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Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism


Maung Htin Aung. Printed and published by U Myint Maung, Deputy Director, Regd: No (02405/02527) at the Religious Affairs Dept. Press. Yegu, Kaba-Aye P.O., Rangoon, BURMA. 1981.

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Lord with the White Umbrella
Royal Mother of Lord with White Umbrella
Sole Lord of Pareim-ma
Elder Inferior Gold
Younger Inferior Gold
Lady Bandy-Legs
Lady Hunch-Back
Old Lord of the Solitary Banyan Tree
Lord Sithu
Young Lord of the Swing
Valiant Lord Kyawswa
Captain of Main Army Aungsua
Royal Cadet
Lady Golden Words

Author's notes

UKT notes
Burmese names Kason Nyaung-ye Thun Pw Nga Py

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Lords 4 to 8

09. Lord with the White Umbrella
10. Royal Mother of Lord with White Umbrella
11. Sole Lord of Pareim-ma

UKT: Entry numbers 9, 10, and 11 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism
   Burmese names especially those of kings and royalty are always confusing to a non-Burmese. A king will be referred to by many names, which are not necessarily given names or family names, but by titles given by the king to himself, and other honorific titles given by later kings and his subjects.

The Lord with the White Umbrella (no.9), his Mother (no.10), and the Sole Lord of Preimma {pa.raim~ma.} (no.11) were the father, grandmother and stepbrother of Anawrahta {a.nau-ra.hta} himself. [UKT ]

In A.D.906 fn090-01 a usurper seized the throne of Pagan after killing the king, one of whose queens fled the palace with the dead king's child in her womb. She stayed in hiding in a small village and gave birth to Kunhsaw {kwum:hsau}. While the child was growing up the usurper had died and the throne passed to his son. The usurper's son himself was killed by Nyaung-u Sawrahan {aung-U: sau-ra.han:}. Later, Kunhsaw became  king of Pagan by popular acclaim and Nyaung-u Sawrahan was killed, leaving three queens, two of whom were already with child. Kunhsaw raised all three to be his queens, and the dead king's sons, Kyizo {ky-so:} and Sokkate {soak~ka.t:}, were born. The third queen later  gave birth to Kunhsaw's own son, Anawrahta. [UKT ]

Kunhsaw treated Kyizo and Sokkat as if they were his own sons, and Kyizo was given the title of 'Sole Lord' with the village of Preimma {pa.raim~ma.rhin} as his fief. However, the two brothers, when they came of age, plotted together and deposed Kunhsaw by forcing him to become a monk. [UKT ]

The new king, Kyizo, was accidentally killed near Popa Hill during a deer-hunt by a hunter who was shooting at a deer. Sokkat then became king and Anawrahta had to wait some twenty-five years before he could rebel. He killed Sokkat in single combat and then offered the throne to his father, now an aged monk. On his father refusing, Anawrahta became king in A.D 1044.

Kunhsaw's mother is shown in later wooden images in the conventional attitude of grief, but there is no tradition of her dying of grief, as in the case of Golden Sides and Three Times Beautiful. But she did see her husband, the king, dethroned and killed, and she lived in want and anxiety for years. [UKT ]

Kunhsaw is worshipped as the Lord with the White Umbrella {hti:hpru-hsaung: nat}, but as Monk, not King, Kunhsaw. His images show him [{p091}] wearing a monk's yellow robes. A king on becoming a monk would lose the insignia of kingship, but Anawrahta, on becoming king, 'arrayed his father in all the articles pomp and use, and the five symbols of royalty, fn091-01 and the White Umbrella was the most important of these symbols of royalty. [UKT ]

Kyizo is worshipped not as king but as the popular young lord of the village of Preimma, but his images show him wearing the full regalia of a king. It should be noted that when Anawrahta came to the throne his royal father was still living, but by the time Buddhism was made the official religion of the country he was dead and being worshipped as a god.

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12. Elder Inferior Gold
13. Younger Inferior Gold

UKT: Entry numbers 12 and 13 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism
   It is curious why Dr. Htin Aung had used <inferior> to translate the Burmese word {hpyi:} when the word has obviously come from {hpyi:o:} meaning a <small pot>. The popular story connected with the name is that, at birth the each child was washed with water from a golden-pot.
   The two brothers are usually described as "the gold-pot brothers" {rhw-hpri: i-naung}. To be specific the elder is referred to as {rhw-hpri: kri:} and the younger as {rhw-hpri:l:}

Elder Inferior Gold and the Younger Inferior Gold, the Royal Grandfather of Mandalay, the Lady Bandy-Legs and the Old Man by the Solitary Banyan Tree were contemporaries of Anawrahta himself, and to this list I would also add the Lady Hunch-Back. The Elder and Younger Inferior God were famous sons of a famous father, Byat-ta. fn091-02 Byat-ta was executed and his window died of a broken heart and, stricken with remorse, Anawrahta sent for the two children, and gave them presents of gold. To be given presents of gold by the king was a mark of special favour for a child, but as presents of pure gold could be given only to princes of royal blood, the gold given to the two young boys was deliberately made a little impure. Elder and Younger Inferior Gold were placed under a tutor (who was also a minister) at Mandalay, and when they were fifteen years of age they joined the army. They gained great distinction in Anawrahta's 'Chinese Campaign', fn091-03 but when the army returned they were executed at the village of Taung-byon {taung-pron:} near Mandalay for a minor breach of discipline. Anawrahta had to be a stern disciplinarian, and he had to be ruthless whenever there was a possibility of a [{p092}] rebellion or mutiny. In the case of the two brothers, their disobedience was considered specially dangerous because the cult of the superman could have been revived round the two brothers. They were the sons of a 'mighty man of endeavour' and a 'flower-eating ogress,' and their exploits during the campaign had spread rumours of their supernatural power.

However, the execution of the young heroes must have caused great dissatisfaction among the people. As a result, Anawrahta was constrained to declare that they had become gods and to appoint them 'the Lords of Taung-byon.' Just as the Popa Village was given as fief to the Lord of the Great Mountain, the village of Taung-byon was given as a fief to the two brothers. Their tutor was also executed and he died with great dignity, protesting that his guilt did not amount even to a 'finger-joint'. His images show him in the robes of a minister of state, with his right hand stretched out with the thumb placed on the top joint of the forefinger. This gesture and the phrase 'not as big as even a finger-joint' go together, and are used even at the present day in ordinary conversation. The ogress-mother who had died of grief has been worshipped at Taung-byon and at Popa since Anawrahta's days, but she is not included among the Thirty-seven.

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15. Lady Bandy-Legs
Lady Hunch-Back (listed as 28. Lady Bent)

UKT: Entry numbers 15 and 28 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

The tutor's sister, Lady Bandy-Legs, was executed along with him. Lady Hunch-Back is grouped among the Ava gods and goddesses because the Lady Hunch-Back of the Ava period merged with the Lady Hunch-Back of the Pagan period. This can be known, firstly from the fact that she is listed among the Thirty-seven by the Attendants at the Shwezigone Pagoda; and secondly, from the ritual song connected with the royal tutor:

I am the brother of two sisters,
The Ladies Bandy-Legs and Hunch-Back.

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16. Old Lord of the Solitary Banyan Tree

UKT: Entry number 16 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

The Old Lord of the Solitary Banyan Tree was one of the Mon princes who were taken captive to Pagan from the city of Thaton, together with their king, and he later died of leprosy. Again, this god obviously merged with an older god associated with the worship of the banyan tree. The Burmese believed in tree gods and worshipped large trees as the abode of these gods even before the coming of Buddhism. The banyan tree was worshipped, and water was poured on it as an offering in the parched months of summer. With the coming of Buddhism this ceremony of offering water to the banyan tree became a Buddhist ceremony {aung-r-thwan:pw:}, because the banyan tree is closely associated with the Buddha. Perhaps the Lord of the Banyan Tree, Lady Bandy-Legs and Lady Hunch-Back merged with earlier gods associated with some deformity of body. Just as some primitive peoples considered deformed persons evil and sinister, so others considered them to be occult and sacred.

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17. Lord Sithu
18. Young Lord of the Swing

UKT: Entry numbers 17 and 18 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

Lord Sithu (no.17), Young Lord of the Swing (no.18), Valiant Lord Kyawswa (no.19), Captain of the Main Army Aung-Swa (no.20), Royal Cadet (no. 21) and Lady Golden Words (no.22 -- the mother of no.21) may be grouped together as they lived in the later Pagan period. Lord Sithu (no.17) was the great king Alaungsithu (A.D. 1112-1167), who followed his grandfather Kyansittha on the throne. As he lay sick and dying in extreme old age he was killed by his son, Narathu (A.D. 1167-1170). His name was merged with that of an earlier Sithu, who was a son of and early king of Pagan, Theinsun (A.D. 734-744). This earlier Sithu and his brother Kyawswa were the sons of the northern queen, and they were suspected of plotting to do away with the heir to the throne, the son of the senior or southern queen. Accordingly, they were [{p094}] exiled, and they wandered all over the country having various adventures until they settled down at Myaung-tu village and started to dig irrigation canals. But the two brothers began to suspect each other of treachery, and in a fight with bare hands each killed the other. Thus, the image of Lord Sithu, when Anawrahta set it up, represented the earlier Sithu, but the greater personality of King Alaungsithu later obliterated the personality of his namesake.

The Young Lord of the Swing was the grandson of Alaung-sithu. His father was the crown prince Minshinsaw, who became king after Alaungsithu's assassination, but only for a day, as he was poisoned by his brother, the murderer of Alaungsithu. The Young Lord of the Swing, after the usual initiation ceremony of a Burmese boy, was spending some time at a monastery as a novice, but while playing on a swing in the monastery grounds, he fell and was killed instantaneously.

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19. Valiant Lord Kyawswa

UKT: Entry numbers 19 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

The Valiant Lord Kyawswa was originally the brother of the earlier Sithu and the image at the Shwezigone Pagoda represented this Kyawswa, but his personality has been merged with three later Kyawswas. One of the ministers of Alaungsithu had four sons, all in the king's service, but whereas the elder three were serious and well-behaved, the youngest Kyawswa was a wild young man who married the daughter of the manufacturer of toddy-wine from Popa village, for the girl was so beautiful and the father so skilful as a maker of toddy. He spent his time in cock-fighting, setting off fireworks and drinking, and he finally died of drink. This was the second Kyawswa. The last king of Pagan, Narathihapate (1254-1287), had three sons, Uzana, Governor of Bassein, Thihathu, Governor of Prome, and Kyawswa, Governor of Dalla. After the fall of Pagan to the Tartars, Thihathu forced the king, his father, who had come to Prome, to swallow poison of threat [{p095}] of death by the sword. He then went to Bassein, found Uzana ill in bed, and promptly hacked him to death. Thihathu then turned his attention to Kyawswa, but he accidentally shot himself with an arrow as he was setting his cross-bow, and Kyawswa returned to Pagan as the surviving heir. But soon he was strangled to death by some of his governors who wanted to seize the throne. This was the third Kyawswa. After the fall of Pagan the kingdom broke up into various petty kingdoms, until two new kingdom emerged, namely Ava in Upper Burma and Pegu in Lower Burma. Minhkaung (1401-1422) of Ava and Razadarit (1385-1423) of Pegu then struggled for supremacy. Minhkaung's son, Minye Kyawswa, born in 1391, was a brilliant soldier, and he took part in a campaign at the early age of thirteen. He led the life of a professional soldier and was a hard drinker. He became the commander-in-chief of the Burmese army in 1409 and won a series of brilliant victories, but in 1417 he was taken prisoner after being severely wounded and died shouting defiance with his last breath. This was the fourth Kyawswa.

However, it is the personality of the second Kyawswa which has dominated the personalities of the others, as the following extract from the ritual song connected with the Valiant Lord Kyawswa will show:

Do you not know me? Have you not seen me at cock-fights? Have you not seen me letting off fireworks? Many times have I fallen prostrate in the gutter, drunken with my wife's wine, and many times have I been picked up by the loving hands of pretty village maidens.

Do you not know me, the god with the wine bottle, the famous Lord Kyawswa? If you do not like me, avoid me. I admit I am a drunkard. My neighbours despise me, but do I care for public opinion? If they do not like me, they can avoid me.

It is not surprising that Lord Kyawswa is considered the guardian-god of rogues and vagabonds.

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20. Captain of the Main Army Aungswa

UKT: Entry number 20 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

Captain Aungswa was in the First Army of the Kingdom, whose commander-in chief was the Crown Prince who later became King Narapatisithu (1173-1200). His elder brother, King Naratheinhka (1170-1173), fell in love with Narapatisithu's wife, and sent him and his army to the frontier after falsely announcing that a rebellion had broken out there. The Crown Prince had to go, but he had a suspicion that there was something wrong, and left his own horse and his trusted officer Nga Aung Pyi at Pagan to wait and watch. After a few days the King seized the Crown Princess and made her his fourth queen. Nga Aung Pyi rode post-haste in the wake of the army, but when he reached a river he mistook a sandbank glittering in the moonlight for water and thought the river too wide to cross safely at night. So he slept whilst waiting for daylight to appear. The Crown Prince was only a little distance away on the other side of the river, and he became full of forebodings as he heard the neighing of his horse. When morning dawned Nga Aung Pyi swiftly crossed the river, caught up with the army, and broke the news to the Crown Prince, who was at first grateful to his officer but later asked, 'Where did you sleep last night?' 'On the other side of the river,' was the reply. The Crown Prince regretted the unnecessary delay, and in his anger executed Nga Aung Pyi for neglect of duty. But as the dead body floated downstream he was full of remorse and ordered that the spirit of Nga Aung Pyi be worshipped as one of the Thirty-seven, thus replacing an earlier god. But although Master Aung Pyi is included in the list maintained by the Attendants at Shwezigone Pagoda, he is dropped in the later lists.

The Crown Prince then selected his best Captain, Aungswa, and ordered him to lead an advance party to Pagan. 'I will give you one of his queens if you can kill the King,' promised the Crown Prince. So, as the army turned back and marched towards Pagan, Captain Aungswa and his men went ahead, [{p097}] raided the palace and killed the King. When the Crown Prince arrived on the scene and was on the point of asking his gallant captain to make his choice among the three queens, the women wept and pleaded, 'We are your cousins, we are queens. Surely you would not give one of us to an ordinary army captain?' The King relented and said to Aungswa, 'I did make you the promise to give you a queen, but would you not be satisfied with the daughter of a minister?' The Captain said 'Pish!' in contempt. For this act of insubordination, which angered the King, Aungswa was executed. Later, in view of his past services, Aungswa was raised to the status of a god and added to the list of Thirty-seven, thus replacing an earlier god.

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21. Royal Cadet
22. Lady Golden Words (mother of 21)

UKT: Entry numbers 21 and 22 of Dr. Htin Aung's Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism

The Royal Cadet (no. 21) was the son of Sawmun-hnit, who was the son of Kyawswa, and who was put on the throne of Pagan by the usurpers after they had killed Kyawswa. But by that time Pagan had become a mere province, and so Sawmun-hnit was not really the king but the governor of Pagan, although because he was a direct descendant of the dynasty of Anawrahta he was given the regalia and the rank of a king. The young cadet spent his time cock-fighting instead of marching with the army. So he was put in stocks by the order of his father, but the punishment was too heavy for the frail lad and he died. His mother, the queen Lady Golden Words (no.22), died of grief on learning that her son had died in these tragic circumstances. Of these later Pagan gods, the non-inclusion of the Royal Cadet and his Mother in the list maintained by the Attendants at the Shwezigone Pagoda can be explained by the fact that the kingdom of Pagan ended with the death of Kyawswa, and Sawmun-hnit, as has been stated above, was a king merely in name, and the Chronicles correctly consider Kyawswa to be the last king of Pagan. With regard to the non-inclusion of the Little Lord of the Swing, it seems that Master [{p098}] Aung Pyi replaced him,  but this substitution was probably not accepted generally, Nga Aung Pyi is worshipped at the present day only in the region where he was executed. He is worshipped on his own, moreover, and not as one of the Thirty-seven Lords.

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Author's notes

fn090-01 This date (given in the Chronicles) is obviously wrong, since Kunhsaw would be 138 years old in A.D 1044. fn090-01b

fn091-01 Tin & Luce, op. cit., p.64 fn091-01b

fn091-02 See Ch. 6. fn091-02b

fn091-03 Tin & Luce, op. cit., p.81 fn091-03b

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UKT notes

Burmese names

Burmese names especially those of kings and royalty are always confusing to a non-Burmese. A king will be referred to by many names, which are not necessarily given names or family names, but by titles given by the king to himself, and other honorific titles given by later kings and his subjects. The same is true for nats. E.g.:
Anawrahta - {a.nau-ra.hta}; {a.nau-ra.hta min:sau} (GPC-Bur, p.230); {a.nau-ra.hta sau} (U Ba Than, p.51)
Kunhsaw - {kwam:hsau}; {kwam:hsau kraung-hpru-ming:} (U Ba Than, p.47, GPC-Bur, p.225)
- Kunhsaw as nat - {hti:hpru-hsaung: nat}
Nyaung-u Sawrahan - {aung-U: sau:ra.han:} (U Ba Than, p.47)
  - {taung-thu-kri:}; {taung-thu-kri: aung-U: sau:ra.han:} (GPC-Bur, p.222)

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Kason Nyaung-ye Thun Pw

Because it is held on the full-moon of {ka.hsoan}, it is more commonly known as {ka.hsoan aung-r-thwan:pw:}

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Nga Py

The tragic tales of Nga Aung Pyi {nga.aung-pr.} and Aungswa {nga.aung-swa-ng} were given in The Glass Palace Chronicle (in Burmese), (GPC-Bur) p.313-316.

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