Will Thamanya Sayadaw’s Body Ever Rest in Peace?
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Friday, May 24, 2019


Will Thamanya Sayadaw’s Body Ever Rest in Peace?



Body snatchers cart off the remains of a legendary abbot. Is the theft linked to the junta, the result of astrologers’ advice, a jealous rival abbot, or was it the action of loyal disciples?

IT was a dark night on April 2 when the body of the revered U Winaya, the Thamanya Sayadaw (abbot), one of Burma’s holiest monks, was mysteriously stolen.

According to the guard on duty, a group of unidentified armed men drove up to the building, tied him up, and demanded the key to the bullet-proof glass leading to the tomb where the body of the Thamanya Sayadaw, who died in 2003, was kept.

The Thamanya Sayadaw in Karen State was a vocal admirer of aung San Suu Kyi, right, and a well-known critic of the military government.
The raiders learned they couldn’t access the inner glass and marble sanctum containing the abbot’s preserved body, because a senior monk alone held the key. They smashed the glass door of the tomb encasing the body and carried it out, along with the abbot’s pure gold rosary. They put the body into a Toyota truck and sped off into the night.

Four days later, monks at the Thamanya Monastery received an anonymous telephone call claiming the abbot’s body had been burned and the ashes left at Kaw Ka Dah village near the edge of the monastery grounds. At the site—a small chedi dedicated to the sayadaw—former aides discovered a small heap of ashes, together with charred bones and the handles of the abbot’s glass coffin.

For a brief time, the charred remains were put on display, but fearful they might be violated again and also uncertain whether they were indeed his remains, monks decided to put the ashes under lock and key. Authorities in Pa-an promised to investigate the strange disappearance, but after a few days the issue went quiet.

A Yadaya chae-inspired Plot

The abbot was an admirer of and spiritual adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi and often expressed his admiration for the democracy leader and criticized the military government. For some, the disappearance of the abbot’s body in the weeks leading up the referendum appeared to be highly significant. Indeed, many believed his body was stolen in a bizarre yadaya chae-inspired plot, designed to cheat fate and help the military regime win the referendum. Yadaya chae is a uniquely Burmese practice intended to reverse bad fate by taking active steps to change the future, based on the advice of an astrologer.

The abbot’s refusal to endorse the regime when he was alive was a continuing source of embarrassment for the generals. Tales are legendary of the abbot’s preference for Aung San Suu Kyi over the hapless former Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt, who was reportedly subjected to a series of humiliations when he visited the monastery at Thamanya Mountain.

Bestowing high honors on the abbot in an attempt to get his public support only resulted in embarrassment to the regime. When, at last, ill health forced the abbot to move to Rangoon, Khin Nyunt gladly paid his hospital bills and a wheelchair-bound Ne Win reportedly visited him, but, maddeningly for the generals, it was to Aung San Suu Kyi’s house the monk went following his discharge from the hospital.

Senior generals and their families are well-known for patronizing astrologers such as E Thi and Daw Da Mae Thi in search of answers to political conundrums and indulging in extraordinary yadaya chae rituals to reverse the problems of state. The overnight transformation of banknote denominations in 1987 that wiped out half the country’s currency, the sudden, hysterical, nationwide promotion of physic nut (kyet sue) fields—now all but abandoned—and the astrologically approved move of the government to Naypidaw are but a few examples of the regime’s bizarre extremes of behaviour during the last few decades.

Stealing the Thamanya Sayadaw’s remains, for some, is seen as a gruesome ritual designed somehow to reverse potential misfortune. They say it is well within the realm of possibility, especially in the run up to the referendum while the regime was extraordinarily tense about achieving approval of the constitution.

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