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Part 1



The Royal Symbol




The Royal Symbol

King of Burma

King of England

Emperor of Japan

President of Burma State

President Union of Burma

The National Emblem

The Achievement of State

Kingdom of Burma

Colony of Burma

Burma State

Union of Burma








In the 16th century Burma reached its largest extend by the rule of the Taungoo Dynasty.  King Bayinnaung conquered Ava in 1555, Shan States (1557), Lan Na (Chiang Mai) (1558), Manipur (1559), Ayutthaya (Siam) (1564, 1569), and Lan Xang (Laos) (1574), bringing much of western and central mainland Southeast Asia under his rule. Bayinnaung's massive empire unraveled soon after his death in 1581. Siam declared independence in 1584 and went to war with Burma until 1605. By 1593, Taungoo had lost its possessions in Siam, Lang Xang and Manipur. Taking advantage of Burma's preoccupation with Siam, Arakanese forces aided by Portuguese mercenaries sacked Pegu in 1599. Chief mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote promptly established Goa-backed Portuguese rule at Thanlyin in 1603. The country was in chaos.

Bayinnaung's grandson King Anaukpetlun defeated the Portuguese in 1613, and reestablished a smaller, more manageable kingdom based in Ava covering Upper Burma, Lower Burma (to Tavoy), Shan States and Lan Na. The kingdom entered a gradual decline, starting in the late 17th century. From the 1730s onwards, the Upper Chindwin valley was under annual raids by the Manipuris. The Mons in lower Irrawaddy valley began a rebellion in 1740, and in 1747 established a new Hanthawaddy Kingdom based in Pegu (Bago). In 1752, Hanthawaddy conquered Ava, putting an end to the House of Taungoo.

King Alaungpaya (1752-‘60), established the Konbaung Dynasty in Shwebo in 1752. By his death in 1760, Alaungpaya had reunified the country. The Qing Dynasty of China invaded four times from 1765 to 1769 without success. The Chinese invasions allowed the new Siamese kingdom based in Bangkok to repel the Burmese out of Siam by the late 1770s.

King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) failed repeatedly to reconquer Siam in the 1780s and 1790s. Bodawpaya did manage to capture the western kingdom of Rakhine (Arrakan) which had been largely independent since the fall of Bagan, in 1784. Bodawpaya also formally annexed Manipur, a rebellion-prone protectorate, in 1813.

King Bagyidaw's (1819-‘37) general Maha Bandula put down a rebellion in Manipur in 1819 and captured the then independent kingdom of Assam in 1819 (again in 1821). The new conquests brought the Burmese adjacent to British India. The British defeated the Burmese in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-‘26). Burma had to cede Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan) and Tanintharyi (Tenessarim).

In 1852, the British attacked a much weakened Burma during a Burmese palace power struggle. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War, the British had captured the remaining coastal provinces: Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago, naming the territories as Lower Burma.

King Mindon (1853-‘78) founded Mandalay in 1859 and made it his capital. He skillfully navigated the growing threats posed by the competing interests of Britain and France. His successor, King Thibaw (1878-‘85), was largely ineffectual. In 1885, the British, alarmed by the French conquest of neighboring Laos, occupied Upper Burma. The Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) lasted a mere one month insofar as capturing the capital Mandalay was concerned. The Burmese royal family was exiled to Ratnagiri, India.


Colonial Era (1886 – 1948)

The United Kingdom began conquering Burma in 1824. For a period of sixty-two years, Burma was under British control. By 1886, Britain had incorporated it into the British Raj. Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1 April 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony, independent of the Indian administration.

During World War II, Burma became a major frontline in the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British administration collapsed ahead of the advancing Japanese troops. Initially the Japanese-led Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled from most of Burma. A Japanese puppet state, the State of Burma, was founded, led by Burmese dissidents which lasted from 1943 until 1945. The British counterattacked and by July 1945, the British had retaken the country.



By treaty of 27 January 1947 Burma became an independent member of the Commonwealth on 16 July  following. On 4 January 1948, the nation retired from the Commonwealth and became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth.






The Kings of Burma

until 1885





*1808 - 1878.10.01


*1859 - 1925.11.24



So far as we know the peacock (Mayura in sanskrit an Undaung in burmese) was the royal symbol of Burma from time immemorial. It is known from the first Myanmar Empire of the 11th -13th century A.D..

Even when the peacock in Burmese culture is of considerable ancient origin, we must keep in mind that the oldest representations date from the Chinese 7th century B.C.. We may also point to the fact  that the peacock usually symbolizes high ranking officials, in Roman times a prefectus, in China a civil official of the third rank.


The peacock was also adopted by the Burmese kings from the House of Konbaung. In buddhism “peacocks are said to have the ability of eating poisonous plants without being affected by them. Because of that, they are synonimous with the great bodhisattvas. A bodhisattva is able to take delusions as the path toward liberation and transform the poisonous mind of ignorance, desire and hatred [moha, raga, dvesa] into the thought of enlightenment or bodhicitta, which opens colourfully like the peacocks' tail.”

By adopting the peacock as a royal symbol, the king is presenting himself as a bodhisattva.


Coins of the 1852 Burmese series of King Pagan (1846-’52)  showing a peacock


In Europe the peacock on the Burmese coins was ‘translated’ into a coat of arms:

Arms: Argent, a peacock in his pride proper.

(Crown: A nine-pointed crown) [1]


Such a peacock is also on a Burmese wall hanging:

Foto New York Public Library

Undaung (Peacock)

The Peacock Emblem of  the King of Burma, representing the sun, in gilt spangled work on black cloth (kulágá)

On the bordure four beasts, probably chinthe.


And sculpures of it were used in Burmese temples like the early 20th century peacock from the collection of the Tropenmusem in Amsterdam


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


Excursion:   The Chinthe and the  Sar Mayee




As a temple guard


Besides the peacock, which seems to be closely associated to the King himself, two other symbols of rank appear in 19th century Burma, accentuating the military power of the king.


The first is a chinthe or lion, in Burmese legends noted for his bravery and thus considered to be the best guardian for religious shrines and edifices. In buddhist iconography we find lions in their role of dharma protectors supporting the throne of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. In the case of Burma, the lions are protecting the throne of the king, presenting himself as a bodhisattva, symbolized by a peacock.

The symbolism of the lion is the same almost everywhere in the world.

It is common to see statues of lions in front of, or around, the pagodas in Burma. In the Chinese system of symbols of rank the chinthe is known as shizi and is the emblem of a military official of the second rank.


1 Mu , 2 Mu 1Pe and 1 Kyat pieces, 1866.


The Chinthe was printed on a series of coins issued after the murder of Kanaung Mintha, a younger brother and complice of King Mindon (1820-’66).

Kanaung Mintha was appointed as Heir Apparent with the title of Maha Uparaja Anaudrapa Ainshe Min on 11 July 1853. He was a skillful administrator and he tried to rebuild the Burmese Army with modern weapons by sending men to study in Western countries, and established an arms industry. He was the fiery “War Prince” and the peoples’ idol, expected to succeed King Mindon. He was considered a visionary who attempted to modernise the country.

In an unsuccessful palace coup on 2 August 1866 by the princes Myingun and Myinkhondaing (sons of King Mindon), Kanaung was killed and the king himself had a very narrow escape.

His quality of “War Prince” and Heir apparent seems to match with a chinthe. The chinthe’s on coins of 1866 seem to apply to him.



Two Quarter-pice and a 5 Mu  piece, 1878.

Showing a Sar Mayee within a legend.


The second is a sar mayee or wild ox, known in the Chinese system as qilin and being the emblem of a military official of the first rank. [2]

A Sar Mayee was printed on a series of coins of 1878.


The rebellion of 1866 caused Mindon great reluctance in naming a successor to Kanaung for fear of civil war. One of his queens, Hsinbyumashin, dominated the last days of King Mindon. It was an edict by Hsinbyumashin that ordered almost all possible heirs to the throne be killed, so that her daughter Supayalat and son-in-law Thibaw would become queen and king. Close royals of all ages and both genders were mercilessly executed, after being tricked that the dying king wanted to bid them farewell.

Thibaw was appointed as Heir Apparent with the titles of Maha Uparaja Anaudrapa Ainshe Min and Sri Pawara Maha Suriya Dharmaraja, on 19 September 1878 and succeeded on the death of his father, 1 October 1878. He seems to have had an even higher rank than his paternal uncle. The sar mayee, matching the rank of supreme commander, seems to apply to him:


A Sar Mayee or Kanglasha nowadays is the national symbol of Manipur State and may have been introduced there by Burmese Generals in the period of Burmese occupation (1813-’26).



After the second coronation of Thibaw on 23 May 1880 the peacock seems to have been the royal emblem again. It was on the back of his, very European style, throne or seat:


A throne and King Thibaw and his queen Sri Prabha Ratna Devi (†1925)

On the back, crested with a quasi-achievement consisting of a

crowned shield supported by two winged dragons reguardant, a peacock in his pride.


The Emperors of India and the Kings of Great Britain

1886 - 1948


The Royal arms of


Edward VII

George V

Edward VIII

George VI








A quarterly of England, Scotland and Ireland, crowned with the royal crown and surrounded by the strap of the Order of the Garter was the emblem of the Kings of England and Emperos of India..


The Flag of the Governors General of India


The flag of the Governors General of India consisted of the Union Jack charged in the middle with the badge of India, being the crowned star of the Order of the Star of India.


The Governor’s flag of:

Archibald Douglas Cochrane

Reginald Hugh Dorman-Smith






The Emperor of Japan



The Imperial Arms of Hirohito




The symbol of the Emperor of Japan in the time of the occupation of Burma was the kiku-mon or golden chrysantemum.


President of Burma State



The Presidential symbol of Ba Maw



No presidential symbol of Ba Maw is known


The Emperor of India, King of Great Britain



The Royal Arms of  George VI



As the royal arms were the personal emblem of King George VI, they were not changed during his lifetime.


The Governor’s Flag of

Hubert Elvin Rance


Reginald Hugh Dorman-Smith


Hubert Elvin Rance



As the status of British Crown Colony was resumed after the reconquest of Burma, the use of the heraldic symbols of the Governor, that is to say the Governor’s flag, was continued.


The President of the Republic of Burma



The President’s standard of

Sao Shwe Taik

Ba U

Win Maung






After the proclamation of independence on 4 January 1948, a president’s standard appeared, consisting of a peacock on an orange cloth.

Order of the Star of the Revolution (established 1953)

On this star the background of the peacock is of white enamel. In another version the background is gold


In the early years of the Union of Burma the Order of the Star of the Revolution was established. Its badge was insipred by the British Burmese Governor’s badge and was probably also meant to be the badge of the President of the Union. For the purpose  the design of the peacock was changed and a listel with a motto was added.


Ne Win

General San Yu

Sein Lwin

Maung Maung

Saw Maung

Than Shwe

Chairman revolutionary council 1962-74’/ 4th President 1974-‘81

5th President 1981-1988

6th President 1988

7th President 1988

Chairman SLORC 1988-1992

8th president 1992-present


After the military coup of 1962 the president’s standard was not seen anymore. Instead the military leaders displayed sometimes the flag of the supreme commander of the Burmese armed forces, being of three stripes light blue, red and dark blue (the colours of the air force, the army and the navy) with a five-pointed yellow star in the middle:



N.B. This is not the flag of the (present) Burmese Armed Forces!


National Emblem



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© Hubert de Vries 2010-06-11


[1] Hefner, O.T. von, M. Gritzner & A.M. Hildebrandt: Die Wappen der Ausserdeutschen Souveräne und Staaten. Baner & Raspe. Nürnberg, 1856 Taf. 144.

[2]  Erroneously translated in the West as unicorn.

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