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A Norm of Burmese Kingship?: The Concept of Raza-dhamma through Five Konbaung Period Texts

From: Journal of Burma Studies
Volume 11, 2007
pp. 5-48 | 10.1353/jbs.2007.0001



The Burmese concept of raza-dhamma, which derives from the Pali rāja dhamma found in early Buddhist literature, refers to a tenfold code for righteous kings. In the early eighteenth century, U Kala's Maha-raza-win-kyi connected the raza-dhamma to the origin myth of Mahathammata and laid the groundwork for later texts. While scholars thus far have limited their perspectives to the early Konbaung sources, this article attempts a more systematic approach tracing the evolution of a commentarial genre that broadened the scope of the concept. Throughout the middle and late Konbaung period, the interpretation of the ten raza-dhamma represents the first argument of a constantly redefined discourse on kingship. A historical and linguistic investigation of five significant texts shows how this concept participated in the gradual changes of the sociopolitical representations during three periods. From Bagyidaw's reign (1820s-1830s), this article analyzes the royal chronicle Hman-hnan maha-raza-win-daw-kyi and two normative texts, the Monywe hsayadaw's Razaw-wada-kyan and the Maha-dhamma-thinkyan's Dhammaw-padetha-kyan, all three written between 1827 and 1832. Next, it investigates the concept in Mindon's early reign (1850s-1860s) through the third Maung Htaung hsayadaw's Raza-thewaka-dipani-kyan (1856), which enlarged upon the Dhammaw-padetha-kyan. Finally, turning to the late Konbaung period (end of the 1870s-1890s), this article look at the concept in Hpo Hlaing's Raza-dhamma-thingaha-kyan (1878).