Myanmar Religion and Languages

By | March 5, 2021

According to franciscogardening, Myanmar is a Southeast Asian country located between India, Bangladesh, China, and Thailand. It has a population of approximately 54 million people and covers an area of 676,578 square kilometers. The capital city is Naypyidaw, which is also the largest city in the country. The official language of Myanmar is Burmese but other languages such as Shan and Karen are also spoken. Myanmar has a long history as an independent state with strong ties to China and other neighboring countries. Its economy relies mainly on agriculture, hydrocarbons, timber, mining, and tourism. With a GDP of $67 billion USD in 2020, Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.


According to Countryaah, birth rates were high until the 1990s and there is still a large proportion of young people in the population. Immigration is scarce, but many people leave Burma every year. In official statistics there is no information on how large this emigration is. International organizations estimate that more than 2 million Burmese exist in surrounding countries as refugees or as guest workers. Among other things, there are 150,000 in refugee camps within the Thai border. It has not been uncommon for government-decided removals within the country by ethnic groups.

The average population density, 79 residents per km2 (2019), is lower than in neighboring countries, but the differences within Burma are large. Tightest populated area around Yangon with more than 400 per km2 and Irrawaddy Delta and Mandalayregionen (over 150 people per km2), while Kachin- and Chinstaterna has only just over 10 per km2. In 2019, 29 percent of the population lived in cities. Among the cities are Rangoon (4.7 million residents, 2014), Mandalay (1.2 million residents) and the new capital Naypyidaw.

For information on life expectancy and other demographic statistics, see Country facts.

Burma’s more than 60 people can roughly be divided into two main groups, on the one hand those who live on the plain and in the valleys, on the other the mountain people. This classification is not only ecological but sociocultural in a wider sense. In the lowlands, the residents are Buddhists and rely mostly on wetland cultivation; politically they are hierarchical, organized in traditional states or the principality. The mountain people live on sweat farming and grow mountain rice, maize, millet, root vegetables and vegetables; For some groups, hunting is an important part of the economy. They form egalitarian tribal communities and have local “animist” tribal religions.

The people living on the plain make up about 85 percent of Burma’s population. The majority are the Burmese, just over 70 percent of the total population. They speak Burmese and live in the plain along the Chindwin, Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers, along the Arakan and Tenasserim coasts. In addition to wetland cultivation, they feed on fishing and in central Burma also on the cultivation of cotton, maize and tobacco. The Burmese are sometimes also counted among the Burmese. The monk-Khmer-speaking monpeople founded one of Southeast Asia’s oldest civilizations; they were the driving force in the spread of Theravada Buddhism during the 600s and 700s. Today there are close to 1 million people in Burma, most in the area around Moulmein. They feed in the same way as the Burmese, but to a greater extent keep pets (buffalo, pigs, ducks and chickens).

In the cultural sense, shan (about 3 million), who lives on the high plateau in the country’s eastern part, also belongs to the border with Thailand, Laos and China. Shan speaks Thai; In addition to wet rice cultivation, they supply themselves with trade in, among other things, home-made ceramics, varnish and silver works and cotton fabrics.

Although most of the people living on the plain are Buddhists, in their religion there is a strong element of spirit worship (nat among Burmese and shan, phi thong among mon), and the difference between Buddhism and the peoples’ religions is therefore not absolute.

The mountain people consist of a large number of ethnic groups and subgroups. The Karenas (about 3 million) are found along the entire eastern border of Thailand; only about 1/3 of them still live as mountain people, while the rest now grow wet rice and are Buddhists. Their languages ​​form their own group within the Sino-Tibetan languages. Related to the karen are kayah, formerly called the red karen, who live between the karen and shan areas. In the shan area’s mountainous regions are smaller groups of monk-Khmer-speaking palaung and wa, as well as the Tibetan-Burmese lisu, lahu and akha. In the Shan area and in the northernmost part of the country are the Tibetan Burmesekachin (about 540,000); many kachin villages are politically linked to shan. Another 500,000 Kachin live elsewhere in Burma. In the west, along the border with India, there is chin (1.5 million); they are divided into a number of subgroups and feed partly on burning, and partly on trade with the lowland population on both the Burmese and the Indian side of the border. North of chin are smaller groups of naga.

The socio-cultural divide in the Plains and Mountains has since the 1960s been often overshadowed by the political contradiction between the Burmese state-bearing on the one hand and the minorities, on the other. both mon, arakan, karen, shan and the actual mountain people. These minorities, which have gradually organized themselves into the resistance movement National Democratic Front, demand political independence.


The official language is Burmese, a Tibetan Burmese language spoken by more than 2/3 of the population. To some extent, English is used in the teaching system and administration. Among the nearly 100 minority languages are the Tibetan Burmese kare, chin and kachin, the tais language shan and the mon – khmer language mon. See also Population and Ethnography above. Significant immigrant minorities speak Chinese or various Indian languages, mainly Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi.


In Burma, about 75% of the residents are Buddhists. Ceylonese chronicles tell that as early as Ashoka (250 BC) sent Buddhist missionaries to one of the kingdoms of what was then Burma, probably the moneland (see mon). Among the pyu people in central Burma (200-832 AD), there were both Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism and Tantric Buddhism. In 1057, when they finally triumphed over the monarchy from the northern immigrant Burmese, theravada Buddhism became official religion and has since dominated. The Buddhist monks, including novices, are estimated today (2010) to amount to more than 400,000. Burma is rich in pagodas (stupor), including Shwe Dagon (Golden Pagoda) in Rangoon with its relics of several Buddhas. Popular Buddhism includes the worship of local spiritual spirits (nats).

Almost 10% of the population is said to practice traditional domestic religion. The Christian share of the population amounts to about 8%. The oldest among the Christian communities is the Catholic Church, which began to operate in the country in 1544. The presence of the Protestants began in 1813 with a Baptist mission from the United States. Baptists are today the largest of the Christian communities in the country with 3.5% of the population as members. Just under 4% (probably a too low figure) of the population is said to be Muslims, most of whom are Sunni. About 2% practice Hinduism.

When Burma became British in 1885, this led to Buddhist-inspired messianic movements; Buddhism is associated with the national ideology directed at colonial power. President U Now in 1961 temporarily made a Buddhist-Marxist syncretism into state religion. His successor, Ne Win, who initially distinguished between religion and politics, also adopted Buddhism in 1979 as a socialist ideology in the service of state-building. In 2007, new social unrest erupted by Buddhist monks broke out. More than 100,000 people demonstrated with demands for the fall of the military dictatorship, but as before, the demonstrations were defeated by force of arms.

Burma has no state religion, but Buddhism has a special status in the constitution. Through special agencies, the government oversees Buddhist monks and Buddhist schools. The curriculum for public schools includes Buddhist doctrines and the school day begins with a Buddhist prayer. All citizens have the right to freely confess and practice their religion, but in practice there are many obstacles to, for example, Muslims and Christians in their religious practice. In some states, Muslims must request permission from local authorities to leave their homes. Religious officials are not allowed to vote or hold public services. Only the mouth ordinances accepted by the government are allowed. In recent years, the government has taken some initiatives to support a religious dialogue. A non-political charity consisting of Buddhists, Muslims, etc.

  • Follow abbreviationfinder to see what is the meaning of BM in geography. It can stand for Myanmar. Click this site to see other possible meanings of this acronym.

The following religious holidays are national holidays in Burma: the day of the full moon in the month of March (Tabaung) which is the last month of the Burmese lunar calendar; The Water Festival (Thingyan), which ends the Burmese lunar month, usually in April; first full moon in May (Kason) in memory of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and attainment of nirvana; the first full moon in July is celebrated in memory of Buddha’s first sermon and is the beginning of the Buddhist fasting period and the first full moon in October is the closing day of fasting; the first full moon in November (Tazaungmone), when new clothes are woven and sewn to monks and buddha statues. Government-run newspapers state dates for the Hindu festival of Diwali, as well as for the Islamic festival of Bakrid (Id al-adha). On these two weekends, banks and government offices are closed. The Christian Christmas Day is also a national holiday.

Burma Population by Religion