Rasa (aesthetics) literature

  • By Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja,
    Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt


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Myanmar today is alive with literary movements and activities across the country. Group discussions on literature. Festivals of literature for juveniles, schools, colleges, universities, researchers, reading rooms, using of libraries, etc., etc. Educational and information programmes in all public media are also spotlighted these days in our country. The writer heartily welcomes these good tidings.
In this article, the writer wishes to discuss about his views about rasa literature &opmay(aesthetics literature), which the State Counsellor and the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has so often emphasized upon its importance for us.
Libraries have their own style of differentiating okwpmay (knowledge literature) from &opmay (aesthetics literature). It is fiction for &opmay (aesthetics literature) and non-fiction for okwpmay (knowledge literature). Here we need to know clearly and precisely what aesthetics or rasa is and how many kinds of aesthetics or rasas we have. The following table is based upon the three sources the writer had studied:
1. Pali Myanmar Dictionary by U Hoke Sein
2. tvuFmyef;ukH; by Ashin Kumara, Hmawbi Sasana wunsaung Kyaung Taik
3. Dictionary Alinka San Pali.
There are 9 kinds of rasa (aesthetics)
1. Singara Rasa Erotic, sentiment love, sexual passion
od*Fg& &o rdef;r? a,musFm; cspfBudKufjcif;? wifhw,foyÜ,fjcif; 0wfpm;wefqm
2. Hassa Rasa Laughter, joke, ridiculous
[mo &o &,f&GifzG,f
3. Karuna Rasa Compassion, pity, mercy
u&kPm&o oem;jcif;
4. Rudda Rasa Furious
&k’´&o Murf;MuKwfjcif;? cufxefjcif;
5. Vira Rasa Brave, heroic, mighty
0D& &o &J&ifhNcif;
6. Bhayanaka Rassa Frightful, horrible
b,eu &o xdwfvefY? aMumufrufzG,fapaom
7. Bibhaccha Rassa Awful, loathsome, contemptible
0dbpä &o &GH&Smjcif;? pufqkwfjcif;
8. Abbhuta Rassa Wonderful, marvelous
tAÇKw &o tHYMozG,f&m
9. Santa Rassa Calmness, tranquility serenity, peacefulness
oEÅ ” &o wnfNidrfat;csrf;rI? om,mrI
In the writer’s experience and opinion only a very thin line of demarcation can be drawn between okwpmay and &opmay (knowledge literature and aesthetic literature). We all know that literature emerged in our country since undateable age. All kinds of writing materials, stone, wood, bamboo, reed, chalk, coal are available across the country and writing process passed through pictorial, phonetic and alphabetical stages. In pre-Bagan ages, writing had already emerged full-fledged. Thanks to the monastic education of Bagan Period, not only the three Rs’ (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic) had spread far and wide, but also higher learning had been achieved. The credit for which goes to the practice of Theravada Buddhism which is a literary religion. A glance at different periods of the history of Myanmar literature from its remote past to the present day, we are sure to find that Myanmar literature is a happy blend of knowledge and aesthetics okw and &o.
All three forms of literature emerged since the time of its origin and till today. Prose (pum;ajy) Verse (vuFm) and Dramatic (Zmwf? jyZmwf or play) of all periods contain both knowledge and aesthetics okw and &o. Even in the early Bagan stone inscriptions which recorded the history of constructions of religious monuments, palaces, dams, irrigation canals and public works, their donors, not only tell us the knowledge of facts, but also aesthetics (rasa) of the donors or builders. Their prayers, their blessings and their curses upon destroyers of their good works show aesthetics (rasas) of the time.
Among well-known Bagan stone inscriptions King Kyanzittha’s Mon inscriptions, Yaza kumar stone inscription and monk envoy Shin Dithapamaukkha’s stone inscription are most outstanding examples to show that Bagan inscriptional literature was a blend of okw knowledge and &o aesthetic literature. King Kyanzittha’s Mon Inscription gives us Karuna rasa u&kPm&o of the King towards his people. Yaza kumar’s 4 language stone inscription records the fulfillment of filial duties to parents. Monk envoy’s inscription contains calmness and peacefulness rasa in the conduct of diplomacy. Besides two famous Verses “Mya Kan Tha” and Ode to Mt Popa give us not only knowledge of geography and history of the places but also santa rasa in the case of “Mya Kan Tha” linka and karuna rasa in the case of Ode to Mt. Popa.
In the death song of Minister Ananta Suriya, we gain karuna rasa, Vira rasa and Santa rasa (Compassion, Braveness and Calmness) with which the minister gave up his life to the executioners leaving his death song he composed impromptu for his master King and for all human beings. Myanmar literatures in the periods after Bagan, strike the same tone and reveal the same character. Literature of the short Pinya Period (1298-1364 AD) during which shield dances and songs emerged give knowledge of its geography, history, economy and socio-cultural life of the time, as well as vira rasa of shield dances and shield songs.
Inwa Period (1364-1555 AD), rightfully metaphored “the Golden Age of Myanmar Literature”, produced many prose, and verse literary outputs by monks as well as laity. To mention but a few are monks Shin Ottamakyaw, Shin Maha Silawuntha, Shin Maha Rathathara, Shin Ohn Nyo, Shin Kheyma, Kantaw Min Kyaung Sayadaw, Kyi Kan Shin Gyi and among laymen writers U Ya, U Toe, Taungdwingyi Saya Kyaw, Nandwin Mi Phya, Mi Nyo, Mei Kway etc. Their literary works are store houses of knowledge and rasa (aesthetic) literatures. Even the short Taungoo Period did not fail to produce knowledge and Rasa literatures. Poet laureate Nawade I and Prince of Taungoo Nat Shin Naung were prolific writers or composers of verse form Ratu. The former’s prominent works contain 3 Ratu Verses about King Bayint Naung’s Palace city and Palace “Kamboza Thadi”. The latter Prince of Taungoo Nat Shin Naung composed ratu verses on any subject. love, battles, games, festivals, nature, etc. dedicated to the Buddha, his love Princess Rajadatukalayar, seasonal flowers and gulee games. He was acclaimed “King of Ratu” &wkbk&if? ewf&Sifaemif.
In the succeeding periods namely Nyaung Yan Period, First Konbaung Period (1752- and second Konbaung Period 1885 AD), we find Myanmar literatures were written in the same vein — a blend of knowledge (okw) and aesthetics (&o). To cut the story short, the writer would like to cite a few examples as follows. In Nyaung Yan Period, there emerged a new form of prose “history”. U Kala’s Maha Yazawun daw kyi was prominent. In it, we learn knowledge of historical facts of the past and his contemporary time. But he wrote it with vira rasa, inspiring our patriotic spirit. In the First Konbaung Period, both verse and prose forms were written by monk and lay authors. King Alaungmintaya Kyi, the founder of the Third Myanmar Empire became the role model for writing prose and verse literatures of the time. The military strategy and tactics he used in his national unification military campaigns, the bravery and fidelity of his 68 comrades-in-arms were faithfully recorded in proses and aesthetic song in different kinds of verses. His direct diplomacy in foreign relations was evidenced in the reports and diaries of Sir George Baker, the first British envoy sent to Myanmar king for diplomatic relations and trade, and the agreement signed and royal letter of direct contact with English King, George II, inscribed on a gold plate studded with rubies were literatures of that time blended with both knowledge (okw) and aesthetics (&o).
Late Konbaung Period exemplified the flourish of knowledge literarture with aesthetics (Rasa). Though it was the period of political decline of Myanmar, in the late Konbaung Period we find Myanmar literatures of mixed knowledge and aesthetic types. To cite but few outstanding are literary works of Kinwun Mingyi, Yaw Min Gyi U Po Hlaing, playwright U Ponnya and Princess Hlaing Taik Khaung Tin. Kin Wun Mingyi’s London Diaries are knowledge as well as aesthetic literature. In them, he recorded knowledge he witnessed with his appreciation and remarks in verses composed with rasas (aesthetics), Yaw Min Gyi U Po Hlaing’s literary outputs also reveal both knowledge and aesthetics. Even his Treatises on Science and Technology, as well as political constitution —Chemistry, Anatomy, Telegraphy, Constitutional monarchy are combinations of knowledge and aesthetics (okw+&opmay). Playwright U Ponnya excelled in knowledge literature with aesthetics.
His proses, verses and plays give us knowledge of politics, economics and socio-cultural of his time with many aesthetics. Especially in giving us Singara rasa (erotic rasa), U Ponnya would go up to the height of obscenity much to the delight of male youths and in his hassayasa, he could move the whole court of King Mindon to laughter. The baw lei abmv,f songs of Princess Hlaing Taik Khaung Tin give us the knowledge of court life especially of her husband crown Prince Kanaung’s philandering nights with singara rasa and karuna rasa. Myanmar literature not only continued to survive but also progressed with new forms, new concepts and new inspirations. Contacts with the technologically developed western countries —England, France, Italy and Germany—brought in advanced political, economic and socio-cultural ideas and systems. Myanmar traditional literature, exposed to such alien contacts began to change for better. Translation and adaptation of foreign literature had the effect of double-edged razar blades, cutting both ways. Introduction of English language and literature to the country promoted “anglicanization” of Myanmar people whom the British Colonial Government intended to turn into “Black Englishmen” to serve under them. That was very successful. But at the same time, it was the English language and literature that opened up Myanmar to the outside world to learn progress and advances in other countries, there by re-kindle their dormant patriotism.
As early as the second decade of the 20th century, a new wave of Myanmar literature emerged in the form of Burma Research Society (BRS) initiated by British scholars and researchers of Myanmar geography, geology, archaeology, anthropology and history and joined by Myanmar scholars and foreign scholars across the world. The publications of this Society Journal of Burma Research Society (JBRS) promoted both knowledge and aesthetic Myanmar literature.
The most outstanding happy result of this Society and Journal was (acwfprf;pmay) Experimental New Burmese Literature. Its printed medium was called Gandaloka with a motto “Bricks are fallen down but we shall build with hewen stones” (ajrtkwfrsm;?jydKav&m? ausmuftkwfrsm;ESifhwnfaqmufthH). Keeping traditional Myanmar literature as our guide, a new venture was made in experimental literature which progressed into full bloom as witnessed by the emergence of new proses, verses and plays from the prolific pens of U Thein Han (Zawgyi), U Wun (Min Thu Wun), U Pe Maung Tin, Shwe U Daung, Tet Toe, P. Mo Nin, Dr. Htin Aung, Theikpan Maung Wa, U Myo Min, U Aye Maung, Thakhin Ba Thaung, Thakin Thein Pe (Thein Pe Myint), Thakhin Nu, Thakhin Aung San, Thakhin Than Htun, Thakhin Soe, Pantanaw U Thant. U Khant, Dagon Shwe Hmyar, Dagon Khin Khin Lay, Dagon Nat Shin, Thakhin Pho Hla Gyi, etc., etc. Their literary outputs are blended with knowledge and aesthetics.
That new Experimental literature grew into full bloom in the Japanese Occupation Period and Post Second World War Independence Period. But in the interregnum of nearly five decades in the transition from the 20th to 21st Centuries Myanmar literature, unfortunately, encountered with many setbacks due to Xenophobia of the leaders and cautious policy of Governments, untimely introduction of free democratic education/decline in educational system—subjects, teaching methods, quality and caliber of teachers, side effects of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and sanctions and self-imposed isolation.
Now a complete U-turn is in progress for a change for the better. No turning back, no finding faults with the leaders and governments of the past. Forward move with the people, especially with new generations.
Take advantage of ICT, avoiding its side effects, young ones, learn and pursue Myanmar literature of knowledge and aesthetics okw? &o? jrefrmpmay.

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