Dhaka: The 73rd anniversary of the death of Ven. U Oattama, respected as the Beacon of Burma’s Independence was observed by the Arakanese people as well as the regional government with extraordinary public gatherings across Arakan State on the 9th of September.
It is learnt that Ven. U Oattama Day could be observed in such public gatherings this year as there was no restrictions like previous years. The regional government itself observed the day.
U Khine Pray Soe, a spokesperson of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, told Narinjara that the regional government as well as political parties, social organizations and the general people had observed the day on this anniversary in the regional capital Sittwe.
“The state government held a ceremony commemorating the day in the memorial hall of Ven. U Oattama, while our party did so in our head office in Sittwe. Other social organizations, including the Union of Arakanese University Students and the Union of Buddhist Monks also observed the day by marching to his holiness’s memorial park, offering wreaths and paying homage to his statue in the park. People marked the day offering meals and donations to Buddhist monks in their respective residential wards as well”, said U Khine Pray Soe.
He also praised the regional government for observing the anniversary of Ven. U Oattama.
“It is a very good deed of our state government to have held this 73rd anniversary of Ven. U Oattama Day by itself. We have had to submit our application for observing the day every year before this. This year we do not need any applications or permission and we are very happy to have such freedom for observing the day”, he said.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) also observed the anniversary of the venerable monk in Taunggup, a southeastern town in Arakan State.
U Khin Hla, the regional leader of the NLD, while speaking to Narinjara said, “Our venerable monk U Oattama is such a great person who had endeavored to work not only for the interests of Arakanese people, but also for the independence and the interests of the whole of Burma. He is the benefactor who opened the eyes and ears of the people in Burma urging them to gain their freedom from slavery under the British colonial rule. So, we observe his day, remembering him with gratitude for his sacrifices and selfless deeds he had done for us in his lifetime.”
Over 200 people are said to have attended the NLD’s ceremony of Ven. U Oattama Day and they were received with meals.
The RNDP also held a ceremony around 12 pm on the day in the biggest Buddhist chapel in Taunggup to observe the anniversary.
The residents in Kyaukpru also marked the anniversary of the Ven. U Oattama with many youths in traditional dresses taking part in a procession carrying the portraits of the venerable monk and the national and religious flags and offering prayers and lights in the Buddhist temples in the town.
“We hold the Day of Asian Sun Ven. U Oattama with the aim of preventing his legacy disappearing from history and to make our young Arakanese generations remember him so that they can inherit his morale and ideal, and emulate his aspirations”, said Ko Aung Myint Soe, a youth leader from Kyaukpru.
It is also learnt that the 73rd anniversary of Ven. U Oattama was also widely observed in towns and rural villages of Mrauk-U, Minbya, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung, Maungdaw, Pauktaw and Mraybon in Arakan State.
The Ven Ottama anniversary was also held by Arakanese communities in many countries including Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Demark, Bangladesh and USA.
A Short Biography of U Ottama
He was born Paw Tun Aung, son of Mra Tha Oo, in Rupa, a district of Sittwe in western Burma. Paw Tun Aung assumed the religious name Ottama when he entered the Buddhist monkhood.
Ashin Ottama studied in Calcutta for three years, until he passed the vernacular. He then travelled around India, and to France and Egypt.
In January, 1907 he went to Japan, where he taught Pali and Sanskrit at the Academy of Buddhist Science in Tokyo. He then travelled to Korea, Manchuria, Port Arthur, China, Annam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. In Saigon, he met with an exiled former Burmese prince, Myin Kun (who led a rebellion along with Prince Myin Khondaing in 1866, and assassinated the heir to the Burmese Crown, Crown Price Kanaung).
Anti-colonial and political activities
Upon his return to British Burma, U Ottama started his political activities, touring the country, lecturing for YMBA (Young Men Buddhist Association) and giving anti-colonial speeches. In 1921, he was arrested for his infamous “Craddock, Go Home!” speech against the Craddock Scheme by Sir Reginald Craddock, the then Governor of British Burma. He was imprisoned several times for sedition, but he carried on. He was one of the first monks to enter the political arena and the first person in British Burma to be imprisoned as a result of making a political speech, followed by a long line of nationalists such as Aung San and U Nu. According to academics, between 1921 and 1927, U Ottama spent more time in prison than outside.
While Ashin Ottama did not hold any post in any organization, he encouraged and participated in many peaceful demonstrations and strikes against British rule. An admirer of Gandhi, he did not advocate the use of violence.
He represented the Indian National Congress at the funeral of Dr Sun Yat-Sen in June 1929. The only time he held a post was as leader of the All India Hindu Mahasabhas in 1935.
U Ottama was imprisoned in the late 1930s for his nationalist political activities. In protest of recent political events, U Ottama went on a hunger strike, which the British colonial government ignored. Finally, he died in prison in 1939.
U Ottama is seen as both the first true martyr of Burmese nationalism and father of the modern Arakanese nationalist movement. U Ottama was the first of Myanmar’s long list of political monks, who stood up for the Burmese people in times of strife, either under colonial, democratic, socialist or military rule. His monastery in Sittwe, the Shwe Zedi Monastery, continues to be an important focal point in the Burmese political movement – the recent August-September 2007 riots were sparked when monks at the Shwe Zedi monastery began to march to the Sittwe Prison demanding the release of an activist.