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Some Moral Lessons That Can Be Learnt from History

Pa Dauk Pan

There are many moral lessons that you can learn from History if you would seek for them. Especially so from the history of your own nation or country because it is your own heritage and you feel you are connected with it. The passage of time does not stand as a barrier between you and these events in the past that call out to you. “Look here, man, why not to try and learn some valuable lesson from this memorable incident!”

Let’s take an example.

Bagan (Pagan) some nine hundred years ago. What happened then and there — ie, certain memorable incidents — still stand out vividly in the mind’s eye of the historian, I mean, one who is historically minded. The incidents that surrounded the execution of Anantathuriya, the learned counselor at the court of Narapatisithu, are replete with moral lessons.

A Family of Villainous Tyrants

Anawrahta‘s dynasty began to decline after the death of Alaungsithu. Narathu came to the throne after murdering his aged and dying father Alaungsithu. He also treacherously killed his elder brother Minshinsaw who challenged him. The people were feeling disgusted with the immorality of their rulers. Narathu’s offspring took after him. Naratheinkha, the elder brother, succeeds his father. To the misfortune of the family, an exceptionally beautiful maiden named Veluvati said to be born out of a big bamboo, (Velu means bamboo in Pali) was presented to the king. She was refused by the king because her ear lobes were too big. So he gave her to his younger brother Narathihapate. When the Queen Mother got her daughter-in-law’s ear lobes trimmed into the right shape, Veluvati’s beauty became most attractive. Then the king gets infatuated with his sister-in-law. He coveted her. So he sent his younger brother on an expedition to suppress a bogus rebellion away in the north. The brother had forebodings about the King’s evil intention concerning his wife, and before leaving he gave orders to his servant Nga Pyi to immediately report to him should any mishap occur at his house.

As soon as Nga Pyi learned that the king had taken his brother’s wife, and made her queen, he set out at dawn on horseback to tell the news to his master. After crossing the Chindwin river he came to a creek. There, as dusk fell, he thought the sandy bed of the creek to be a stream. His horse was pretty tired. He decided it would be wiser if he were to cross the stream only in the morning. So he fed the horse and rested for the night there. Early next dawn, he crossed the sandy bed of the dry creek and reported to his master. He explained to the prince that he encamped on the farther side of the dried-up creek because he mistook the sandy stretch as a stream of water to be crossed. The prince was furious. “You stupid fellow! One hour’s time could be put to good use by me,” he bellowed and put Nga Pyi to the sword.

The Prince Narapatisithu sent Aung Swar Nge to Bagan to assassinate the king with the promise that if the mission is accomplished, Aung Swar Nge would be rewarded with any one of the prince’s three sisters-in-law. However, after Aung Swa Nge and his band had accomplished their bloody mission, the usurper King Narapatisithu, swayed by the tearful entreaties of his sisters-in-law, told Aung Swa Nge he could choose any other lady of the court but not one of the King’s sisters-in-law. At this, the rash youth disdainfully retorted: “Fie! Is this the way a king could go back on his own word?”. Narapatisithu would not put up with such insolence: he despatched Aung Swa Nge on the spot.

The anger of Narapatisithu, now well settled on the throne, spread to another victim. Anantathuriya was honored by Alaungsithu to ear his robe after the customary fashion of royal princes. This was resented by Minshinsaw who openly spoke his mind and for which he was banished by the king. Narapatisithu held grudge against Anantathuriya for having enjoyed this privilege granted by his grandfather during Naratheinkha’s reign also. Besides this old grudge, Narapatisithu considered that as a tutor to his elder brother, the late king, Anantathuriya tacitly approved the seduction of his wife Veluvati by the king. So, on these flimsy grounds, he ordered the execution of Anantathuriya. The learned mentor, at the hour of his execution, composed a poem and sent it to the king. The translation of this famous poem is given below:

Anantathuriya’s last words

So that someone may rise in life,

another one has to fall.

Such is the way of the world.

The glory of kingship midst royal splendour

Surrounded by august ministers

may seem most satisfying.

Yet the pleasures afforded by regal state are short-lived,

just like the bubble that rises

on the surface of the ocean.

Should by any chance the King might spare my life and set me free,

how long will I live? For there is none who can escape death.

My body is impermanent, liable to break up any moment.

I now pay my last respects to your Majesty.

If, in the great wheel of existences,

I might perchance meet with my royal persecutor,

I have no wish to retaliate: I have forgiven him.

I assign my death to the law of impermanence only,

to which my body is subject.

When the king heard the poem read out to him he felt greatly remorseful and ordered the release of his old mentor. But it was too late: the executioners had already carried out the King’s orders. The king killed them for not presenting the poem to him before the execution, but only after. Then he ordered the chief executioner, the king’s kinsman, that from now on when he commanded a man to be executed, the order be withheld for a month or so. After a thorough inquiry, if the condemned person did not deserve death, let live. Only when the case called for a death penalty should the man be executed.