Monday, December 28, 2009

Birthday Anniversary of Monk Leader

By ARKAR MOE Monday, December 28, 2009
Burmese democracy activists will celebrate the 130th anniversary of the birth of revered monk U Ottama (1979-1939) in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, and in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh this month. He is considered one of the national heroes of modern Burma.
U Ottama, a globe-trotting, respected monk was Arakanese, a popular author and one of the leaders of the Independence movement.

U Ottama is seen as the first of Burma's long list of “political” monks, who stood up for the Burmese people in times of strife, whether under colonial, democratic, socialist or military rule.

A Bangladeshi human rights activist, Amyotharyae Naing Naing, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, “We [Democracy groups in Bangladesh] celebrated the 130th anniversary of U Ottama this morning in Cox’s Bazar. We also honored all monks who are in jails or who are struggling for democracy and human rights.”

“Ashin Ottama was very brave and a good social monk. He called for justice and spoke openly and clearly for human rights. I hope many monks like U Ottama will appear in Burma.”

U Ottama studied in Calcutta for three years and became a lecturer in Pali at the Bengal National College. He spoke several languages. He was the foremost monk in Burma to have studied abroad. He traveled in Germany, France and England and studied world politics.

In January 1907, he went to Japan, where he taught Pali and Sanskrit at the Academy of Buddhist Science in Tokyo. He travelled to Korea, Manchuria, Port Arthur, China, Annam, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.

The Russo-Japanese war in 1904, in which Japan defeated Russia, was a turning point in Ashin Ottama’s life. He envied Japan and went to Japan in 1907, where he taught Pali and Sanskrit at the University of Buddhism in Tokyo for four years.

Ashin Sopaka, one of the leaders of the US-based International Burmese Monks’ Organization (known as Sasana MOLI) said, “His fiery words could motivate Burmese people to become national spirits free from fear. He could bring bright light to the dark, unfair regime.”

U Ottama was renowned for his opposition to British colonial rule. He organized the first anti-colonial activities through the General Council of Buddhist Associations (GCBA), employing the tactic of boycott campaigns.

In 1911, he spoke and wrote commentaries critical of the British in the nationalist newspaper, Suriya (The Sun). One of his most famous articles was titled “Craddock Go Home,” which appeared in Suriya in 1921 as an open letter to the then British governor, Sir Reginald Henry Craddock.

He met Chinese revolutionist Dr. Sun Yat-san in China and discussed the concept of independence for Asia.

After the first World War, he returned to Burma and campaigned for independence. U Ottama was imprisoned in the late 1920s for his nationalist political activities. He called for “home rule” for Burma.

In July 1921, he was among those who formed the Federation of the Sangha Unions. In March 1920, he was arrested for the first time in Dedaye Township and sentenced 12 months in jail with hard labor for accusing the British colonial government of being “a mediocre administration.” U Ottama was the first monk to be arrested in Burma for non-violent politic activities.

While U 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 advocated non-violence. U Ottama called for the boycott of all British products, the purchase and the consumption of local commodities and national unity.

In 1924, he was arrested again and sentenced to three years for defaming the British government.

Ashin Issariya, one of the leaders of the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA), the group that spearheaded the 2007 Saffron Revolution, said: “U Ottama led the way with his open-mind. We should take lessons from him because he was well-versed in world affairs, brave and courageous. He shared his knowledge and sacrificed for his followers. It showed he was a good leader.
Nowadays, we need many monks like U Ottama .”

The Burmese military authorities have long regarded his activities as anti-authoritarian and consequently a threat to the government.

After the military coup in 1988, the regime ordered the name of U Ottama Park near Shwe Dagon Pagoda, be changed back to its pre-war name, Kandawmin Park, a sign that U Ottama's legacy was still powerful among democracy activists.

U Ottama died on Sept. 9, 1939.


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