Literature, Burmese /Dynastic Period

Literature, Burmese /Dynastic Period
   Burmese literature during the dynastic period-from the early Pagan Dynasty until the end of the Konbaung Dynasty-was characterized by strongly religious themes relating to Buddhism, an emphasis on the idealized achievements of kings, and the development of sophisticated forms of verse. Fictional works in prose, novels, and short stories did not appear until the British colonial period. Literature surviving from the early centuries is found on stone inscriptions (Kyauk-sa), the earliest being the Rajkumar or Myazeidi Inscription of 1113, carved on a four-faced stele with passages in the Burmese (Myanmar) language, Pali, the Mon language, and the language of the Pyus. Its subject matter is devoted to the Buddhist good works of members of the royal family. The earliest extant Burmese verse is also found on a stone inscription dating from 1374, but it is dedicatory or panegyric rather than lyrical in nature.
   The use of palm leaves (pei-za) inscribed with a stylus and paper folded into a book, accordion-style (parabaik), dates at least to the Pagan period, but no manuscripts from that time have survived. The earliest extant literature in this form comes from the Ava (Inwa) Period (1364-1555): a palm leaf manuscript titled the Yakhaing Minthami (Princess of Arakan), dated to 1455. Most authors during the Ava Period were members of the Sangha, men who had spent many years in Buddhist monasteries, and their themes with few exceptions remained religious and royal. Probably the greatest of the monk-poets was Shin Rathtathara (1468-1530), who wrote on the competing attractions of the worldly and monastic life. Distinct verse-forms emerged: the eigyin (historical ballads, e.g., the Yakhaing Minthami, above), mawgun (odes in praise of royal personages), and pyo (verses based on the Jatakas, or birth-tales of the Buddha, a medium in which Rathtathara excelled).
   A fourth verse form, yadu, were short poems, one to three stanzas long, on a wider variety of themes, including nature, romantic love, and the experiences of soldiers in war. During the Toungoo Dynasty (1555-1752), yadu poetry flourished, the most renowned poets being Nawaday the Elder (1545-1600) and Prince Nat Shin-naung (15781619). The early 18th-century writer Padei-tha-ya-za (1633-1754) composed pyo on nonreligious themes and also wrote about the common people. After the conquest of Ayuthaya, the capital of Siam, by King Hsinbyushin in 1767, Burmese literature was strongly influenced by Siamese (Yodaya) styles. During the 19th century, new literary forms emerged, including the yagan, a long narrative poem, and the pya-zat, or drama. Important writers included U Sa (1766-1853), Letwet Thondara, the Hlaing Princess, and the dramatist U Ponnya (1812-1867). During the late Konbaung period, dramas were extremely popular, and printed plays became bestsellers, in some sense anticipating the novels and short stories of the colonial and postcolonial eras. Between 1875 and 1900, 400 pya-zat were written and published. Historical literature was in the form of thamaing, the histories of pagodas, monasteries, or local districts, and yazawin, or royal chronicles (rajavamsa in Pali). U Kala (1678-1738) produced the Maha Yazawin-gyi (the Great Chronicle) in 1724, covering the period from the legendary beginning of the Burmese kingdom until 1711. King Bagyidaw commissioned a group of scholars to compile an official history, the Hman-nan Yazawin-daw-gyi (Glass Palace Chronicle) between 1829 and 1832, based largely on U Kala's work. A supplement to this was commissioned by King Mindon but not published until 1899.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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