Arts & Literature
Background History of Traditional Dances
The origins of Myanmar traditional dance can be traced back to the Pyu period. There were three ancient Pyu cities – Beikthano, Halin and Srikshetra (Thayekhittaya) – which flourished between the first and ninth centuries. Pyus were expert stone carvers, metal workers, musical instrumentalists, composers, dancers and choreographers. They were also potters, bead-makers and weavers, as well as producers of metal ornaments and domestic ware. A significant event that put Myanmar traditional dances on the historical record occurred in 802 AD. The Pyu Crown Prince Sunanda, who lived in Srikshetra, the second Pyu city, conducted a diplomatic mission, together with Minister Nakya Konsa and General Mahathena, to the court of a Chinese emperor of the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) at the capital Chang-an, the present day Xian. Accompanying them was a cultural troupe comprised of 35 Pyu musicians, dancers and singers. While they were rehearsing, a Chinese musician of the Royal Chinese Music Academy overheard their songs and music. He jotted them down in Chinese notes and proceeded to the capital to teach them to the court artistes. The account of the visit and spectacular performances of Pyu musicians and dancers at the Chinese court was graphically recorded in the Chinese historical archives of the Tang dynasty. Pyu musicians performed on ingenious musical instruments. The Pyu musicians had 22 instruments made of eight different substances: metal, shell, string, bamboo, gourd, leather, ivory and horn. They had 12 songs, the Buddha’s Seal, Praise of the Sala Flower, The White dove, The White Crane’s Rambles, The Fighting Goat’s Victory, The Dragon headed Single Lute, Jana Concentration, Sweet Sugar Cane King, Peacock King, The Wild Goose, Banquet Music and Washing Cares Away. The musicians wore beautiful Kun-lun dress, covering their loins with red cotton cloth which they call jung-man. Golden jewel-studded bracelets were worn on their legs and arms. Brilliant golden head-dresses, beautifully styled hair, and ear-rings completed their costumes. Sometimes, they also used a string or sash to thread flowers to fashion head-dresses and used hair-retainers decorated with down.