How the rainbow was made: Myanmar’s Romeo and Juliet

Once, while my father and me were crossing the river from Mandalay to Sagaing in a small boat (now a beautiful bridge had been built), I was stunned by a beautiful rainbow and mountainous scenery. It was then my father drew my attention to the rainbows. “My child, you know, the rainbow formation started in the days of ancient Myanmar kings”. Naturally, I asked why, and as usual this leaded to my father telling a story which runs like this:

A long time ago, a handsome prince named Min Nandar (မင္းနန္းဒါ) who lived in the Kingdom of Okkalapa, (what is now Yangon) had extraordinary powers, he could summon living creatures. One of the creatures he summoned, he giant crocodile named Nga Moe Yeik (ငမိုးရိပ္) became his friend, and even if Nga Moe Yeik was the king of crocodiles, he always came to the bank of the river when Min Nandar called him. Across the river, there was a city called Thanlyin; and the king there many years ago had lost his beloved queen while she was giving birth to their child. They thought the baby was dead as well, but fortunately it was discovered at the graveside that the child who was still in her mother’s womb was not dead. Sadly for the baby, she had to be kept away, in a separate palace outside the city because some traditional belief led people to believe that if she were brought back inside the city walls, she would bring bad luck.

So the princess, Shin Mwe Loon (ရွင္ေမြးႏြန္း) grew up lonely and isolated in her tower. But she also grew up lovely and beautiful. Hearing about her beauty, Min Nandar went to visit the prince, and just as you heard in other stories, they fell in love. But the Okkalapa King, who was Prince Min Nanar’s father, became furious about his only son’s plan to make a girl of such bad fortune to a queen, so he did not allow any boatman to take the prince across the river. However, despite his father’s ban, Min Nandar managed to cross the river every night to go and see his princess, as he traveled not by boat, but with his dear friend. He rode on the back of Nga Moe Yeik to see his princess. The king crocodile was very pleased to help him and to carry him back at dawn before his father could find out.

But, good luck is not forever for a young prince. One night, when he came back from the princess crossing the river with Nga Moe Yeik’s, they got attacked in the river by other crocodiles that wanted to overthrow the king of crocodiles. Nga Moe Yeik was kept so busy fighting them off that he stayed too long underwater, and the poor prince drowned dead.

The princess Shin Mwe Loon, was so desperate at the loss of her beloved prince that she died of a broken heart. People from both Kingdoms sat up their funeral pyres at the same time on opposite banks of the river. Smoke rose from each pyre and met in the sky, and then turned into a beautiful rainbow. People believed that the two lovers were re-united in heaven.

This is how rainbow were created in Myanmar. Even though no one believes it to be the truth, it is still a popular story told to children. So, the rainbow is not just a rainbow, it is the symbol of Min Nandar and Shin Mwe Loon drama and love story that continued in heaven, way before Romeo and Juliet. But it is also simply the symbol of love in Myanmar.

Aung Ph Zaw