Thanat-kha

by May May Aung

Thanatkha, the fragrant liquid powder of the bark of Muraya Exotica, induced by rubbing it round and round with a little water on a circular flat stone is a unique Myanmar traditional beautifier worn by Myanmar ladies, young and old alike. One hardly finds a Myanmar lady who does not like thanatkha. No matter how much modern cosmetics and make-up are in abundant use today, the thanatkha is still a favourite beautifier of Myanmar ladies from all walks of life. 
This tradition of wearing thanatkha is an outstanding and priceless inheritance, passed down through generations, found only in Myanmar. Thanatkha agrees with Myanmar natural environs, especially with the weather. It is recognized to be of great help to bear the heat of the sun and thus an ideal cosmetic for those who have to work under direct sunshine. Women who work in paddy fields always wear thick layers of thanatkha to help themselves tolerate the intense heat of the sun.

The scientific name of thanatkha plant is Limonia acidissima (Roxb). It belongs to the Rutaceae family together with the Thi or Linonium elephantum (corr), the Okshit or Aegle marmelos (L) and the pyindaw-thein or Micromelum hirsutum (Oliver) plants. The thanatkha grows in the southern and western parts of India, the northwestern part of the Himalayas, the Punjab State, the Assam State and in Myanmar, in the dry zone: from Shwebo district in the midlands to Pyay district further south. The thanatkha plants that grow on dry, rocky soil produce hard, thin barks, long-lasting and durable in use. The best thanatkha plants are naturally slow in growth and it takes three to ten years for the tree trunk to grow two inches in diameter. The barks obtained from these trees are so fragrant that the womenfolk here adore them very much. Accordingly, they fetch good prices in the market. Various kinds of thanatkha differs in quality but those produced from Shwebo district and the Shinma­taung thanatkha from Pakokku district are the best and the most famous in our country.

The scientific name of thanatkha plant is Limonia acidissima (Roxb). It belongs to the Rutaceae family together with the Thi or Linonium elephantum (corr), the Okshit or Aegle marmelos (L) and the pyindaw-thein or Micromelum hirsutum (Oliver) plants. The thanatkha grows in the southern and western parts of India, the northwestern part of the Himalayas, the Punjab State, the Assam State and in Myanmar, in the dry zone: from Shwebo district in the midlands to Pyay district further south. The thanatkha plants that grow on dry, rocky soil produce hard, thin barks, long-lasting and durable in use. The best thanatkha plants are naturally slow in growth and it takes three to ten years for the tree trunk to grow two inches in diameter. The barks obtained from these trees are so fragrant that the womenfolk here adore them very much. Accordingly, they fetch good prices in the market. Various kinds of thanatkha differs in quality but those produced from Shwebo district and the Shinma­taung thanatkha from Pakokku district are the best and the most famous in our country.

In ancient times, during the reign of Myanmar monarchs, firewood-burning festivals were held in grandeur, in Tabodwe, the eleventh month of the Myanmar calendar. The weather is at its coolest during this month and thanatkha tree-trunks and branches alike instead of ordinary firewood, were cut and burnt ceremonially to offer warmth to the Lord Buddha. 

The thankatkha is a very useful plant and its plays a great part in the field of Myanmar indigenous medicine. The leaves are used as a remedy for epilepsy, in some regions. The berry-like fruit also is used as antidotes and tonics. The ripe fruits, plucked and cultivated within the same day is supposed to produce healthy plants. The blossoms are adorned by women and their smell is sweet and fragrant. The bark is rubbed with a little water to induce the liquid which is worn for self-beautification. The thanatkha liquid has the properties of making the skin cool and smooth, having a refreshing and cool fragrance, beautifying the users. It also cures pimples and acne. The hard, yellowish, sweet-smelling thanatkha wood is used to make handicrafts such as trinkets, combs, boxes and many others. The root possesses much medicinal value and is used in Myanmar indigenous laxatives. 

Nowadays, when modern, scientific methods are advancing, the thanatkha liquid is being modified into the form of either a thick cream or powder which is handy and convenient to use. Nevertheless, the tradition of wearing thanatkha will be cherished through generations to come. I, for one, just love to put on thanatkha after having bath at the end of a long, tired day, leaving me and those nearby cool, fragrant and refreshed.