Update: 2008-09-10 10:13 PM +0800




in Journal of the Burma Research Society, XLIII, i, June 1960

Copied and set in HTML by staff of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR. Edited by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.). Not for sale. Prepared for students of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR.

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UKT: The intrusion of Sanskrit into Myanmar-Pali and Burmese can be gauged from a study of the Burmese literature on Ayuvedic medicine and Nakshatra astrology practiced in Myanmar. The following article which throws some light on the worship of Hindu gods and goddesses also provides some information on the influence of Sanskrit on the Burmese language.  A photocopy of the following article, was provided to me by Daw Papa Aung, lecturer in Pali, Yangon University.

Ghoramanta / Goravinda
Orthography of Ghoramanta
Orhography of Goravinda

UKT notes
Lower Myanmar Manipur Brahmins Nat Nat Prison of Pagan Thirty-seven Kings

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JBRS p51

BURMA today is a professedly Buddhist country and it follows the Pāli Canon of the Hīnayāna School. The Theravāda form of Buddhism was introduced into Pagan in Upper Burma, the then cradle of Burmese culture, in the third quarter of the eleventh century through the energetic efforts of king Anawrahta (1044-77 CE). According to the available records, this form of Buddhism was brought from Rāmaadesa {ra-ma~a. de-tha.} [UKT: approximately the present southern or Lower Myanmar. Notice also the orthography of {ra-ma~a.} where {a.kri:} is not Burmese-Myanmar, but Pali-Myanmar and is a horizontal conjunct of two {a.l:}], the cradle of Mn culture. As regards the history of the introduction of Buddhism in the Mn region, we are to depend entirely on the evidence of the Sinhalese like chronicles the Dipavaṁsa and the Mahāvaṁsa, according to which the faith was introduced into Suvaṇṇabhūmi by Soṇa and Uttara, the two missionaries sent by the Venerable Moggaliputta Tissa, the president of the Third Buddhist Council, held under the patronage of the Great Maurya Aśoka. But that is all tradition and its definite historicity is yet to be proved. The only thing that can be asserted with any amount of certainty at this stage of historical research is that the introduction of the faith must have taken place not later than the fifth or sixth century. But, as to the nature of the form of Buddhism, there is yet some doubt.

So far about Buddhism. Now looking at the entire stretch of South-east Asia we find that all the countries, which were commercially connected with India or in which the Indians settled, were permeated with Brahmanical culture and its elaborate paraphernalia of rites and rituals, gods and goddesses, myths and legends. In Java, Sumātrā, Campā and Kamboja, Brahmanical and Buddhist cultures flourished side by side. In Siam too, which is avowedly Buddhist, finds of Brahmanical deities testify to the prevalence of Brahmanical culture in the land. But what about Burma? Staying midway between India and South-east Asia, one pauses to think, whether or not Burma could remain unaffected by the impact of Brahmanical culture. The answer is an emphatic no. Indeed, she too was highly influenced by this great culture. Archaeological and historical evidences have proved this beyond doubt.

Early Mn inscriptions of Burma testify to the existence of the Brahmanical influence in the Burmese Buddhist courts. These records further go to suggest that the rituals and ceremonies, which were performed by the people of the land, were partially Brahmanical in character, and the god who was offered worship was invariably Viṣṇu. Brahmanical influence is also indicated by certain ancient place names in Burma. But the best proof of the prevalence of Brahmanism is supplied by the archaeological discoveries of Brahmanical gods and temples in the country. Of the Hindu temples of ancient Burma, one is still in existence. That is the Nat-hlaung Kyaung at Pagan, the main deity of which is the Brahmanical god Viṣṇu himself. Besides the main deity, the shrine accommodates the representations of as many as seven incarnations of Viṣṇu. Stylistically speaking, these sculptures are to be dated in the ninth or tenth century. The presence of this shrine and the sculptures it houses prove beyond doubt the existence of the Brahmanical population in Upper Burma at an early period of the country's history. But with the growth of Theravāda Buddhism in the country, these [{p52}] temples gradually fell into disuse and ultimately became lost. Most of the images, which once sanctified these temples, are now emerging out of the debris of the ruins of centuries. Such Brahmanical images have been unearthed from Pagan in Upper Burma (northern Burma), Hmawza in Central Burma, Thaton and Tennasserim in the south-eastern coast of the country and at ancient Vesālī in the Arakan zone. The earliest one of these images seems to have belonged to the sixth or seventh century, while the latest one can approximately be placed in the fourteenth. Most of the images discovered are that of Viṣṇu in different forms. Next comes Śiva. Next come in order of importance Sūrya, Brahmā and Gaṇeśa. About these gods Dr. Niharranjan Ray has discussed at length in his work the Brahmanical Gods in Burma. But small as the span of his investigation was, the learned scholar could not deal with other Brahmanical deities like Caṇḍi {saN~i} and Durgā. Their presence, however, in Burmese Brahmanical pantheon has been recognised by him. A perusal through the Burmese literature shows that not only these Brahmanical deities but many others were not merely known to the Burmese people of yore, but some of them are even now worshipped by the people as nats. In this paper an attempt has been made to speak a few words about a less known and less important (according to the Burmese reckoning) Brahrnanical god in Burma, a god whose identification has become a problem to many.

In the Thirty-seven Kings a work in Burmese by U Po Kya, there is the reference to several Hindu deities, distributed into six sets, each of which contains the names of five gods and goddesses who are regarded with great respect in Burma. The names of these deities have been found mentioned in ancient Burmese literature and inscriptions. In one of these sets, namely the fourth, ascribed to king Thalun, (1629-48), there is the mention of Ghoramanta {Gau-ra-man~ta.}, otherwise known as Goravinda, along with two goddesses Syāsvatī (Sarasvatī) and Candī (Caṇḍī), as also two gods, viz., Paramīsvā (Parameśvara, an appellation of Śiva) and Mahābinne (Mahāvināyaka, another name of the god Gaṇeśa). While there is no difficulty in identifying the last four deities, the matter is not so easy in the case of Ghoramanta or Goravinda. The following observation is, therefore, made in an attempt to identify this divinity.

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Orthography of Ghoramanta

UHS p167
ghora {Gau:-ra.} -- {Gau:-ra. nat} is a name of Siva

PTS p258
ghora --  (adj.) [Vedic ghora, orig. meaning, wailing, howling, lamenting] terrible, frightful, awful

We shall first take up the name Ghoramanta, which in Burmese pronunciation sounds like Goramiṇḍa. The word ghora means fierce, while manta means a hymn, a charm, an incantation. Going by the formation of the word, one may be inclined to take it to signify a god who is invoked with prayers fierce in nature. As such, the word seems to refer to some fierce Tantric god. But against this contention it may be said that in the seventeenth century, the period under investigation, Tantricism was almost in the wane in Burma and its place was gradually being taken up by a later form of Vaishṇavism through the efforts of the Manipur Brahmins. Besides, we do not know of any Tantric god having the name Ghoramanta or any similar name. As such, it is rather difficult to accept Ghoramanta as a Tantric god.

The term Ghora also means the god Śiva. One may be inclined to identify manta with the Pāli word manda, Sanskrit mandra, meaning sound; the word Ghoramanta thus referring to the sound of the hand -- drum (ḍamaru) of Śiva. If this identification could be accepted, it would have been possible to identify Ghoramanta with Siva. But the identification of manda with manta is not phonetically possible.

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JBRS p53

There is a further difficulty in trying to identify Ghoramanta with Śiva. Against this identification it may be said that nowhere in Brahmanical literature is Śiva mentioned as Ghoramanta. Then again in the particular set under consideration, Śiva has already been referred to by the name Paramīsvā (Parameśvara). It may be pointed out here that according to the list supplied by U Po Kya, the name of the same god has never appeared more than once in the same group.

Then again it has been suggested by some that Ghora of Ghoramanta reminds one of Aghora, another name of Śiva. These scholars are of opinion that Ghoramanta actually refers to the Aghora cult, a form of Śaiva Tantricism still prevalent in certain parts of rural Bengal, which might have been prevalent in Burma during the period under consideration. So far as this view is concerned it may be said that such a cult might have been prevalent in the country during the period, but it has got nothing to do with Ghoramanta as the identification of Ghora with Aghora, i.e. Śiva, puts us in the same difficulty of having reference to the same god more than once in the same group.

Thus, on the face of the grounds mentioned above, it is rather difficult to accept Ghoramanta as referring to Śiva.

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Orthography of Goravinda

Let us now discuss the other name, i.e. Goravinda. The nearest known name of a Hindu god is Govinda which is one of the many names by which the Hindus adore Viṣṇu. It may be pointed out that in U Po Kya's list there is some sort of a reference to Visnu in each and every group except the fourth. As such, one may be inclined to identify Goravinda with Govinda. The only difficulty one confronts to identify these two names is the presence of an additional syllable ra in the former. But it may be pointed out that in Burmese it is not an uncommon feature to insert a r in a word to give it a more dignified appearance, particularly in a religious context. No doubt such an insertion is arbitrary. But the custom is rather old, and apparently wrong phonetic forms are passing on as correct ones. A few examples may be quoted here for reference.

If the insertion of r mentioned above be accepted; it may not be difficult to surmise the insertion of a ra in a word, and once that is done an explanation is found for the change of Govinda to Goravinda.

Now, if Goravinda can be regarded as a phonetic distortion of Govinda, then it may be argued that the word signifies the Hindu divinity Viṣṇu. This identification again fits in well with the context for the reasons given below. [{p54}]

(1) It has already been pointed out that Śaivism and Vaishṇavism entered Burma centuries back. As such, though Śiva and Viṣṇu are Hindu divinities, yet they have been absorbed by the Burmese popular religious pantheon. Even now these two and many other Brahmanical deities are worshipped in this country as nats.

(2) According to the list of U Po Kya, in all the groups but the fourth, there is some direct or indirect reference to Viṣṇu. In the fourth group again, all the popular divinities have been mentioned except Viṣṇu, unless we agree to identify Goravinda with Govinda. That in seventeenth century Burma Visṇu's popularity did not wane much is evident from the fact that both before and after this century the name of Viṣṇu is found along with those of other popular gods and goddesses. Moreover, -- if the identification of Goravinda with Govinda be not accepted -- there crops up a lacuna (UKT: a missing part) so far as the popularity of the Viṣṇu cult is concerned a gap which becomes difficult to be explained.

(3) It may be pointed out further that Burma came in very close contact with Manipur in Assam sometime in the sixteenth century. As a result, a good number of Maṇipur brahmins came into this country and settled here. These brahmins originally migrated to Maṇipur form Navadvīpa in Bengal, their original home, which was the birth-place and the early centre of activities of Śrī Caitanya (1485-1527), a very famous exponent of neo-Vaishṇavism. The Maṇipur brahmins are devotees of Visnu and they regard Caitanya as one of his apostles. So, when they came over to Burma they did not fail to bring with them their religious faith which they follow even now very sincerely, as is evident from the faith of the Pounahs {poaN~Na:}, the name by which the Maṇipur brahmins are known in Burma today. It may be mentioned further that in their religious activities and devotional songs these brahmins refer to Viṣṇu as Govinda, and not as Viṣṇu.

Let us go back to the word Ghoramanta which may be just a wrong form of the Sanskrit word Gauracandra, the Pāli form would be Goracanda, one of the many names by which his followers refer to Śrī Caitanya. The difficulty of accepting this identification lies with the first, third and last syllables. It may pointed out, however, that in Burmese the pronunciation of gha {Ga.} and ga {ga.} often gets confused. As such it is not very unlikely that Ghora of Ghoramanta is just a form of the Pāli Gora, the spelling being based on a confused pronunciation. So far as the third syllable is concerned, it is not very unlikely that ma {ma.} is a scribal mistake for ca {sa.} . The last syllable ta {ta.} for the expected da {da.} may also be based on a confusion in pronunciation. If this contention be accepted, the problem becomes rather simple and it does not become misfit with the context. Against this view it may possibly be said that the changes suggested are rather too drastic. But at the same time it may be submitted that the possibility of such changes in spelling cannot be ruled out altogether.

There may, however, be a suggestion that Ghoramanta refers to a god riding on a horse. Against this possible interpretation, the following points may be raised:

(a) Amongst the many words for a horse in Sanskrit and Pāli, one is ghoṭaka {Gau-Ta.ka.} from which the later Bengali word ghodā has been derived. Against the contention of taking ghora for a horse, it may be said that it is not at all likely that the name of a god will [{p55}] be formed out of a vernacular word when more dignified forms are available from classical languages. Phonetically too changes. to , which at times may be changed to l , but not to r . Thus, ghoḍā may at the most become gholā but not ghorā .

PTS p258
ghoṭaka {Gau-Ta.ka.} -- [cp. Sk. ghoṭaka ] a bad horse

(b) Then again, it is not easy to explain the change of ā of ghodā to a, particularly in Burmese in which there is a general tendency to lengthen the final a and not vice versa.

(c) Moreover, there is no important Hindu god which is known to be riding on a horse. Reference may be made to Sūrya and the divine physicians Aśvins. None of them, however, rides on a horse. Sūrya, who has got the horse for his carrier, moves about in a chariot drawn by horses and not on the horse itself. The Aśvins too are regarded as moving in chariots drawn only by horses. One may refer to Raivata, the son of Sūrya, who no doubt has got for his carrier a horse. But Raivata is not a very significant god even in the Brahmanical pantheon, and thus it is not very likely that such a god did ever find a place in the Burmese religious pantheon.

In view of the points discussed above it is hardly possible to accept the suggestion that Ghoramanta of Goravinda represents a god riding on a horse. It appears further that Goravinda suggests a better reading and it may be taken to be an ornamental spelling for Govinda, one of the many names of Viṣṇu. But if the reading Ghoramanta be insisted on, it may be taken to be a corrupted form of the Sanskrit word Gauracandra, which also suggests the prevalence of the Viṣṇu cult, a fact which fits in well with the religious history of Burma during the period under consideration. Moreover, in view of the fact that when in ancient kingdoms of Kamboja, and Campā Visnu was known by various names like Nārāyaṇa, Hari, Govinda, Keśava, Vāsudeva, Murāri, Acyuta and so on, is it too much to expect that he would be known by more than one name in Burma which was so much influenced by Vaishnavism and the Vaishnava culture in the days of yore?

In view of the points discussed above it is hardly possible to accept the suggestion that Ghoramanta of Goravinda represents a god riding on a horse. It appears further that Goravinda suggests a better reading and it may be taken to be an ornamental spelling for Govinda, one of the many names of Viṣṇu. But if the reading Ghoramanta be insisted on, it may be taken to be a corrupted form of the Sanskrit word Gauracandra, which also suggests the prevalence of the Viṣṇu cult, a fact which fits in well with the religious history of Burma during the period under consideration. Moreover, in view of the fact that when in ancient kingdoms of Kamboja, and Campā Visnu was known by various names like Nārāyaṇa, Hari, Govinda, Keśava, Vāsudeva, Murāri, Acyuta and so on, is it too much to expect that he would be known by more than one name in Burma which was so much influenced by Vaishnavism and the Vaishnava culture in the days of yore?

UKT: Ghoramanta on Galon -- According to U Sein Pe, Method of Nine-god Puja (in Burmese), {shw-ti~-sa-p-teik}, Yangon, 1982, p.83, Ghoramanta {Gau:ra.man~ta.} rides a galon not a horse -- the picture on the right. He is invoked during the worship of {Bu.ra: ko:hsu}


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UKT notes

Lower Myanmar

The present day Lower Myanmar or South Myanmar region, particularly the parts close to the sea, was generally known as {ra-ma~a. de-tha.} or the "Land of Rama". Rama, the Brahmanical god, was never recognised as a Myanmar-Buddhist "god", and the name the "Land of Rama" itself shows that the area was heavily under the influence of Hinduism, the religion of the Sanskrit-speaking Brahmans. Though nobody knows exactly how Sanskrit and Pali sounded, yet from the present day Hindi which is derived from Sanskrit and the present day Burmese which is closely related to Pali, we can assume that Sanskrit was a typical rhotic language where the speakers roll their " r's", whereas Pali was relatively free from the r sounds. We must also note that Sanskrit was an Indo-European language whereas Pali and its parent the language of Magada were probably Tibeto-Burman. Try as I might, I, a native-born Burmese speaker, can never pronounce Hindi words rightly -- a typical trait of a Tibeto-Burman speaker. In reading this article we must bear in mind that Sanskrit and Hinduism on one hand and Pali and Buddhism on the other are entirely different. Hinduism assumes the presence of an indestructible soul (the Atta), whereas Buddhism holds that the idea of an indestructible soul is nothing but a hypothesis which has no real meaning and is to be rejected (Anatta).

Notice also the orthography of {ra-ma~a.} where {a.kri:} is not the usual Burmese-Myanmar, but Pali-Myanmar and is a horizontal conjunct of two {a.l:} . Unless you realised it your pronunciation is bound to be wrong.

The question of pronunciation of Pali-Myanmar words has its roots on how Buddhism was introduced into Upper Myanmar, the old Pagan-Tagaung area. I am of the opinion that Buddhism was introduced into the Pagan-Tagaung area in the life time of Buddha, when a group of Buddha's relatives headed by {a.Bi.ra-za} sought refuge in Tagaung area as mentioned in the Chronicles. And therefore, the pronunciation of r6c5 consonant is IPA [θ] similar to English <th> in the English word <thin>. However, if the Buddhism that was introduced was through the Mons, this consonant would have to be pronounced as IPA [s], and the Pali-Myanmar language would have to be more rhotic. You can say that because of Anawratha, who persecuted the old religion of Aris, during the Pagan domination, the Pali-Myanmar language had become more rhotic. However, after the fall of Pagan at the hands of the Mongols, a group of "forest dwelling monks" did emerge who were probably carrying on the tradition of the old Aris particularly their script (if they had one before Anawratha's persecution) and the pronunciation of the Pali-Myanmar language. See Dr. Than Tun's "Forest dwelling monks and their tradition". It is a refutation of the idea of re-emergence of Aris in the reign of {tic-si:rhing thi-ha.thu} as mentioned in:  . Dr. Than Tun's paper in Burmese-Myanmar in PDF format is in the TIL library.

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Manipur Brahmins 

Manipuri community is comprised of Aryans and Kuki-chin people and thus the people of this community speaks in two distinct languages namely "Meitei language" and "Bishnupriya Manipuri language". As the Meiteis entered Manipur from the east, their language is of the Tibeto-Burman group. The Bishnupriyas entered Manipur from the west and so their language is of the Indo-Aryan group. Refer to Ashim Kumar Singha on Manipuri Language, http://manipuri.freeservers.com/ Last  in August 15, 2002 .

According to Saya Kalasan, an elder of the descendants of the Manupuri Brahmins residing in Yangon, whom I interviewed in October 2004, most of the Brahmins in Myanmar are Meitei-speakers. My interest in this group is to see the interaction of two language-groups, the Indo-Aryan (Indo-European) and the Tibeto-Burman.

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The Burmese word nat (singular and plural the same), spelled in Myanmar as {nat} can be loosely translated as <god>. A nat belongs to spiritual and non-human worlds. The popular Myanmar-Buddhism classifies all beings into denizens of 31 worlds who are subject to Mortality, Suffering and Uncertainly. The best of these worlds are those with long lives and minimal suffering, whereas the worst of them are with short lives and maximal suffering. The best of these worlds, the brahma words are asexual: there is no such being as a male brahma and a female brahma. The worlds of nat, below the brahmah worlds, are sexual and there are males and females. A nat has supernatural powers and is usually feared as well as revered by humans. However, there are bad nat almost approaching the status of ghosts and these are feared.

Both Śiva and Viṣṇu are taken to be nat, and both are considered to be mortal even though they have very long lives almost approaching immortality. Both are considered to be males still not freed from Greed, Anger, and Pride (or Ignorance).

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Nat Prison of Pagan or Pagan Hindu temple

Nat-lyaung Kyaung {nat lyaung: kyaung:} or Nat-lhaung Kyaung {nat lhaung kyaung:}.

The Myanmar word lyaung {lyaung:} means "to lie down" implying <resting>. As such Nat-lyaung Kyaung is a "resting place" for non-Budddhist "gods". This spelling was given by Min Si Thu, in Early History of Nat-worship in Myanmar, p135. 

However, if the Myanmar spelling is slightly changed and became {lhaung} it means a 'prison' where the non-Buddhist gods are detained. During the religious reforms brought about by King Anawrahta, the non-Buddhist images were rounded up and shut up in a building in the precincts of Shwzigon pagoda in Pagan. The spelling of Nat-hlaung Kyaung or 'the Monastery where all the Nats are kept prisoner' was given by Dr. Htin Aung, Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism, Religious Affairs Dept. Press, Yangon, 1981, p074. See nat-prison.htm .

Why would a king, instead of destroying the images, chose to shut them up is a question worth asking. Anawrahta, the empire-builder was probably following the example of Asoka the great Mauriya emperor who preceded him by more than a thousand years. It should be noted that the Mauriya empire had extended up to Assam and Manipur which share common borders with northern or Upper Burma.

As to the author's conclusion about the existence of a Brahmanical population in Upper Burma, I must add that at the most, it would be small. Still, Anawrahta instead of annihilating this population, had tried to include them by subjecting their gods under Sakka {thi.kra:min:}, the king of the gods who was one of the devotees of Gautama Buddha.
   See the Burmese meaning for nat .

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Phonetic possibility

I am doubtful whether the author, Devaprasad Guha, was familiar enough with Burmese to make such a sweeping statement. As a Myanmar-born ethnic Burmese who have been raised as a country boy in Myanmar, and who have worked for over 33 years as a university teacher, I must beg to differ with the author.

The Burmese consonant {ta.} , which is present in manta, is voiceless whose voiced counter-part is {da.}. {da.} is the character present in manda. These two consonants are present in the fourth row of the Myanmar abugida. Their equivalents in Devanagari are: {ta.} त and {da.} द , and though the Burmese word for an "incantation cum charm" is {man~tan} , it is generally pronounced as {man-dan}.

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Thirty-seven Kings

Thirty-seven Kings (in Burmese-Myanmar) by U Po Kya, {pa-ra.mi sa-p} 2nd printing 1999, pp.146 gave three sets of thirty-seven nats:
1. Buddhist 37 nats, p.9
   -- headed by {Ein~da.}
2. Inner 37 nats, p.12
   -- Pagan-era 37 nats kept within the precincts of Shwzigon pagoda, headed by {Da.ta.raT~Hta} with {thi-kra:} as the fifth.
3. Outer 37 nats, p.36
   -- nats kept outside the precincts of Shwzigon pagoda, headed by {thi-kra:} with {ma.ha-gi-ri. nat} as the second.

What the author had referred to seemed to be none of the above list. However, on p.18, under the heading The Great-Five Gods (Goddesses) {nat.kri:nga:pa:}, of the 17th century King Thalun, we find Goramanta as one of the five:
1. Syāsvatī (Sarasvatī),
2. Candī,
3. Paramīsvā,
4. Mahābinne, and
5. Ghoramanta {Gau-ra-man~ta.} or Goravinda {Gau-ra.wain~da.}.

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