The earliest Myanmar literature was primarily of a religious nature and was inscribed on stone. These inscriptions go as far back as the Bagan period in the 11th century.
Palm-leaf manuscripts and folded paper manuscripts came into existence only after the 15th century. The literature during this period was mainly concerned with the Janaka tales told by the Buddha to his disciples in answer to certain questions. It was in the form of drama and epistles or missives, written in verse. Works on law and history were written in prose. Many dramas were written during the 16th to 18th centuries, while in the 19th century, poems, drama, and chronicles were produced.
After Myanmar fell to the British, the country's literature began to reflect the impact of a Western culture; the arrival of the printing press also influenced literature, which previously had been written for a much smaller audience. Plays that had been written for the court became widely available; these plays were not performed on the stage but were meant to be read.
Novels were a later development; the first Myanmar novel was an adaptation of Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, but written in a Myanmar setting.
Myanmar classical literature is flowery with long, difficult sentences and is concerned with the supernatural and magical. Originating from the court of the Myanmar kings, it was greatly influenced by Buddhist Pali and Sanskrit sources.
Modern Myanmar literature can be said to have had its beginnings in the 1930s when the University of Yangon was founded and the Department of Myanmar Studies established. There was a new development in literature known as the khitsan movement whose writers used a simple and direct style that has continued to this day.
Present-day literature is still dominated by religious works, although there are many novels, short stories, poems, children's books, translations of foreign works, and works on culture, art, and science. Popular fiction consists mostly of romantic novels. Literary awards are presented annually. Many well-known writers are retired government servants, some of whom have worked or are working in institutes of higher learning. Most writers have a permanent job and write only in their spare time.
The Myazedi Inscription is a four-sided stone inscription executed in A.D.1113 by Prince Rajakumara. It records the merit of the building of a pagoda in Bagan by the prince for his dying father, King Kyansittha. The inscription is written in Myanmar, Pyu, Mon and Pali and was discovered in 1887. The discovery of this inscription both proved that Myanmar was used in the Bagan period and permitted the deciphering of the Pyu language, which had not been possible previously.