Update: 2013-09-24 06:09 PM +0630


The Burmese Empire a hundred years ago

As described by Father Vincenzo Sangermano, 1833


Edited and with notes by U Kyaw Tun, M.S. (I.P.S.T., U.S.A.). Set in html by UKT and staff of TIL Computing and Language Center, Yangon, for students and staff of TIL. Not for sale. No copyright. Free for everyone. Prepared for students and staff of TIL  Computing and Language Center, Yangon, MYANMAR :  http://www.tuninst.net , http://www.softguide.net.mm , www.romabama.blogspot.com

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Description of the Burmese Empire
Ch 01. Of the measures and division of time commonly used in the sacred Burmese book
Ch 02. Of the world and its parts


UKT 130923: I am going over this file checking with the downloaded PDF .
• Sangamano's chapter headings are just long statements.
• Some of Sangamano's paragraphs are numbered - which I had called Sections.
• Sangermano's footnotes will be numbered fn001-01, fn001-02, ... fn002-01, fn002-02, ... . I have given my own footnotes numbered UKT01, UKT02, UKT03.... I am also giving my regular notes.
• You will also have redo gif-pix for Bur-Myan fonts renaming them whenever necessary.

UKT notes

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UKT 130924: I notice that in the PDF, someone - most probably John Jardine - has inserted material within [...]. For example, in the paragraph below, next to Azen I find [Assam]. These inserts should be taken with caution because this person, whatever his actual reasons were, had introduced ideas contrary to the actual meaning of Bur-Myan word.

The Burmese Empire comprises the tract of territory bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean, on the east by the Kingdom of Siam {yo:da.ya: pręŃ}, on the west by Bengal {bļn~ga.la: pręŃ}, and on the north by the Kingdom of Azen [Assam] {a-žän pręŃ} and the Chinese Empire {ta.roat pręŃ}. It includes not only the Kingdom of Ava {ing:wa.} {ing:wa.}, but likewise those of Pegu {pč:hku:} and Aracan {ra.hkeing pręŃ}, together with the petty States of Martaban {moat~ta.ma. mro.}, Tavai [Tavoy] {hta:wčż mro.}, and Merghi [Mergui] {mrait mro.}. [UKT ¶]

UKT 130924: Please remember I am writing for an international audience which of course includes those in Myanmarpré. There is always the danger of my work being politicized and I have to be very careful in giving Bur-Myan names. English usage and Bur-Myan (including Mon-Myan) usage are not the same because of language difference. Bur-Myan is non-rhotic and non-hissing thibilant, whereas Mon-Myan is slightly rhotic and slightly hissing sibilant. In Bur-Myan, adjective comes after the noun, whereas in Mon-Myan it is the other way around.

In giving the above place names, I have to give whether it was a king's residence, a country, a kingdom, or a city-state. In ordinary usage {neing-gnän} is not generally used, and if applied to a king's residence the suffix {tau} is generally applied.

Political boundaries were never marked. For instance, a town may be populated by a majority of Mon-Myan speakers, but if its administrator had taken the oath of allegiance to the Bur-Myan overlord, then that town would be viewed as Burmese. A general term for a town with its surrounding cultivated fields is either {mro.}, or {pręŃ} loosely pronounced /pré/.

The term {rwa} does not always mean a village, e.g. when applied to non-human Deva {dé-wa.}, {nūt rwa} and {nūt pręŃ} are the same. If you are a Deva (I hope you are not), don't be cross if somebody were to call you a 'villager' {rwa-ža:} and your wife a {rwa-žu} (which can also mean a 'witch').

You will notice, I do not attach {pręŃ} or {neing-gnän} to {ing:wa.} and {pč:hku:} for political expediency.

Before proceeding to give an ample and detailed description of the manners, religion, and laws of this empire, it is not only expedient but necessary to premise some account of the system of the world according to the Burmese, or, in other words, of their cosmography. By this explanation various points relating to their religion and manners, to their theogony and ethics, will be rendered intelligible, which otherwise would be very obscure and difficult to comprehend. [{p001end}]

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Ch 01. Of the measures and division of time commonly used in the sacred Burmese book


According to these books there are five species of atoms. [UKT ¶]

The first consists of that fluid by which all bodies are penetrated, and which, though invisible to man, is yet visible to the Nat, fn002-02 superior genii of whom we shall speak hereafter. [UKT ¶

UKT 130924: The fluid is the Energy necessary for Life .

The application of the word <genii> to Nat {nūt} is not appropriate. The Bur-Myan {nūt} is someone who is to be worshipped whether out of respect or fear. Thus the king of the country who has power of life and death over you is a {nūt}. Incidentally, the king (and his tax collectors) is considered to be a necessary "evil" together with Fire, and Water both of which are essential to life. So is the king.

Every day Bur-Myan Theravada Buddhists paid obeisance to the Buddha, his Teachings, and his Monks who are dispensers of his Teachings. We don't "pray" and "beg" favours from God or what ever that is worshipped. We take it as a good deed, for which we make a wish to be "saved" from the Five Enemies: Water, Fire, King, Robbers, and those who hate you". No one would lay down his life "For the King, and the Country", but would do so for his "race and language (which includes culture and religion)". The {nūt} here means a Déva-god who is born to be one. The Déva and the feminine Dévi have the ability to see things that are invisible to the humans.

Like Témi-min {té-mi. ming:} the embryo Buddha, (see http://www.watnavaram.org/buddhism/TenBirths/tenbirths.html 130924), every highly educated male and female, loathe to become king because in a way, the king is the most hated man in the kingdom. Of course, there are bound to be individuals who wish to wield the ultimate power. Every Theravada Buddhist knows that a king can misuse his power one time or another, and he would have to pay it back in hell. And so, every Myanmar king tried his best to undo his misdeeds while he was first consolidating his power. He tried his best to emulate the legendary Maha Thammada Min {ma.ha žūm~ma.ta. ming:} or at least King Asoka the Buddhist Emperor of India. This fact would be contrary to thinking of most of the people in the Western world and of course be to the British colonialists who had swallowed the country of my ancestors.

The second species is that very fine dust which is seen dancing in the air when the sun's rays penetrate through any aperture into a chamber. [UKT ¶]

UKT 130924: From the way they are described, the second species are air-borne colloids such as smoke (carbon) particles, known as aerosols. The size is about 1 micron. They are held up in the air because of the Brownian movement of the air molecules. See Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerosol 130924

The third species consists of the dust raised from the earth by the motion of animals or vehicles. [UKT¶]

UKT 130924: Particles larger than colloids can be temporarily suspended in air because of Brownian movement, but settle in a short time.

The fourth comprises those grosser particles which, unable to rise in the air on account of their natural gravity, remain fixed to the ground. [UKT ¶]

Lastly, the fifth species consists of those little particles which fall when writing with an iron pen upon a [{p002end-p003begin}] palm-leaf. [UKT ¶]

Thirty-six atoms of the first class make one atom of the second, thirty-six of the second make one of the third, and so in progression. Seven atoms of the fifth and last species are equal in size to the head of a louse; seven such heads equal a grain of rice; seven grains of rice make an inch, twelve inches a palm, and two palms a cubit; seven cubits give one ta, twenty ta one ussabą , eighty ussabą one gaut , and four gaut a juzeną [yojana] {yu-za.na}. Finally, a juzeną, contains about six Burmese leagues, or 28,000 cubits.

Again, twelve hairs are equal to the size of a grain of rice, four grains of rice make a finger, twelve fingers a foot; the ordinary stature of a man is seven feet.

UKT: See my note on Measure of Length and Time .

The following is the measure of time: that instant in which the fore or the middle finger withheld by the thumb darts from it to give a fillip is called a carasi : ten carasi make a pian, and six pian a bizaną . A quarter of an hour is composed of fifteen bizaną ; four quarters make an hour, the day consists of sixty hours, the month contains thirty days, and twelve months form a year. [{p003end}]

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Ch 02. Of the world and its parts

fn003-01 [UKT 130924: In PDF it appears on p004, and so this footnote should be fn004-04 ]]

Section 01 The world is called logha {lau:ka.}, a word which signifies alternate destruction and reproduction. The Burmese admit a world, not everlasting, but having a beginning and an end; and this beginning and end they do not attribute to the power and will of a superior being, but merely to fate, which they call Dammatą [Dharma] {Dūm~ma.ta}. [UKT ¶]

UKT 130924: [---] is not my addition: it is probably added by J. Jardine. Skt-Dev «darma» spelled with a repha and Bur-Myan or Pal-Myan {Dūm~ma.ta} spelled with conjunct are quite different. Refer to my edition of A. A. Macdonell's 'A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary'

• धर्म «dharma» -- m. established order, usage, institution, custom, prescription; rule; duty; virtue, moral merit, good works; right; justice; law (concerning, g. or --° ); often personified, esp. as Yama, judge of the dead, and as a Pragāpati; nature, character, essential quality, characteristic attribute, property: -- Macdonell-130c2

The Bur-Myan {Dūm~ma.ta} means the natural order of things, not directed or required by some higher being. The Skt-Dev धर्म «dharma» involves a supreme being directing what should be happening in the physical universe. Such misunderstanding has been obstacles in my work and I will have to break soon to learn more of Skt-Dev to get a first-hand knowledge.

The world is divided into three parts, the superior, the inferior, and the middle. In the superior part is situated the seat of the Nat, in the inferior are the infernal regions, and in the middle is the seat or abode of men and animals. [UKT ¶]

UKT 130924: The "three parts of the world" is collectively known as {lau:ka. žoän:pa:} referring to the inhabitants rather than to the shape and the level along the slope of the mythical mountain {mring:mhor taung}.

Of these beings and their abodes we shall treat lower down. The middle part is conceived to be flat and circular, though somewhat elevated in the centre, and bounded by a chain of very high mountains called Zacchiavalą [Sakwala] {sa.kra-wa.La}, which gird it all round and form an impenetrable barrier. These mountains rise 82,000 juzeną {yu-za.na} [yojana, reckoned at 10 miles by Hardy] above the surface of the sea, and have an equal depth in the sea itself. The diameter of this middle part is 1,203,400 juzeną. The half of this depth entirely consists of dust; the other half, or the lower part, is a hard, compact

juzeną [yojana] {yu-za.na} reckoned at 10 miles -- S. Hardy author of Manual of Buddhism and Legends and Theories of the Buddhists. See fn003-01


fn003-01 For fuller information on the subjects of this and the next two chapters, the reader may consult Spence Hardy's Manual of Buddhism, ch. i., and his Legends and Theories of the Buddhists, p. 80, which are used by Dr. Kern of Leyden as the most complete review of the mystic cosmology of the Southern Buddhists. Geschiednis van Het Buddhisme in Indie, p. 289, Haarlem, 1882. The Buddhist system of the universe is fundamentally that of the Hindus, as is remarked by Yule in his Narrative of the Mission to Ava, London, 1858, p. 237, in a learned note. fn003-01b

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stone called Silapatavi . This enormous volume of dust and stone is supported by a double volume of water, under which is placed a double volume of air; and beyond this there is nothing but vacuity.

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Section 02

In the centre of this middle part, above the level of the sea, the largest of the mountains, called Miemmņ, fn005-01 rises to the height of 84,000 juzeną, having an equal depth within the sea. Two truncated cones, united at their bases, may give an idea of the figure of this mountain. The diameter of the superior plane of Miemmņ is 48,000 juzeną, and its circumference three times the diameter. Three enormous rubies, 3000 juzena in height, serve as feet to this immense mass, and connect it with the great stone Silapatavi. The part of the mountain looking to the east is of silver, that looking to the west of glass, the side exposed to the north is of gold, and finally that to the south of dark ruby. Seven concentric chains of mountains enclose within them this celebrated eminence, and in their intermediate spaces run seven great rivers called Sitą [Sidanta], whose waters are transparent and clear as crystal, and so very light that the feather of the smallest bird, if thrown into them, will sink to the bottom. These mountains are not of an equal height, nor are their rivers of equal breadth and depth. While the first range, called Jugantņ, is 84,000 juzeną high, and the first river as many juzeną wide and deep, the second chain has half that height, that is to say, 42,000 juzeną, and just so wide and deep is the second river.

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Section 03

At the four cardinal points of Mount Miemmņ, between the Zacchiavalą mountains and the last enclosure of Jugantņ, in the midst of an immense sea, are situated four great islands, the abodes of men and animals. The eastern island has the form of a half-moon, and is 21,000 juzeną in circumference. The western island bears a circular figure like the full moon, and has likewise 21,000 juzeną in circumference. The northern island has 24,000, and is of a square figure; and lastly, the southern one, which is lozenge-shaped, is called Zabudibą [Jambudwipa], and is 30,000 juzeną in circumference. In this


fn005-01 The Mount Myen-Mo of the Burmans is the Mount Meru of the Hindu cosmogony. fn005-01b

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island the Burmese doctors place their kingdom, those of Siam and China, the coast of Coromandel, the island of Ceylon, and other parts with which they are acquainted. They likewise say that this island, with 500 smaller ones which belong to it and will be mentioned in the next paragraph, is inhabited by a hundred and one nations. Excepting, however, the Chinese, Tartars, Siamese, Cassč [Manipur], and Aracan, the names by which they denominate these nations do not correspond to those known in our geography. These four great islands take their names from certain large trees which grow in them and are considered their sacred emblems. For example, because its sacred tree is the Zabł, the southern island is called Zabudibą, or the Island of Zabł.

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Section 04

Besides these four great islands, they admit likewise 2000 of smaller dimensions (allotting 500 to each of the great ones) scattered here and there, but not widely apart, and bearing respectively the same figure as the larger islands. We have observed in sec002 (Ch02)  that the eastern side of Mount Miemmņ is of silver, the western of glass, the northern of gold, and the southern of dark ruby. Now, these four sides communicate their colour to the great and small islands and their inhabitants, as well as to the sea that surrounds them; and consequently the eastern island and its inhabitants will be of a silver colour; the southern, together with its inhabitants, rivers, trees, etc., will have the colour of the dark ruby; and the same is to be said of the other islands. In like manner the great ocean is divided into four seas, that is to say, the white, the green, the yellow, and the dark red. These seas, however, are not everywhere of the same depth: that which is interposed between the small islands is shallow and almost always quiet, so that ships may conveniently sail in it; but the seas in the midst of which the great islands lie have a depth of even 84,000 juzeną, and their waves rise to the height of 60 or 70 juzeną. Terrible whirlpools are here to be met, capable of swallowing up large ships. These seas abound with monstrous fishes of the length of 500 and even 1000 juzeną. When these merely move in the waters they agitate them to a considerable degree, but when they shake their whole body they excite a horrible tempest to the distance of even 500 and 800 juzena.

UKT: Burmese doctors -- Doctors of Learning, not confined to medicine.

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Hence it follows that there can be no communication whatever between the inhabitants of the different great islands; and the European ships that arrive in the Indies are supposed by the Burmese to come from some of the 500 small islets which surround the great southern island of Zabudibą. Hence they generally style them inhabitants of the small islands.

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fn002-01 For a full account of measures and the divisions of time the reader is referred to The Burman, his Life and Notions, by Shway Yoe, London, 1882, C. 30. The scales in common use differ from those of the books. 'For astronomical purposes, such as the casting of the horoscope, and the calculations for fortunate days and the like, an exceedingly elaborate scale exists, but it is never made use of in ordinary life.' There are twelve months with an intercalation every third year; and, as among the Hindus, the month is divided into the dark and bright halves. The year begins in April. The seven days of the week are named after the planets. The people define time and distance by terms like the following: -- When the sun was as high as a toddy palm, when monks go a-begging, children's go-to-bed time, the time it takes to boil a pot of rice, a stone's throw, a musket's sound. fn002-01b

UKT: monks go a-begging -- Westerns like J. Jardine of the 19the and early 20th century were under the impression that Buddhist monks <beg> for their living, and thus their use of words like <begging bowl>. In reality it is the lay-men who "beg" the monks to come to their house to accept alms.

fn002-02 These Nats {nūt} are the Dewas {dé-wa.} of the six lower heavens. In Burmah the belief in good and bad demons, also called Nats, existed before the spread of Buddhism. They are still as numerous as the fairies and elves were among the Saxons of old, every tree, stream, and town having its guardian Nat. Of the evil Nats, Burmans and other tribes have an extreme dread. -- Bigandet's Legend of the Burmese Buddha, i. I8, 77; ii. 324. fn002-02b


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pen The word should have been "stylus" {ka.ńic}. When you write on palm-leaf {pé-rwak}, you write (scratch) with a steel stylus without ink. To make the scratch visible you rubbed in soot mixed with petroleum oil to get it black. You can use vermillion to get it red. It is the mineral mercuric sulphide, HgS. Writing with a goose-quill pen involves ink.
Go back pen-note-b

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UKT notes

Measure of Length and Time

UKT 130924:

The above description gives us a Measure of Length. A common multiplication factor of 3 is evident. In the Measure of Time below, you will see the factor of 60. I have been intrigued by the numbers 3, 12, and 60. These will go up to 360. All these point out to a basis of converting squares into circles -- Spherical Trigonometry -- so essential for Space travel.

Measure of time What is intriguing to me is how a day was divided:

1 day = 60 hours
1 hour = 60 bizaną
1 bizaną = 60 carasi

The division into 60 parts is so similar to the way we measure angles in terms of degrees, minutes and seconds. It is probable that time is based on a day or the passage of the Sun across the celestial sphere which is usually measured in degrees of arc.

Sun-dials were used as clocks in the monasteries to give a measure of time for the daily routine of the monks: monks are prohibited from eating after mid-day.

Now let me conjecture on the origin of the humans as told to us when we were young. We were descended from the Four Brahmas who descended on Earth from Outer Space as it was beginning to cool after its formation. The odors issuing from the Earth was so pleasant that they started to taste the soil which gave them material bodies and they could no longer go back into Space. They separated into males and females giving rise to the human species. The word Bama (or Burma) of course came from Brahma. Since our forefathers have been Spacemen they have left us the curious system of counting based on the number 3.

While I was listening wide-eyed to the story-teller telling me such stories, my father U Tun Pe would be smiling. He had no time for such tomfoolery and he eventually saw to it that I don't.

Go back Measure-Length-Time-note-b.

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