Journal of Burma Studies

Volume 13, Abstracts

From Ava to Mandalay: Toward Charting the Development of Burmese Yazawin Traditions

Alexey Kirichenko

Since the emergence of modern historiography of Burma (Myanmar), Burmese yazawin, or chronicles of kings, have been key scholarly sources. The most well-known of these chronicles are considered reliable after circa 1500 and provide a timeline of events for almost all research on precolonial Myanmar history. Despite this, we still have a quite vague understanding of textual genealogy and conditions in which these sources were produced, the foundations upon which they were constructed and the messages they carried. This article analyzes the corpus of Burmese yazawins and those narrative sources linked to yazawins that were instrumental in their compilation. It addresses the issues of typology and geneaology of yazawins, as well as the reconstruction of their development in terms of scope, structure, and conceptual focus. It challenges some historiographic stereotypes with regard to yazawins as a whole and the nature of individual sources in particular, and identifies a number of distinct yazawin traditions. The role of elites of royal cities of Ava, Taungngu, and Pagan in the production of yazawins is explored. Development of yazawin traditions is analyzed both as a kind of established textual activity with its own dynamics and as a function of changes in the organization of power and textual culture. Finally, the author suggests a number of tasks to be addressed in future research. All in all, the paper is conceived as a contribution towards the textology and hermeneutics of Burmese narrative sources and ideas in Myanmar in general.

Three Nineteenth-Century Law Book Lists: Burmese Legal History from the Inside

Andrew Huxley

Through the investigation of three Burmese law book lists by Maungdaung Sayadaw, Tha Dwe, and Kyaw Htun this article seeks to construct a narrative history of legal traditions. By breaking each list into smaller units and comparing the results a common core of Burmese legal history emerges. The lists, shed light on who the typical authors of a dhammathat were while items that appear on some, but not all, of the lists help indicate controversies that were still matters of live debate during the nineteenth century.

Rockets and Ashes: Pongyibyan as Depicted in Nineteenth-and Twentieth Century European Sources

Ralph Isaacs

This article describes the Burmese festival of pongyibyan, the ceremonies at the cremation of a senior monk, mainly by collating written accounts and photographs by Europeans who witnesses pongyibyan in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Certain rites of the pongyibyan ceremony offer interesting parallels to accounts of the Buddha’s own funeral found in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. This article cites descriptions of the preparation of the monk’s corpse by evisceration, embalming, lacquering, wrapping in cloth and gilding, including descriptions of both the simple inner coffin and elaborate outer coffin, and the mortuary chapel (neibankyaung) where the body lay in state awaiting cremation. The article depicts the architectural and symbolic significance of the tall funeral pyres with figures of mythical beings and the role of the sat-hsaya, the craftsman in bamboo and cut paper who built them as well offering a description of the lonswethi, the tug-of-war for merit. Numerous foreign observers reported the Burmese passion for rocketry. At least three types of rockets (don) were used at pongyibyan for kindling the funeral pyre. Rockets commonly caused injury or death to spectators, and were discouraged by the British colonial government.

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