The Relic and the Rule of Righteousness: Reflections on U Nu’s Dhammavijaya

  • Tilman Frasch


With some degree of justification, the state of Myanmar/Burma1 since independence can be taken as a prototype of a state in crisis. Recent developments and events do not concern us here; rather I will look at the brief period during which Burma experienced a democratic government under Prime Minister U Nu—a period and a politician that have so far been portrayed with considerable sympathy by their contemporaries and historians alike, presumably because they stand for democracy, self-determination, nation-building, and other such positively charged events of life.2 Surely, this chapter does not endeavor to denigrate U Nu, but it seems that a more critical approach to and assessment of the person and his politics, both in program and in action, are overdue. This refers especially to the way in which he subjected politics to a higher purpose: politics should not only improve the welfare of the citizens of Burma materially, but also spiritually. U Nu worked toward this end in a variety of ways, which will be explored in this chapter. Between 1949 and 1957, U Nu had on several occasions Buddhist relics brought to Burma where they were shown around the country as a means of dhammavijaya—winning over the people by the display of Buddhist virtues rather than by force, following the example of the ideal Buddhist ruler Asoka.


Prime Minister Relic Cult Buddhist Monk Southeast Asian Study Interim Government 
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© John Whalen-Bridge and Pattana Kitiarsa 2013

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  • Tilman Frasch

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