The Maha Gita

The complete body of Burmese classical songs is usually referred to as, the "Maha Gita," meaning great or royal song. The repertoire is also sometimes referred to as "Thachin Gyi," or great songs. These were the songs of the royal Burmese courts and form the basis of Burmese classical music. The Maha Gita repertoire is pervasive in the performance of Burmese music. It forms the basis of shared tradition of the chamber music ensemble, the hsaing ensemble, as well as that of solo instrument performances such as the piano. The Maha Gita also provides much of the basis for music in the theater, both the puppet theater and that which employs live actors.

The Maha Gita exists in printed collections of the songs texts. There are no traditional examples in notation. No system of notation exists in the Burmese tradition. During the 1960s, an adaption of the Chinese cipher notation system was used for notation of the single melodic line. A few examples of the skeletal structural patterns of the music have been printed in Burma, in Western notation, from time to time since the 1940s.

The printed text collections organize the songs into types as follows:

The Maha Gita

Kyo Songs
Bwe Songs
Tachin Hkan
Kyo, Bwe and Tachin Hkan are thought to be the oldest parts of the repertoire and contain a great number of songs.
Patt Pyou Songs
Patt Pyou is a song type that was very popular in the court and contains the largest number of songs in the collection.
Loung Chin
Songs of longing
Lei Dwei Than Kat
A group of two special songs.
Myin Gin
Music to make the horses dance.
Nat Chin
Nat Chin are songs from the repertoire of the worship and propitiation of the 37 Nats, a native Burmese religion which exists along side and in harmony with Buddhism.
Yodaya Songs
Yodaya songs are those which were introduced from Ayuthia in Thailand as well as songs which were later composed in that style.
Talaing Than
Talaing Than are songs of the Mon minority in Burma.
Bole are laments and songs of sorrow.

In addition to this body of court songs, there are a number of instrumental pieces in the form of opening music for the theater which are called "Panama Ti'loun," or "first pieces". There are a number of instrumental types associated with the Royal Palace Watch, such as the "neyi," the first music played each morning in the royal palace and the "yegin," played as the watch musicians navigated the moat around the royal palace. A number of rhythmic and melodic types borrowed from folk repertoire, such as "byo," "si daw," and "dophat" also are included in the corpus of Burmese traditional music, although not formally part of the Maha Gita.

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last updated 30 October 1995