The triumvirate of the Myanmar stage

       Daw Ah Mar's book Aung-ba-la, Po Sein, Sein-ga-done, a result of years of painstaking research and study, not only breathes life into The triumvirate of minthas who ruled the Myanmar zat stage for half a century, but also recreates the atmosphere of the earlier of the twentieth century.

      The chronological data of the three great theatrical personalities runs thus :
                                   Aung-ba-la 1882-1913
                                   Sein-ga-done 1875-1929
                                   Po Sein 1881-1952
      Today, there survive only a few who had seen Aung-ba-la on zat stage, but to many of us who had grown up during the pre-war days, the name spells magic and enchantment. For, in those days, discs of Aung-ba-la's songs were played in many homes, spiced with running commentaries from the elders who hugged the great artiste's memory to their hearts.

     To be able to appreciate the Myanmar zat, knowledge of the language is essential even though the story theme is well supported by songs and orchestra. Myanmar zat is neither a play, nor a musical nor a ballet, acteristics of the so named theatrical arts. Mintha is the male lead and minthami, his female counterpart; they dance, sing, speak and act as they present the story and zats run the whole night from nine or ten till dawn.

    Daw Ah Mar's book awakens in us nostalgic memories of the wide open spaces round a famous pagoda where the annual festival was being held. It was a wonderland of colorful stalls where one might shop for anything from glazed earthen pots to silk and silver wares. And of course, there would be zat-pwes...Po Sein's and Sein-ga-done's.

    Two large canvas tents ware set up a few years away from each other and the sound of be-hti (ေဗထိ) boomed out from one tent and the challenge was answered by a louder one from the other tent. Crowds began to fill the festival grounds and the two canvas tents blossomed forth with bulbs of electric lights, generated by their own engines.

    People began to gather round the box-offices of the canvas tents and greeted one another. "Which one are you going to see, Po Sein or Sein-ga-done?"

    Then there followed a spirited discussion on the two great reigning kings of the zat theatre.

    "There's none like Po Sein in eloquence, Sein-ga-done comes nowhere near him in this art."
    "But Sein-ga-done has his own inimitable charm. He is dignified, not flippant like Po Sein."
    "Po Sein is exciting to watch .... he is daring and original. His eloquence enthralls the audience."
    "Sein-ga-done may not be loquacious like Po Sein but his intonation is perfect and every word carries depth. He never uses gestures, he would rather hold the audience with his cool grace and dignity."

    "How I wish Aung-ba-la ware still alive, no minthami can compete with him in feminine roles he played. I still remember seeing him for the first time. He came on the stage, dressed as a female dancer, mind you, and the first thought that come was, "How on earth am I going to bear with this thing as minthami tonight?" But as he sang, spoke and danced he became gradually so feminine that when he addressed the mintha with the affectionate monosyllable maung, it was so full of tenderness and love that I almost stood up and answered.

    Aung-ba-la, thought dead and gone for a decade or so, still ruled the zat stage and many minthamis often sang his songs and dances to the delight of the audiences. His art lives on even to this day on the zat as well as on the puppet stage.

   Aung-ba-la was a fantastic personality who became a legend in his own short life. He achieved fame playing female leads in the days when the great Prima Donna Ma Htwe Lay (who had performed at the court of Myanmar kings) that divine Sarah of the Myanmar zat stage had barely vacated her throne and when there was no death of female artistes (minthamis). Aung-ba-la was one of Ma Htwe Lay's pupils and the great minthami's art had found a worthy exponent in Aung-ba-la.

   Aung-ba-la played female leads to Po Sein and Sein-ga-done, and Po Sein, who never allowed anyone to shadow him on the stage, is said to have found Aung-ba-la a formidable rival. As a mere male who beat the female artistes at their won game, Aung-ba-la became the darling of the Myannmar zat stage.

    When he died at the age of thirty-one at Mandalay, his funeral and the mass mourning that followed rivalled that of Vatentino's. The people of Mandalay gave a funeral fit to be a king's and orations and obsequies live on today as fine literary pieces. True to the Myanmar character, the solemnities of Aung-ba-la's funeral were not allowed to go without a touch of wit and humor. Soon after the funeral there appeared in the newspaper of tay-dat ( Myanmar sonnet composed of eighteen lines) condemning the fair sex of shamelessly flaunting their grief for Aung-ba-la. Of course, the language of the poem, to say the least, was colorful, hardly the kind spoken in the presence of, or in reference to ladies.

     The next issue carried a reply, a tay-dat from the 'ladies', who showed that their vocabulary was as picturesque as their brothers. Later someone wrote yet another tay-dat childing them to stop all that nonsense, since the matter must have been started by some jealous indignant young men, because the fair ones would rather weep over Aung-ba-la's heir than spare a glance to them ... so live and handsome.

     Daw Ah Mar's book with texts of song sung by the Great Three, is an achievement in belles-lettres ... which, in my humble opinion, is nothing, when compared to the bitter-sweet memories it awakens in old fogeys like us, making us young and enchanted once again.

P.S - I don't have any copy rights to Daw Khin Myo Chit's book. I love her books, her writing and her sense of humour . She is one of my favorite writers. Her books gave me a great help in my English learning journey. I just want to share her articles with friends and blog readers. Photos : Credit to Google.


Anonymous said...

တေလာကျမင္ဖူးလိုက္တယ္ း)
ျမန္မာဆန္ဆန္ ပိန္ပိန္ပါးပါး
အရပ္ရွည္ရွည္ အသားညိဳညိဳနဲ႔

San Htun said...

အမည္မသိ : ကြ်န္မ သိသေလာက္ေတာ့ ဆရာမၾကီးမွာ သခ်ၤာပါေမာကၡ ေဒါက္တာခင္ေမာင္ဝင္းဆိုုတဲ့ တစ္ဦးတည္းေသာ သားတစ္ေယာက္ပဲ ရိွတယ္။ ေခႊ်းမက မီးမီး (ေခၚ) ေရႊရည္ဝင္း၊ ေၿမးအၿမႊာႏွစ္ေယာက္ ေမာင္ေမာင္ဝင္း (ေမာင္ရစ္)၊ မီမီဝင္း (ေခၚ) ဂ်ဴနီယာဝင္း၊ ေၿမးေခႊ်းမ ေမသန္းေ႒း၊ ၿမစ္ ပြင့္ၿဖ ူနႏၵ။ ဘယ္မွာေတြ ့လိုုက္မွန္းေတာ့ မမွတ္မိေတာ့ဘူး ပြင့္ၿဖ ူနႏၵ ကေလးမေလးက အသက္ငါးႏွစ္ေလာက္ပဲ ရိွေသးတယ္ ပန္းခ်ီထူးခႊ်န္လိုု ့ ပန္းခ်ီၿပပြဲ လုုပ္တယ္လိုု ့ ေတြ ့လိုုက္ဖူးတယ္။ အဲဒီပြင့္ၿဖ ူနႏၵက ဆရာမၾကီးရဲ ့ ၿမစ္လားမသိ။ ဆရာမၾကီး ဓာတ္ပံုုကိုု ၾကံံ ုုရင္ တင္ပါဦးမယ္။

San Htun said...

ဆရာမၾကီးေၿမး ဂ်ဴနီယာဝင္းက ဆရာမၾကီးရဲ ့ Flowers And Festivals Round the Myanmar Year စာအုုပ္ကိုု ဆယ့္ႏွစ္လရာသီပြဲေတာ္မ်ားဆိုုၿပီး ဘာသာၿပန္ထားတယ္။ အမည္မသိ ေတြ ့လိုုက္တာ ေခႊ်းမလား၊ ေၿမးမလား တစ္ေယာက္ေယာက္ေတာ့ တစ္ေယာက္ေယာက္ပဲ။