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Sri Lanka boosts historic Myanmar links :

A land of breathtaking beauty and charm

‘Mangalaba’, is a word similar to ‘Ayubowan’ people of Myanmar use to greet people they meet.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is greeted by Myanmar top leader Senior-General Than Shwe in Myanmar. Courtesy - President’s media photo division

During my brief stay I have been able to view some of its ancient kingdom’s and the famous floating villages on a lake which are popular tourist attractions. During these trips I was able to savour Myanmar’s village life.

Five months ago, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage visited Myanmar.

A Head of State of Myanmar will visit Sri Lanka after 43 years.

The last visit of a Myanmar Head of State was that of Prime Minister U Nu in 1966.

This is the first time the present Myanmar Head of State Gen. Than Shwe is visiting Sri Lanka.

Myanmar was the first country President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited after defeating terrorism and re-uniting the country.

After a very successful visit, President Rajapaksa invited General Than Shwe to visit Sri Lanka as a reciprocal gesture.

General Than Shwe and his entourage will arrive in Sri Lanka today.

During his tour, he is due to visit the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and the Anuradhapura Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi to pay homage.

Cultural relations between Sri Lanka and Myanmar date back to several centuries.

Sri Lanka and Myanmar are two countries professing Theravada Buddhism.

It was Bhikkhus from Myanmar who helped to establish the Amarapura and Ramanna Maha Nikayas in Sri Lanka.

Prior to that when Buddhism deteriorated in Myanmar Bhikkhus from Sri Lanka had visited Myanmar to re-establish the Sasana.

They had introduced our architecture and arts to that country.

The lifestyles of the people of Myanmar are very similar to that of Sri Lankans.

Their environment and climate are also much similar to that of Sri Lanka.

But the political system is different in that Burma is administered by a cabinet of military rulers. Above this, cabinet is a supreme authority called the ‘Council for Peace and Development’. It is headed by Gen. Than Shwe.

He had been in this position for nearly 20 years. Last year a new constitution was drawn up following a referendum.

A general election is to be held in 2010 to elect members to parliament. Law and order is strictly implemented in Myanmar.

Although Myanmar is almost 10 times the size of Sri Lanka geographically it’s population is only thrice that of Sri Lanka. Majority of people in Myanmar lead a frugal life and their main occupation is agriculture.

There is no shortage of water for agriculture as there are seasonal rains as expected and a large number of rivers and tributaries and canals crisscrossing the country. The use of human labour in agriculture is maximised with minimum use of machinery. According to statistics, there is an excess of paddy harvest every year.

Myanmar is not only self-sufficient in rice but has an excess which is exported to other countries.

Sugarcane is also grown extensively resulting in a very large sugar production in the country. Vegetables, potatoes and yams, other cereals and spices seen in Sri Lanka are found aplenty in markets in Myanmar.

For weights and measures, Myanmar does not use the imperial system or the metric system. Their measurement and weights system is known as viz. 1,600 grammes go to make a viz. Their currency is known as vat. One viz of the best quality rice is priced at 1,000 vat. 1,000 vat is equal to about 100 Sri Lankan rupees.

People of Myanmar are accustomed to simple attire. People of all walks of life from the highest echelons to the simple man on the street are dressed in cotton sarong and shirt while women wear cloth and jacket. At all state functions, all VIPs except military chiefs wear an expensive sarong and a coat along with a hat sewn in cloth.

Students in Myanmar wear a white shirt and a green sarong. Instead of shoes they wear sandals. the teachers also wear a similar uniform.

People in Myanmar are devoted Buddhists. Myanmar has a large number of temples and dagobas surpassing many other Buddhist countries. In the ancient Bagan kingdom alone, there are 4,400 temples and dagobas. People visit temples for worship in the morning and evening and youth especially can be seen in deep meditation during these times. They also recite Pali stanzas.

There are several lakhs of bhikkhus in Myanmar. Hundreds of them reside in ‘Sanghavasas’ set up in all regions. Separate universities have bene set up to teach the Abhidhamma to the Bhikkhus.

The Maha Sangha doing Pindapatha rounds is a common scene in Myanmar in the morning and forenoon. They always use the ‘alms bowl’ for partaking of food and are always seen barefooted.

It is customary for youth in Myanmar to don the robes for a small period before marriage.

Females outnumber males in Myanmar. Women in Myanmar are accustomed to heavy labour like men and they can be seen at construction sites working even on scaffolding. The majority of employees in supermarkets and other shops are women.

People in Myanmar are honest and trustworthy.

They never try to cheat people who does not know their language. This is evident even in the shops and hotels, where people get the correct balance after paying for an item they buy even if you cannot converse with the staff.

Humility and hospitality are inborn qualities of the people in Myanmar.

According to the normal lifestyle in Myanmar, people get up early in the morning and have their breakfast around 5.30 a.m. They normally have their lunch at 11.30 a.m. and dinner at 6.30 p.m. All state banquets are held between 6.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m. Bhikkhus partake of their forenoon dana at 10.30 a.m.

People in Myanmar are talented in folk art. I had the occasion to view some art exhibitions which showcased their creations which have a fine and excellent finish. Fancy lacquer goods produced in Bagan are most outstanding and world class.

Forest cover in Myanmar is almost 50 percent of its total land area. Teak is widely used in the manufacture of furniture. Myanmar is internationally famous for its Teak known as ‘Burma teak.

In the countryside, most of the houses of the ordinary people have been built on timber logs or pillars. This is mostly to prevent flooding during rains.

Lakhs of people live in a wide expanse of water called Inlay lake situated in the central hills in houses built on logs. These are called floating villages. They have small vegetable cultivations, shops and schools in this lake built in this manner and their chief mode of transport is by boat. These floating villages are a popular tourist attraction in Myanmar.

Charges in most tourist hotels in Myanmar are very moderate. A large number of tourists from all parts of the world visit Myanmar daily notwithstanding economic sanctions imposed by certain western nations.

I wish to recommend Myanmar as an important destination especially for Buddhist pilgrims who wish to pay homage to places of religious interest.

 

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