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peculiarity: Meeting the Hindus of Myanmar - Web Edition Magazine January/February/March 2016 - Papers

Bringing together publishing houses, editorial s and leading reporters from more than 65 nations, the conference will debate media freedoms at this critical point in the transition from democratic to war. I was accompanied by Thomas L. Kelly, a Nepalese photo artist who was particularly interested in the large Myanmar population.

We travelled the countryside for almost two whole week and visited areas with a focused Hindu population. Enquiries from the office of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have taken us to an associated organisation, Sanatan Dharma Swayamsewak Sangh, Myanmar's most famous Hindu organisation. Its principal co-ordinator, Professor Ram Niwas, assisted in organizing gatherings with important Hindus throughout the state.

We have learnt to use one of the SDSS leader Shekhar as a local interpreter, as most of the Hindus here speak Burmese fluently as their native tongue - a subject of great interest to the elder. Whilst our headquarters in Hawaii was looking for contact and resources for Myanmar, we were surprised how little is known about Myanmar of Hindus in India.

RSS seemed to be the only large hinduistic organisation interested in the land at all. The Ramakrishna mission was expelled in the 1960' and its sanctuary and clinic were confiscated by the goverment, and she chose not to comeback. There is not a sadhui or swingie in the whole land, neither from Myanmar nor from India.

Conversely, the state has 800,000 Buddhaist friars who energetically promote their religions through religious worship, pagoda, vihars as well as state sermons. Yangon's wall is full of placards and signs of the beloved buddhistic friars who announce their lectures. The Hindu people here are living in an oceans of Buddhism. There we saw several hundred young Myanmar lads and some young women disguised as friars and bhikshuns, escorted by their homes in folk costumes on their way to the various spectecular Buddha Schools.

During their holidays, the students were about to begin a ten-day to several-month long religious year. All families are very interested in their kids having this kind of adventure and are happy when one or the other becomes a full-time orphan. Burma is rich in vast and magnificent gold cougars and stupas dominating the skylines of every cityscape.

Yangon city center, the Myanmar people are crowding into a large buddhistic sanctuary with a Stupa and giant Buddha-statures. All surfaces of these buddhistic churches, Stupas and sculptures are gilded. When asked why so much money is used, the people of Burma explained to me that the Buddha likes to see golden sacrifices blessing them with goodness, riches and affluence, not only in this lifetime but also in their prospective birth.

At the IPC meeting, Thaung Su Nyein, CEO of Information Matrix, said to me that although he thought that few Hinduists really know much about Hinduism except that they shared some practice, such as the full moons celebrations, Hindus and Buddhist people get along well. The Burmese are Theravada Buddhist, as are the Buddhist of Sri Lanka, and they consider themselves Buddhist only.

Mahayana Buddhism in neighbouring Thailand includes both Hindus ian and China influence. Supported by the Tamil commercial municipality of Chettiar, the sanctuary is on Shwe Bon Tha Street in Yangon. Krishna, who is a preacher of the Shri Murugapperuman sanctuary, plays Arya. Submissive outside the Durga-tempple, with its horsemen. Unlike the stunning Buddhist influence, most hinduistic churches are discreetly concealed in the jungle of Myanmar's cityscape.

The two Tamil monasteries of Lord Siva and Goddess Durga, which are situated in a large area on the edge of the town of Yangon, are rare. Hindu Buddhists also like Hindu Buddhist monasteries because they say that our deities react more quickly to their prayer. Such communal adoration promotes good Buddhist-Hindus relationships and prevents the kind of clashes that Rohingya Muslims, also from 19. st cent. India, have had with them.

Myanmars Hindus are located in and around Yangon, Mandalay and some of the countryside. Between March 30th and April 13th we stayed in Yangon for the first few weeks and then made a stop on our way to Mandalay in the south. Siva and Durga temple grounds outside Yangon.

The first goal was to meet the Tamil fellowship in the centre of the town and the ancient Sri Murugapperuman Temple - one of about 1,000 Hindoo sanctuaries in the town. At Moghul Street we found tens of Tamil Hindus in small stores and exhibition rooms selling paintings of Hindus deities, diamond and ore.

They were hard to judge how well they were doing, but every Hindu businessman questioned seemed fortunate and satisfied. Murugapperuman Murugan Temple is situated in Shwe Bon Tha on the first level of an old one. The Chettiar Tamil commercial world made it, some say 120 years ago and others 400 years ago.

Principal goddess, the wood frame of the church is decorated in different colours and illuminated by multicoloured light beads. As we were there, Tamil hajans were playing continually through a speaker system, making the ambience highly devoidal. Krishnan, a 50 year old stag, represented the ordinary preacher who helped with the re-inauguration of another shrine.

His ancestors were Tamil Nadu, but he was borne and raised in Myanmar. Studying with Archaka Shanmugam Shekhar, also a native of Myanmar, he learned enough fundamental mantra for the Puya. We then headed to Shri Satyanarayan Temple in Yangon's Pabedan Township, past many of Lord Buddha's wonderfully illuminated side-walks aisles.

We were received in the sanctuary by Banwari, his janitor, who came from Uttar Pradesh, the state where I was borne and where I grew up. At once our music was instantaneous; together we sung some of the old favorite Hindi hajans and tunes that made us dancing. Thomas also immediately connected with one of the priest temples, Prem Sharma, whose descendants came from Nepal three Gen.

You spoke in Nepali, to the joy of all. Before that Prem Sharma was a preacher in Mormin Satyanarayana for 18 years and has been here for 11 years. It is part of the Marwaris' communion. Every DAILY about 50 to 100 believers come to the sanctuary, and many more on feast dates.

All the costs of the sanctuary are borne by the Parish of St. Mary, which does not ask for or expect contributions from others. There are also Hindi courses for the kids in Hindi. Indeed, we have made great strides across the entire nation to raise our kids in their traditional languages, whether Hindi, Tamil or Nepalese, to prevent the fact that everyone uses Burmese in their daily lives and at school.

History is that Bagla was on a boat in a Typhoon and took a solemn oath that if he was rescued, he would be building a sanctuary for Lord Vishnu. To fulfill this promise, he not only constructed this shrine, but also one in Mandalay and another in Mormin. Hindus settled in the area around the sanctuary, with about 2,000 Mewari family, but many escaped to Nepal in the 1960' when the state confiscated their properties.

There are only 70 remaining Myanmar Mar Mari family. The businessman Sanjay Kedia tells us that it is hard to find a match for their kids in such a small group, and they have to look to India and Nepal. Mewaris are purely veggie, Kedia declared, and almost all other Myanmar municipalities are non-vegetarian.

In Yangon, Thomas and I have come across this problem ourselves, because there are no purely vegetable based restaurant. Said there was only a fistful of Sikhs and a unique Yangon Gourudwara, with maybe 100,000 Sikhs across the country. Approximately 30 kilometres outside Yangon, on an area of several hectares, are two of Tamil's most beloved temples:

Nowadays the two large Buddhist monasteries are full of followers - not only Tamils, who are the biggest group of Hindus in Myanmar, but also many Myanmarese and Chineses. Trailers also assembled with relatives and acquaintances in vast roofed areas outside the temple. The majority of Tamil womens were wearing old-fashioned black and white sari, while others were wearing Myanmar clothes.

Well preserved sanctuaries. The faithful stood in long lines at both shrines to sell fruit and other traditionally owned objects for purchase within the area. A number of clergymen and their assistant in each church conduct the service systematically. It is not only available to the followers present, but is used in all areas of the Shrine.

Being in the sanctuary was to be in Tamil Nadu, a sensation strongly reinforced by the musician who plays the Tamil drums and Niadaswaram, as you would find it in any sanctuary in South India. During the circumnavigation of the church several hundred followers followed these musicans. Said he had learnt it from his dad, but found it very strenuous and did not want his kids to take it up.

It is mainly a paddy grower, but appears two times a day a week as well as on personal occasions. We were taken on a personal tour of the whole shrine and presented to the Priest. He has lived in Myanmar for four generation and is a farm labourer. During 2011 the shrine took 120 Indian clergymen who remained for two month for the renunciation ceremonies of Kennabhishkam.

As Ulaganathan explains, the Buddhist monks kept in touch with Tamil Nadu and brought craftsmen from Mahabalipuram on a regular basis to deliver the Murti's and the decorations. Said he: "This is a very mighty place, frequented not only by Hindus but also by Buddhists, Christians and Muslims of other religions. "According to a supporter, Guruswami, a pensioned banking man, 30 per cent of the Myanmar population come to such Hindu Buddhist churches to worship.

At night we went back to Yangon to make an appointement with Lal Bahadur Subedi, the chairman of All Myanmar Gorkha Hindu Dharmik Sangh. You can find Buddha religious friars, bhikshuns and children's friars almost everywhere in the city. Remembering the many Myanmar homes we had seen before, in their best dresses, bringing their kids to the sanctuary for a whole weekend or so to live as a kiwon.

Every Sunday he goes to the SDSS Zhakha meeting and goes to Ram Janaki Monastery with his whole familiy on the weekend. Nepal has been building this shrine for 21 years and is a favourite of all Hindus. In Myanmar, the Nepali people are estimated by Sidedi to be around 250,000. As he said: "Nepalese are here beloved, respect and trust because many of our forefathers were in the military, the Gorkha battalion that was defending Myanmar from the Japanese.

Indeed, all of them are referred to as Gorkhas. Next we went to the central and beloved Shri Kali Tempel, founded in 1871 by seven Hindu congregations, among them the Gujaratis, Bengalis, Marwaris, Chettiars, Tamils and Hindustani or Northern Indians. This is the only Myanmar sanctuary built in this collaborative way.

Sadanananda Singh, one of the administrators of the Shri Bahadurg Bagla, who established the Sri Lanka Watanayan sanctuaries, also played a major role in the completion of this one. He told that his dad came to Myanmar at the tender of 14 from his native Gorakhpur, first by road and then by boat, and set up a milk shop.

Situated in a noble area of Yangon, the pristine Yangon sanctuary welcomes a large number of followers every single working days, among them the Chinese and Myanmar people, some of whom have contributed large amounts of money for the preservation and extension of the Shrine. We' had seen Puya made for the same purposes in other churches before, and learnt that this was one of the reasons why people from Burma came to our churches.

Fiduciary Ram Kishore said that sometimes the number of people from Burma exceeds that of the Hindus in the zen. "We are fulfilling the desires of the people of Burma to our deities and goddesses in this sanctuary, and that is strengthening their belief in our gods," he commented. Says that the Yangon Buddhist Seminary is one of the wealthiest in Yangon; alongside Hindi and Tamil courses, they encourage the learning of languages throughout the state.

All Myanmar tourists visit Swedagon Tempel, Yangon's most renowned buddhistic sanctuary, and here we witnessed a living buddhisticism. Everything - from the lofty rising stupa temples to the small sculptures - is made of either golden or coated with pure tin. I have never seen anything so glittering and luxuriant as this place in my whole being.

It was astonishing to see how abhishekame, bathed in running waters, and made with Buddha statuettes, as seen in Hindus courts. There' s also a place where humans can worship to the nine worlds, which I thought was only a Hindus practise. We visited the offices of S.S. Selvam, a celebrity business man and chairman of the All Myanmar Tamil Hindus Foundation.

Selvam's dynasty came from Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu six Gen. In Myanmar, he estimated that there are one million Tamil Hindus in all, mainly in Yangon, Mawlamyine, Thaton and Pha An states, and that 95 per cent of Tamils come from Ramanathapuram. Since Myanmaar has not recently had a real religious population count, such assessments are at best well-founded assumptions.

However, Tamils are undoubtedly the overwhelming Hindu population. Wherever the fellowship is located, there are Siva, Murugan, Mariamman and Vishnu Temple. They are administered by both his endowment and the Hindu Central Council. "Selvam stressed, "The greatest transformation taking place today is that our Tamil youths are getting married outside our community" - a tendency that obviously began in previous generation, given the above example of Srinivasan and his family.

At night we went to the house of Krishna Padhi, a pensioned bullion dealer and head of the Oriya parish (from Orissa), which has only 500 inhabitants in Orissa. Later, we went to the Ganesha-Tempel, the renowned Yangon sanctuary in the centre of the city. We also saw a Myanmar business man who had the Nepali preacher of the shrine, Tek Narayan, make pupa to fend off an eye of envy - he thought a fierce rival would cause him inconvenience.

It has not only the Hindu gods and holy people, but also Buddha and a China deity. Tin Oo Lin, whose great-grandfather, a Tamil, established the sanctuary and remarried a Myanmar woman, says the sanctuary is equally loved by Hindus, Myanmar and China. Last of the temples is Shri Shri Shri Durga Bari, established 127 years ago by the Bengali people.

Minal Kanti Bhattacharjee, 80 years old, the temple's elderly sponsor, estimated that there are 10,000 Hindu Bengalese in Myanmar, half of whom live in Yangon. During big celebrations, such as the ten-day Durga Puija, he declared that Bengals from all over Myanmar come together here. Like all other churches we have attended, there are a considerable number of Myanmar services.

Our 4th mornin Yangon we had a meeting with Ram Niwas, the SDSS Director and most eminent Hindu church leaders in Myanmar. He is a fifth-generation professor of Pali languages and literary at the State Pariyatti Sasana University, Yangon. India's current premier, Narendra Modi, who himself was a full-time RSS linguarak for many years, was informed by Niwas of the problems of the Hindus when the premier paid a visit to Myanmar in 2014.

He played a major role in our trip by assisting us in making arrangements with important Hindus and guiding us from one end of our trip to the other. He told us the story of Myanmar and the present of Buddhism and Hinduism from antiquity in two detailed feedbacks. Of the 2. 9 million Hindus of the land today, he estimated that seven to eight hundred thousand are Tamils, four to five hundred thousand from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, four hundred thousand from Nepal and the remainder are Bengal, Oriya, Marwaris, Gujaratis, Punyas (brains from Manipuri) and some others.

Every municipality was inclined to establish itself in a climatically similar area to India. Today, he says, there is no such thing as Hindus being discriminated against; in fact, the goverment gives him free passports to go by boat or rail to any part of the land to promote it.

There is no one who, like Buddhist friars, is educated to affect humans and associate them with their religions. Hindu here was suffering, he declared, from the shortage of contacts with India over a long span of years.

The SDSS is now conducting a pledge to better inform the public about religions, gods and goddesses, the great Hindu Saints and customs and festivals. There are four Sanskrit priesthood education colleges and they try to work with all the churches in the area. The Hindu Dharma Shiksha Samiti was started to educate the kids and produce textbooks in Hindi with the aim that Hindi is used in the houses where it is the native tongue of the ancestors.

However, he said, there is opposition from those who want the kids to concentrate exclusively on their schooling. A lot of people would rather have their kids study Mandarin than Hindi. On the other hand, he talked in an admirable way about the system of novices in Buddhism, in which both wealthy and impoverished family members took part on an equitable basis and made a good acquaintance with their religions.

The last one we did in Yangon was with L. Subramaniam from the church of Telugu. What? In Myanmar, he puts the figure at 100,000 telugu, 10,000 of which are in Yangon. There' s a large temple of Telugu in Yangon, the Shri Ramalyam Mandir. At one point in his life, he said, some Buddhaist ministers began to speak against Hinduism.

The last time we visited Yangon was the extraordinary 100 hectare graveyard, which is dedicated to Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims and also offers areas for burials in China, Japan and Bahai. Five and a half day later in Yangon we headed 150 km northwards towards Kyauktaga and Zeyawadi, where Hindus with their origins in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were born.

Subhash Ahuja described in an extensive interviewee the schools they run for the Hindu community's kids, emphasizing the mediation of the Hindu people' cultures, customs and languages. They took us around the vast Manocha Vidya Bhawan compound, an SDSS bureau and a Saraswatitempple. This is where we gathered with other celebrity Hindu guides in the area.

After Manochan Vidya Bhawan we went to the Ram Janaki Temple to see his child care center, and then on to Phyu to two Siva Schools. We have seldom seen an Indo man in Yangon, except in a certain store that belongs to Hindus. The Hindus were all over the place.

We next went to the area of Zeyawadi to see the house of Prakash Chandra, a resident guide, and then the small Sagoon Bastitempple. Chandra said there are 120 towns in this area, each with at least one sanctuary. Nearly 100 per cent of Sagoon Basti and the neighbouring towns are Indians; the only non-Indians you see here are Myanmar workers employed to work in the areas mainly belonging to the Indians.

Some of these Myanmar laborers are replacing highly literate young Indians who have gone to neighbouring nations such as Thailand to find better jobs there. At first Pandit Dharam Raj Shama from India was teaching here, Ram said, and together with a few other clergy from India, was very well-loved. They are now taking care of the needs of the fellowship in a self-supporting way.

They recently held a holy ribbon cutting for 44 kids. It is a must for anyone who visits Myanmar, although for us it had not much to do with Hinduism in the state. Also, the dawn was no frustration; as far as one could see, there were thousand and thousand and thousands of small and large buddhistic shrines and palagodas immersed in gold candlelight.

Amidst all this we came across two hinduistic churches. We took a brief trip from Bagan to Mandalay, an important trading centre with a large population of Hindu people, mainly in the shop. Visiting the Shri Sanatan Hindu Dharma Temple and the Shri Ganesh Temple, two of the city's 17 most beloved Hindoo Buddhist monasteries, the Arya Samaj Centre, which serves about 80 homes, we encountered K. Sunder Gopal Sharma, a famous Manipuri Brahmin of Mandalay and deputy chairman of the Upper Myanmar India Industry Association, in his home.

Manipuri Brahmans, we are told, were taken from India 500 years ago by the Myanmar Emperor to carry out ceremonies in the castle and give advices on astronomy, medicines and writings. You and the Mewari congregation are perhaps the only Hindus in the land to have a significant share of a vegan food.

Your temple is privately accessible only to members of your own fellowship. Most of the students were from Burma and China. Like the Hindus, Sikh kids adopt the Myanmar way of life. As a result, the municipality makes great effort to educate the Punjabi and Sikh languages and brings Grantis (teachers) here for every holiday.

All the kids we encountered were able to skilfully chant the punches of Guru Granth Sahib with it. The last stop in Mandalay was the Nepali Dharmashala Guesthouse and Tempel. Over a hundred Nepali schoolchildren were educated in Nepali and Hinduism under the guidance of Bahadur, 82, the military rev. com.

There are about 1,000 gorkhas (as the Nepalese are called) in Mandalay itself, with possibly 100,000 in Mogok, 200 km just off Mandalay, where there are many ruby mining sites. Dharmashala itself, which houses about 100 people, is open only to the Nepalese Hindus and not to others.

After that we went three hrs to Pyin Oo Lwin, where we went to the house of a famous Nepali church director, Mani Lal Poudyal. Mr. Gorkha is Chairman of the All Myanmar Gorkha Hinduligious Association, which has 36 offices in the state. Overall, he is pleased with the advances made by the Nepali fellowship in Myanmar and notes that he finds the people of Nepal in Myanmar more faithful than the Nepalis themselves these very day.

Whilst well linked to the other Hindus in the land, they differ in their celebrations, with the Nepali watching Dussehra and Teej in great ways, while the Indian Hindus do so for Raskha Bandhan and Diwali. There are about 360 Myanmar sanctuaries, mainly devoted to Ram, Pashupati (Siva) and Durga.

As Mani Lal Poudyal said: "Of the entire Nepali people in Myanmar, about twenty per cent are Buddhists. In the beginning, they did not use Nepali any more. Since they only used the Myanmar dialect, they became Buddhists. "The majority of weddings take place within the fellowship, but there are also lovers' weddings with Indian Hindus and others.

Pyin Oo Lwin also has a large Tamil congregation. Accompanied by our Fuhrer, Vijay Gupta, a business man and Hindu church director, we went to Tamil Vishnu Temple in Jheel Basti Village. Arumugam, the clergyman here, comes from Nepal and studied southern India styled poetry from his sire.

He said that five hundred Tamils could take part in big celebrations, while the near Nepalese in particular come to the service every day. Many Nepalese have in recent years turned primarily to Buddhism, but also to Christianity, because "the Hindu fellowship has not taken account of their needs and desires".

" It was a lowly Hindu example of a Hindu line who wanted to perform Havan for the sick mom, but no priests would go into the hous. Only a few kilometres from the Vishnutempple we met Tri Ratna Buddha Vihar, where a Vipassana mediaeval encampment was visited by 500 Burmese.

One of the people who recently made this old buddhistic practise popular was S.N. Goenka, a Burmese of India ancestry. We have found a committed staff of instructors who are teaching Hindus and Nepali kids in these countries. At night we went to the Ganesha sanctuary administered by the Tamil fellowship, where the rooms of the sanctuary were also used to educate the Hindoo kids in Tamil and even English.

We had unknowingly rescued one of the country's most amazing institution when we were in Myanmar for two wards. Vidya Peeth Dham Shri Rameshwar in Lakhu is known throughout Myanmar for the teachings of Sanskrit and the education of Sanskrit preachers. A native of Myanmar, Dutt spent 18 years studying Sanskrit in India, and Varanasi included.

Devananda long before he died in 2009 was insisting that Dutt should go on higher education in India, otherwise the Vedas and Sanatana Dharma schools would not be able to continue the Myanmar tradition. There are even Buddhist Benedictine Buddhist friars coming to Sanskrit, which will help them read their Pali writings.

In the last few years Dutt estimated that they have educated about 700 clergymen, who now serve in sanctuaries all over the world. When you consider that this is about 35% of all Myanmar clergy, you get a feeling for the importance of this institute. For example, the Nepali Dharmasala in Mandalay preacher, Harish Chandra Ghimre, 30, studied his trade at this Lakhu training centre in a four-year course.

"It is our mission to spread and foster our own faith and our own vocabulary among our peoples and thereby strengthen the social and religious community," Dutt sums up. He plans to create a talented and energetic graduate staff of a decade of outstanding, energetic, knowledgeable and absolutely committed individuals who will work to improve the Hindu Buddhas throughout Myanmar.

It is also hoped that with the improved policy context it will be possible to educate Hindu saints and Indian academics in Myanmar. Although I have done my best to present all the facts and information I have gathered, I still have the feeling that I am not living up to the vast history of the Hindus of Myanmar.

I was on the one side moved and struck by the Hindu fellowship that lives so in harmony with the vast majority of Buddhists. Hinduism in Myanmar has as good a shot at being passed on to the next generations as it has around the globe with the vibrant governance of the SDSS, the achievement of organizations like Shri Rameshwar Vidya Peeth Dham under Dr. Vishnu Dutt Mandavya, and the work of churches and church directors.

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