The Throne of the Golden Foot
EARLY on the morning of the 13th of September, 1855, a most fantastic and picturesque procession — in which the formal and arrogant simplicities of a nice Western civilization, and the grotesque and insolent ostentations of a crude Oriental barbarism, with all the splendid riddles of its far-fetched type-and-symbolry, were blended in a rich bizarreness— formed in the main street of the western suburb of “the Immortal City” of Amarapoora, and moved toward the palace of “ him who reigns over the kingdoms of Thunaparanta, Tampadépa, and all the great umbrella-bearing chiefs of the Eastern countries,” — the Lord of Earth and Water, King of the Rising Sun, Lord of the Sacred White Elephant and of all white elephants, Master of the Celestial Weapon, and Great Chief of Life and Righteousness, — called, “ for short,” Mendoon-men, King of Ava. An imposing deputation of Woons and other grandees, with their respective “ tails,” were escorting the newly arrived Envoy of the Governor-General of India, and his suite, from their Residency on the south shore of the lake Toung-ah-mah-Eing below the city, to the Hall of the Throne of the Golden Foot, there to have audience of that great, glorious, and most excellent Majesty, whose dominions are bounded only by the imagination — and here and there a British customhouse ; and whose excursions of dreadful power are stayed only by the forbearing fiat of Boodh — and now and then some British bayonets.
The escort was illustrious: there were the old Nan-ma-dau-Phra Woon, or Lord-Governor of the Queen’s Palace ; the Woondouk Mhoung Mhon, a minister of the second order in the High Court and Council ; and the Tara-Thoogyi, or Chief Judge of Amarapoora ; besides other magnificos of less note, but all very fine in their heavy, wide-sleeved court robes of crimson velvet, laced with a broad edging of Benares brocade. On their heads they wore high mitres, also of crimson velvet, curving backward in a volute, and encircled at the base with a coronet of tinsel spear-heads. It is the ton at court to wear these mitres excessively tight, and to carry a little ivory blade, modelled like a shoe-horn, with which the cap of honor is drawn on, and all “ vagrom ” locks of hair “ comprehended.” The tsalwé (a Burman badge of nobility, derived from the Brahminical triple cord, and having three, six, nine, or even twelve threads, according to the distinction conferred on the wearer), and a trumpet-shaped ear-tube of gold, complete the official costume.
The royal presents from England, guarded by the British-Indian cavalry escort, had been sent forward over a long bridge which spanned the southern end of the Toung-ah-mah, to await on the other side the arrival of the Envoy. There was a superb carriage for the King, which, being too wide to pass the bridge, was towed across the lake on a raft.
That was a brilliant scene, the passage of the lake ; and the picturesque elements almost surpassed the fantastic ; — the jolly-boats of the steamers, leading the way with the men of her Majesty’s 84th, followed by the Zenobia’s gig, bearing the Governor-General’s letter, with the Honorable East India Company’s jack saucily flaunting at the bow ; then other gigs and cutters, with the Envoy’s suite ; and, lastly, a gorgeously gilded war-boat, carrying the Envoy and the Woons, with fifty Burman oarsmen rowing to a wild chant. The white spire and pinnacles of the Ananda temple, with its grove of noble cotton - trees and tall palms, sharply defined against the boldly diversified ranges of the Shan Mountains, formed the background of the picture, which derived rich color and grotesque action from the Burmese soldiers of the Envoy’s guard lining the banks, and the hurly-burly of half-naked, splashing villagers, waistdeep in the lake, —salvages coupés.
First in the procession went the cases of royal presents, borne by Burmese porters on bamboo litters, and followed by four Arab horses and an English carriage for the King; next came the cavalry and infantry of the Envoy’s Anglo-Indian escort, preceded by a band ; behind these, the Secretary of the mission on an elephant, with the Governor-General’s letter under the Company’s jack ; the Envoy (Major Phayre) in a tonjon, attended by the Nan-ma-dau Woon and the Woondouk on elephants ; the British superintending surgeon in Pegu, and the TaraThoogyi; a British special deputy commissioner for the frontier, and one of the Tsa-re-dau-gyis, or Royal Scribes ; and all the rest of the British officials, each paired with a Burmese thoo-gyi or “great man,” in a Burmese howdah.1
The route lay through the street called Ambassador’s Row, — the very one by which the Chinese Envoys entered Amarapoora sixty years before, — toward the western central gate of the city. From lake to palace the way was fenced with troops ; but such troops! — fishermen and convicts, old men and boys, — probably old women too, and girls,—the he and she Warts, Mouldys, Shadows, Feebles, and Bullcalfs of the Immortal City. At every cross street were officers on elephants, “men in gilt Mambrino helmets and mountebank costumes, decked out with triple buckram capes, and shoulder lappets, and paltry embroidery.” But there were men in red jackets and papier-mache helmets accompanying the procession, who appeared to be more at home with their arms than these motley musketeers. Inside the city the streets were flooded with water from a heavy rain the night before, and here the soldiers were propped on little stools of bamboo, to keep them out of the mud, while the officers occupied higher perches, each with his spittoon and his box of betel. A great rabble of spectators, of whom many were women, — not all uncomely or shabbily attired, — peeped through the endless white lattice, or thronged the cross-streets, — all still and silent, with wonder or suspicion.
Just as the escort, with fixed bayonets and martial music, turned up the street leading to the eastern gate of the palace, and, halting, faced inward for the party to pass, the procession of the Ein-shé-men, or heir apparent, (Lord of the Eastern Palace,) came suddenly up from another road, and crossed before them to enter the enclosure,—a stale trick of Burmese jealousy and insolence to keep them waiting at the palace gate. Precedent, which is a god in Burmah, has bestowed a sort of respectability upon this exploit in bad manners, every British envoy having been treated so, trom Fleetwood to Phayre. The prince himself was conspicuous in a massive gilded litter, borne by many sturdy fellows elaborately tattooed, while eight longshafted gold umbrellas flashed over his head. When he had entered the gate, and it was closed behind him, his retinue, consisting of several hundred soldiers, performed some intricate and tedious evolutions, countermarching round an open circle, with the manifest purpose of magnifying the apparent strength of the force, as well as of prolonging the detention of the unwelcome strangers.
When Colonel Burney, who was sent as Resident to Ava in 1830, was detained by the same manoeuvre at the stockade which encircles the palace wall, some of his party were sharp enough to discover that many of the retainers, as well as of the elephants and bands of music, after passing in the suite of one prince, made a sly circuit to the rear, and appeared as part of the tail of another prince.
As the Envoy and his suite dismounted, noon was struck by alternate strokes on a great bell and a great drum, mounted on a square tower within the gate called “ Ywé-dau-yooTaga,” or the Royal Gate of the Chosen, because it is guarded bypicked troops. By this gate they entered ; but first the Envoy took the Governor-General’s letter from the Secretary, and carried it himself. The Nan-ma-dau-Phra Woon and his august colleagues now threw off their shoes, and the Woondouk strove ineffectually to induce the representative of Great Britain to follow their loyal example. At four different points, as they advanced to the inner gate, they even dropped on their knees, and shikhoed, with their faces in the dust, toward the palace ; and again Burmah pressed Bull to take part in the pious services, but the obstinate infidel Kolá2 would not ; for you see the world has moved, and Anglo-Saxon backbones have stiffened, since Fleetwood wrote, in 1695 : “ As the palace gates were opened we fell down upon our knees, and made three bows (shikhos), which done, we entered the garden, the presents following ; and having gone about half-way from the gate to the place where the king was seated, we made three bows again as before. When we got within fifteen yards of the king, we made three bows again, and were ordered to sit down.” Between fleetwood and Phayre are two wars, several annexations, “ a lot ” of custom-houses, and “no end ” of bomb-shells.
The gilded colonnade, and the manystoried spire, conspicuous from all sides of the city ; the great inner court, with its groups of tumblers, jugglers, and dancers, performing in the corners for the entertainment of privileged spectators ; the dirty grand-staircase, where, to their lively disgust, the distinguished strangers. Envoy and all, had to leave their shoes ; the long wings of the structure, curiously resembling the transepts of a cathedral; the choir-like centre ; the altar-like throne ; the tall, lacquered columns, picked out in red at the base, and all ablaze with gilding ; — by these the great Hall of Audience was known ; and here, on a carpet in the centre, facing the throne, the Envoy and his party seated themselves, doubling their legs behind them.
On a broad dais blazed the high throne, in all its barbaric gorgeousness of carving and gilding, — competing in splendor with the awful seats of Guadma in the temples, and surpassing the glory of the pulpit from which the High Poonghyi3 chants the beatitudes of the Boodh. On the top it was luxuriously mattressed with crimson velvet, and on the left was a tall elbow-cushion for the king. A carved portal, with gilded lattice doors, opened from behind to the top level of the throne, which was wrought in a sort of mosaic of gold, silver, and mirror-work. A few small figures, representing the progenitors of the human race, occupied niches in the central band, while on the edge of the dais stood five royal emblems, in the shape of gilded shafts, with small gilt labels or scrolls, like flags, attached to them.
On each side of the dais were pewlike recesses, with railings ; and rows of expanded white umbrellas, fringed with muslin valances, (the royal insignia,) were displayed along the walls behind the throne. The central hall or aisle, in which the gentlemen of the mission sat, was laid with velvet-pile Carpet of Axminster or Lasswade; elsewhere there was matting merely, except where the more distinguished officers of the court had their separate carpets. A double row of young princes, in surcoats of gold and silver brocade, with gay silk putsos, occupied the centre aisle in front of the Envoy;—on the right, four sons of the King ; on the left, four sons of the Crown Prince. Farther forward, near the steps of the dais, the Ein-shé-men himself was installed, in a sort of couch or carved litter, scarcely raised above the floor. In his robes of Benares gold brocade, and his superb mitre set with precious stones, he sat still as an effigy, never turning round, but betraying his curiosity by the use he slyly made of a small looking-glass. Behind the pillars on each side, and a little in advance of the Englishmen, were the Woongyis, or principal minister of state, constituting the Hlwot-dau, the High Court and Council; and nearer to the steps of the dais were several elderly princes of the blood, “men of sensual aspect and heavy jowl, like the heads of some of the burlier Caesars,— or, with their stiff robes and jewelled tiaras, perhaps recalling certain of the old Popes.”4 Close to the Envoy’s panty were two of the Atwen-woons, or Ministers of the Interior (Household) Council, and some Nekhan-daus, “ Royal Ears,” besides other officers of the Palace and Hlwot-dau.
The Envoy, on taking his seat, had deposited the salver with the Governor-General’s letter on a gilt stool covered with muslin, which had been placed there to receive it. Little gilt stands, containing trays of tobacco, pawn, hlapet, or pickled tea, and other curious confections, neatly set out in golden cups and saucers, together with water-goglets and gold drinking-cups, were then laid before the Kalá guests, the water being faintly perfumed with musk.
At last, from some mysterious inner court of the palace came a burst of music. From the verandas behind the throne a party of musketeers filed in, and, taking position between the pillars on each side of the centre aisle, knelt down, with their double-barrelled pieces between their knees, and their hands clasped before them in an attitude of prayer.
As the last man entered the golden lattice doors, the doors rolled back into the wall, and the King was seen, mounting a stair leading from a chamber behind to the summit of the throne. He ascended slowly, using his goldensheathed dhar as a staff to his laboring steps ; and no wonder, for his jewelled robe alone weighed one hundred pounds. Having dusted the gudhi with his own hand, by means of a small chowree, or fly-flapper, he had brought with him, he took his seat on the left side of the throne, resting his elbow on the velvet cushion, which had been covered with a napkin. Then the Queen, who had followed him closely, seated herself by his side,—on the right, and a little behind him, — where she received from the hands of female attendants, who showed themselves but for a moment, the golden spittoon and other ungraceful conveniences, which, on all occasions and in all places, must be at the elbow of every Burmese dignitary. Next, she fanned herself for a few moments, and then she fanned the King ; and finally, having been served with a lighted cheroot by the shy fingers of some mysterious maid of honor, she smoked in silent expectation.
The Lord of White Elephants and Righteousness is a portly man, with refined features, an agreeable and intelligent expression, and delicate hands. He wore a sort of long tunic, or surcoat, so thickly set with jewels that the material, a kind of light-colored silk, was overlaid and almost hidden. Thara-poo, the crown, is a round tiara of similar material, in shape like an Indian morion, surmounted by a spirelike ornament several inches high, and expanding in flaps or wings over each ear.
The Queen, who, like all her predecessors, is her husband’s halt-sister, wore a perfectly close cap, covering hair and ears, and forming, as it rose, a conical crest, with the point curved forward in a volute, like the horn of a rhinoceros, or the large nipper of a crab’s claw ; close lappets hung over the cheeks. The rest of her Majesty’s dress was oddly Elizabethan ; the sleeves and skirt in “ successive overlapping scalloped lappets ” ; around the throat a high collar, also scalloped or vandyked, and continued in front to the waist, where blazed a stomacher, or breast-plate, of great gems. Both cap and robe were stiff with diamonds. The Queen’s name is Tsoo-phragyi, and she is the eldest daughter of her husband’s father, King Tharawadi.
On a pedestal between their Majesties, in front of the throne, stood a great golden figure of the Henza, or Sacred Goose, — the national emblem.
When the awful pair had fairly entered, the Englishmen for the first time took off their hats ; but the entire audience of subjects bowed their faces to the earth, and clasped their hands before them. “The two rows of little princes, who lay in file, doubled over one another like fallen books on a shelf, and the two Atwen-woons, grovelled forward, in their frog-like attitude, to a point about half-way to the throne.”
Then some eight or ten Brahmins (two of whom are court astrologers), in white stoles, and white mitres encircled with gold leaves, entered the screened pew-like recesses near the throne, and struck up a choral chant in Sanscrit ; which done, one of them immediately followed in a solo hymn in Burmese, which is thus translated by the Envoy, Major Phayre : —
1. “ May the dangers and enmity which arise from the Ten Points be calmed and subdued ! May the affliction of disease never attach itself to thee ; and in accordance with the blessings declared in the sacred Pali, mayest thou be continually victorious ! May thy life be prolonged for more than a hundred years, and may thy glory continue till the end of the world ! Mayest thou enjoy whatever is propitious, and may all evil be far from thee,—O KING !
2. “ Thy glorious reputation diffuses itself like the scent of the sandal-wood, and exceeds the refulgence of the moon ! Lord of the Celestial Elephant, — of the Excellent White Elephant! Master of the Celestial Weapon! Lord of Life, and Great Chief of Righteousness ! Lineal descendant of Mahathamada and Mahadha-mayadza ! Like unto the Kings of the Universe, who governed the four great islands of the solar system, and were versed in charms and spells of fourteen descriptions, may thy glory be prolonged, and thy life be extended, to more than a hundred years ! Mayest thou enjoy whatever is propitious, and may all evil be far from thee, — O KING!
3. “ Great Chief of Righteousness ! whose fame spreads like the fragrance of sandal-wood, and exceeds the glorious light of the moon, — in whom is concentrated all glory and honor, — who, with her Majesty, the Queen, the lineal descendant of anointed kings, happily governest all, — may thy rule extend, not only to the great Southern Island (the earth), which is tens of thousands of miles in extent, but to all the four grand and five hundred smaller Islands ! May it equal the stability of the mountains Yoo-gan-toh, Myen-mo, and Hai-ma-garee; and until the end of the world mayest thou and thy descendants continue in unbroken line, unto the royal son and royal greatgrandson, that thy glory may endure for countless ages ! And may thy royal life be prolonged for more than a hundred years, — O KING !
4“ May our king be continually victorious ! When the divine Buddha ascended the golden throne, all created beings inhabiting millions of worlds became his subjects, and he overcame all enemies. So may kings by hundreds and thousands, and tens of thousands, come with offerings of celestial weapons, white elephants, flying horses, virgins, and precious stones of divers sorts, and do homage to the Golden Feet, which resemble the germs of the lotos, —O KING ! ”
Now, even for an exploit in poetical license, that is sublimely cool, considering that a mere yesterday of thirty years has sufficed to strip the Throne of the Golden Foot of dominions which were the gradual acquisition of more than two bloody centuries of drunken lust, and that the dread Lord of Life and Master of the Celestial Weapon well knew that day that he no longer had access to the sea save through many leagues of British territory. — considering that the chronicle of the Burmese kings is one of the bloodiest chapters in the book of Time, a record of hell-engendered monsters, conceived in incest, brought forth in insanity, trained to the very sport of slaughter, and doomed to quick assassination or the most summary deposition and disgrace, — considering that even this “just and humane” Mendoon-men himself had deposed his cock-fighting brother, the Pagan-men, and sacked and burned his capital, and that even now he held him a close prisoner, poor and despised, in a corner of the fortified city, — and finally, that even as that paean of infatuation ascends to the besotted ears of the King, given up of God to believe lies, his own brother, the Ein-shé-men. possessed of a devil of precedent, crouches like a tiger below the dais, and plots assassination and usurpation in his cunning bit of looking-glass.
The chants concluded, the TaraThoogyi read from a parabeik, or black note-book, an address to the King, stating that the offerings his Majesty purposed making to certain pagodas at the capital were ready. “ Let them be dedicated! ” said one of the officials solemnly ; and the music was renewed. This dedication, the chant of the Brahmins, and the singular ceremony of A-beit-theit (literally, a pouring out of water on a solemn occasion), together constitute the formal inauguration of a royal sitting. Then the GovernorGeneral’s letter was drawn from its cover, and read aloud by a Than-daugan, or Receiver of the Royal Voice, who also read the list of presents for the King and Queen. A railway model, contributed by Sir Macdonald Stephenson, was immediately produced and exhibited in the Hall, — the only one of the presents uncovered there, — and excited lively interest among the Burmese. All the readings were intoned in a high recitative, like the English Cathedral service ; and the long-drawn “ Phrá-á-á-á ! ” (My Lord!) was delivered like the “Amen” of the Liturgy.
After this, his Majesty, without moving his lips, but speaking by an Atwenwoon, who discharged for that occasion the function of Royal Tongue, condescended to address to the Envoy three formal questions, prescribed by custom and precedent, thus : —
Royal Tongue. “ Is the English ruler well ? ”
Envoy. “The English ruler is well.”
Receiver of the Royal Voice (in a loud tone). “By reason of your Majesty’s great glory and excellence, the English ruler is well ; and therefore, with obeisance, I represent the same to your Majesty.”
Royal Tongue. “ How long is it since you left the English country ? ”
Envoy. “ It is now fifty-five days since we left Bengal, and have arrived, and lived happily, at the Royal City.”
Receiver of the Royal Voice. “ By reason of your Majesty’s great glory and excellence it is fifty-five days since the Envoy left the English country, and he has now happily arrived at the Golden Feet. Therefore, with obeisance,” &c., &c.
Royal Tongue. “ Are the rain and air propitious, so that the people live in happiness and ease ? ”
Envoy. ” The seasons are favorable, and the people live in happiness. ”
Receiver of the Royal Voice. “ By reason of your Majesty’s great glory and excellence, the rain and air are propitious, and the people live in happiness.”
And here the awful conversation came to a profound close. Gifts were presently bestowed on all the officers of the mission ; — to the Envoy a gold cup embossed with the zodiacal signs, a fine ruby, a tsalwé of nine cords, and a handsome putso ; to other officers, a plain gold cup, ring, and putso, or a ring and putso only.
Then the King rose to depart, the Queen assisting him to rise, and afterward using the royal dhar to help herself up. “They passed through the gilded lattice, the music played again, the doors rolled out from the wall, and we were told that we might retire.”
On the twenty-first, Major Phayre had a private interview, by appointment, with the King. The reception was almost en famille. As the Envoy approached the palace, he found the assembled court under a circular temporary building, called a Mandat, where music and dancing were going on, — the King half reclined on a kind of sofa in a room raised several feet above the level of the mandat. The Envoy was led forward and shown to a place among the ministers, who, as well as all the rest of the company, were seated on the ground, — only the dancers standing. Outside squatted guards in red jackets, with red papier-maché helmet, and muskets with the buts resting between their legs. Eight couples of men and women were dancing. The King did not speak to Major Phayre, but, on the contrary, retired as he entered, and sent him word that he would see him in another room ; where again he found his Majesty reclining on a sofa, no longer in imperial costume, but the ordinary garb of the country, — a silk putso, or waist-cloth, of gay colors, a white cotton jacket, reaching a little below the hips, and a single fillet of book-muslin twisted round his head. On his left, at a little distance, were some half-dozen of his sons, “ of all ages up to sixteen years,” crouching on the ground, with their chins touching it. A band of girls in fantastic courtdresses were in an anteroom, discoursing soft music on stringed instruments. One of the Atwen-woons, with several other officers of the court, and a few pages, had followed the Envoy, and now sat together near the end of the room. The King held up his hand, and the music ceased. He then requested the Envoy to notice some large imitation lotos-flowers in a vase ; and as he spoke, the buds, which had been closed, suddenly expanded, and out of one of them flew a solitary sparrow. The king smiled, and one of the company said, “ Each bud had a bird imprisoned, but they managed to escape, all but this one.”
Then the King said to the Envoy, “ Have you read the Mengala-thoot ? ”
“ I have, your Majesty.”
“ Do you know the meaning of it ? ”
“ I do. I have read the Burmese interpretation.”
“ How many precepts does it contain ? ”
“ Do you remember them ? ”
The Envoy did not ; so the King repeated some of the precepts of this summary of beatitude, — a sermon of Guadma’s, containing thirty rules of life, against pride, anger, evil associates, and the like.
Then followed much talk about a treaty which the Envoy was anxious to procure ; but the King, with diplomatic adroitness, put him off; for the Burmese hate treaties, and always break them. Said his Majesty, very dryly: “ I have heard a great deal of you, and that you are wise and well disposed. I should not have taken the same pains to receive every one ; I should have done according to custom. You have commenced well. But in a man’s life, and in every transaction, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end,”—illustrating the remark by running his finger along the hilt of his dhar of state, which lay on a stand before him.
“ Did you receive the marble pagoda I sent you ? ”
“ I did, your Majesty, and have brought a singing-bird box, as a token of my thanks.”
“ I am going to bestow on you a ring, which you will find very curious.”
Here a ring, half sapphire and half topaz, was brought in, and presented to the Envoy.
The King expressed a wish to engage some one to take charge of his ruby mines, and especially his lively desire to procure a model of a human skeleton, made of wood, and so arranged that the action of the joints in sitting and rising should be shown. The Envoy promised to attend to this. Some trays of cakes and sweetmeats were then brought in, and the King, having particularly recommended one or two of the dishes to the Envoy, retired. During the interview his Majesty behaved with much courtesy and kindness. One of his children, about eighteen months old, ran in two or three times, naked as he was born, and climbed up on the couch ; the young sons now and then lighted the King’s cheroot, and gave him water to drink.
On the 2d of October the Envoy is again with the King in the small pavilion ; about a hundred persons are present, including two Atwen-woons, the Nan-ma-dau-Phra Woon, and several Shan Tsaub-was, but none of the Woongyis. The King asked the Envoy if he had been to the Pyee-Kyoung to see the Tshaya-dau, or Royal Teacher, Patriarch or Bishop of all the Monks.
“ I have, your Majesty,”
“ Did he discourse to you, and did you approve of what he said ? ”
“ He discoursed on moral duties, and what he said was very proper.”
“You know what we call the Ten Virtues.5 Do you approve of them ? ”
“ They are most excellent.”
“ What length of time, according to your books, is a Kamba ? ” (A complete revolution of nature, a geological period, it might almost be called.)
“ Our books, your Majesty, do not contain that.”
“Well, we say that in a Kamba the life period of man gradually advances from the limit of ten years to an Athenkhya,6 and then gradually diminishes from that down to ten years again. When that has been repeated sixty-four times it constitutes a period, which again is repeated sixty-four times ; and when four such compound periods have been repeated, the whole era is called a Kamba, or a grand revolution of the universe. The world is then destroyed, and a new era commences.”
The King then entered into a long discourse on the history of the MahanZat, or life of Guadma in one of his former births, the gist of which was that a king who had a wise minister could get anything he set his heart upon. After which he related the story of a king of Benares, who had three birds’ eggs brought to him ; one produced a parrot, one an owl, and the other a mainah; and to each of these, in course of time, a department of the state was intrusted, but the highest, politics, fell to the parrot.
“ I believe,” to the Envoy, ironically, “ your English kings have existed for two hundred years or more. Have they not ? ”
“The English nation, your Majesty, have had kings to reign over them for fifteen hundred years.”
“My ancestors have come in regular descent from King Mahatha-mada ” (the first king who established government on the earth, — many millions of years ago, at the beginning of the present Kamba, in fact).
Envoy (to one of the Atwen-woons, to show that he knew that no such king had ever reigned in Burmah). “ Which of the royal cities did Mahatha-mada build ? ”
The Atwen-woon only stared.
“ O,” said the quick-witted Woondouk, “ that king reigned in Myit-tshema-detha [the Middle land, India].”
King. “ Our race once reigned in all the countries you hold. Now the Kalás have come close up to us.”
Envoy. “It is very true, your Majesty.”
“ Have you read any part of our Maha-Radza-Weng [Chronicles of the Kings] ? ”
“ I have read portions of them, your Majesty, and am very anxious to read more.”
“ Well, I will present you with a complete copy, and also a copy of the 550 Zats, and the Mahan-Zats ; and when you come again I shall expect to find that you have studied them. I should like to have a copy of your Radza-Weng [History of Kings].”
“ That I will present to your Majesty.”
“It is only right, and the part of a wise man, to gather instruction from the records of the past and the works of sages. By the study of these books you will be enabled to divine people’s thoughts from their appearance, and may aspire to the most difficult of all attainments, — the discerning of which is the greater principle, matter or spirit.”
The King then inquired if the Envoy had visited the Royal Tanks, at Oungben-le and other places, which had been recently constructed.
“ I have not, your Majesty ; but I purpose going.”
“ I have caused ninety-nine tanks and ancient reservoirs to be dug, or repaired, and sixty-six canals, whereby a great deal of rice land will be made available. In the reign of Naurabha-dzyai 9999 tanks and canals were constructed. I purpose renewing them.”
“ Ninety-nine ” in Burmese signifies a large number merely. Thus, Captain Hannay was told that there were ninety-nine jheels, or lakes, in the district of Tagoung. An ancient king of Aracan is said to have founded ninetynine cities on each side of the Aracan River. The Burmese speak of the ninety-nine towns of the Shan country. Duttagamini, king of Ceylon, is said to have built ninety-nine great temples. The Buddhist physiology reckons ninety-nine joints and ninety-nine thousand pores of the human body.7
At a later interview, the Envoy took particular note of the personal appearance of this royal barbarian. His skin was smooth and clear, and his bright black eyes twinkled, and displayed a true Chinese obliquity when he laughed, as he did every two or three minutes. His mustache was good, his throat and jaws were very massive, his chest and arms remarkably well developed, and his hands clean and small. The retreating forehead, which marked him as a descendant of Alompra, was especially conspicuous.
He reclined, in a characteristic attitude, on a splendid sofa, wrought in mosaic of gilding and looking-glass, spread with a rich yellow velvet mattress, bordered with crimson ; and a corresponding rug, of crimson bordered with yellow, was spread below for the regalia. These consisted of a fantastic gilded ornament, “ in size and shape much like a pair of stag’s antlers,” festooned with a muslin scarf, and intended to receive the royal dhar; and of the large golden Henza, set with precious stones. Other royal paraphernalia, such as the golden spittoon and salver, and the stand for the water-goglet, with its conical golden cover set with gems, were brought in and deposited on the rug when his Majesty appeared. Dancing-women were performing in the central aisle before the throne, to the music of a group of female minstrels, gayly attired, and crowned with pagoda-shaped tiaras, like those worn by the princes in the plays.
Speaking of the Maha-Radza-Weng, and other books which he had ordered to be brought for the Envoy, the King said : “ The mass of earth, water, and air which composes the Great Island [the earth] and Mount Myen-mo is vast, but learning is more stupendous still, and great labor is necessary to acquire it. Do you [the Envoy] know how many elements there are in a man’s body ? ”
“ I cannot inform your Majesty.”
“ The body consists of a great number of particles, small as flour or dust. One hair of the head appears like a single fibre, yet it is made up of a great number of smaller fibres ; just as one of the long ropes you sound the depth of water with is composed of many short fibres. Of the elements, earth enters into the bones, and water into the hair.”
In this connection, Captain Yule has an interesting note to the first chapter of his narrative: — “There seems to turn up now and then in the science of the Buddhists a very curious parody, as it were, or chance suggestion, of some of the great truths or speculations of modern science; just as there are circumstances of their religion which seem to run parallel with circumstances and forms of Christianity or Christian churches, and which made the old Jesuit fathers think that the Devil had, of malice aforethought, prepared these travesties of Christian rites and mysteries among the heathen, in order to cast ridicule on the Church, and bar her progress. An example of what I allude to is found here, as regards electricity, in their apparent knowledge of the non-conducting power of glass. In the Buddhist theory of the universe, we have an infinity of contemporary systems, each provided with its sun and planets, analogous to the commonly received opinion of the plurality of worlds. We have also their infinite succession of creations and destructions by fire or water, analogous to a formerly popular geological theory. They hold the circulation of the blood, after a fashion. The King’s conversations at Amarapoora indicated his belief in the atomic constitution of the body, and of the existence of a microscopic world, though his illustrations were not accurate. And when Mr. Crawfurd published his account of fossil elephant bones from the Irrawaddi, Colonel Burney tells us that the Burmese philosophers expressed much satisfaction at the discovery, as establishing the doctrine of their books. These taught that in former times there were ten species of elephants, but that the smallest species alone survived.”
The King inquired who of the English gentlemen were then present.
Woondouk. “There are Captain Yule, the Secretary to the Mission (Letya Bogyee, or right-hand chief); Dr. Forsyth (Tshaya Woon, or supreme over the teachers); Professor Oldham, the geologist (Kyouk Tshaya, or rock teacher); and Major Allan (Meaday Woon and Mhan Byoung Bo, telescope officer).”
King. “Major Allan is a good man. Does he speak Burmese ? ”
“A little, your Majesty.”
“ Not so much as the Envoy, I suppose. He should study. Parrots, by diligence, learn languages. Have you parrots that can speak English ? ”
Envoy. “ We have, your Majesty.”
“ And we have parrots that even understand writing. What stones is the Rock Teacher acquainted with ?”
“ He knows all kinds, your Majesty.”
“ In my country there are mountains, along the side of which if horses, elephants, or men go, a green shadow is cast on their bodies. Your black coat would appear green there. How does he explain this ? ”
Professor Oldham suggested that it might arise from copper on the surface.
“ No, it cannot be that, as the copper is not seen. I think it results from emeralds below.”8
To Dr. Forsyth. “ How many elementary substances are there in the human body ? ”
Dr. F. “ Four substances.”
“ That is correct. Could a man have one of them destroyed, and yet survive ? ”
“ It might be partially injured, and he yet survive.”
“ But suppose the element on which the issues of the body depend were to be destroyed, could the man survive ?”
“ In that case he must die, if the action could not be restored.”
“ That is true. It is proper for every physician to be conversant with the elementary substances. There are a great number of books on the subject of medicine in the Burmese language, — books so deep,” *— raising his hand above his head.
Envoy. “ I have received from your Majesty a fossil alligator’s head, which is very much prized by the Rock Teacher ; and I have heard there are Biloos’9 (monsters’) bones in some parts of the country.”
King. ” There are Biloos’ bones in the Yau district, and you can have as many as you choose, or a whole Biloo even.” (To the Woondouk,) “See that this is attended to.” (To the Atwenwoons,) “ These people cannot sit long thus without being cramped.”
His Majesty then flung himself brusquely off the sofa, turned his back, put on his shoes, and strode away without any leave-taking. His manner was easy and full of good-humor ; but he chewed betel to almost disgusting excess; the golden pawnbox was never out of his hand, and he played with it as lie talked.
When he was gone, refreshments were brought in, — pancakes filled with spiced meats, jellies of rice-starch, in various colors, and other viands. But the most Oriental and by no means the least palatable dish consisted of fried locusts, stuffed with spiced meat. They were brought in “ hot-and-hot,” in relays of saucers, and tasted like fried shrimps.
In the large audience-hall, adjoining the pavilion, ten or twelve richly dressed dancing-girls slowly circled to passionate music, brandishing in both hands bunches of peacock’s feathers, throwing themselves into a variety of difficult and curious attitudes, and chanting all the while in a pleasing chorus, which singularly resembled the psalmody of a choir in an English parish church.
A few days later the Envoy called, pour prendre conge, on the Ein-shbmen, whose physiognomy he describes as that of a strong-willed, boisterous, passionate, and energetic man, with but little intellect or refinement, but not, perhaps, without kindly impulses. He was full of questions,—-among others, *• What nation first made gunpowder ? ”
Envoy. “ I am not quite sure, your Highness, whether it was first made in England or Germany. Our books say that it was known from an earlier period in China.”
“Ah!” interposed the sly old Woondouk. “ You won’t say where gunpowder was first made, because you want it to appear that it was in England.”
“ Not at all ; the point is a doubtful one. I tell you exactly what I know.”
“ Then where were muskets first invented ? ”
“ I cannot tell you. The first use of cannon on record was by the English, some five hundred years ago.”
Prince. “ What nation first made steamships ? ”
“America, your Highness. The steam-engine was invented in England, and an American adapted it to ships.”
Woondouk. “ Those are the people who went out from you, and you could not govern them, and they set up for themselves.”
Envoy. “Precisely. Just as the people of Aracan, of your own race and religion, settled in that country, and had a king of their own, and you lost dominion over them.” (Much good-humored laughter at this reply.)
Speaking of the friendly relations between England and France, the Envoy explained that communication is kept up constantly between the two countries by means of the electric telegraph. (To the Woondouk.) “ You have seen the telegraph in Bengal, and will be able to inform his Highness about it.”
Woondouk. “They put a wire on posts above the ground, or bury it underneath, carrying it over mountains and through rivers ; and at certain stations apart there are magnetic needles, which shake to denote the letters of the words of a message that is sent. Thus they converse together, though they are hundreds of miles apart.”
This Woondouk, Moung Mhon, was a very astute and ingenious man. When he accompanied the old Dalla-Woon on a mission to the Governor-General, he was taken on one occasion, by Major Phayre and Colonel Baker, to make a short excursion on the East India Railway. When his attention was called to the great speed at which they were travelling, he made no remark, except to ask the interval between two telegraph posts on the line; and then, counting the beats of his own pulse, and making a mental estimate of the rapidity with which he passed those intervals, he quietly said, “ Yes, we are going very fast.”
Woondouk. “Now where was the electric telegraph first discovered ? ”
Envoy. “ I believe the discovery was nearly contemporaneous in England and America.”
Woondouk. “ But it must have been in one place or the other.”
Envoy. “ In Europe, where men of science are engaged in a great variety of studies, and publish their views and opinions, similar discoveries are frequently made about the same time in different countries.”
The visits of ceremony to the four Woongyis, and to old Moung Pathee, the Nan-ma-dau Woon, were marked by circumstances of peculiar interest. At the house of the Magwé Menghi (Great Prince of Magwé), the most intellectual and influential of the Woongyis, the floor was laid with carpets, and chairs for the visitors were set at a long table. The large silk curtain which separated the reception-room from the women’s apartment was partly raised at one corner; and there, on carpets, were seated all the ladies of the family. Breakfast was served, at first in English fashion, with bread and butter, muffins and tarts. But presently the hospitable Woongyi called out cheerily, “ Come, come ! they know an English breakfast well enough; let us have Burmese dishes now.” Then came sweetmeats and dainties of various kinds, and in profusion, — in all, fiftyseven dishes. After the breakfast the usual Burmese dessert of betel-nut, pawn, pickled tea,10 salted ginger in small strips, fried garlic, walnuts without the shells, roasted groundnuts, &c., on little gold and silver dishes ; and, last of all, cheroots.
The Woongyi led in his wife, and would have her attempt an English chair, next the Envoy; but the old lady, after several amiable efforts to reconcile herself to the foreign situation, bravely tucked in her scanty robes, and doubled her legs under her.
From the Magwé Menghi’s they passed to the houses of the Meinloung, the Myo-doung, and the Pakhán Menghi, (all Woonghis,) and of the venerable Nan-ma-dau Woon, — breakfasting at each. At the residence of the Pakhan Menghi several ladies joined the party at table; these were the Woongyi’s wife, who had been one of Tharawadi’s queens, with her mother and two sisters, all really lady-like and self-possessed, fairer than the generality of Burmese women, and of delicate and graceful figures, though not pretty. They wore the usual tawein, or narrow petticoat of gorgeously striped silk, polka jackets of thin white muslin, and ornaments of extraordinary brilliancy. Their ear-cylinders were gold; but instead of being open tubes, as commonly worn at the capital, they were closed in front, and set with one large cut diamond, ruby, or emerald, surrounded by smaller brilliants. The necklace consisted of a narrow chain of gold, plain, or set with pearls, and bearing table diamonds in two rows, one fixed and the other pendent. They also wore superb rings, in which were rubies of noble size.
Among the ladies seated on the ground were two strongly resembling one another, and with the receding forehead which marks all the descendants of Alompra. These were daughters of the Mekhara-men, that uncle of King Tharawadi who used to translate articles from Rees’s Cyclopaedia into Burmese, and who assisted Mr. Lane, a merchant of Ava, in the compilation of the English and Burmese Dictionary which bears the name of the latter.
For a Kalá at Amarapoora not to know the Lord White Elephant is to argue himself unknown. Consequently a presentation to that Buddhistic demigod in bleached and animated Indiarubber was a crowning ceremonial, essential, in a political as well as religious point of view, to the success of the embassy. He “receives” in his “palace,” a little to the north of the Hall of Audience. On the south are sheds for the vulgar monsters of his retinue, and brick godowns, in which the state carriages, and the massive and gorgeous golden litters, are stowed.
Captain Yule says the present white elephant is the very one mentioned by Padre Sangermano as having been caught in 1806, — to the great joy of the king, who had just lost the preceding incumbent, a female, which died after a year’s captivity. “He is very large, almost ten feet high, with a noble head and pair of tusks. But he is longbodied and lank, and not otherwise handsome for an elephant. He is sickly too, and out of condition, being distempered for five months in the year, from April to August. His eye, the iris of which is yellow, with a reddish outer annulus, and a small, clear black pupil, has an uneasy glare, and his keepers evidently mistrust his temper. The annulus round the iris is pointed out as resembling a circle of the nine gems. His color is almost uniform,— about the ground-tint of the mottled or freckled part of the trunk and ears of common elephants, perhaps a little darker. He also has pale freckles on the same parts. On the whole, he is well entitled to his appellation.”
His royal paraphernalia are magnificent. The driving-hook is three feet long, the stem a mass of small pearls, girt at frequent intervals with bands of rubies, and the hook and handle of crystal, tipped with gold. The headstall is of fine red cloth, plentifully studded with choice rubies, and near the extremity are some precious diamonds. Fitting over the bumps of the forehead are circles of the nine gems, which are supposed to be charms against malign influences.
When caparisoned, he also wears on the forehead, like other Burmese dignitaries, including the king himself, a golden plate inscribed with his titles, and a gold crescent set with circles of large gems between the eyes. Large silver tassels hang in front of his ears, and he is harnessed with bands of gold and crimson set with large bosses of pure gold. He is a regular estate of the realm, having a Woon, or minister, of his own, four gold umbrellas, the white umbrellas which are peculiar to royalty, and a suite of thirty attendants. The Burmese remove their shoes on entering his palace. He has an appanage, or territory, assigned to him to “eat,” like other princes of the Empire. In Burney’s time it was the rich cotton district of Taroup Myo.
The present king never rides the white elephant; but his uncle used to do so frequently, acting as his own mahout, which was one of the royal accomplishments of the ancient Indian kings.
“ The importance attached to the possession of a white elephant,” says Captain Yule, “is traceable to the Buddhist system. A white elephant of certain wonderful endowments is one of the seven precious things the possession of which marks the Maha chakravartti Raja, ‘the great wheel-turning king,’ the holy and universal sovereign, a character who appears once in a cycle, at the period when the waxing and waning term of human life has reached its maximum of an asankhya in duration. Hence the white elephant is the ensign of universal sovereignty.”
- Narrative of a Mission to the Court of Ava, in 1855. By Captain Henry Yule, Secretary to the Envoy.↩
- Western foreigner.↩
- Priest; literally, “ Great Glory.”↩
- Yule’s Narrative.↩
- 1. Charity ; 2. Religious Observances ; 3. Self-denial ; 4. Learning ; 5. Diligence ; 6. Patience ; 7. Truth; 8. Perseverance; 9. Friendship; 10. Impartiality.↩
- † Athenkhya is a corruption, or Burmese pronunciation, of asankhya, Sanscrit, from the negative a and sankhya, “number,” — literally, “innumerable ” ; but as a Buddhist period, it is expressed by a unit and one hundred and forty ciphers. Yule.↩
- Yule’s Narrative.↩
- “ Amid lovely prospect of rich valleys, and wooded hills, and winding waters, almost every rock bore on its surface the yellow gleam of gold. True, according to the voyager, the precious metal was itself absent ; but Sir Walter [Raleigh], on afterward showing the stones to a Spaniard of the Caracas, was told by him that they were madre del oro, mother of gold, and that the mine itself was further in the ground.” — Hugh Miller.↩
- A sort of demon-monkeys, grotesquely hideous and fearfully funny,— generally depicted as black Calibans, with tusks. Judson delines them as “ monsters which devour human flesh, and possess certain superhuman powers,” According to a Buddhist legend, Guadma, when he attempted to land at Martaban, was stoned by the Nats and Biloos. who then inhabited that country, as well as Tavoy and Mergui; and Captain Yule imagines there may be some dim tradition here of an alien and savage race of aborigines akin, perhaps, to the quasi-negroes of the Andamans), who have become the Biloos, or Ogres, of Burman legend, “just as our Ogres took their name, probably, from the Ugrians of Northeastern Europe.” The description of the Andaman negroes by the Mohammedan travellers of the ninth century, as quoted by Prichard, would answer well for the Biloos of Burmah : “ The people cat human flesh quite raw ; their complexion is black, their hair frizzled, their countenance and eyes frightful : their feet are almost a cubit in length, and they go quite naked.” The comic element, however, always enters into the Burmese conception of a Biloo. On the pavement of a royal monastery at Amarapoora is a set of basreliefs representing Biloos in all sorts of impish attitudes and antics.↩
- Hlapet, or pickled tea, made up with a little oil, salt, and garlic, or assafoetida, is eaten in small quantities by the Burmese, after dinner, as we eat cheese. They say it promotes digestion, and they cannot live in comfort without it. Hlapet is also passed around on many ceremonial occasions, and on the conclusion of lawsuits.↩