Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rajadhirat, a classic Mon epic

This is a translation of chapters from the Mon-Burmese epic Razadarit Ayeidawpon. Both the Burmese and an English translation are given.

The epic tale of Rajadhirat records the history of a long war between Mon Lower Burma and Burman Upper Burma (c. 1383-1425). The epic survives to this day in a collection of manuscripts written in three different languages: Mon, Burmese, and Thai:

- Introduction
- Rajadhirat epic translation.
- Condensed version of epic in academic paper.
- Interesting sentences and vocabulary list.

Monday, January 14, 2008

1. The overconfidence of Prince Minyekyawsa

2. King Mingaung admonishes his son

3. The Lord of Salin warns Prince Minyekyawswa

4. An auspicious day is chosen for battle with Minyekyawswa

5. Emuntaya’s deception to lure Minyekyawswa into battle

"Rajadhirat then wondered how Minyekyawswa might be advised that he would be in Dala. Emuntaya volunteered to have this accomplished by going over to Minyekyawswa as if he had defected from his side. Asked to furnish further details, he said he would say that he was disenchanted with his monarch for failing to pursue a more aggressive policy and for not taking action to dislodge the besiegers of Dala and with Deinmaniyut for not acting like a general as he was supposed to be; that for speaking out his mind he was threatened with the death penalty and to have his whole family clapped in irons by Deinmaniyut; that the king backed Deinmaniyut so that he had decided to defect and serve under Minyekyaswa; that he would then participate with the prince’s nobles in one or two actions to further gain Minyekyaswa's confidence after which he would return to Dala. The king agreed with this plan and gave him five viss (18 pounds / 8 kg) of gold to be distributed among nobles and citizens of Dala." (edited version of San Lwin's English translation, 141; Binnyadala in Burmese, 315, Note: San Lwin's translation seems to paraphrase and condense a lot here)

6. Emuntaya deserts from the Mon to the Burmese

Dala was heavily surrounded by Myanma troops on both the river side and the land side. When Emuntaya arrived, at Dala's port Chinthe (lion) they were stopped by the garrison commander of the Panpe garrison (htaung-hmu) and the lord of Myo-taung who were blocking the route through at this point.

When the lord of Myo-taung saw them, he asked them who they were. "I am Emuntaya, and after suffering disappointment at the hands of my lord, I request to be received by the lord of the Golden Palace as a servant," he asked the lord of Myo-taung. Emuntaya spoke in the manner that he had proposed to the king. When they heard this, they gave him find Basoes, fine shirts, wrapped up in a bundle and brought Emuntaya from Myo-taung and presented him to Minyekyawswa. Minyekyawswa questioned him. Emuntaya responded in the same way as he had answered the lord of Myo-taung. After that, when Yazathinkyan had listened to him, he addressed the king.

"Such is the lord Minyekyawswa's great royal glory and power (hpon-daw-gyi) that the royal uncle's minister, the noble (thu-yei-kaung) Emuntaya, has arrived here to be received as a royal servant. If what Emuntaya says is true, when the royal desire for Pegu has been fulfilled (i.e. Pegu has been conquered) he should be given any domain to rule over than he desires (myo-sa)." And when Yazathinkyan had spoken, Emuntaya in turn spoke, "This servant has suffered disappointment at the hands of his lord, and have arrived at the royal feet of the son of the lord of the golden palace. Henceforth, I will bear the burden or royal affairs (enter royal service), and from the time I cut down my own people, the Mons, you will place your royal trust in me," Emuntaya spoke thus. Emuntaya was presented with gifts. ." (edited version of San Lwin’s English translation, 141; Binnyadala in Burmese, 315-316)

7. Emuntaya deserts from the Burmese back to the Mon

At dawn, some Mons were seen outside the city gate near the palisade erected to prevent elephants from rushing the gate.

Emuntaya accompanied a party of Burmese troops who attacked them with swords, killed a couple of Mons from Dala himself and dragged their bodies back into the stockade. When the Myanma troops saw this they reported it to Minyekyawswa. Minyekyawswa awarded Emuntaya.

On another day Emuntaya was ordered to ride in the front of an elephant, while the lord of Salin rode in the middle. As they rode out of the stockade and drew near to the moat, a contingent of Mons emerged from the town and attacked them. The Myanmar troops accompanying them fled.

Grasping his sword, Emuntaya told the lord of Salin that he was going to attack and, climbing down from the elephant, made as if he was going to attack the Mons and followed in pursuit. He didn't attack them and instead threw away his sword, running into the town to take cover.

When the lord of Salin reported this to Minyekyawswa, he clapped his hands in anger and shouted out across the moat to Banya Dala, son of the Mon king Rajadhirat:

"Emuntaya has tricked us and told us lies. When Emuntaya leaves the city and returns to his king I will see that he is rewarded for this.”

Banya Dala passed the message on to Emuntaya, whose reply in turn was shouted back across the moat to the son of the mighty and powerful king, Minyekyawswa, that tomorrow Emuntaya would, in fact, return to Pegu.

To this the Myanma side shouted back once again a reply, "Emuntaya, do you have wings? Can you fly? Will you dig a tunnel under the earth? You were only able to return because you played a trick on us."

"I will leave the town. Just wait," Emuntaya replied.

The Myanma forces waited for him surrounding the town many levels deep on both the land and water approaches to the town. Minyekyawswa shouted out to his officers to keep guard, "Tommorrow, Emuntaya will try to leave the town. We will wait for him and catch him."

(edited version of San Lwin’s English translation, 141; Binnyadala in Burmese, 316)

8. Emuntaya escapes from Dala

Meanwhile Emuntaya handed over the gold that he had been entrusted with to Binnya Dala as instructed by the king.

He had a raft constructed of banana stems and hid his sword in one of these. He lay stretched out like a corpse smearing his face with turmeric. Then he was rolled up in a tattered reed mat. Four women with hair unraveled beat their breasts with their fists and cried out in lament:

"Others have their husbands to comfort them in these difficult times but you choose to leave us at a time when the visitation of war brings famine upon us."

This little scene was played out near the Lion Gate where it could be seen by the Burmese on the other side.

He was then placed on the banana stem raft with an earthen plate of rice and a whole chicken near his head lit by a glowing torch. The raft was cast of and the women gave a fearful whoop of lamentation and a final burst of breast beating.

As the raft drifted close to one of the Burmese pickets keeping watch in boats, the small raft was pushed away into the current and carried steadily upstream by the tide. By the time that the village of Tapauk Tanaut was reached the picket boats had been left far behind so that Emuntaya climbed ashore after taking out the hidden sword and proceeded to Pegu.

Around midday back in Dala the Burmese troops called out for Emuntaya to come out if he was to come out at all. From the town came the reply that he had already left at dawn. The Burmese troops that had been waiting for him since dawn let out a string of abuses (laughed derisively).

(edited version of San Lwin’s translation, 142)

Version in Harvey’s History of Burma (1925), taken from the Hmannan Yazawin:

"Then prince Minrekyawswa shouted out to prince Binnyadala "Emuntaya spake untruth and hath done me disrespect. By guile hath he entered the town. But if he can come out and return to his king, I will give him great gifts." When Prince Binnyadala told these words to Emuntaya, he said, "Son of my glorious master, tell them that Emuntaya will go up to Pegu tomorrow." And the Burmese shouted, "Hath Emuntaya wings to fly above? Or is he a snake that can creep beneath? He entered the town by guile only." And Emuntaya answered them, "I shall win forth, keep what guard you please." And prince Minyekyawswa charged his captains saying, "Tommorrow Emuntaya will come forth, saith he. Keep ye watch to take him." And they kept double watch by land and water. But Emuntaya gave unto the king's son Binnyadala the five viss of gold that the king had entrusted unto him, and then he made the counselors and captains go far away, and before dawn he caused men to make a raft of plantain trees, and he thrust his sword in one of the trees. And he made himself appear like a corpse, smearing his cheeks and ears with turmeric, and wrapping his body around with old matting. And four or five women let down their hair and beat their breasts and wept as they wailed "Other husbands cleave to wife and child through good and ill, and forsake them not in war or famine. But thou has forsaken us and gone away. What shall we do, thy wife and orphans in this cruel war, this cruel famine?" Thus wailing they lifted up the corpse, while the Burmese soldiers who were near the Shan-Death gate of the town looked on. Gently the women laid the body on the plantain raft, with an earthen dish and a cup of rice and a chicken; and they lit oil lights and placed them at the head, and pushed forth the raft into the middle of the stream. And the women followed it beating their breasts and weeping and crying aloud Shall thou forsake us tus?" But the raft floated along and came near a Burmese boat, and the Burmese said "See! It is a corpse." and they pushed it away with a bamboo. And the raft was carried up stream by a strong flood tide, and when it had come to Ta-paw-ta-ngauk [in Pegu district near Kyaut-tan] because it was now far from the Burmese boats, Emuntaya took his sword out from the plantain log and went up to Pegu...and Prince Minyekyawswa sent a messenger to Pegu...and the Messenger asked King Razadarit saying "My master asks if it be true that Emuntaya hath returned to thee, as men say." And king Razadarit called Emuntaya and he came before the messenger. And when the messenger saw him, he gave him a horse with golden trappings and a velvet robe from prince Minyekyawswa." (Hmannan II.44, quoted in Harvey, 1925, 84-85)

9. Minyekyawswa sends an envoy to Rajadhirat with gifts

A fairly literal translation to English:
In the evening Minyekyawswa sent his men to Prince Banya Dala and Awa-na-naing to speak with them.

"We have waited til dusk for Emuntaya to travel up river for Pegu. Why hasn't he left yet?," they asked.

"Doesn't younger brother Minyekyawswa know? Emuntaya left for Pegu at dawn," Prince Banya Dala replied.

When Minyekyawswa's men came back, they related what had happened. When Minyekyawswa had listened to their story, he was quite surprised and because he didn't believe what they had said, he sent a courier with a letter to Pegu. The courier's official position was that of "let-ya thaut-hmu" [leader of the left wing thwei-thauk]. The letter read as follows:
Exceedingly dear and venerable elder uncle, to whom Minyekyawswa addresses this letter, I had heard that you fled to Martaban (Mottama). Since elder uncle has now returned from Martaban to Pegu, my desire to fight elephant to elephant with you (duel) will soon be realized. It is because elder uncle ran away that I have been staying in Dala. Older uncle has chosen neither to come after me from upriver, nor to come after me from downriver.

"Being from a sovereign line of kings, when you see war you feel disheartened? One who acts like older uncle cannot be considered a sovereign king. If elder uncle requests that I travel upriver to Pegu, I will. If elder uncle wants to travel downriver I will likewise welcome him."
Minyekyawswa sent this letter together with one fine horse equipped with gold reins and one set of red ruby bracelets to King Rajadhirat. To the courier Let-ya Thaut-hmu, he gave the order: "If you meet Emuntaya, award him with this fine horse equipped with golden reins and also with this velvet robe."

The courier set off to Pegu and when he arrived there, the lord Rajadhirat was residing at Thebyuchaung. Rajadhirat ordered that the courier be welcomed and when the courier arrived in the presence of Rajadhirat , the courier presented the letter and gifts that had been given to him to present. When Rajadhirat had listened to the letter, he ordered the courier to send the following message in return: "Tell my nephew (Minyekyawswa) not to come up to Pegu, I will come instead to Dala.

Then the courier inquired as to whether Emuntaya had already arrived back at the royal feet or not, whether this was true or not true, the royal nephew (Minyekyawswa) wished to know. The courier addressed the king that he was to inform the royal nephew as to whether he had seen Emuntaya or not.

Emuntaya was called and when he arrived in front of the courier, the courier bestowed upon him the many gifts (su) that Minyekyawswa wished to award him with, including the horse, the golden reins, and the velvet robe. In return the lord Minyekyawswa was given as gifts one green velvet robe and sixteen rolls of cloth for basoes (sarongs).

The courier was rewarded for his efforts and given as gifts a fine basoe and a golden bowl (shwei-hpala). The courier returned to Dala and reported all that had transpired to Minyekyawswa especially the return of Emuntaya" (Banya Dala, Razadarit Ayeidawpon in Burmese, 318).
[Note: There are obviously a lot of issues to be worked out in translating this old text. There is often a tradeoff between literally and rendering exactly what the Burmese text is saying and the way it is saying it and other factors such as readability of the translation and having it make sense to modern-day non-Burmese readers without a lot of cumbersome accompanying footnotes.

In my translation I tried to be more literal but also tried to avoid English idioms which sometimes seem misplaced when translating an ancient text. Sometimes providing the exact Burmese word used can shed light on exactly what was said to those familiar with the Burmese language. For example, "award" as the translation of the Burmese word "su" (award) is often used when the word "gift" perhaps would be more appropriate, since it really seems to be an extension of the practice of gift exchange found in many cultures. In the text above, it does not seem to be correct usage to describe valuable objects given to an enemy king as "awards." "Gifts" seems more appropriate. The use of the word "present" instead of "gift" as seen in some translations also perhaps seems too quaint according to modern usage of the two words.

The theme of rewarding warriors who excel in battle whether they are working for or against you, perhaps with an aim to getting them to desert to your side, is an oft repeated theme in Rajadhirat]

Here is the venerable senior scholar U San Lwin's translation that I used as a guide:
"At dusk Minyekyawswa sent his men to call on prince Binnya Dala and Smin Awananaing to inquire into this matter and they were told by Binnya Dala that did not Minyekyawswa know that he had left at dawn. Accordingly, a courier was sent to Pegu with this letter, "Dear Elder Uncle to Minyekyawswa informs that, I had heard that you ran away to Martaban but now that you are back in Pegu my hopes of jousting with you on elephant will be realised soon. I was in Dala all the time but you chose not to come at me either from upstream or downstream but instead ran away. There is no monarch like you who is so battle-shy. If you would like me to come to Pegu I will gladly do so or should you come down for me I will welcome you." This was carried by the commander of the left wing of blood brothers, together with a steed caparisoned in gold and a pair of ruby bracelets to be presented to Razadarit. He was also given a fine horse caparisoned in gold and a velvet robe with instructions that they were to be awarded to Emuntaya if he happened to meet him at the court of Pegu.

Razadarit was staying at Thebyuchaung when Minyekyawswa's courier arrived and after the message had been conveyed Razadarit told the courier "Tell my nephew that he need not come up to Pegu but that I will be coming down to Dala. Then the courier submitted to the king that he had also been given the task of looking up Emuntaya. Emuntaya was summoned and and Minyekyawswa's presents were duly given to him. King Razadarit then gave a green velvet robe and sixteen bolts of material each enough for a suit as presents for Minyekyawswa and a bowl made of gold and a length of quality cloth for the courier. All these were duly reported on the courier's return" (San Lwin, 142-143).

10. King Mingaung of Ava marches south on Salat

When king Mingaung heard that King Rajadharit had returned to Pegu, he set off for Salat in the south with prince Minyethihathu and Thado each commanding a column (tat). Thado was accompanied by his deputy (sit-ke) Tu-yin-kyaw. The two columns together consisted of 50 war elephants, 500 horse, and 10,000 troops. At that time Salat was held by Rajadhirat's minister Byat Za with 7,000 men, 5 war elephants, and 30 horse.

At this time King Razadarit was residing in Kyat Zana where he built a pavilion with tiered roofs and held a hair washing ceremony. The ceremony was held on the 5th day of the waxing moon in the month of Tabaung.

The march to Dala began. Razadarit's main force had Deinmaniyut as commander, Re Kaman deputy commander, a column commanded by Prince Dhamma Yaza had Baik-ka-myin as deputy.

Prince Banya Payan on a war elephant that was in musth and harnessed in a red howdah, red saddle flaps, red pennants flying on the howdah and ornamented with red on its forehead and with the elephantry guards holding red lances formed the van together with ten elephants and a unit of 5,000 troops.

The column under Binnya Yaza had thirty elephants and 11,000 troops. The prince was mounted on an elephant in a golden howdah surmounted by a white umbrella with gold howdah flaps, gold ornamenting its forehead and elephantry guards holding gold lances.

Razadarit's force consisted of 30 elephants and 10,000 men with the king shaded by a white umbrella riding the war elephant named Hsin Ye with a black howdah, black howdah flaps, and elephantry bearing black lances.

When Minyekyawswa received reports that Rajadhirat was marching against him, he called a conference. Yaza-thin-gyan spoke up:

"Razadarit is a very brave warrior and will rarely withdraw from an engagement. If he is in command, should we continue to lay siege, we will be attacked from the front and rear. To prevent such a predicament we should lift the siege and combine our land and river commands to establish a strongpoint. At this strongpoint we can go on the defensive if he chooses to attack or mount an offensive if he does not move against us."

Minyekyawswa agreed with Yazathingyan's estimation of the situation and his strategy of lifting the siege and establishing a strongpoint at Thakan, thereby concentrating both land and river forces at this one point.

(edited version of San Lwin's translation, 143-144)

11. A young warrior fails to carry out orders and is punished

King Rajadhirat erected a stockade at Kyat Le near Dala. From there he mounted the elephant sired by Hsin Ye and escorted by 1,000 troops entered Dala where he was jubilantly received by Prince Binnya Dala, Smim Awananaing and the citizenry of Dala. Rajadhirat showered gifts on them.

Rajadhirat asked Smim Awananaing whether the Burmese prince was given to charging out from his stockaded camp. Awananaing assured the king that Minyekyawswa was like a fighting cock ever eager to launch itself against any rooster it happened to see.

"Then we are certain of getting the Burmese prince," said Rajadhirat.

Turning to Thwe Lagunsan, his personal attendant and bearer of his betel box and water goblet, he issued orders:

"Your elephant is nimble and quick. Go with an escort of 300 warriors to Minyekyawswa's camp and try and draw him out. If he pursues you don't turn and fight but come back with all speed. "

Thwe Lagunsan made the gesture of obeisance and departed on his mission. When they were detected, Minyekyawswa sent the Governor of Kale with 1,000 horsemen after him.

Thwe Lagunsan turned back on seeing the cavalry emerge. The Burmese horsemen pressed on with vigour and started to catch up to them. At this point, Thwe Lagunsan turned and fought back.

Feinting, the elephant turned left and right during the skirmish and suffered around one hundred spear wounds.

When Rajadhirat heard of this, he clapped his hands and slapped his thighs in anger. When Thwe Lagunsan arrived he handed him over to Emuntaya with the orders:

"He has violated my orders. Cut off his arms and legs and throw him away."

Awa-nan-naing protested, "Thwe Lagunsan erred because he is young and not very clever. As a Buddha would, please spare his life." Acceding to this request, Thwe Lagunsan was put in irons instead.

(edited version of U San Lwin's translation, page 144)

12. The elephant Bagamat's mahout refuses to do him harm

On arriving back at his stockade, Rajadhirat summoned Nga Pyan, the former mahout of the elephant Bagamat. Rajadhirat knew that no other elephant could even challenge this elephant. Bagamat had once been a Mon elephant before being captured by the Burmese. Rajadhirat asked the mahout how this dangerous elephant should be dealt with.

Nga Pyan put forward two plans. The first was for him to head a quartet of she-elephants on which warriors of noble blood who were expert with the spear would be mounted. When they came upon Bagamat, Nga Pyan would call out the elephant’s name

Recognizing his former mahout’s voice Bagamat would not attack them. Then it would be just a matter of disposing of whoever was riding Bagamat and then he, Nga Pyan would take over.

The alternative plan was to enter into the Burmese encampment by stealth late at night and hammer spikes into the elephant's feet, pinning the elephant to the floor so that it could not move or leave the stockade.

King Rajadhirat decided on the second plan and rewarded Nga Pyan for his good ideas. He also selected Bawgati and Mapaing to accompany him on this mission. On the night when the raid was to take place, Nga Pyan peeled three lengths of sugar cane for Bagamat. The party successfully sneaked into the stockade past the dozing Burmese troops.

When they entered the shed where Bagamat was tethered, the elephant recognized the scent of his old mahout and stood quietly. Nga Pyan offered the sugar cane he had brought to Bagamat. He then spoke to the elephant:

"I have come with the king's order to nail your feet to the floor but now that I when I see you, I cannot do that. If you love me, your two brothers and your mother, when the Burmans try to harness you for the coming battle do not let them, go on a rampage within this stockade and then come home to me. My life will be spared only when you come back to me."

Bagamat nodded his head, tears welling up and rolling down his cheeks.

Bawgati and Mapaing remarked that the king had sent them because he was planning to joust on elephants the next day as he did not want Bagamat to be on the other side and if it was not to be done as the king had instructed, the responsibility should be solely on Nga Pyan. Then they left.

Meanwhile, Rajadhirat kept vigil through the striking of the third watch of the night ( ie, about 3 am), waiting for the news of the raid's outcome.

When Nga Pyan and party reached their camp at the stroke of the third quarter of the night, they were asked by the king whether his orders had been carried out. Nga Pyan related to the king what had actually occurred. The king was furious and slapped Nga Pyan:

" I had plans to raise you to noble status (thu-kaung pyu) if you had accomplished your mission. I'll have you and your family burned if your elephant does not come back."

(Slightly edited version of U San Lwin’s translation, 144-145; the Burmese of Banya Dala’s Razadarit Ayeidawpon, 319-320)

13. Preparations for war

On Wednesday, the 4th waxing day of the moon in the month of Tagu, Rajadhirat readied himself for the coming battle by planning how the troops would be arrayed on the battlefield.

Prince Dhamma Yaza would be riding the elephant Yan-gami escorted by 1,000 elephantry troops dressed completely in black carrying black lances and shields, followed by King Rajadhirat mounted on the war elephant Yan.

Rajadhirat’s elephant was to be harnessed to a gold howdah with ruby studded flaps, bravely flying gold pennants and a white umbrella in accordance with his high status. The son of Rajadhirat’s wet nurse Paik Kaman was to ride in the middle of the elephant guarded by 1,000 elephantry troops carrying gilt lances and shields.

To Rajadhirat's right, Deinmaniyut would ride the war elephant sired by Yaza at the head of 1,000 elephantry. Positioned to his left, the minister Maha Tha-mun would be mounted on the elephant named Maha Peik-toun at the head of 1,000 elephantry troops. The warrior Binnya Ram (Yan) would ride Pa-swe-tha-mun accompanied by Emuntaya with an unsheathed sword.

Prince Binnya Dala accompanied by 1,000 men would ride the war elephant Sri Maran, the white canopy of an umbrella spread above him. He was to be deployed close to the town of Dala. Smim Awananaing, mounted on the elephant Nga Yet-nwe would lead 2,000 troops riding by his side.

Meanwhile, Minyekyawswa had heard they were readying themselves for war and was in conference with his nobles. Yaza-thin-gyan cautioned the prince not to be hasty and to act judiciously as "one knows not the course of war just as one cannot fathom whether a white chick or black chick will hatch from a certain egg." Others agreed with his observation and Minyekyawswa continued to feast and drink with his nobles.

Meanwhile, Rajadhirat reminded Deinmaniyut that he had taken the responsibility to see that Minyekyawswa came out to fight.

Deinmaniyut rode in a gilt basket-like howdah with a red umbrella spread atop. Five female elephants and seven to eight hundred troops followed him with measuring poles, string and picks. Deinmaniyut went over to Minyekyawswa’s stockade at Pethakan and from a respectable distance began to measure and mark out frontages with rope and stakes.

Minyekyawswa saw this from a turret and sent his men to investigate. Asked what they were doing, the Mon troops replied that they had been sent by Deinmaniyut to mark out frontages for each unit that was to participate in laying siege to the fortifications.

(edited version of San Lwin’s translation, in the Burmese of Banya Dala, page 321)

14. On the verge of battle at Dala, 1416

When Prince Minyekyawswa learned that the Mons were preparing to lay siege to his stockade, he called together his ministers, and addressed them:

"I have marched here planning to get the Mon king. Now, the Mon king is going to surround us.

To be surrounded is not acceptable. We will leave the stockade and attack them."

None of the ministers dared say anything and each returned to his respective tat (unit, company).

Everyday Minyekyawswa gave his elephant Nga Chit Khaing two large bowls of liquor to drink. On that day he treated him to three bowls. Minyekyawswa drank a lot more than he usually did.

Before leaving for war, Minyekyawswa confided with his wife Min Hla as he held her in his embrace:

"I, the northern prince, am on the verge of taking eerything that the royal uncle, the Mon king, possesses and adding it to the tributary domains that I have gained by conquest.

When the royal elephant Nga Chit Khaing whoops like a crane in battle that is a sign that I'm about to win.

At Mohnyin (in the Shan-Tai states) with the whooping sound of a crane the royal desire was fulfilled.
(royal desire fulfilled = victory).

At the capital of Arakan there was the whooping sound of a crane and then the royal desire was fulfilled.

This time Nga Chit Khaing will once again sing like a crane and the capital of Pegu cannot escape from my hands."

[Note: Possible sexual innuendo here since it is really more than "embrace" his wife with
thon:-that = stroke, fondle; wash, bathe (Myanmar Abidan 521]

After confiding in his wife, Minyekyawswa went outside and assigned the lord of Myedu to Bagamat.

He ordered all the ministers, generals, and tat commanders to mount their elephants and horses and letting out a jubilant shout, he ordered them to follow him wave after wave.

He plied the royal elephant (hsin-daw) Nga Chit Khaing with one more round of drink and positioned his retainer (a-htein-daw) Nanda Thuriya on the middle of the elephant's back.

Over one hundred Shans (Tai) from Kale were ordered to wear pitch black robes and armed with spears to form a guard around his elephant.

Over 1000 Mohnyin Shan soldiers were armed with 3 throwing spears each.

Over 1,000 Burmese troops with gilt helmets, their shields of gold ornamented with peacock feathers were armed with 3 throwing spears each.

Noble cavalrymen wearing buffalo horns, wearing gold helmets, and noblemen clad in gold armour, surrounded him as he rode the royal elephant Nga Chit Hkaing.

The royal drum was sounded three times to announce Minyekyawswa's exit from the fort.

He marched forth without hesitation united with with his brave warriors in one group.

When Minyekyawswa left the stockade, the lord of Kale in the Shan states, Kye Taung Nyo also exited the stockade, mounted on the elephant Ye Thaw Boun with 50 elephantry, 700 cavalry and over 5,000 troops.

The king of Arakan followed on the war elephant Ye Myat Ke with 10 elephantry, 500 cavalry and 7,000 troops.

Then as the lord of Myedu climbed up on the elephant Bagamat, the elephant went berserk and started butting and trampling people and smashing things. The lord of Myedu had to dismount quickly.

On the opposite side, ready and mounted on his elephant, on the verge of commencing the battle, lord Rajadhirat poured water from a golden bowl over the front of the elephant and uttered the following vow:

" I call on the gods who safeguard the Teachings of the Buddha for 5,000 years to declare that this land is the domain of my father king Hsinbyushin, that it was so has been affirmed in a treaty (thissa-pyu) between my father king Hsinpyushin (Lord of the White Elephant) and Minyekyawswa's grandfather, Minkyiswasawke made at Thakyin.

If what I have declared is the truth may I be successful and may Minyekyawswa fall into my hands, while if it is not, may I lose the battle to him."

(based on U San Lwin's translation with extensive changes, pages 146-147, the Burmese of Banya Dala, page 322)

15. Prince Minyekyawswa's headlong charge

Minyekyawswa's headlong charge separated him from the rest of his troops.

The lord of Kale tried to catch up with him, but his elephant was in musth and distracted by the din raised by the saddle flaps on the cavalry and the noise of the elephants and men following him, he turned around and charged at them. (ye-thou-ton-hsin" not translated here? name or description?, ton = alternating cycles of motion and action; heights (MA 189))

This disruption prevented the cavalry and infantry from catching up with Minyekyawswa who was isolated far in front.

As Minyekyawswa and his 1000 brave warriors advanced, they spotted a column out ahead.

Told that it was Banya Dala, Minyekyawswa dismissed it because Banya Dala dared not face him.

Further on, as they came upon Banya Ram (Yan), Minyekyawswa with great disdain also passed him by as a worthy adversary.

Seeing Banya Dhamma Yaza coming up next, he too was dismissed after his men identified him.

Then a dazzlingly resplendent column came into view. Identified as Rajadhirat, Minyekyawswa declared:

"Out of all these it is my Elder Uncle Rajadhirat that I love the most. If I can defeat him, the rest will melt away. "

With the resounding beat of big drums, Minyekyawswa attacked and about a fifth of Rajadhirat's column scattered.

Next he attacked Banya Yaza and scattered the prince and a third of his forces.

Then he turned to Banya Ram's column and broke it up.

Awananaing was next in line but he stood firm and ordered his 7,000 troops to kneel behind their shields and hold their positions.

Rajadhirat, seeing this, turned to him with the deafening sound of war drums.

Banya Dhammayaza, Banya Ram (yan) and Banya Dala also converged on them when they heard the sound of the king's war drums.

Minyekyawswa, having penetrated too far, was isolated and surrounded by enemy elephants while elephantry troops harried his elephant Nga Chit Khaing with spear and sword.

The poor beast shook with pain and dislodged Minyekyawswa from his seat.

(Edited version of U San Lwin’s translation, page 147, the Burmese of Banya Dala, page 323)

16. The search for Minyekyawswa

In the billowing dust raised by elephant hooves and the feet of men, Minyekyawswa seemed to have vanished.

It was only after the third night watch had struck that the severely wounded Minyekyawswa was found under the asper tree as the royal seer had predicted. The lord Rajadhirat spoke to him:

"My son, that you are a young man does not dishearten me. (note: wun: "ma-nei:-bu:" which means "disheartened" translated as "I am not gloating over this" by U San Lwin?)

When you have been treated with proper medicine and are healthy again, if you wish to return to Ava, I will send you there.

If you wish to live in Pegu, I will marry you to my daughter and raise you to the position of crown prince (ein-shei). Nurse yourself back to health."

He then gave Minyekyawswa medicine but he refused to drink the medicine.

"When I came to make war with you elder uncle, I vowed that if I did not take Pegu that I would not return. I will not take the medicine. Now I have reached the end, as I will be named the slave (kyun) of another."

He did not take the medicine and died at the third stroke of night.

The ministers sent him to the cremation ground (thin-kyaing) and ordered that his bones be properly interred at the Kyat Thale pagoda.

(edited translation of U San Lwin, 147-148; the Burmese of Banya Dala, page 324)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Introduction to Rajadhirat translation

To date the Rajadhirat epic has not received much attention either as a historical text or as literature. Only the Burmese version, the Razadarit Ayeidawpon, has been translated into English.

An unpublished manuscript of this translation has been available for some time in Bangkok, at the Siam Society library, for instance. Copies of the translation were handed out at the Mon conference at Chulalongkorn University in October, 2007.

The senior Burmese scholar U San Lwin who is now near 80 and who lives in Burma was the translator. His fine translation displays great literary artistry in rendering the events of the epic in English. Unfortunately, the political situation in Burma probably means that this publication will never see the light of day. This project takes U San Lwin's translation as a starting point and makes some important sections of the epic available in English with a discussion of some of the interesting Burmese words and phrases found within it. Going back to the original Burmese, I have changed the translation in several ways. First, quoted speech is rendered as quoted speech and not paraphrased. Second, I have strictly followed the order of the original narrative and try to paraphrase as little as possible. Third, I have used the Burmese names in U Kala's Mahayazawingyi which means substituting a "y" for an "r" in many cases. U San Lwin apparently tried to go back to the original Mon spelling for Mon names. A comparative table of names used in the Burmese, Mon, and Thai versions of the work would definitely be useful. Mon names should be spelled according to their Mon translation and eventually I will extract this out of Nai Maung Toe's edited Mon edition. Fourth, lengthy prose in the original translation has sometimes been shortened if clarity and readability is enhanced. For instance, when the Mon and Burmese sides are shouting over the moat of the Mon stockade, short realistic bursts of spoken English are better. Fifth, idiomatic English words that sound dated or out-of-place has been substituted with more general language. My goal is solely to maintain interest in it and keep the ball rolling so that it does get the last stage of editing and then prompt publication.

The Rajadhirat epic is a huge topic that has hardly been touched on at all by historians or scholars studying Burmese literature.

A version of events quite close to that of the epic can be found in Burmese chronicles such as U Kala's Mahayazawingyi and the Hmannan Yazawin[Glass Palace Chronicle].

I have chosen to start with events near the end of the epic, leading up to what is arguably the climax of the epic, the death of Burmese Prince Min-ye-kyaw-swa. Most Burmese and Mon people know of this tale which reads much like a combination of traditional Buddhist Jataka tale of the Buddha's previous lives on earth and the Buddhist Mahavamsa epic of Sri Lanka.

Min-ye-kyaw-swa was said to be the reincarnation of Rajadhirat's son Baw-law-kyan-taw whom, according to tradition, Rajadhirat himself had murdered because of the perceived threat he posed to his rule.

U San Lwin's translation is also unique in another respect. Along with U Pe Maung Tin and Gordon Luce's translation of portions of the Hmannan Yazawin, his translation stands as a parallel corpus of pre-modern Burmese prose.

Historical works stand as the first real instances of Burmese prose outside of Jataka tales and Mahavamsa translations from Pali into Mon and Burmese. There are a lot of words and phrases in the Rajadhirat epic that are not in any currently available dictionary, so reverse engineering U San Lwin's translation to extract a glossary will hopefully provide an valuable aid to students learning to read Burmese.

The Rajadhirat epic is about warfare plain and simple. The inclination of most people, quite reasonably, is to shun warfare, in real life or in writing. After all, reading about violence perhaps begets more violence.

Anthropologists have even published a very popular manifesto, the Seville Statement on Violence, denying that warfare is an intrinsic part of human nature.

Whether warfare is part of human nature or not, works such as Rajadhirat and the Mahavamsa clearly show that warfare has plagued Burma and Sri Lanka for a long time.

Western historians can be said to have systematically avoided and underplayed the role of warfare in pre-modern Burmese history, despite the fact that warfare dominates the narratives of most indigenous historical chronicles. This is probably due to the increasing popularity of Buddhism in the west creating a focus on this particular dimension of Burmese culture. I am a Buddhist too, so I appreciate this, given the centrality of warfare in Burma's post-WWII political problems the legacy of warfare in Burma's pre-modern history should be dealt with in greater depth.

Towards the end of the Buddha's life in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta itself, the tribal Vajji people were wiped out by the kingdom of Magadha under the rule of Ajattasattu, regicide son of King Bimbisara who ruled during most of the Buddha's life (See Steven Collins, 1998, Nirvana and other Buddhist Felicities, 437-445). Again, most people would probably wish to avoid this unsavory part of the Buddhist scriptures. Contemplating the human activity of warfare in all its terrible detail might, in the final analysis, be likened to meditations on a human corpse in a cremation ground, as found for instance in the Visuddhimagga. It is in this vein and to provide such a lesson that this translation has been done.