Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Day in A Myint, northern Burma



Zaw Win Htet describes a day discovering ancient Buddhist sites around his hometown:

"Last Friday morning when I was having Monti (Burmese rice noodles) as my breakfast with all my family members, a car arrived and parked in front of my house. Ven. Pinnyasara, a chief monk of Bodhi Tahtaung Monastery's meditation centre, and his guests from Yangon came in and then asked my dad if anyone of us would mind to take them to A Myint as a volunteer guide. My dad and brother looked at me at the same time, then they pointed to me. I said happily, "yes." Thus, my wife and I became "Saw Ke Kings" as in a proverb of our township, "Saw Ke became a King (of Innwa) without any intention." This proverb is not strange to us as natives of Chaung U township because King Saw Ke from that proverb and from the history was not from other far sites and he was from A Myint in our township.

The monk and two guests let my wife and little niece come along with me that a space was available for two of them as well. On the way to Amyint, we went in a village beside the road where there is the sole palmprint of Buddha, the only one in the country and the world. We were taken to the pagodas by 76-year old Chief Monk of that monastery. In that monastery, though there were many old pagodas, many of them have been rebuilt. We feel missing of them and local people should be started to be educated how to preserve the ancient works. We saw a brick Buddha statue of a square face under a heap of bricks. Historian scholars inferred that this statue has an artistic sculptural style of Bagan Era. At about 10.30, we left there and went on.

Just a few minutes drive later, the recently preserved moat with no water was welcoming us, so was a high heap of old reddish bricks that local people call "Mingalar Myo Oo Pagoda", by showing or telling us a phenomenon or a philosophy of Constant Flux. I feel it is like telling us, "We were very new and beautiful one time but now all the people who built us, had gone and we ourselves are sadly old. See us!" Yes, it is true. In this way, I usually think about the past A Myint City of Innwa Era whenever I cross that moat and pass that pagoda. I see the Change of Everything by Time in A Myint. It was one time a big city where the Princes, Princesses and Dukes governed and lived. It was a big city where ancient kings relied on for their army when there was a war, but now it is just a big village where the township's administration offices are not stationed. King Swar Saw Ke had already disappeared, so had Duke Min Latwar. Although they and their people disappeared, today A Myint is still standing as a milestone of Myanmar's history and majestic days of ancient A Myint city. It is showing us the proofs of ancient Burmese people's outstanding architectural constructions, designs, arts of paintings and golden generosity. Today A Myint is still telling us some important points of history of our country. It is like telling us the Tides of History and Human Beings over River Chindwin's basin areas around Sanlahvati Kingdom, the original another name of Ot-jay-ni Kingdom. (Ot-jay-ni Kingdom and Sanlahvati Kingdom are the same capital citiy of a kingdom early before Bagan dynasties and at the same time as early Bagan dynasties; these names refer to A Myint.)

First of all in A Myint, we went in Pya-that monastery where Bagan Era's resin Buddha statue is. The Buddha statue is believed to be the one that King Alaung Sithu worshiped at the palace in Bagan. Although it was found in its own big pagoda in the south of the village, people brought it here to this Pya-that monastery so to be safe from the thieves of ancient statues. Some proofs have also been found to show that this resin Buddha statue was worshiped by King Alaung Sithu. The Chief Monk of that monastery gave all of us small booklets about the history of the Resin Buddha Statue (မံဘုရား, in Burmese). After paying worships to this Buddha, we went to Min Ye monastery and Min Ye Su Pagodas (meaning a cluster of pagodas in Min Ye monastery). We parked the car in the monastery next to the area of pagodas. U Thein Naing and U Thet Naing, the guests, took photographs of the old leaning wooden monastics. We walked up stairs of a few wide deep steps in the area of pagodas through a narrow gate. We walked on the walkways between the pagodas and the guests took a lot of time to take photos of different styles of old temples and an old lying Buddha statue with a slightly big flat smiling face as showing the style of Bagan Era's statues and as that can be seen in mural paintings. To show my guests the mural paintings of Thu-yaung trees and Jatakas pictures, I led the group to a temple numbered by the Ancient Research Department under the Ministry of Culture. This temple is one of the most famous temples in A Myint because it has mural paintings of the afore-mentioned Thu-yaung trees. It's famous for them. After about half an hour, we left Min Ye Su pagodas and led to the market for lunch of the monk, so it cannot be late. After lunch in a restaurant of Burmese cuisine, we left A Myint for another part of Second Bagan, Thone-pan-hla village (previously called A Naint village) where U Wisara, the national hero for Burmese in the days of colonial British Burma, was born. In this area around A Myint, a lot of famous people and monks were born. U Nyo Mya, who wrote the article "Hell Hounds at Large" to criticize at the British Headmaster of Yangon University, and wrote a lot of books, was born in A Myint. Duke Min Lat War was very famous for his governance that thieves or robbers were killed by a strike of his very wide palm, in King Mindom's times. (He was known as Min Lat War, meaning Duke Palm, for the above reason.) Ledi Pandita U Maung Gyi, a great writer and disciple of Ledi Sayadaw, was born in Nyaung Phyu Pin village where formerly was in the township of Chaung Oo, in the north of A Myint.

After our lunch, we went to Min O Chan Thar Pagoda that was built by King Alaung Sithu. Althogh this is a famous ancient pagoda, just a few ancient works are remained because today people renewed it again and again. It's a kind of stupa with four main sets of stairs, so we can go up the stairs to look over around but it is not too high.

Just in the south of A Myint, we saw Man Pagoda where the Resin Buddha Statue was previously put. In Tazaung village on the way to Thone Pan Hla, Monastic Donors Nga Yauk Thin Couple's stone inscription is famous and the village is situated just beside the dirt road to Thone Pan Hla. It was dated ME-658 (AD-1296) and the scholars recommend that it is a stone isncription of "mula-htoe (in Burmese, မူလထိုး)" meaning "original inscription". In that village, there is another mula-htoe stone inscription called "Monastic Donors Nga Pyae Nyi Couple's stone inscription", dated ME-677 (AD-1315), too. Since we did not have much time, we did not go in the village to see them. For the historians, Sanae Nan Gone in Tazaung village is a good site to study and make a History research from the above stone inscriptions.
(For more information about the historic stone inscriptions around A Myint Old City and A Neint Old City to make a study in history, please see in my own blog page: www.bloggerzawwinhtet.blogspot.com.)

Old trees are beside the dirt road along the way we went. It must have been an old avenue that connects A Myint City and A Neint City since the past times. After we crossed some villages and a 30-minute drive, we started to see a cluster of very old dun temples and pagodas cloaked by shrubs here and there. The temples are spreading over the areas and between clusters of palm trees or in the fields. In a place beside the road, we saw a sign and a side road to a cluster of some temples named "Thone Pan Hla Pagodas Compound". We took a right turn to the side road to visit and see them. Near a brickwork lion in front of the archway of the compound, we took photos together. At the eastern gate, only one lion statue was left as original and the rest can be only seen as a heap of bricks. We took a careful look at the remained one which was built by bricks. Its legs are wonderfully firming without any help of reinforced concrete-work and its brickwork is amazing. We can see amazing brickwork in its legs in deep strength though they are not thick enough. (Please, see the photo.)

When walked on the pavement in the compound, we were seen and directed by an old man named Bagyi Gyan (bagyi means old grandpa), a trustee member, to the temples in which the mural paintings are there. Inside the temples in the southernmost of the compound, we could have a great chance to see priceless mural paintings. In the paintings, we saw some ancient writing styles that are quite different from today's. For example, we once read and learned that the Pali term "Thera (meaning elder bhikkhu or elder monk)" is written as either "မေထရ္(ma-te)" or "ေထရ္(te)" today. But, in the ancient writing that is found in mural paintings of Bagan Era, it was written "မထည္(ma-hti)" or sometimes "မထည္း(ma-htee)". Myanmar linguists said in the books that later people and today people read and write it "မထီး" and they think this is another term and a term for those monks who are not Theravada Buddhist monks. We also found the writing "အရည္း" in the mural paintings on the walls and concave roofs of the cave inside the pagodas. The terminologists and Myanmar linguists said that this word was derived from a Pali word "အရည (Aranna)" and adopted as a Burmese word "အရည္း" by putting ( - ္) and ( - း). The words "အရည္း" that we found in the mural paintings, used to mean Theravada Buddhist monks who used to live at a monastery in the rural areas. However, we do not write and call those as "အရည္း" today. If someone sees a word "အရည္း" or sometimes "အရည္းၾကီး" today, he misinterprets that this means the ones who told themselves as monks, practiced non-Buddhist practices without perceiving any Buddhist percepts and principles, and who founded a religion-alike in early Bagan Era before King Anawratha's times when Buddhism started to flourish in upper and other parts of Myanmar, except around Mon State, the initial start point of Theravada Buddhism in the entire Myanmar in history. Therefore, what I get a message from the mural paintings that we saw, from the scope of Myanmar linguistic and history, is that we can elicit these pagodas were built in the Era of Bagan. Another supportive strong reason to elicit this point or statement is that some scholars say the pictures of people, Buddha, monks or Arhats, look those of mural paintings in Bagan temples. To clarify, this means that faces in the paintings are pear-shaped. Anyway, it was very good and knowledgable to see or observe the paintings and learn the way that scholars made historical elicitations by observing the writings and pictures in the paintings.
Lovely, the name of one of the pagodas where there mural paintings are well reseved, is "Ma-shi-ka-na (မရွိခဏ)" Temple that means the temple of "No Lack". (PS: There are many other so-called "Ma-shi-ka-na" pagodas in Sagaing and in some other parts of the country.) In our group, the two guests from Yangon, also have the same interest in interior mural paintings and exterior decorative arabseques in the pagodas as me. According to U Panna, they are makers of the documentary of Maha Bodhi Ta Htaung Sayadawgyi and they seemed to make a documentary about A Myint and Thone Pan Hla, the areas of Second Bagan. They were taking a lot of photographs outside the temples and then we all were brought by Bagyi Gyan to another important site of the compount which is Aung Myay of Queen Sambula. In Myanmar Theravada Buddhist's beliefs, people like to visit Aung Myay where a famous person or a famous monk once succeeded in his resolution and wish in the past. We went up the stairs of the throne or platform of Aung Myay and stood on the slab to wish and make a resolution. The story about this Aung Myay is that Sambula once made a resolution here to renovate old stupas and temples in Thone Pan Hla before she became a queen. When she became the Queen of King Kyan Sit and her wishes were fulfilled, she built Thone Pan Hla Stupa surrounded by seven smaller stupas. At the other side of these red stupas and near western gate, the Aung Myay is there and there is another famous temple outside the brick walls of the compound. That temple is called Pitakat Wahso Teik and the mural paintings of Arhat monks who are paying homage to Buddha, on the concave ceiling of the temple. We walked on the walls to that temple and almost the whole of its exterior was recently renovated, so it seemed to lose some parts of ancient exterior decorations and even some lower parts of mural paintings inside the temple were already lost because of the later paintings of lime. Not only in that temple but also in the other temples, the lower parts were limed by the later people. U Thein Tan, one of my guests, said that they might have been lost perhaps because the later people who came here and stayed in the temples while perceiving eight percepts on Sabbath Days, might probably be leaning against the walls and thus they were faded. He continued to elicit that the paintings were probably made of watery fruits or vegetables and it might be a certain reason why their colour were easily faded years after years. Anyway, it just took a short time to fade them because the later people were less-educated in preserving ancient temples and antiques. Aother reason is that Buddhist people do renovating and rebuilding old stupas or temples as great merits. Thus, they were careless to preserve or renovate them without losing any ancient works that can become a national proof of the ancient times' standards in architecture and of the history.

We were shown the enshrined stuff which were found in renovating, such as broken ornamented smoking pipes in a big tent of trustees. In that tent, the picture of King Kyan Sit and Queen Sambula, a big map of spreading stupas and temples around Thone Pan Hla village and some pictures are hung on. Buddha statues and a red statue of U Wi Sara, the sign of this village and national hero who made a hunger strike over 160 days against British Colonial Government in British Rule and then passed away, were put on a table in the tent. After taking some photos and listening to Bagyi Gyan who was explaining to us about the temples without feeling tired, we walked back to our car. Bagyi Gyan walked along with us and waved his hands to us until our car had already left.

We passed through Tone Pan Hla village and saw other ancient stupas in different sizes and shapes. We passed a pond under big trees and people playing caneball nearby. In the center of the village, we passed a library named after U Wisara. Since we hadn't got much time and were going on to Pareinma Village, the native village of King Kyan Sit, in Myaung Township, we didn't go to any other temples. About at 1.00 pm in the afternoon, we said goodbye to Second Bagan where is rich of spreading historic temples and stupas covered by bushes. We learned that there are 132 stupas and temples, so I made a decision to visit Thone Pan Hla again very soon to look at more stupas and temples and study more about history of Second Bagan, our township's pride.

Anyway, I felt I was told a message by Thone Pan Hla that everything is Anicca (meaning 'impermanent' or 'not stable') according to Buddha's Dhamma. Thone Pan Hla was telling me that we have faced a lot of changes by time and reminding me not to forget this phenomenon. It had been a big city which its people commercially communicated with the people of the great Bagan Kingdom. It had been a city where dukes governed. Today, it becomes just a village but it still owns a great dignity in history.

We continued to Parein Ma, the native village of King Kyan Sit, where there also had a communication with Thone Pan Hla."