Titbits of the Marma Language and Literature


The Marma ethnic group of the south eastern part of Bangladesh has been in Bangladesh for centuries. They have forgotten when they have came here. With changes in the political scenario during their long stay of here of the priceless pieces of their literature have been lost and they are lost forever. Today the language is not taught, either in schools or monasteries, but practiced only among the monks, older generation and in the folk theatre, while the spoken language has suffered severe encroachment from invading Bengali and other languages.

The influence of Bengali and other languages where the Marmas live is a worth a study in itself. For example, Marmas in Khagrachari hill district speak a language, or a dialect of the Marma language heavily influenced by Bengali words and some other words from their neighbors, the KOKBORAK as spoken by the Tripura’s and some Chakma words. The accent that the Khagrachari Marmas use is also typical, though understandable by any Marma from anywhere. The language can boast of originality in accent and some words thought to be archaic among Marmas in Bandarban and elsewhere. This leaves a great scope for  linguistic survey and study.

Since the Marma language is similar to the Rakhine language, and therefore to the Burmese, it would both be unfair to say that the Marma language is basically a form of the Rakhine language. In fact, the Marma language has retained much of the variations in pronunciation as found in written Burmese. For example, the Marmas have different pronunciation of the consonants RA and YA, while the mainstream Burmese has only YA. The pronunciations of Da and Dha, Ta and Ta. Da and Dha have been reduced to a Ta and Dha (soft) in Burmese. While the Marmas have preserved all of them, which may indicate that Marma language is an archaic from of the Burmese. This may also point to the fact that, way back in the history, both the people spoke and used the same language, while through separation in time and location the accent has changed into two different directions, besides the changes in vocabulary and usage. Or another possibility is that, through common religious literature, as evident by the wide use of the Burmese Tripitaka by Marma pronunciation of the Marmas was retained.

Today it would not be wrong if we call the circle chiefs of the Marmas as titular, with his token authority seen only in the annual revenue collection ceremony. Besides recommendations is registering land. Once the Bohmang chief and the Mong chief had honorary magisterial power, and to this day with reference to the customary law called Thamuhada vicehedani kyaing (Samuday Vicehedani Treatise) has delivered judgment to disputes among the ethnic groups under the jurisdiction. The literature of the Marma ethnic has been nurtured in such folk theatrical presentations as Waythandra (Vessantor), Thamara in Thuwana Thama (Suvarna Shyam) lyric poetry, Kabya and the stories from the Tripitaka (Jataka) and ancient oral history and folktales. The Jatta, on the other hand portrays old Buddhist Jatakas with intermittent mix of comedy, parody of modern sociopolitical life, and plain entertainment. The Marmas have poems, rhymes, saddles, proverbs, myths and legends, folktales, historical records etc.

The Jataka tales that have been rendered into and played often include: Temiya, Janaka, Suvannasama (Thuwannathama), Nemi, Mohasadha (mahothadha), Bhridatt, Chandakumara, Nasada, Vidhura and Vessantara (Waythandara).

Interestingly enough, the Marma manuscript of folktales and lyrics often include mentions of the names of kings and queens and the royalty of Arakan or present day Rakhine State in Burma.

In one of the Pangkhung lyrics, Thuriya Gungma or Suriya Kumar in Pali by name, the anonymous poet writes.

“Famous in the human world, shining like the brightest light, Maangaung Raza had nine kings to his lineage, in the city of Stone piers, the lord of the House, highly honoured, with powers incomparable have ruled, in Vesali (The other name of the city of Stone Piers in Arakan), the real Cakravartin king, owner of the flying appear, illustrious kings of the Candra dynastry, Lord of the land of gold….”

In yet another example from the Narapadi Maang Razwang (The history of king Narapadi), a manuscript titled as (Buddher) Bhavisyatbani (The title written in Bengali by the officials of the Small ethnic Communities Institute, Bandarban) or the prophesies of the Buddha, which contains six essays, i.e., 1. Fura Razwang (History or Prophesy of the Buddha), 2. Brother Ananda’s Razwang, 3. Narapadi king’s Razwang, 4. Nassmima Razwang, 5. Frua Byaditt (Buddha’s Prophesies) Razwang and Thagraa  Manug’s (Sakra King’s) Razwan.

The beginning of Narapadi king’s Razwang could be translated as follows:

The light of supreme Enlightenment shine bright, the greatest of all Munis (The Buddha), representing the six coloured rays of the victor of the evil Maar, who prophesied and in this Radu 1 have included those lines, about Rakkhataing (Arakan), in reality known as Dhanya-land (Grain blessed land), where flows clear and cool eater of the Gacchapa-nadi (The Kaladan River), on whose right side, stands is blue landscape, the frontispiece the focal point of all countries, Rakhine the banal, which was established as Mrauk-u the acme of Rakhine, by royal oath, in the year (7…), in two years came the king Mong-hla-saw-mawn, who reigned for three years, then came Alikhang the younger brother, whoo ruled for five years, then came Alikhang the younger brother, who ruled for five years, like an immovable monument, the great king Chakra, got the father’s throne and like his father in grandeur ruled the country for twenty three years, with golden glory, the son Digha ruled for twenty one years, and king Maangfalong, owner of the golden palace, ruled for twelve years.”

By going through the books initially the observation that came to my mind is why the author of the Pangkhuya related the greatness of the the house of Mrauk-u? Did the Marmas have any close contact with Rakhine people of the old? or, more precisely are the Marmas in fact the Rakhine?

If we take a look at the genealogy of the marma Bohmong chief, the first Bohmong was Maung saw Pyane and he was the supposed son of Nanda Bayin (1581-1599) of Burma. The interesting part of the story is that Maung Saw Payne (16-14-1630) was not a Rakhine and Tha-daw-u Tun Prue mentioned him as first of the four Governors of East Bengal under the King of Arakan. To make it clear let us look at the kings of Burma At the time.

Bayinnaung Kyawhin (Burmese) was the third king of the Toungoo dynasty of Burma (Myanmar). During his 30 year reign which has been called the “greatest explosion of human energy ever seen in Burma.”Bayinnaung assembled the largest empire in the history of South-East Asia which included much of modern day Burma, Mainpur, Chinese shan states (Southern yunan), Lan na (Northen Thailand), Siam (Central and Southern Thailand) and Lan Xang (Loas and North-Eastern Thailand)

In November 1580, Bayinnanung turned his attention to the western coastal kingdom of Araka and sent in an invasion force. As with their last Araka and sent in an invasion force. As with their last Arakan campaign of (1546-1547), the Nurmese easily took Thandwe but could not take a heavily fortified capital of Mrauk-u. Bayinnaung sent reinforcements in October 1581, and even planned to lead the campaign himself.

Maung Seing Phrue


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