Religion and Beliefs
Ponnya from Sale (c. 1812- c. 1867) is one of the most prominent writers and monk-astrologers in 19th century Burma, caught up in the violent and vibrant intercultural encounter between the Konbaung kingdom and the British Empire. It was a time of intellectual and conceptual transition, when started to emerge the distinction between Buddhist orthodox religious practices on the one side, and astrological and divinatory practices on the other side. These worldly practices and knowledge (lokī paññā) were part of the religious field just as it was the case elsewhere in South and Southeast Asia.
Ponnya was born towards the end of Bodawphaya’s reign (1782-1819), the Konbaung king who endeavoured to « brahmanize » the Burmese court rituals together with the astrological and divinatory practices. Thus I explore Ponnya’s astrological and divinatory practices and I question their origin. Then I show how Ponnya had to leave the monkhood three times in order to become a royal counsellor, and then had to take the robe again, which had become a common practice under King Bodawphaya’s reign. Finally, I examine Ponnya’s posthumous fame. The accuracy of his predictions – notably those informing the British presence in Burma – and the quality of his astrological poems durably captivated the Burmese intelligentsia during the post-colonial times.