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Pāli and Sanskrit Studies in Myanmar by Ven. Dr. Ashin Ketu

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Traditionally Myanmar claims that Buddhism arrived in there by land and by sea at least five times. The first three arrivals took place in Buddha’s life time and the second two in post Buddha’s time.

Modern scholars are of the opinion that the introduction of Buddhism in Myanmar was not later than the 6th century A. D. The earliest epigraphic records are found in the small village of Hmawza, six miles away come from north of the modern town of Pyay in Myanmar. The village which is scattered over with the ancient remains has been identified with the old capital of the Py3s. Indeed it was the heart of the country known as Tharekhittarar (Sr2 Ksetra in Sanskrit). One of the important evidence to prove the existence of Buddhism in Myanmar is a book made of gold plates on which some extracts from the well-known Pāli texts like Vibha<ga, A<guttara Nikāya etc. were written. These records show that Pāli Buddhism was already established in Myanmar at the time of the Py3 period (1st to 9th century A.D.) So we can definitely say that the whole Pi4aka was flourishing in Tharekhittarar before Bagan period.

In the Bagan period Pi4aka-leaning was spread throughout the country. The more Myanmars learnt Pi4akas, the wider they studied the Pāli Grammar. Pāli grammar is important in order to grasp and understand the profound meaning of the Pi4aka. There are four kinds of profundity in the Pi4aka. They are:

1.Dhammagambhīra ‘the profundity of Dhamma’.
2.Atthagambhīra ‘the profundity of meaning’.
3.Desanāgambhīra ‘the profundity of teaching’ and
4.Patibhānagambhīra ‘ the profundity of wisdom’,

Because of the profound nature, it is very difficult to grasp the meaning of Pi4aka for those who do not have knowledge of Pāli grammar. So grammar study is necessary to grasp the meaning of the Pi4aka.

There are six schools of Pāli Grammar, namely;

1.Kaccāyana Grammar
2.Bodhisatta Grammar
3.Sabbagu8ākāra Grammar
4.Moggallāna Grammar
5.Saddanīti Grammar
6.[[Saddasa<gaha]] Grammar

Of these six schools, the two schools Bodhisatta and Sabbagu8ākāra have been lost.

Kaccāyana Grammar is the oldest one among the P1li Grammars. It was known by the name of the author, Kaccāyana. According to tradition, the grammar was composed by the Buddha’s disciple Mahākaccāyana. The traditional view is already refuted by the modern scholars. The Kaccāyana Grammar is composed mainly on the model of Kātantra. According to some scholars Kaccāyana Grammar is a compilation of various hands.

Pariyatti Sasana University, Mandalay.jpg

Based on Kaccāyana Grammar a lot of grammatical works and commentaries are written by subsequent authors. Of these works, Bālāvatāra and Padar3pasddhi are equally important and useful to learners.

Moggallāna is the most systematic grammar of Pāli language. It was composed by Moggallāna in the Th3pārāma of Anurādhapura during the reign of King Parakkamabāhu (1153-1186). As well as this, he composed the two commentaries: Moggallānavutti and Moggallānapa0cikā. To understand the Moggallāna Grammar, Payogasiddhi and Padasādhana are also important.

Saddhan2ti is the largest grammar of Pāli language. It is divided into three volumes: Padamālā, Dh1tumālā and Suttamālā. It was composed by Ashin Aggava9sa during the reign of Kyaswar (1234-1250) of Bagan, Myanmar. Of three volumes of Saddhan2ti, Dhātumālā was composed on Pāniniyodhātupā4ha.

Saddasa<gaha was composed by Myanmar scholar U Phoe Hlaing (1828 -1882) at the time of King Mindon from Mandalay. According to scholars, it was composed on the Siddhānta Kaumud2 of Sanskrit Grammar. It is still in manuscript.

Among the Pāli Grammar, Kaccāyana Grammar has been the oldest and the fundamental treatise in Myanmar since the Bagan Period to the present. It is also the prescribed book for the Pathamabyan or Buddhist Scripture Examination.

A lot of auxiliary treatises of Kaccāyana Grammar were composed by various scholars. Some of these treatises exist in Pāli as well as in Myanmar. Based on Kaccāyana Grammar, Pi4aka learning is made step by step. The courses are divided into two: day courses and evening courses. Day courses are on the Sutta and Vinaya studies and evening courses on Abhidhamma. In this way Myanmar has made great contributions to Pāli studies.

Pāli Scholars had to depend on Sanskrit Literature, especially in the field of Vyākara8a (grammar) Nighantu (dictionary), Ala<kāra (Science of Rhetoric) and Chanda (Prosody). It is undeniable that Pāli grammars were composed mainly on the basis of Sanskrit Grammars. To be skillful in the field of Pāli Literature, each student must learn not only Vyākara8a (Grammar) but also Nighantu (Dictionary), Ala<kāra (Science of Rhetoric) and Chanda (Prosody). So the following treatises are prescribed for the Pathamabyan Buddhist Scripture Examination.

1.Abhidhānappad2pikā (Dictionary),
2.Subhodhāla<kāra ( Science of Rhetoric),
3.And Vottodaya (Prosody).

Actually these treatises are composed mainly of Sanskrit treatises. Sanskrit study in Myanmar still exited later than the tenth century AD. The Sanskrit word “Sr2 Tribhuvanāditya” is found as the title of King Kyansithar of Bagan. In Shwegugyi stone inscription of Bagan (1177 AD) in P1li, the last two verses were composed in Sanskrit.

“Guham vaisākhamāsasya, Caturth2 krs8apaksake, Sthāpitam Suryavāraye.”
“The cave was established on the month of vaisākha (May), fourth waning, Sunday.”

The late Venerable Sayadaw U Silānandābhiva9sa pointed out the Saddhan2ti-dhātumālā is composed mainly of Paniniyodhātupātha. But Ashin Aggava9sa, the author of Saddhan2ti reminded the Pāli scholars.

“Keci pana sakkatabhāsato naya9 gahetv1 ‘candam1’ti pa4hanti. Ta9 na sundra9.”
“Having taking the method from the Sanskrit, some recite as ‘candam1’. It is not good.”
“Sakkata00uno pana keci s1sanik1 tato naya9 gahetv1 ‘tejassi’tisa-kara9 dvibh1va9 katv1 pa4hanti. Tath1pi na dosa. P1lipotthakesu pana ‘tejasi’ti nissa00ogapadameva 1gata9.”
“Taking the method from the Sanskrit, some Sanskrit scholar monks recite as ‘tejassi’ making the consonant ‘s’ double. But there is no fault. In P1li books there is ‘tejasi’ only with singl s.”

These facts indicate that Sanskrit learning was popular at the time of Bagan Period.


Pin-ya Period’s famous scholar and minister named Catura<gabala (1313-1363) wrote the Nissaya (word by word translation) of Hitopadesa. In the Ava Period, Shin Indagutta (1498- 1563) composed Navarat Pyot. It was a translation of Sanskrit treatise Navaratna. At the time of King Bodaw of Konbaung Period, a large number of Sanskrit treatises were collected and translated into Myanmar. In 1148, sixth waxing Nadaw (1786 A.D), of M.E. the Mah1dan Wun of Religious Affairs Minister reported to the King the list of Sanskrit Treaties which were carried from Varanasi, the list is as follows.

1.Grammatical - 66
2.Astrological - 45
3.Philosophical Treatises - 22

(Takra, Ny1yadarasana etc)

4.Alakira (Science of Rhetoric) - 8
5.Nighantu - 6
6.Historical Treatises (Ithih1sa) - 7
7.Law (Dharms1stra) - 8
8.Medical - 6

When Kar Nga came back from Varanasi, he brought thirty-two Sanskrit Treatises and sent them to the King in 1155 M.E.., 12th waning of Wagaung (1793 A.D). At that time the King ordered to translate some Sanskrit texts into Myanmar and encouraged monks to learn Sanskrit.

In Myanmar, there were a number of eminent Sayadaws like Man-Le Sayadaw (1841-1920) and Abhay1r1ma Sayadaw (1878 -1943). They were experts in Sanskrit. Abhay1r1ma Sayadaw translated Hitopadesa, Amarakosa, Mugdhabodha and other Sanskrit Texts into Myanmar Nissaya.

At present, all students of State Pariyatti S1sana Universities (Yangon and Mandalay) have to learn Sanskrit as a part of P1li language. Post-graduate students have to study not only Sanskrit but also Prakrit for the comparative philology. Without Sanskrit and Prakrit knowledge we cannot explain some P1li words systematically. The purpose is to understand the profound doctrine of the Buddha. In the near future, our students will make great contributions to the field of P1li and Sanskrit Studies.


Author: Ven. Dr. Ashin Ketu