became subsidiary to the worship of the Buddha, and Nat and Naga temples were allowed to remain. From this it would seem possible that the Naga - lad who was said to have hidden Kyansittha was an attendant in a Naga temple, and that Kyansittha was hidden in a Naga temple.

There exists much folklore regarding the Naga. The Burmese Naga is definitely of the serpent brood. A Naga can burn anything into ashes by merely looking askance at it in anger. But this power doesn't affect the Galon, who is the arch enemy of the Naga, for the galon loves to eat Naga flesh.

A Naga is able to assume human form at will. When a Naga who has assumed human form falls sleep. He automatically becomes a Naga again. A Naga gives jewels, especially rubies, to those whom he likes or to those who worship him. There have been instances of a male Naga in the form of a human mating with a human woman and female Naga in the form of a human mating with a man.

Nagas live underground or on the floor of the sea. Whirlpools and earthquakes are often caused by the Nagas. Under each mud volcano in Minbu district, there lies a Naga who guards it. But unlike the Nat Spirit, the Naga doesn't interfere much in human affairs, and usually remains an onlooker for human being.

There are also many place-name stories which are about Nagas, for many villages in upper Burma are known by names which have some reference to the Nagas as, for example, "Naga-bo" which means "Naga Male", "Naga-Dwin", which means "Naga-Pit". The very word Naga shows that the Burmese Naga has much to do with the Indian Naga, and doubtless the Burmese Naga is also intimately connected with the Chinese dragon.

The tradition and the religious doctrines, which were practiced by the Myanmarese in those days, have striking similarities with the Manipuris beliefs. Folklores and folksongs always depict the roots and genesis of a community or a race. Closely analyzing every aspects of the traditions and culture both Myanmarese and Manipuris we can safely conclude that we originated from the same root and wholly belongs to the same forefathers and ancestors.

* Dr. Dhanabir Laishram , Dept. of Political Sciences, Manipur University, wrote this article.
(Courtesy: Indo Myanmar Fraternal Alliance, Manipur)
This article was webcasted on 17 October 2005.

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