Taw Sein Ko
From 'Burmese Sketches', 1883-1913

       AFTER the British annexation of Upper Burma in 1886, it was considered to be politically expedient to recognize the Buddhist hierarchy with the Taungdaw Sadaw at its head. Under Burmese rule three per cent of the population of Upper Burma were monks, and in Mandalay itself there were 13,227 members of the Order, or about eight per cent of the total population. It was necessary to utilize the traditional machinery in dealing with this large number of pongyis, ( monks) whose influence over the people had always been great. The monks are not only spiritual guides, but are also teachers of the Burmese people. Every Burmese boy must go through a course of studies in a monastery as a novice. Admission into the novitiate is like baptism among Christians, and the investiture of the sacred thread among Hindus; it is a solemn act of confirmation in one's religion. For uplifting the masses morally, intellectually and socially, the pongyi is a most effective lever and it is an act of political wisdom to guide his energies and aspirations in the proper channel.

       The Taungdaw Sadaw was noted neither for learning nor administrative ability; but he had been Thibaw's teacher when the latter was an obscure prince, whom nobody ever dreamt of seeing on the throne of Burma. The fact of having been the Royal Preceptor, however, gave him sufficient prestige and he was a very good figure-head. He died in 1895, The ex-Ministers and Sadaws of Mandalay could not agree upon his successor, and two rival factions arose: one headed by the Megawadi Sadaw, and the other by the Pakan Sadaw. Neither of these candidates was recognized by the British Government. In 1901, the people of Mandalay, led by the venerable Kinwun Mingyi, C.S.I., again agitated for the appointment of a Thathanabaing, or Buddhist Archbishop.

      In October of that year, a very large and representative meeting was held at the foot of the Mandalay Hill, and the election was by voting. The Moda Sadaw secured the largest number of votes, and the candidate who stood next to him was the Taunggwin Sadaw. Lord Curzon met the Thathanabaing-elect at Mandalay in the following November, and discussed with the local officials the question of recognizing a Head of the Buddhist Church in Burma. A singular fatality appears to attach to every Sadaw who has aspired to be Thathanabaing. The Moda Sadaw was no exception to the rule, and he died of fever in March 1902. The necessity of a fresh election was obviated by the insertion of a provision in the rules relating to the previous one that in case of the refusal, inability etc. of the first candidate to accept office, the second on the list must be elected. Thus, like President Roosevelt, the Taunggwin Sadaw attained the supreme place by the sudden intervention of death. The Taunggwin Sadaw is 59 years old, and is hale, hearty and strong. His eyesight is, however, weak, as there is a cataract in one eye. He is of commanding stature and is of active habits. He is well versed both in secular and religious literature, and being endowed with tact, common sense and judgment, his decisions in ecclesiastical matters have always given satisfaction. He received his education in the colleges presided over by the Bongyaw and Sangyaung Sadaws and is well acquainted with the traditions of the office of Thatanabaing. He comes of an aristocratic family; he is a cousin of U Pe Si, C.I.E., ex-Myowun of Mandalay, and a grandson of the Kyauksauk Mingi, the Burmese Plenipotentiary, who signed the Yandabo Treaty of 1826. If he had joined the Burmese King's service, he would probably have attained high office as a Minister; but he elected the austerities of a monastic life, with its simple living and high thinking. In a few weeks, Sir Hugh Barnes will instal the Taunggwin Sadaw as Thathanabaing at Mandalay and present him with a sanad subscriptions all over the Province. The smallest mite should be received, and all classes should be invited to contribute, so that the Burma University shall be a fitting monument raised by his loyal and devoted subjects to King Edward VII, whose solicitude for their welfare and prosperity was well-known and highly appreciated.


Taw Sein Ko
From 'Burmese Sketches', 1903

       UNDER the Burmese regime, competitive examinations in Pali were held annually just before the beginning of Buddhist Lent. They consisted of two parts Viz, :—(a) the written, and (b) the oral. The principal text-books prescribed were Kaccayana's Grammar, Abhidhammattha Sangaha, Abhidhanappadipika, Chanda and Alankara. The written portion was conducted by the officials, and the oral by the Council of Thudhamma Sadaws (Mahatheras of the Sudhamma Sabha). The lamp of classical and religious learning was thus kept burning, and a healthy spirit of emulation was maintained throughout the country.

       The written portion of the examinations was revived by the British Government in 1895 and, now that a Thathanabaing or Buddhist Archbishop and a Council of Thudhamma Sadaws will shortly be recognised, there is a prospect of the oral portion being revived also. Under the rules framed by the Education Department, the examinations are held annually about June at Mandalay, Rangoon, Moulmein and Akyab, and are open to monks and laymen as well as to nuns and other female candidates. The travelling expenses of successful candidates for the journey from their home to the examination centres and back are paid by Government. To every successful candidate, except the one who passes highest, a certificate is given signed by the President of the Examination Committee; and to the Patamagyaw, or the candidate who gains the highest number of marks, is presented a certificate signed by His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor. To laymen, rewards, in money, are given; and to monks an option is given to choose the form of their reward.

       About 400 candidates competed at the last examinations, which have become very popular through the energy and tact of Mr. J. Vansomeren Pope, M. A., Director of Public Instruction.

      The efforts of the Education Department in rendering these. examinations popular were nobly seconded by two religious societies at Mandalay called the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism and the Pariyattisssanahita Society, whose objects are to disseminate a knowledge of the Buddhist Scriptures throughout the Province, and to secure a body of learned monks, who are well qualified to play the role of instructors and spiritual guides. The latter Society has instituted a separate examination in the Vinayapitaka for monks only. A register is kept of the successful candidates; and whenever an application is made by the donor of a kyaung or monastery for a presiding abbot, a learned monk is always nominated by the Society. The former Society publishes a monthly newspaper in Burmese, and when a Thathanabaing has been recognised by the Government, it will undertake to publish his decrees and encyclicals to the Buddhist clergy. It has also established at Mandalay a school for the teaching of Burmese, Pali and English. It is hoped that this school will, in time, be able to present candidates for the Pali Patamabyan Examinations held by the Education Department.

       The Buddhist community of Burma is under a deep obligation to Sir Frederic Fryer, K.C.S.I., late Lieutenant-Governor for his kindly sympathy shown towards Buddhism, for reviving the Pali examinations, and for recommending the recognition of a Buddhist Archbishop for Upper Burma.

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8th February 2000


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