Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Nidana Arambhakatha: A Bibliographical Essay

This little essay from my notes collects, organizes, and summarizes what others have written about a very rare Mon text that is especially important for the history of state expansion in mainland Southeast Asia (c. 1350-1600), the "Nidana Arambhakatha" being "not only the earliest, but also the most graphic and detailed source on the unification campaigns of the 1550’s" in Burma.

The source is very rare and also difficult to read, so every historian who has used it as a historical source has used the translation of the late Mon linguist Shorto at SOAS.

Even the name that Shorto assigned to the text is disputable. Since this text has actually never been published in the modern edited form that we are used to seeing most pre-modern texts in (e.g. U Kala, Hmannan), it provides a good example of what pre-modern historical sources actually were, stripping away the securities that modern editors provide the reader, and raising fundamental philological questions about how the text arose in the first place, what pieces it was assembled from, and how these pieces were assembled together into a textual whole. This kind of uncertainty, however, is the norm in more fully developed areas of philology like Chinese philology.

Shorto divides Mon historical writing into three genres: 1. Rajawan, the genealogies of kings, 2. Dhatuwan, histories of pagodas, and 3. Pum, biographies of kings. He chooses the "Nidana Arambhakatha" as an exemplar of the Rajuwan genre to describe in further detail (Shorto, 1962).

This work has been referred to in several ways and there has never been any version of the work in widespread circulation in any form much less a well edited form, so there is quite a lot of confusion of what exactly it contains and what its name is and how to refer to it.

Shorto's paper makes it clear that the whole second volume is the "Nidana Ramadipati Katha" but this second volume is a collection of many different texts that have not been logically separated, so it took a trained philologist in Mon like Shorto to analyze the composition of the text.

First, some background on the rather unique background and origins of this work within the community of Southeast Asianists in the early twentieth century and how it was disseminated among them after being printed in Mon orthography by the first Mon printing press. The Pak Lat Mon Press started printing books in Mon orthography in 1902. Halliday writes in 1917 that:

"In recent years a number of Talaing books have been published at Paklat, Siam, but the number of outside people able to read them is very limited. The printer and publisher is the superior of the 'Krun Cin' Monastery. He first projected an edition of the Tripitaka in the Talaing character, which was to run to thirty-nine volumes and of these, twenty-one volumes have already been published. In order to apparently to bring in some ready money to keep the press going for the larger work, a number of lesser, popular, religious works were printed. Dr. Frankfurter, the chief librarian at the National Library, Bangkok, who was taking an interest in the [130] work, urged the printing of some of the historical books as more likely to interest the outside world; and, as a result, two volumes have already appeared" (Halliday and Bauer, 2000, 143).

Philological Analysis

From a philological standpoint the text presents two sets of problems. First, the original manuscript was most likely a composite collation of other texts. Second, the Pak Lat historical volume was also a composite collation of texts. Shorto analyzes the editing and construction of this text:

"The two Pak Lat historical volumes were extracted or cut out of palm leaf manuscripts and typeset in composite fashion into a book with a bare minimal amount of editing. Any indication of breaks in the original texts or where the texts came from is also not given. The textual type would be 'accretional text' from Brook’s Warring States Project (2001) typology of textual types. Accretion probably most accurately describes the growth or genesis of this text, 'accretional' basically meaning cut and paste."

As Shorto describes the work: "It is printed at pages 9-34 and 45-61 of the second of the two volumes…apparently to supply a lacuna at the beginning of the Pum Dhammaceti [Biography of King Dhammazedi] -- since apart from page headings no indication is given that it is a separate work" (Shorto, 1961, 64). The evidence of its age is that, "The manuscript from which the Nidana text was printed came from the National Library in Bangkok and is likely to have been of unusually early date. From the Pali colophon incorporated in the text it appears that the main part, originally entitled Ramann-uppatti-dipaka, was composed by a monk Zingyaik after the extinction of Dhammaceti’s line in 1538; later hands have resumed the story and taken it year by year up to accession of Pyi Min to the Ava throne in 1661. The annalistic character of this later continuation, which appears to be without parallel elsewhere, clearly derives from an extraneous tradition, which is most likely to be Burmese; if so, it offers a most valuable opportunity for discriminating Mon and Burmese elements in the general historiographical tradition of the country" (Shorto, 1961, 64).

"This second volume [of the two Pak Lat Mon script historical volumes 1910-12] bears evidence of being an older composition than the first. There are many old forms of spelling, and there are words not understood at all by present-day Talaings. This is by no means an uncommon thing with Talaing [Mon] literature, but this volume presents more difficulty of interpretation than most works. It is probable that this work was written sometime in the seventeenth century. At any rate its language seems older than that of the monk of Aswo' [Monk of Athwa], who began writing in the first half of the eighteenth century (Halliday and Bauer, 2000)

Summary of Contents

The "Nidana Arambhakatha" is a very short history given that it covers hundreds of years of history in only 43 pages. It starts with pre-Pagan and pagan history, opening with, "an extremely summary account of the history of Thaton…and entering in any detail only into the reign of Manuhaw (Manohara) and the conquest of the kingdom by Anuruddha or Anoratha...this section closes with an account of the brief resurgence of the Thaton kingdom after Anuruddha’s conquest."

So despite its short length, the Nidana Arambhakatha covers a lot of history. Halliday then describes the content of the books in detail:

"The first of these contains (1) a short history of Thaton; (2) the book Gavampati, giving in the form of prophecies of the Buddha,through his disciple Gavampati, historical sketches of Thaton and Pegu, and (3) Rajadhirat , a history of Martaban and Pegu from Warero of Martaban to Bana Thau of Pegu. the greater part of this third section, which occupies 328 pages of the 444 of the entire volume, is devoted to the king whose names gives the title to the work. The story of Warero and his successors is very fully given….The second of these volumes takes its title from Dhammaceti, the Ramadhipati of the Kalyani inscriptions of Pegu. The book is by no means confined to the history of that monarch. It begins with a very brief sketch of the story of Thaton, particularly of its siege and fall before the forces of Anuruddha of Pagan. The story of the founding of Pegu and a brief sketch of the history of the first dynasty are also given. then there is a sketch of the rise of the Talaing monarchy at Marataban under Warero, and the story of his successors is briefly told up to the reign of Bana Thau in Pegu. These sketches differ a good deal from those of the other volume though agreeing with them in the main, where the same facts are states." (Halliday and Bauer, 2000, 143-4)

"The greater part of the book, however, is devoted to the exploits of Bureng Naung [Bayinnaung], the Taungu [Toungoo] Burmese king, under whom Pegu attained its greatest magnificence. His campaigns in Siam, Eastern and Northern Laos, and in the Shan States are all told. He is called by the Talaing writers Jamnah Duik Cah, the Conqueror of the Ten Directions, that is, the eight principal points of the compass together with above and below" (Halliday and Bauer, 2000)

Shorto held that part of the Nidana (the last Burmese part) was written by Bayinnaung’s general Banyadala (c 1518-1572) so the last nine years of the history to 1581 must have been an addition by another author (Lieberman, 198?, 222, footnote 13).

A good summary of the Rajadhirat book will be found in chapter viii of Phayre’s History of Burma.

Information on the French Mon scholar Guillon’s work:

"The second volume, Uppanna Hamsavati Rajavan Sakatha, begins with a legendary introduction and then gives the names of twenty-nine kings and proclaims the reign of Queen Bana Thaw (who will appear again) and king Dhammaceti, 'who will set up a throne for the Buddha.'"

Then from p. 115 to p. 433 there follows the medieval chronicle known as "Rajadhiraj" and this is the part that is the most solid historically. It goes from the second founding of Martaban by King Wareru to the struggles of the Mon kings against the second Ava dynasty of the Burmese. It was republished later in Mon at Rangoon. This chronicle has been translated several times into Thai and Burmese and continues to be popular even today. I myself have studied and translated the beginning of it [Guillon 1983b, 79-98] (Guillon, 1999, 98, Footnote 291).

Lieberman (2003) suggests that the Phongsawadan Mon Phama was based on a late seventeenth century manuscript

Scholarly interest:

This work has interested several scholars besides Shorto. In the early part of the century there was in fact a little bit of a renaissance in Mon Studies among European scholars resident in Siam and Burma. (Some might argue that this interest in the Mon ethnic minority was part of a colonial program of control of the ethnic majority Burmese.)

Edouard Huber planned a comparative translation of the Pak Lat Mon chronicles (Guillon, 1999, 231) (footnote 430: E.B. III, II, 92 and 188). Huber's "sudden death around 1914 left, and still leaves, this work undone." At Charles Duroiselle’s death he left a planned translation of the chronicles undone also (Guillon, 1999, 231).

"The Mon press at Pak Lat in the early 1900s attracted the attention of the recently founded EFEO, and one of the EFEO researchers spent some time in Bangkok collecting copies of what the bhikkhu-publisher was working on. I presume copies of whatever they printed are available at the EFEO library in Paris. A brief notice in the BEFEO about 1910 indicated that the publication of one of the Mon annals was going slowly and uncertainly, and so the EFEO researcher got someone to make a handwritten copy for the EFEO library” (Personal communication, source-name-pending-permission, 2004)

Lieberman’s quotations from the source in published sources:

The battle of Ava in early 1555:

"The attackers built siege works all around the city, and] the officers carried up the weapons and artillery and installed them on the rampart…The bombardment was now unleashed, ringing the town with fire. The reports of the cannon and muskets reverberated like Indra’s thunderbolts. Those within the town had to take refuge in holes, for…there was no other refuge above ground. Night and day succeeded each other unheeded as detonation followed detonation till it seemed a man’s ears would burst; no defender dared expose so much as a finger above the battlements…After five days of siege the town could resist no longer, and [an] assault finished it. As the walls subsided in rubble, elephants, horses, men poured in" (Shorto, n.d., 85-86).

"[When Toungoo forces attacked Pagan] They cut down toddy palms and built turreted stockades around the city, and mounting cannon commenced to a bombardment intended to awe the defenders. The sight of this great preparation, and of the warriors of Pegu, threw both rank and file and officers into such a consternation that they were in no fit posture to resist" (Shorto, n.d., 84).

The campaign against Mohnyin 1557 (?):

"[As Bayinnaung’s forces approached Mohnyin] each division marched to the ceaseless accompaniment of gunfire and musket shots, the sound echoing through the forest as if the earth were splitting in two…The [ruler] of Mohnyin, Cau Lum, said, “When our soldiers…join the battle, they are usually victorious. But after hearing the guns of King’s men, and the rumour of their march, for three days…I wonder whether our elephants and cavalry will stand up to them” (Shorto, n.d., 91-92)

Against Ayutthaya in 1564:

"As the sound of the artillery and musket fire re-echoed like thunder, breaches appeared in the walls wherever a shot struck hom. the upper works were set on fire with pyrotechnic devices; and then the officers, under the cover of a breastwork of planks, mined under the walls, causing subsidence and further breaches…[Finally] the main body with elephants and cavalry entered the town at all the mined places" (Shorto, n.d., 94-95).

The ways the work is cited:

The first Pak Lat historical volume records early Mon history in the "Uppanna Sudhammawati-rajawamsa-katha" and is cited as: Suddhammawati-rajawamsa; Siharajadhirajawamsa (Suddhammawati; Gavampati; Rajadhiraj), ed. Phra Candakanto (Pak Lat, 1910).

The second volume of historical texts is cited as: Nidana Ramadhipati-katha (or as on binding "Rajawamsa Dhammaceti Mahapitakadhara), ed. Phra Candakanto (Pak Lat, Siam, 1912) The Nidana Arambhakatha, "is printed at pages 9-34 and 45-61 of the second of the two volumes...apparently to supply a lacuna at the beginning of the Pum Dhammaceti [Biography of King Dhammazedi] --- since apart from page headings no indication is given that it is a separate work" (Shorto, 1961, 64). It is also cited by (Thianpanya, 2003) in a list compiled by Professor Sued Gajaseni, the past president of the Thai-Raman Association as the 18th and 19th volumes published by the Pak Lat press:

18. Chronicles of Sudhammavati [Thaton] and Hamsavati [Pegu] from Old Mon tradition, 444 pages, B.E. 2453 (1910), 1000 prints.

19. Nidanadhannacetiya (The Story of King Dharmacetiya) from old Mon tradition, 264 pages. B.E. 2455 (1912), 1000 prints.

Cited in (Aung Thaw and Min Maing, 1957, 17) as: Sudharmavati Rajavamsa, History in Mon, edited by Phra Chandakanta, Bangkok, 1909 A.D., 444 pp. (Also cited there: 74. Akkharavidhana Abhidanappadipika, Mon Dictionary, 1909 A.D., 497 pp.)

The Shorto translation of the Nidana Arambhakatha as (Lieberman, 1984) describes it:
Unpublished typescript translation of pp. 34-44, 61-264 of Phra Candakanto, ed. Nidana Ramadhipati-katha (or as on binding Rajawamsa Dhammaceti Mahapitakadhara). Pak Lat, Siam, 1912.

Reference is also made to volume 1:
Unpublished typescript translation of pp. 26-99 of Uppanna Sudhammavati
Rajavamsakatha. Vol. 1. Pak Lat, Siam, 1912 (?).


Burney, Henry. (n.d.) "Talaing yazawin" Unpaginated manuscript. Royal Commonwealth Society, London. Papers of Major Henry Burney, Box 2, (History of Pegu).

Guillon, Emmanuel. (1999) The Mons, A Civilization of Southeast Asia. Translated and edited by James V. Di Crocco. Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Guillon also has a complete list of Mon manuscripts at the National Library Rangoon and the British Library.

Mon Yazawin. Rangoon, 1922. (Modern reprint in Burmese)
(Composed in the 18th century but deriving from much older materials (Lieberman, 198?, 221)

Shorto, Harry Leonard. (1961) "A Mon genealogy of kings: Observations on the Nidana Arambhakatha" in: D. G. E. Hall, ed., Historians of South East Asia. London, Oxford University Press, 63-72.

Halliday, Robert and Bauer, Christian (ed.) (2000) The Mons of Burma and Thailand, Volume 1. The Talaings. Bangkok: White Lotus Press. Reprint of (Halliday, 1917)

Halliday, Robert (1917) The Talaings. Rangoon: Government Printing.

Halliday, Robert (1923) Lik smin asah [The story of the founding of pegu and the subsequent invasion from South India]. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press.

Halliday, Robert (1923) Slapat rajawan datow smim ron [The history of kings]. Journal of the Burma Research Society 13.1:1-67.

Paphatsaun Thianpanya (2003) "Mon Language in Thailand: The endangered heritage," Kao Wao, 11 May 2003, [Internet]

Brief notice in the BEFEO about 1910 regarding the publication of the Nidana Ramadipati Katha