The Formation of Genre Division in Burmese Classical Songs with Special Reference to Song Anthologies in Palm Leaf Manuscripts
JSPS Research Fellow
In this paper, I aim to demonstrate the basis on which certain songs were classified as Burmese classical songs or thachingyi (great song) and the manner in which the genre division of these songs was formed; I achieve this by analyzing the manuscripts of the songs that were written from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries.
Songs that are classified as Burmese classical songs are referred to as thachingyi in Burmese or maha gita in Pali and are regarded as being Burmese “classical” or “traditional” songs. There are over one thousand songs listed under this category, and they are divided into approximately 20 different genres in the song anthologies publication. According to the conventional literature on Burmese classical songs, it is evident that these genres can be clearly distinguished from other genres and that almost any songs can be classified under a certain genre. This opinion is based on the fact that all song anthologies publications are segregated depending on the genres that they belong to, and thus, all songs can be categorized to a particular genre. However, these studies do not address the basis on which these song anthologies are complied and the criteria that determine the genre of a song.
I believe that the genres in Burmese classical songs should be examined from the following two perspectives. One is the definition of certain genres and the other is the relationship between a song and its genre. Conventional literature on Burmese classical songs claims that there exists a relationship between a song and its genre; according to the literature, songs determine the genre to which they will belong at the time of inception. However, after analyzing song manuscripts, I believe that the genre of a song is in fact not determined at the time of its creation.
Song manuscripts that were written from 1788 to 1849 did not revise all the songs, albeit they did make revisions to certain kind of songs or certain author’s songs. By the order of King Mindon in 1870, a song manuscript was written in which the song titles were compiled and edited according to genre. This manuscript is the oldest one where song divisions according to genres are evident. Many songs that were listed in U Sa’s song anthology, written in 1849 by the order of King Mindon, were not classified depending on their genres; however, in the 1870 manuscript, these songs have been categorized. Following this, all manuscripts and publications pertaining to songs that were published after 1870 began editing the songs comprehensively and compiling them according to their individual genres. Moreover, in these anthologies, the number of songs written by U Sa was considerably larger than that written by other authors; and, certain songs belonging to some genres were written only by U Sa.
Given the above, I conclude that after 1870, all songs had a certain identity and could be classified to a genre. However, some songs can be categorized under two different genres; U Sa, who is a remarkable lyricist and composer, mentioned the genre of only a part of his work. Therefore, the relationship between songs and their genres is not absolute; the genre of a song and its relationship with the song is determined when the song is edited and compiled in anthologies, and not at the time of inception.