The Origin Of The Word “MYANMAR”

19 Jun

The Origin Of The Word “Myanmar”

By Kyaw Zaw Aung

The first evidence of the word Myanmar was found on the commemorative stone slab erected in honour of the construction of the palace of King Kyansittha(1084-1113 AD). This stone slab is known as “Commemorative Stone Slab Regarding The Construction of King Kyan Sittha’s Palace” and was erected in 1102 AD.On this slab it can be found that ” mirma(မိရ္ မာ)” refers to the Myanmar, “myi(မည္)”  to the Mon people and “tilsul {(တိရ္စုလ္(ျပဴ)}” to the now extinct  Pyu people. Another stone slab erected in 1190 AD by court Minister Theingathu also mentioned the word “Myanmar music (ျမန္ မာ ပန္တ်ာ)”. Ratana Konehtan stone slab that was erected in 1235 A.D also mentioned the words “Myanmar pyi(ျမန္ မာ ျပည္)”. Ami Pwa Saw stone slab erected by Pwa saw in 1241 AD also had the words “Sri Oh Myanmar(သိၼအို ျမန္မာ)” and also on the Thet Taw Shae Pagoda stone slab (1363 AD) we find the word ” Myanmar ywa ti (ျမံမာ ရြာ တိ)”. Apart from these we can find many evidences of the word in numerous stone slabs spelled in a variety of ways: ျမံမာ၊ျမံမာျပည္၊ျမဟၼ၊ ျမဟၼ ျပည္၊ ျမံမ ျပည္၊ျမံမၼာျပည္၊ ျမမၼ ဘာ သာ

Based on such irrefutable archaeological evidences we can strongly say that the word “Myanmar” had been used consistently since the Bagan Period up to the present times. A stone slab erected in 1485 AD during the Innwa Dynastic period and known as the Ratana Zedi stone slab contained the words “of a country Myanmar bordered by the rivers Ayer, Panyaung, Paunglaung and Chindwin(ဧ ရာ၊ပန္းေရာင္၊ေပါင္းေလာင္း၊ခ်င္းတြင္းျမစ္ေလး စင္း အ ခံ က ၫႊတ္မ်ွ ေန ေသာ၊ ၾကည္းေတာင္ ဖ်င္ မ်ွ ျမန္ မာ ျပည္)”. Again another stone slab, Ratana Biman stone slab, erected in 1509 AD contains the word Myanmar pyi that is bordered by Thunaparanta in the west and Tampawaddy in the east and where Buddhism flourishes(ေျမာက္ တ လြားက သုနပရႏၱ၊ေတာင္ ဘက္ က တမၸဒီ ပ မည္ ေသာ တိုင္းႏွစ္ တိုင္း ကို၊ ၾကပ္ တိုင္ဖံုး အုပ္ အာ ဏာ ခ်ဳပ္ လ်က္ ၊ ပိုက္ ထုပ္ ႐ိုက္ ရာ၊ သာ သ နာ လ တည္၊ျမံ မာျပည္).And during the Innwa period, which is regarded as the apex of Myanmar literary creativity, this word was used in a variety of ways in classical prose and etched on stone slabs. So we see that though the spelling is different the name remained the same. And searching further we see that this trend also continued into later years.

A text written by Shin Maha Thilawuntha , Yazarwun Kyaw  during the reign of King Shwe Nan Kyawt Shin Narapati (1501-1527 AD)in the Innwa period and regarded as the earliest history text in Myanmar , there is a chapter titled “Myanmar Dynastic Rulers” and used the word “our Myanmar pyi” in the text. Furthermore also in later notable Myanmar historical chronicles such as “U Kala Maha Yazarwun”, Twinthin Maha Yazarwun Thit”. Zartarpon Yazarwun”,”Zediyakata Yazarwun choke”, Hman nan Yazarwun” and “Konbaung Set Maha Yazarwun” we also find the word Myanmar.

In the latter half of Nyaung Yan Dynasty a Myanmar diplomatic mission arrive Beijing on 19th July 1751 AD. They were housed at a place where once a Myanmar delegation which visited China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) stayed. The Chinese Emperor had commanded the diplomatic mission that in the building there are some scripts in Myanmar language done by the previous mission and they are to write down these words. The words the Chinese Emperor commanded the mission to copy were the words from a compilation of Myanmar vocabularies done by the Institute of Myanmar Language (Mien tien Kuan) which existed during the Ming Dynasty. If we look at the word Mien tein which was used during the Ming Dynasty we can easily see that it is similar to the word “Mein dian” used nowadays. The pronunciation is same as we can see.

When westerners started arriving in Myanmar they wrote many travelogues about their journeys. They used the word Burmah for the country and Burman for the people. But as most were written in the English there were no controversies. The Indian pronounce Brahma as” Vartma(ဗရ္ဟ္မာ)” and the British as “Varmah (ဗာရ္မာ)”. Bama was thus evolved from this British pronunciation.

When Christian missionaries arrived in Myanmar they were faced with language difficulties.  So they compiled English-Myanmar and Myanmar-English dictionaries. In these dictionaries transliterations were used to get the closest pronunciation. Carpan published a book in 1776 AD in Rome called Alphabetum Barmanorum and pronounced it as Burma instead of the actual sound Myanmar. Also the Christian missionary Judson arrived in Myanmar in 1813 AD and started studying Myanmar language. Then he published a Myanmar-English dictionary in 1826 which was printed in India. He defined:

ျမန္မာ a Burman

ျမန္မာ ႏိုင္ ငံ အ ထက္ ပိုင္း n Upper Burma

ျမန္မာ ဘာ သာ n the Burmese Language

The Myanmar side also compiled an English-Myanmar dictionary. This was the work or Prince Mekara, a son of King Mindon. He had learnt English from the English merchants and in 1833 AD and when he compiled the dictionary  a Mr. Charles Lane helped in the editing. This dictionary was printed and published in Culcutta(now call Kolkata). Prince Mekara wrote the Myanmar text which was translated by Mr. Charles Lane.  Prince Mekaya wrote “Myanmar” in his Myanmar texts but Mr. Charles Lane translated them as “Burmese people” and “Burmese language”.

Myanmar became a colony of the British Empire after the 3rd Anglo-Myanmar War. But this also re-ignited the nationalist feelings among the Myanmar people. In 1906 the Young Men Buddhist Association(YMBA) was formed to promote nationalism and Buddhism in the country. In 1920 YMCA held a conference at Pyay and changed its name to General Council of Buddhist Associations (GCBA).In 1938 the Doh Bama Asi Ayone was formed by Thakin Ba Thaung and the usage of Bama and Bama Naing ngan came to be used. On 1st October 1939 another organization Bama Htwet Yat Gaing was formed. On 27th December the BIA was formed. Throughout the Japanese occupation period (1939-1945) the terms Bamar Naing ngan Taw and Bama national were profusely used. During the Japanese occupation and Bamar Constitutional Law was promulgated to govern the country. But after the end of the 2nd World War the British re-occupied Myanmar. In 1947 the Constitution of the Union of Burma was adopted and on January 4, 1948 the Union of Burma was established. After passing through many periods like the Pa Sa Pa La(ဖ ဆ ပ လ or AFPFL-Anti Fascist and Peoples’ Freedom League), Revolutionary Council periods a new Constitution-The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974 and the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was born*. But on September 18, 1988 as the country’s security situation deteriorated the State Law And Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was formed. On 18th June 1989 SLROC announced the law no 16/89 to substitute the word “Burma” with “Myanmar” to represent all the nationalities living in the country. Consequently The Union of Burma was substituted as Union of Myanmar and Burma or Burmese became Myanmar in all documents.

In conclusion we can say that since the Bagan period up to the Konbaung period the word Myanmar stood for both the country and its people. But when Christian missionaries arrived they started calling the country Burmah and its people Burman.  After 1930 when Doh Bama Asi Ayone was formed the terms Bama pyi and Bama became popular. But when the country regained its Independence the term Myanmar was used consistently to denote both the country and its people as Myanmar. Regardless of whatever term was used in the past all have reverted to use Myanmar in all respect which also reflects reality. And it is my duty to urge our citizens to proudly use the term Myanmar which is a term well established since historical times.

The original text in Myanmar was published in the June 12 issue of Kyaemon daily

Translated by:Hpone Thant(Enchanting Myanmar)

*(Note: The term use in Myanmar text were The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Myanmar and The Socialist Republic of the Union of Myanmar. But the English translations still continue to use the word “Burma” until the government proclamation in 1989 which decreed that all the terms in all official documents are to use the word “Myanmar”).

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