Myanmar Goes on a Cultural Spree
One of the cultural highlights in October was the holding of the Fourth Myanmar Traditional Performing Arts Competitions at Yangon From 3 to 20 of the month. Since 1993, the Government has been holding annually, competitions in Myanmar traditional performing arts with the noble aim of reviving, preserving, and promoting Myanmar's cultural heritage which is the hardcore of national identity.
The competitions covered five subjects, singing, dancing, music, song composition, and marionette performance, under each of which were different types and categories to compete in, such as traditional, folk, classical and modern in the case of singing and dancing. In music, in addition to the type of music, competitions were held in the playing of a variety of Myanmar musical instruments such as harp, and violin for string instruments, flute and oboe for wind instruments, and drums of different sizes and types, gongs, cymbals xylophone and clappers for percussion instruments. There were also Myanmar Saing, Ozi, and Dobat competitions. The Saing is a Myanmar traditional musical ensemble of percussionists, wind instrumentalists and singers. The Ozi and Dobat are the folk music and dance troupes consisting of percussionists, wind instrumentalists and folk dancers and singers. The Ozi is a single faced drum with an elongated leg, slung on the player's shoulder. The Dobat is a medium size double faced drum slung around the player's neck. These troupes compete in teams. For the song composing competition, a special theme was given to the contestants such as "cultural heritage" "patriotic spirit" "national solidarity" and "religious psalm". The contestants were required to compose songs on the given theme in typical Myanmar style. As in the case of Saing, Ozi, and Dobat, the marrionette competitions were held teamwise.
The competitions were held on three bases, namely according to gender, male or female, according to age, below 12 years and above 12 years, and according to the educational and professional qualifications such as Basic Education Level, Higher Education Level, Amateur Level, and Professional Level. Each type of competition was supervised and judged by a separate Board of Judges, composed of qualified veteran performing artistes, professors and instructors. At the four venues, namely, the National Theatre, the Padonma Theatre, the National Museum Theatre, and the Kambawza Theatre of the Fine and Performing Arts Department, the competitions were held daily for 16 days. Viewers from at home and abroad including tourists packed the Houses to watch the competitions with appreciation and admiration. Live telecasts of the daily events gave everyone the chance to enjoy the competing performances on the screen. It was learnt that over one thousand competitors from the seven states and seven divisions of the country participated in the competitions this year. The Prize Distribution was held on the 20th Sunday at the National Theatre. Certificates of honour, medals and handsome cash prizes were awarded to the winners in three categories, the first, the second, the third, and consolation prizes in addition. A grand dinner in honour of the event was given by His Excellency Lt.Gen. Khin Nyunt, the State Law and Order Restoration Council Secretary 1, Patron of the Fourth Myanmar Traditional Performing Arts Competitions 1996.
The annual holding of such competitions has revived the hitherto dormant Myanmar traditional performing arts. Archaeological and historical evidence has proved that Myanmar had attained a high standard in the field of performing arts. In ancient frescoes, sculptures and artworks, in other art media decorating old monuments and temples, excavated at the archaeological sites, or on display at the museums, we find presentations of Myanmar performing arts of the past. Five metallic figurines of dancers, and musicians belonging to the Pyu Period (1st to 9th century A.D.) were uncovered from an archaeological mound in Thayey Khit Taya, an ancient Pyu city near Pyay town. They are now on display at the National Museum. Myanmar chronicles and literature have a wealth of references to the Myanmar performing arts. In the Chinese Historical Archives of the T'ang Dynasty was recorded the event of the arrival at the Chinese Imperial Court of a Pyu diplomatic mission from Myanmar in 802 A.D. The mission was led by Crown Prince Sunanda, and was accompanied by a cultural troupe of singers, dancers and musicians. The Court poet, chronicler and secretary named Po-Chu-I graphically recorded in writing and painting the performances staged in the imperial presence by the Pyu artistes. From these records we learn that there were 12 Pyu songs, 12 variations of Pyu dance, 40 musical instruments of wind, string and percussion, and over 35 artistes.
The revival of the traditional performing arts of Myanmar whose civilisation dates back some two thousand years has the telling effect upon her younger generation. Awareness of the cultural value of the motherland has become widespread among the youths, thereby awakening in their heart a sense of pride in the national cultural heritage. As long as her national cultural identity is sustained in the hardcore of cultural heritage, Myanmar will continue to retain her hard-won independence and sovereignty.
Maung Lu Zaw