San San May, British Library
During the reign of King Mindon (1853-1878), Burmese artists were officially appointed at the royal court. One of the duties of the royal painters was to record important events at the court and scenes from royal life in folding books (parabaik). Those paintings from the Konbaung period were forerunners of Burmese fine arts. Sixteen scenes of court ceremonies and entertainments are in the 19th century court parabaik, Or.16761. Scenes in the folding book are painted in water colours and enclosed in yellow panels, with a single line of explanatory text in Burmese script. Subjects include elephant herding, royal processions on land and by river, ceremonial ploughing, elephant taming, javelin throwing, coronation ceremony, elephant fighting, blessing ceremony, traditional cane ball game, dramatical performance, boxing, cock-fighting and royal barge procession. In ancient times these ceremonies were not only royal occasions but also the people’s occasions as they were competitions.
Every Burmese king longed to possess a white elephant (Sinpyudaw) as they believed white elephants were signs and symbols of power and sovereignty. These auspicious white elephants were kept as an ornament or royal regalia when they were found. According to the story of the life of Buddha, Queen Mahamaya dreamt of a young white elephant after conceiving of Lord Buddha. They are regarded as a blessing for peace and prosperity in other Buddhist stories as well.
In the time of the Burmese Monarchy, the royal ploughing ceremony (Lehtun Mingala) was held in the month of Warso (June to July) to ensure a good harvest to the whole country.
Mr & Mrs Macfarlane of London donated this manuscript, which had been in Mrs Macfarlane’s family since her grandfather acquired it in 1898, to the British Library in October 2010. The manuscript has been digitised and is available on the library’s Digitised Manuscripts Viewer.