The oral tradition of the Burmese Ramayana story can be traced as far back as the reign of King Anawrahta (active 1044−77), the founder of the first Burmese empire. The story was transmitted orally from generation to generation before being written down in prose and verse and as a drama. The earliest known written Burmese version of the Ramayana is Rama Thagyin (Songs from the Ramayana), compiled by U Aung Phyo in 1775. A three-volume copy of the Rama story called Rama vatthu was written on palm leaf in 1877. This parabaik (folding book) from around 1870 has 16 pages with painted scenes of the Ramayana story with brief captions in Burmese. The paper covers are painted in red, yellow, and green, with floral borders and prancing lions. One cover has an inscription in black ink in Burmese, giving the title, Rama Zat, and a brief identification of the contents. They are, as follows: Rama strings the bow; Dusakhaya demon in battle; offerings of alms; abduction in the chariot; building of the stone causeway; and arrival in Thiho (Ceylon, or present-day Sri Lanka). Dramatic performances of the Ramayana emerged in the Konbaung Period (1752−1885), when royal minister Myawaddy Mingyi U Sa converted the Ramayana Jataka into a typical Burmese classical drama; he also composed theme music and songs for its performance. Ever since then, Ramayana performances have been very popular in Burmese culture, and Yama zat pwe (Rama dramatic performances) and marionette stage shows are often held. Scenes from the Ramayana can also be found as motifs or design elements in Burmese lacquerware and wood carvings.
Title in Original Language
Type of Item
Paper folding book with 33 folds ; 530 x 220 millimeters
- British Library manuscript reference number: Or 14178
- San San May, “The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (3) Burma," Asian and African Studies Blog, May 5, 2014, http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/05/the-ramayana-in-southeast-asia-3-burma.html.
Last updated: August 8, 2014