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Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Common Features of the Cultures of India and Myanmar: Binding the Two Bilaterally

Culture is the mirror of a society. It presents before the world those iconic characteristics of people within its ambit, which are the signs of their own identity. Along with this, they become ideals to be followed by others. A culture envelops ideas, works, planning, values and achievements of people of its domain. Especially, values and virtues occupy the foremost place in a culture. They are the result of a long-term process of thoughts and actions. That is why; some of them emerged as doubtless and timeless accepted greatly and widely. They prove to be exemplary for generations to come. Along with guiding people for the best and their large scaled welfare, they cause a long term impact on those in its direct range. Hence, importance of culture in life is self-evident.

Example of Indian culture and its unique features are well before us. We all know that many of extraordinary features of Indian culture became ideal long ago for the people all over the world. They are still exemplary and inspiring. Not only this, they will be so for the next thousands of years. It is exclusive qualities of Indian culture, which established Hindustan as a leading nation of the world, the Adhyatmik Vishwa-Guru [spiritual world-teacher] even in ancient times. It can be said without a doubt that Indian culture contributed significantly in building India’s position unique. Further, it played a vital role in the making the identity of Indians distinctive in the world. 

The three, harmony [amalgamation], co-ordination and evolutionary approach, are the leading qualities of Indian culture. The basic spirit of Indian culture is to guide and lead each and everyone through these basics to the pathway to universal welfare. Along with this, Indian culture on the strength of forbearance and tolerance, the two best and the most practical expressions of the supreme human value of Ahimsa [that is an essential condition for the safety of existence, progress and achieving goal also], calls everyone on this planet to think and work for the development and rise of one and all, and peace in the world so that the whole humanity comes blissfully within the scope of unity. Not only this, in accordance with its true meaning and purpose, Indian culture has in its long journey of more than five thousand years continuously stepped forward urging people to tread the pathway to progress with large scaled co-operation and co-ordination. It has always made the people remind the message of the Vedas, the Rigveda in particular, to think and act as per the demand of time and space, and has also led them in making situations conducive. In this process, Indian culture has also incorporated all welfaristic features of cultures of the world, which came in its contact from time-to-time. Keeping its own basic identity intact that is Swadeshikaran [indigenousness], it has been safeguarding and nurturing cultural values of others as well as infusing life in other cultures of the world. It has, thus, contributed tremendously in making the globe civilized and unified.

This is the only reality about Indian culture. In other words, it is the real picture of Bharatiya Sanskriti and anything contrary to this has nothing to do with Indian culture and its basic spirit. Indian culture is, as is well-known, one of oldest cultures of the world with its glorious history of thousands of years and high respect and recognition the world over. I do not need to go in any further details in this regard.   

II

Burma, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar today [nomenclature of the both of which emerged from the Bamar ethnic group, which further emerged from the unique and historical blend of the early tribes that reached in the region from India like Piyu, from Tibet like Lisu and from China like Miao, and Myanmar is itself in a way or the other the literary formation of the word Burma], is one of the oldest country of the South Asian region with its old and wonderful history and civilization. Before it got its name as Burma it was, in fact, Bagan a variated pronunciation of Pugan [a present day Burmese name of a city] that is again derived from Pukam origin of which could be well found in the Pali word Arimaddana-Pura, the city of temples…It is also said that Bamar is derived from the Vedic-Hindu word Brahmin [related to priestly class]; therefore, Burma is itself a variation of the word Brahmin

There are evidences of hardworking inhabitants in this region since eleven thousands BC [the Stone Age]. It is also evident from the engravings on a number of stones and cave-paintings that people of the region of today’s Myanmar were engaged in nature care [plantation and harvest growing] and animal rearing [domestication] in ancient period [between 10000-6000 BC] as is evident from the cave paintings near Taunggyi city, the current capital of Shan province of Myanmar. This also reflects people’s engagement in developing art, caring for environment and carrying out a number of other constructive works even in those days. Further, it has had in its splendid history the famous Pagan Empire, known as the Pagan Dynasty also [the first kingdom to unify during its rule for approximately 250 year between 1044 and 1287 AD the regions that would later constitute Burma and Myanmar of the day, and the Taungoo Dynasty, particularly responsible for creating a legal and political system during its reign of approximately 266 year between 1486 and 1752 AD in the region in the medieval period while the Konbaung Dynasty, the last dynasty, which ruled Burma from 1752 to 1885 AD and created the second largest empire in the history of the region, the Burmese history, and continued the administrative reforms begun by the Toungoo Dynasty in the Nineteenth Century AD in particular.

This series of events undoubtedly proves that like India the region of Myanmar was stepping forward on the pathway to development since ancient time. People of the region were marching ahead with a spirit of mutual understanding, harmony, co-operation and co-ordination, which is self-proved from unprecedented amalgamation and unity of tribes, arrived in the region especially from India, China and Tibet. This also eventually endorses the presence of a culture in Myanmar of which harmony, co-operation, co-ordination and acceptability were the leading features, quite similar to the qualities of Indian culture. Hence, without a doubt it is easy to be familiar with reality of common qualities of cultures of India and Myanmar. Along with this, these foremost features of the culture of Myanmar, like those of Indian culture, have remained ideal for others.

Along with this, developed art and method of music [known as the multileveled hierarchical system, melodious and combined with verses into songs], singing [retain melodic and stylistic patterns in particular] and dancing [especially traditional dance started during the Pyu period in 802 AD through ingenious musical instruments], creating literature [both in poetry and prose and focusing local folklore and culture, and using words from Pali], dressing [quite typical, in fact adopting lungi from India, being wore by both, man and woman ], games [mainly the Chinlone as an indigenous sport, utilizing a rattan ball and it is played using especially the feet and the knees, but the head and the arms may also be used except one’s hands] and cuisines [a good combination of Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisines with domestic ethnic cuisines] of Myanmar have been unique for hundreds of years and this state of affair is also similar to India. Burmese traditions and many ceremonies, wedding and funeral, celebrations and people’s respect for social values, [morality and ethics in particular], and making them the part of day-to-day practices could also be equated with those practiced in India. Like Bharat, convention of faith and devotion, mutual respect and goodwill too are the vital features of the culture of Myanmar.

III

Along with other elements, local-indigenous beliefs and traditions, people’s conduct, way of thinking and working, and their dynamism in particular, the Indian philosophy have also played a vital role in the development of features of the culture of Myanmar. It is entirely true that the basic source or the basis of development of cultures of India and Myanmar, both, remained the Indian philosophical tradition, the way of life and values. In this process the Vedic-Hindu philosophy, traditions and values have contributed significantly. They left a deep impression on life and works of people of the region, which could categorically be observed even today from daily practices of people of Myanmar.

Later since the first half of the Third Century BC Buddhism started becoming nucleus in life and practices of the people of Burma. It was the time of reign of the Great Mauryan King Ashoka in India. Ashoka, the Great, sent the two, Sona and Uttra, in 228 BC to Suwarnabhoomi [Burma] to propagate Buddhism there. Buddhism undoubtedly accorded a new dimension to the culture of Burma [Myanmar], deeply affected socio-religious life of the region. It is still so, which could be well comprehended from the number of Buddhist monks and nuns and temples in Myanmar. The number of Buddhist monks in Myanmar is approximately five lacs out of more than one million Buddhist monks in the whole world. In comparison to Burma in Thailand, one of the leading Buddhist countries of the world, the number of Buddhist monks is three lacs. The monks of Myanmar are besides religious teachers and guides, social activists, reformers and workers. There are more than 50, 000 Buddhist nuns and ten thousand temples in this country. 

Basic sources or the basis of cultures of both the countries, Indian philosophy indeed, has for thousands of years contributed predominantly in developing mutual relations between the two, India and Myanmar. History of deep mutual relations between them speaks by itself. It is glorious, magnificent and inspirational, and is available in many of socio-religious treatises, especially in the Buddhist scriptures of Myanmar. In this regard the names of other works namely Maha yazawin gyi and Hmannan yazawin dawgyi by Burmese scholars presenting history of the region could also be mentioned. Cultures of both the countries have also contributed significantly in developing their mutual economic co-operation, besides social relation. This process still continues and can be noticed from current economic-commercial relations between India and Myanmar. Currently, India is the fourth largest trading partner of Myanmar after Thailand, China and Singapore. Hindustan is the second largest exporter of goods to Myanmar after Thailand, and it absorbs twenty-five percent of total exports of Burma. Further, India is the seventh most important source of imports from Myanmar.

IV

            India and Myanmar are not just the two neighbours, but the people of both the counties have somehow blood relations also. They are, therefore, inseparable from one-another. Further, they have, for thousands of years, been connected to one-another on the strength of a combined culture –values, traditions and rituals. A combination emerged on the basis of cultural values does not break easily. That is why; interests of people of India and Myanmar are naturally common and no one can separate them from one-another. It is, therefore, the demand of time that people of both the countries taking it as their responsibility come forward, having the common features of cultures of the both, India and Myanmar as the nuclei, to smoothen social, political and economic relations between them. It is also necessary and inevitable in these days of rapidly growing process of development at global level that they work in this direction for the security and balance in the region. It will pave the way to the common welfare and progress of people of both the countries and will also accord strength to all the positive and constructive efforts being made for peace in the world.               

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