by U Thaw Kaung*
King Bayinnaung (AD 1551-1581) is renowned in Myanmar history as the King who not only reunited Myanmar and established the second Myanmar Kingdom, the Toungoo Dynasty, but also as the King who extended the frontiers of the country to her farthest extent, covering parts of Northern Thailand and Laos.
Many accounts of his life are to be found in the main chronicles like U Kala's Maha Yazawin-gyi (1730), the Hman-nan Yazawin-daw-gyi (1820), and local histories like the Toungoo Yazawin and in a few inscriptions. Like King Rajadirit (1385-1423) and Alaungpaya (1752-60) there is also a complete Ayedawbon Kyan recording his campaigns entitled Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon.
This paper attempts to give some historical facts as recorded in a contemporary bell inscription left by Bayinnaung himself and in the Ayedawbon Kyan about his conquests and achievements which is now accepted by most scholars as a contemporary record.
The paper also gives a brief account of the 20th century biographies and historical novels about the King Bayinnaung written to promote nationalism and patriotism during Myanmar's struggle for Independence from British colonial rule.
Like some of the images of the Buddha and revered saints, historical facts of the life of King Bayinnaung has been covered with various embellishments, gold-leaf coating to make his life more glorious, god-like and romantic.
The paper is also an introduction to the first complete translation into English of the Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon, a contemporary record of the Campaigns of King Bayinnaung, which is being translated by U Thaw Kaung and U San Lwin (Director-General, Myanmar Language Commission).
Genealogy and Youth
There are no contemporary records of King Bayinnaung's ancestry, childhood and youth. Unlike King Kyansittha, Bayinnaung in the long inscription that he left for posterity, inscribed on a large bronze bel donated to the Shwezigon Pagoda at Bagan, did not give his genealogy. Neither did the Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon.
There is some controversy about Bayinnaung's ancestry : some say that his parents were commoners who came from Nga-tha-yauk in the Bagan area, or from Hti-hlaing village in Toungoo District, and some say he was born in Toungoo of Royal lineage.
U Kala (fl. 1714-33) who wrote the first comprehensive chronicle of Myanmar kings, the Maha Yazawin-gyi, about 150 years after Bayinnaung's death and during the Nyaungyan Dynasty founded by the Lord of Nyaungyan, one of the sons of Bayinnaung, mentions that Bayinnaung's father was Mingyi Swe, son of Taung Kha Min, implying that he was descended from Toungoo royalty. U Kala could not write even if he had wanted to, that Bayinnaung was not of royal blood, during the reign of a king who was a direct descendant of the great King.
Hman-nan Yazawin-daw-gyi compiled by a Royal Commission in 1820 merely repeats U Ka la with a note stating that the compilers agreed with what U Kala wrote with regard to the (royal) lineage of Bayinnaung.
During the time of Myanmar kings, i.e. up to 1885, no one dared to cast doubt about the royal lineage of their kings especially famous kings like Bayinnaung and Alaungpaya. But through out the three centuries after Bayinnaung's death, an oral tradition persists claiming that he was not of royal blood, but a commoner, the son of the toddy-climber, one of the lowest positions in Myanmar society. Only during colonial times in 1910 was this written down, first of all by Mr. Taw Sein Ko, the well-known Sino-Myanmar scholar and Superintendant of Archaeology.
About a decade later Sir George Scott (1851-1935), who was an authority on Myanmar life and customs, having writren a classic book The Burman, His Life and Notions (1882) under a pseudonym Shway Yoe, also mentioned in a general history of Myanmar that he wrote Burma from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1924) that Bayinnaung was the son of toddy-climber from Nga-tha-yauk in the Bagan township.
G.E. Harvey in his pioneer History of Burma (1925) stated in a note on Tabin-shwe-hti and Bayinnaung that "few Burmans retain for long a correct knowledge of their ancestry, and family trees sported by men after they attain greatness must be suspect. On the other hand, the fact that Bayinnaung's father was a toddy climber no more precludes the possibility of his having royal ancestors than it precluded his becoming vassal king of Toungoo when his son rose to greatness."
Bayinnaung's date of birth is given by U Kala as Myanmar Era 877 Tabodwe month waxing moon 12th , Wednesday1 (AD 1515) which is closed to AD 1517 given by Harvey2 for Tabin-shwe-hti who was born about three months after Bayinnaung.3
In 1920 the Myanmar Struggle for Independence started in earnest with the first University students strike against British colonial rule. In protest National Schools were established all over the country and new textbooks in Myanmar language were written for use in these schools.
U Po Kya (1891-1942), the influential Inspector of National Schools and a well-known to writer, produced several history textbooks and readers. The first history text4 for use in school promote nationalism and patriotism did not mention that Bayinnaung rose from the ranks of the common populace. Only in the later work entitled Myanmar Gonyi Yazawin Phat-sa5 did U Po Kya write about Bayinnaung as a man of prowess who rose from the common people, a peasant from the Bagan area. Perhaps he wanted the young Myanmar students of the 1920's and of the pre-Second World War period to get the idea that anyone can achieve eminence and become a great leader and conquer if one is brave, hard-working, willing to take risks and strives earnestly for the good of the country and the people.
Mr. W.L. Barretto6, an Anglo-Myanmar Barrister, in a lecture that he gave on "Bayinnaung, the Napoleon of Burma" on 6th November 1931 (probably in Pyapon) with U Tha Zan U, District and Sessons Judge presiding , mentioned Nga-tha Yauk as rhe place where "the future Burma Napoleon saw light. His father was a toddy palm climber. A swarm of white ants surrounded the son where he lay. This was taken as a good one, and he was named Cha Te... a learned monk examined his horoscope and foretold his future greatness".
Two other Myanmar authors of the 1920's and early 1930's also wrote about Bayinnaung although they rejected the saying that he was not of royal lineage. These two authors were Ledi Pandita, U Muang Gyi (1878-1939)1 and U Thein Maung (Thadinsa Saya, i.e. Newspaper Editor) (1898-1966)2. They wrote about Bayinnaung's childhood, as the boy Muang Cha Tet (Master Termite Climb) so named because a swarm of termites climbed onto him as a child. They also wrote about his teenage romance with Tabin-shwe-hti's elder (half) sister Thakin Gyi whom he later married and thus became an important member of the Myanmar Royal Family, and not long after the Crown Prince. These stories were picked up by the Thai novelist Mr. Chot Phrae-phan (pen name Yakhob) and the name Cadet is familiar to the Thai people, though the Myanmar Chronicles do not mention this at all.
These popular writers got their material on Bayinnaung's childhood and youth from a little (47p.) book called Athtoke-patti htu (Distinguished lives) published in 1906 which had a short (5)page account of Bayinnaung's life, but it covered only his youth. This little book also published in the early years of 20th century, clearly belonged to the oral traditions of the previous century. The anonymous author on the preface wrote that the booklet contained the lives of prominent person, from Myanmar history up to the reigns of the last two Myanmar kings, viz. King Mindon (1853-1878) and Thibaw (1878-1885). These short lives were written down, collected probably from traditional accounts that were prevalent during the Myanmar king's time. Some accounts in this book like Nandabayin (1581-1599), son and successor to Bayiannaung, entering into a conversation with Sakka, King of the Devas cannot be accepted as true facts of history.3 So also in the account of Bayinnaung's youth, it is difficult to differentiate what is hearsay and what is historical fact.
In the early 1930s, apart from the works of U Po Kya and UThien Muang, a very important work on the Myanmar kings governance came out in five volumes written by U Tin, District Officer of Bagan. In vol. 3 published in 1932, U Tin the authoritative scholar on how the Myanmar kings governed, wrote about Bayinnaung and definitively stated that Bayinnaung was not of royal blood. He cited a case during King Thibaw's time when a commoner was given the tilte and insignias of a Prince, the case of Yanaung Maung Toke. At that time the Royal Court collected what was known and available about Bayinnaung's common ancestry to provide a precedent.4
The three uncertain points about Bayinnaung's origins and youth : (1) whether he was of royal descent or not, (2) the legends and miraculous events about his childhood and (3) about his love affair with the royal daughter of the King of Toungoo, have all been discussed by a number of scholars.1 For novelists this has provided fertile ground for their imagination and for the people given enjoyable stories to read. Only one should try and differentiate historical facts from the fiction.
It is a historical fact that Bayinnaung married Thakin Gyi, the sister of King Tabin-shwe- hti (1513-1550) when he was only 19, and later King Tabin-shwe-hti conferred on him the title Bayinnaung meaning "the King's Elder Brother." So by marriage and by his ability he became a member of the royal family and together with Tabin-shwe hti, his brother-in-law and brother-in-arms, the two of them founded the Toungoo Dynasty (1531-1752) the second unification of the whole country since the fall of the Bagan Dynasty in 1287.
The main events of King Bayinnaung's long reign of thirty years (1551-1581) is covered nearly completely, the first part by the bell inscription he left at Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan which records the events from 11th January 1551 to 23rd May 1557,2 and the Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon, which records the King's main military campaigns and his achievements from about 1550 to 1579, i.e. two years before his death. Historians should use these two contemporary sources to obtain the authentic facts and try to disentangle the web of fictionalized biography that has been written by Myanmar and Thai novelists in the first half of the 20th Century.
First of all this inscription in Myanmar (43 lines), Pali (5 lines) and old Mon (35lines) from AD 1557 is important as it gives the correct regnal titles for King Bayinnaung as Siriparama Maha Dhamma Raja and his Chief Queen (King Tabin-shwe-hti's sister) as Siri-agga Maha Dhamma Raja-devi.3 The bell was cast and donated by Bayinnaung himself to the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan where it can be seen today.
It also clears up the expression "Conqueror of the Ten Directions",1 which is well known in Mon and Thai as one of the main epithets of King Bayinnaung. This expression is not given in the main Myanmar chronicles like U Kala's Maha Yazawin-gyi and the Hman-nan Yazawindaw-gyi; it is to be found only in this inscription of King Bayinnaung.
The main events recorded in the bell inscription are as follows:
of Ketumati (Old Toungoo City) on 11th January 1551.
We usually associate King Bayinnaung with his capital Hanthawady (present da Pegu/ Bago). So why did he write the only significant inscription of his reign (found so far) and leave it in Bagan? Was it because his forefathers were from this area? No one knows the answer. And also why did he choose to write in both Myanmar and Mon languages when Myanmar kings had long stopped writing their inscriptions in Mon even from mid-Bagan period?
This bell inscription should be further studied and needs to be known more widely by scholars. It has been rather neglected because it was placed in Shwezigon at Bagan instead of Shwemawdaw at Bago. Now that the original Mon inscription has been translated into Myanmar by U Chit Thein, Mon scholar of the Myanmar Archaeology Department, and into English by eminent Myanmar historian Dr. Than Tun, senior Member of the Myanmar Historical Commission, scholars can now easily study it together with the Myanmar inscription from this bell.
There are a number of other interesting details about the life and times of Bayinnaung in this inscription, which have not been mentioned in my paper, but which can be read in the Appendix. One wishes the inscription had been written, not in the 6th year of Bayinnaung's 30 years' reign, but much later: then it would have given the facts of his later conquests and achievements.
For the historical facts of this later period we have to rely on the Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon which records events right up to about two years before Bayinnaung's death.
Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon
This important work on Bayinnaung is called on manuscripts and printed versions under variant titles as (1) Hsinbyushin Ayedawbon, (2) Hanthawady Ayedawbon and (3) Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon.
An incomlete text was first printed in 1923 in Ayedawbon Nga Suang Dwe (The Five Volumes of Ayedawbon) and later reprinted several times in collected Ayedawbon works. All these printed texts lack about 17 pages (A4 size) at the end which give important data on the authorship and date of writing.
The Ayedawbon kyan is an important historical text which supplements the information given in the main Royal Chronicles. Ayedawbon in its original archaic meaning is a "historical account of a royal campaign." 1 There are (7) Ayedawbon kyan found so far.2 Five of them are centred on the achievements of a single king like Rajadirit (AD 1385-1423), Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin or Bayinnaung (1551-1581) and his son King Nyaungyan (AD 1559-1605), Alaungpaya (AD 1752-1760) and his son Bodawpaya (1782-1819). Two are on the Rakhine kings and region.
features of Ayedawbon kyan are :
For many years we were unable to know definitely who the author of Hanthawady Hsinbyu-myashin Ayedawbon was, as we did not have the missing last 17 pages.
U Yan, the Royal Librarian of King Mindon and Thibaw, gives the name of this Ayedawbon with a remark that it was written by a Saya (Acharn) whose name is not known.4
Scholars like Dr. Yi Yi of the Myanmar Historical Commission knew that the printed versions were incomplete and attributed the authorship to one or the other of two well-known authors of the early Konbaung Period, because these two authors had written chronicles and other Ayedawbon kyan, viz. U Tun Nyo (Twin-thin-Taik Wun Maha Sithu) and Letwe Nawratha5.
Now that we have obtained the complete text of this Ayedawbon we definitely know who the author was. The colophon states that the King Bayinnaung conferred the titles Yazataman (Rajataman) and later Oketharaw on the author1 who was a minister who faithfully served under him. The title Rajataman is found in both U Kala's Maha Yazawin-gyi2 and Hman-nan Yazawindaw-gyi3 as a military commander who was in charge of an important cavalry unit under King Bayinnaung and who took part of many of the main campaigns which are recorded in this Ayedawbon text. This text therefore has significant historical value as being not only a contemporary record, but for many of the military campaigns recorded, an eye-witness account also.
The colophon states that the author was requested by the Crown Prince, eldest son of King Bayinnaung who later succeeded him as Nandabayin (1581-99), the King's brothers who were the Lords of Pyi (Prome), Toungoo and Innwa (Ava), and the Ministers of the Royal Court to compile this Ayedawbon in Myanmar Era 926 (AD 1564).4 As the Ayedawbon covers events up to AD 1579, two years before King Bayinnaung's sudden death in 1581, it must have been written during the period 1564 to 1580.
The author also wrote in the colophon that he used many records, up to a total of (235) in number which were accounts of various events of Bayinnaung's reign, and also some inscriptions. Out of (235) records he first selected (135) and after scrutinizing them rejected (100) as unworthy of being recorded in this Ayedawbon text. So the author used only (35) records, mainly on military campaigns and a few other important events like the building at a new Royal Capital City and Palace, some out-lying towns, and the giving of Chiang Mai by the King to his second son Nawratha Saw to govern, two years before his death. If we examine the text carefully there are altogether (38) important campaigns and achievements recorded carefully, item by item, and describing each campaign or event in some detail.
The (38) campaigns
and achievements of Bayinnaung recorded in this Ayedawbon text can be
divided into (6) categories:
The Ayedawbon begins in 1550 a few months before Bayinnaung became king. 1549-1551 were the last two years of Tabin-shwe-hti's reign; he had taken to drink introduced to him by a young Portuguese adventurer. The Kingdom which he and Bayinnaung had forged together from their teens for about (20) years was falling apart, but Bayinnaung with unparalleled loyalty to his King would not take over the Crown and only acted as an able regent and commander-in-chief. The Myanmar, Shan and Mon ministers in Tabin-Shwe-htis's court asked Bayinnaung to take the throne, but Bayinnaung answered:
"Brethren, gratitude and loyalty alike bind us to the King. What ye have said say it to me alone, tell it not to others. The Lord in His wisdom saith that an evil man, though he live an hundred years, shall not avail against an upright man though he live but a single day. I will advise His Majesty, and if his mind followeth not what I say, then is it for you and me to render him faithful service. Let us hold no more unseemly counsel...Although, because of sin in previous existence, the mind of our sovereign Lord is infirm and he raveth, yet shall the realm not perish if we watch over and defend it."
When Tabin-shwe-hti was finally assassinated near Pantanaw in Maubin District on the Ayeyawady Delta, Bayinnaung was away in Dala not far from Yangon, on the military campaign to crush Mon rebels. The Ayedawbon begins with Bayinnaung at Dala and records the consolidation of his power by bringing back various rebels under his control. The dates of the first seven years of military campaigns given in this Ayedawbon can be compared with the bell inscription.
The expansion of Bayinnaung's territories from the Shan States to Chiang Mai is then recorded. There are detailed accounts of the military campaigns to take Chiang Mai in 1557. The author Rajataman like U Kala refers to Chaing Mai as Suvanna Bhumi, the place from where Myanmar first obtained Theravada Buddhist religion. He probably accompanied the King to Chiang Mai. The Chiang Mai King was reinstated after the conquest with admonitions to remain loyal and bring tributes every three years to Bayinnaung. Pagodas and monasteries were repaired by Bayinnaung in Chiang Mai and Lampun area.
The Ayedawbon records the campaigns to conquer territories to the east and south from the Shan States of Myanmar, after the taking of Kengtung, to Lanna Kingdom which included some parts of present-day South-west Yunnan right up to the Kingdom of Lang Sang in what is now Laos and to parts of Vietnam which was called by the Myanmar of Bayinnaung's time "the country of the black-faced people". The conquest of Ayudhya in 15642 is given in some detail.
To the north-west also Bayinnaung captured parts of Manipur and Assam along the Khasi Hill tract. Bayinnaung used the policy of reinstating the kings and lords of the states he conquered once they had taken the oath of allegiance and he kept on the ministers and high officials. Only when they rebelled against his suzerainty as King Mekuti of Chiang Mai did in 1564 were the kings deposed and brought back to his capital where they were kept in a section of the royal palace compound and well-looked after.
There were no more major military campaigns in the last five years of Bayinnaung's life. The Ayedawbon records the construction of the new Hanthawady city and Royal Palace which was named Kanbawza-thadi.3 It also gives an account of Bayinnaung conferring the kingship of Zinme (Chiang Mai) on his second son Nawratha Saw in 1579, about two years before his death.
There are interesting accounts of construction of Kale town near the Myanmar northwestern border and A-Myawady town (now called Myawady)5 on the Thai border, and the building of (4) corner stupas in the Royal City.
There is also an account of trading with foreign countries and various goods that were brought each year to Kosambi or Pathein (Bassein) by 40-50 ships from across the seas bringing textiles, food, perfumes and spices, and even multi-coloured birds like parrots and various animals. The other important ports mentioned were Than Hlyin (Syriam), Dala (present-day Twantay), Mottama (Martaban), Mawlamyine (Moulmein) and Taninthayi (Tennasserim).6
Personality and Character
Bayinnaung is depicted in Myanmar historical literature as a great king with a strong personality, brave and willing to take risks in what he wanted to achieve, at the same time as a just and religious person who practised tolerance and forbearance although he welded immense power.
U Tin, the authority on the governance of Myanmar kings singled out (4) traits of Bayinnaung's character which are worth recording for emulation. These four character traits are:
(1) This king
rose from poverty and therefore he thoroughly knew about his people; he
was well-grounded in the realities of his time.
In the bell inscription of 23rd May 1557, he portrayed himself as a champion of Buddhist religion who did his best to promote and protect Buddhism as a Defender of the Faith. He would spare the lives of his enemies, give back to the kings and lords he conquered their positions, status and property after they had shown their allegiance to him. At the end of Samsara he supplicated for Buddha-hood, to be Enlightened. He recorded in the inscription that he hung a "Bell of Justice" in front of his main palace in Hanthawady for anyone to come and strike it if he or she wanted a grievance to be justly dressed. He also wrote that he stopped the slaying of male and female slaves to be buried with their dead chieftan in the Shan region.
In the Ayedawbon kyan, Bayinnaung is shown as a great king, a Cakravartin, who listened to the counsel of his ministers and generals before he undertook any military campaign: for each campaign the name of the official who advocated it is recorded, saying that the great king conquered with the advice of so and so minister or general and therefore achieved success.
Dr. Than Tun named Bayinnaung an "Emperor without an Empire", because he conquered territory not to colonise or to have an Empire, but to keep the conquered kings and lords in their own positions so long as they remained loyal to him.
The Ayedawbon records how he appointed his brothers and sons to administer the core area of his kingdom while he kept the vassal chieftans and kings in their own area which formed the periphery. Professor Tun Aung Chain in his paper on "Chiang Mai in Bayinnaung Polity" wrote:
"The extensive polity was held together not so much by formal institutions as by personal relationships of a traditional nature. These relationships, which were established by Bayinnaung with each and every ruler or governor of the various territories of his polity, were based on two ideas: the idea of allegiance (thitsa) and the idea of favour and obligation (kyeizu)."
the bravery of Bayinnaung writers like Ledi Pandita U Maung Gyi mixed
historical facts with fiction. Just to give two examples:
The mixing of fiction with historical fact becomes a grave distortion when some of these imaginative creations go into school textbooks and the children are taught fiction as if it was a true account.
Sometimes even historical facts are difficult to differentiate like when there are two versions of Bayinnaung's horoscope3; according to the legendary account the horoscope saved Bayinnang's life from the wrath of Tabin-shwe-hti's father Mingyi Nyo, when he discovered that his daughter was enceinte from an affair with Bayinnang in their teens.
The romantic side of Bayinnaung is not seen in the inscriptions, Ayedawbon kyan or in the chronicles, only Athtoke-patti-htu gives an account of his teen-age love for Thakin Gyi, the Royal Princess. The title book also relates another love affair which is reminiscent of a story from the Jatakas and from the life of Kyansittha before he became a king. Bayinnaung is supposed to have fallen in love with a beautiful young widow, a Mon rich man's daughter named Hne Ain Taing who already had a son. This was during Tabin-shwe-hti's time when Bayinnaung was staying in Pathein. He lived with her for sometime and while she was bearing his child he had to go back to the capital. Giving her a ring he told her to come to him if she has a son, but not to come if the child is a daughter. Later after Bayinnaung became king she came to the palace with two sons, but the king pretended that he did not remember her. She showed the ring, but still the King after consulting his Mon minister Binnya Dala asked her to go through " the ordeal by water," and only when she had passed the test would he accept her, naming the younger son Shin Thitsa (Master Truth)1. In the version by U Tin the lady is said to be from Nyaungyan and the son later became the Lord of Nyaungyan who started the Nyaungyan Dynasty (1599-1752).
Books on Bayinnaung continue to be published in Myanmar. In year 2000 at least two books were published.3 To get more historical facts research on Toungoo Period of Myanmar history is being conducted by the Universities Historical Research Centre in collaboration with Chiang Mai University. On the other hand an epic movie is being planned on the life of Bayinnaung which will undoubtedly combine historical facts with some fiction to get audience appeal.
Bayinnaunng's life has been termed "the greatest explosion of human energy ever seen in Burma".4 From his teens he had been leading military campaigns, usually in person, for over forty years and when he died suddenly at the age of 66 in 1581, he was planning an invasion of Rakhine (Arakan) with some of his advance troops already in Than-dwe (Sandoway). But he was "an Emperor without an Empire", or rather without a proper administration to control an Empire. Myanmar resources were too extended, for at his death the vast territories that he conquered and kept under his control through his personal relationships and loyalty to his charismatic character all broke apart. Bayinnaung is remembered and hero-worshipped through fact and fiction as an illustrious Myanmar king who made a great impact on the course of Myanmar history from the 16th century to the present day.
W.L. Heroes of Myanmar. A Compilation of Lectures. Yangon: Union Press
htu. Yangon: Myanmar Awbar Press .
Member, Myanmar Historical Commission and retired Chef Librarian, Universities
Central Library, Yangon.