SMALL KINGDOMS AFTER PAGAN: AVA (INWA), PEGU (BAGO), THE SHAN STATES AND ARAKAN

MYANMAR AFTER THE FALL OF PAGAN

The Mongols invaded Pagan in 1287, bringing its culture to a sudden end, while the metropolis was nearly abandoned. The Burmese did not regain control of their territory until some two centuries later. In the intervening period, various Mon- and Tai-related Shan kingdoms arose, but these were finally subdued by the Burmese in the 16th century from their capital at Toungo. Like many other Southeast Asian kingdoms, the Burmese often moved their seat of power. For a while, the capital was at Pegu, an important crossroads of sea routes in Southern Burma.

After the fall of Pagan, the Mongols left searing Irrawaddy valley but the Pagan Kingdom was irreparably broken up into several small kingdoms. By the mid-14th century, the country had become organized along four major power centers: Upper Burma, Lower Burma, Shan States and Arakan. Many of the power centers were themselves made up of (often loosely held) minor kingdoms or princely states. This era was marked by a series of wars and switching alliances. Smaller kingdoms played a precarious game of paying allegiance to more powerful states, sometimes simultaneously. A new Burmese dynasty arose in Pegu and later established its capital in Ava, shifting the focal point of Myanmar-Burma to the inland-central valley. [Source: Wikipedia]

Different parts of the country were ruled by rulers and alliance dominated by the Burmese, Shan, Mon and Tai ethnic groups. Burmese history after the Pagan Period has traditionally been divided into segments that employ the name of the then dominant kingdom such as the Pinya Period (14th century), the First Ava Period (15th century), the Toungoo and second Ava Periods (16th century), the Nyaungyan Period (17th century) and the Konbaung Period (18th to 19th centuries). Because things often continued unchanged from one period to another, several things were produced simultaneously, some historians divide the era into two long periods; The Ava Period (c. 1287-1752) and the Konbaung Period (1752-1885)

Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: “The decline of Pagan as a political center in the 13th century led to almost three centuries of internecine warfare and internal division. The former Pagan kingdom was repeatedly divided among rivals and only rarely was central Burma administered from a single center. Several competing kingdoms arose, ruled for relatively short periods to be eclipsed by their adversaries who typically plundered the capitol, destroyed religious buildings, burned written records, and led the population away as captives to the new center of power. Additionally, severe earthquakes damaged or destroyed the few buildings left standing, particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Therefore, a great abundance of visual material has not survived from the 14th through 18th centuries. From the materials available, it is apparent that after the 13th century most forms in art and architecture continued those of the Pagan Period rather than expressing new approaches and concepts. Indianized forms fell from favor and continued to be replaced by those of indigenous Burmese inspiration. The arts of the Post Pagan period express nostalgia for the glory of the Pagan. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

Second Burmese Empire

The Second Burmese Empire was established by King Bayinnaung in the 16th century. Ava (Inwa, near Mandalay) was the capital of the Burmese kingdom for nearly 400 years. Situated at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Myitnge Rivers, it was established in 1364 and the remained the capital of the Myanmar kingdom until the seat of the kingdom was moved to Amarapura in 1841. In imperial times a channel known as the Myittha Chaung was dug between the Myitnge and Irrawaddy rivers, making Inwa into an easier-to-defend island.

Ava in Northern or “Upper” Burma had been the capital of a smaller kingdom since the 14th century, and it regained this status again in 1765. Its name became so closely associated with the whole country that Europeans began to call Upper Burma the “Land of Ava” and its government as the “Court of Ava”, regardless of where the actual capital was. This marked a new period of Burmese expansion, when they conquered the Thai capital of Ayutthaya for the first time, taking the Thai king to Burma as their prisoner. Burmese rule extended as far as Laos.

Ava (1364–1555)

The Ava Kingdom was the dominant kingdom that ruled upper Burma (Myanmar) from 1364 to 1555. Founded in 1364, the kingdom was the successor state to the petty kingdoms (Myinsaing, Pinya and Sagaing) that had ruled central Burma since the collapse of Pagan Empire in the late 13th century. Like the small kingdoms that preceded it, Ava was led by Burmanized Shan kings who claimed descent from Pagan kings. The Burmese language and culture came into its own during the Ava period.

After the collapse of Pagan authority the Burmans had reestablished themselves at the city of Inwa (Ava) by 1364, where Pagan culture was revived and a great age of Burmese literature ensued. The kingdom lacked easily defendable borders, however, and was overrun by the Shan in 1527. To the south. the Mons reestablished themselves at Bago, and under their king. Dhammazedi (reigned 1472-92), entered a golden age as well, becoming a great center of commerce

Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: “The city of Ava was established in 1364 at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and the Myitnge rivers, a site of considerable economic importance because it was the gateway to the vast irrigated rice fields of Kyaukse that lay south of the Irrawaddy and were drained by the Myitnge. Kyaukse had been first settled and developed by the Burmese prior to the Pagan Period. Since it was the economic base for upper Burma as well as the Burmese homeland, control of this area was of particular concern to the Burmese kings. Consequently, many of the post Pagan capitols in Upper Burma were located in this area on either side of the major westward bend of the Irrawaddy. Importantly, the Sagaign hills, just northwest of the bend, became an important location for monastic communities, a great center of Buddhist learning that also offered the possibility of sanctuary to townsmen in case of attack. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

The city of Ava was established on an island that was created by connecting the Irrawaddy on the north and the Myitnge on the east with a canal on the south and the west. The brick fortifications of Ava do not follow the conventions of the earlier rectilinear city plans. Instead, the zigzagged outer walls are popularly thought to outline the figure of a seated lion. The inner enclosure or citadel was laid out according to traditional cosmological principles and provided the requisite twelve gates. The inner city was reconstructed on at least three occasions in 1597, 1763, and 1832.

History of Ava

Founded in 1364, Ava (Inwa) was the successor state to earlier, even smaller kingdoms based in central Burma: Toungoo (1287–1322), Myinsaing–Pinya (1297–1364), and Sagaing (1315–1364). The kingdom was founded by Thadominbya in 1364, following the collapse of Sagaing and Pinya kingdoms due to the Shan raids from the north. In its first years of existence, Ava, which viewed itself as the rightful successor to the Pagan Empire, tried to reassemble the former empire by waging constant wars against the Hanthawaddy Kingdom in the south, various Shan States in the north and east, and Arakan in the west. While it was able to pull Toungoo and peripheral Shan states (Kale, Mohnyin, Mogaung, Thibaw) into its fold at the peak of its power, it failed to reconquer the rest. The Forty Years' War (1385–1424) with Hanthawaddy left Ava exhausted. From the 1420s to early 1480s, Ava regularly faced rebellions in its vassal regions whenever a new Ava king came to power. In the 1480s and 1490s Prome in the south and Shan states in the north broke away, and Toungoo became as powerful as its nominal overlord Ava. In 1510, Toungoo also broke away.[Source: Wikipedia +]

Ava was under intensified Shan raids for the first quarter of 16th century. In 1527, a confederation of Shan States led by the state of Mohnyin in alliance with Prome sacked Ava. The Shan confederation placed nominal kings on the Ava throne, and ruled much of Upper Burma. As Prome was in alliance with the Shans, only the tiny Toungoo in the southeastern corner east of the Bago Yoma mountain range remained as the last Burman holdout. The Shans' failure to snuff out Toungoo proved costly. Surrounded by hostile kingdoms, Toungoo took the initiative to consolidate its position, and defeated a much stronger Hanthawaddy in 1539. When Toungoo turned to Prome, the Shans belatedly sent in their armies. Toungoo took Prome in 1541 and Pagan, just below Ava in 1544. In January 1555, King Bayinnaung conquered Ava, ending the city's role as the capital of Upper Burma for nearly two centuries.

Ava did not officially become a capitol of the Burmese kingdom until1636 and it was not until the period between 1597 and 1626 that it controlled the major part of Burma. None the less, the capitol was repeatedly established there and until modern times Burma was often referred to by the outside world as Ava. Its official name was Ratanapura, the City of Gems, and several foreign visitors have written of its wealth and splendor. Ava was almost completely destroyed by earthquake in 1838, and was finally abandoned in 1841 when King Shwebo Min moved the capitol a short distance east to Amarapura.

Hanthawaddy Pegu (1287–1539, 1550–1552)

The Hanthawaddy Kingdom (also Hanthawaddy Pegu or simply Pegu) was the dominant kingdom that ruled lower Burma (Myanmar) from 1287 to 1539 and from 1550 to 1552. The Mon-speaking kingdom was founded as Ramannadesa (or Ramanya in Burmese and Mon) by King Wareru following the collapse of the Pagan Empire in 1287 as a nominal vassal state of Sukhothai Kingdom, and of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. The kingdom became formally independent of Sukhothai in 1330 but remained a loose federation of three major regional power centers: the Irrawaddy delta, Pegu, and Martaban. Its kings had little or no authority over the vassals. Martaban was in open rebellion from 1363 to 1388. [Source: Wikipedia =]

For its first 100 years, the Mon kingdom was merely a loose collection of three Mon-speaking regions. The high kings at the capital had little substantive authority over the vassals. Indeed, Martaban was in open rebellion from 1363 to 1389. A more centralized rule came with the reign of King Razadarit, who not only firmly unified the three Mon-speaking regions together but also successfully fended off the northern Burmese-speaking Kingdom of Ava in the Forty Years' War (1385–1424). The war ended in a stalemate but it was a victory for Hanthawaddy as Ava finally gave up its dream of restoring the Pagan Empire. In the years following the war, Pegu occasionally aided Ava's southern vassal states of Prome and Toungoo in their rebellions but carefully avoided getting plunged into a full scale war. +

After the war, Hanthawaddy entered its golden age whereas its rival Ava gradually went into decline. From the 1420s to the 1530s, Hanthawaddy was the most powerful and prosperous kingdom of all post-Pagan kingdoms. Under a string of especially gifted monarchs—Binnya Ran I, Shin Sawbu, Dhammazedi and Binnya Ran II—the kingdom enjoyed a long golden age, profiting from foreign commerce. Its merchants traded with traders from across the Indian Ocean, filling the king's treasury with gold and silver, silk and spices, and all the other stuff of early modern trade. The kingdom also became a famous center of Theravada Buddhism. It established strong ties with Ceylon, and encouraged reforms that later spread throughout the country. +

The powerful kingdom's end came abruptly. Due to the inexperience of King Takayutpi, the kingdom was captured by a smaller kingdom to the north, Kingdom of Toungoo in 1539 led by King Tabinshwehti and his deputy Gen. Bayinnaung. Toungoo captured the Irrawaddy delta in 1538, Pegu in 1539, and Martaban in 1541. The kingdom was briefly revived in 1550 after Tabinshwehti was assassinated. But Bayinnaung quickly defeated the rebellion in 1552. +

History of Hanthawaddy Pegu (1287–1539, 1550–1552)

After the the Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 all its vassal states became independent. In present-day Lower Burma, Wareru established a kingdom for the Mon-speaking people called Ramannadesa by unifying three Mon-speaking regions of Lower Burma: Martaban (Mottama), Pegu (Bago), the Irrawaddy delta. The kingdom's first capital was at Martaban but the capital was moved to Pegu in 1369. [Source: Wikipedia +]

King Wareru (ruled 1287-96) was a Tai adventurer of humble origins who had married a daughter of King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and had established himself as overlord of Martaban on the Salween River in 1281. Wareru and his ally. Tarabya. a Mon prince of Pegu. drove the Myanmar out of the Irrawaddy Delta and reestablished the independence of the Mon. Subsequently, Wareru killed Tarabya and made himself the sole ruler of the Mon, with his capital at Martaban. Although he was nominally a vassal of Ramkhamhaeng, he conducted independent diplomatic relations with the emperor Kublai Khan in China. A legendary achievement of his reign was the compilation of the Dharma-shastra. or Dhammathat. the earliest surviving law code of Myanmar. Wareru was murdered by his grandsons. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

In the beginning, the Lower-Burma-based kingdom was a loose federation of regional power centers in Martaban (Mottama), Pegu (Bago) and the Irrawaddy delta. The energetic reign of Razadarit (1384–1422) cemented the kingdom's existence. Razadarit firmly unified the three Mon-speaking regions together, and successfully held off Ava in the Forty Years' War (1385–1424), making the western kingdom of Arakan a tributary from 1413 to 1423 in the process. The war ended in a stalemate but it was a victory for Hanthawaddy as Ava finally gave up its dream of restoring the Pagan Empire. In the years following the war, Pegu occasionally aided Ava's southern vassal states of Prome and Toungoo in their rebellions but carefully avoided getting plunged into a full scale war.

After the war, Hanthawaddy entered its golden age whereas its rival Ava gradually went into decline. From the 1420s to the 1530s, Hanthawaddy was the most powerful and prosperous kingdom of all post-Pagan kingdoms. Under a string of especially gifted monarchs — Binnya Ran I, Shin Sawbu, Dhammazedi and Binnya Ran II — the kingdom enjoyed a long golden age, profiting from foreign commerce. Its merchants traded with traders from across the Indian Ocean, filling the king's treasury with gold and silver, silk and spices, and all the other stuff of early modern trade. The kingdom also became a famous center of Theravada Buddhism. It established strong ties with Ceylon, and encouraged reforms that later spread throughout the country.

The powerful kingdom's end came abruptly. From 1535 onwards, it came under constant raids by the kingdom of Toungoo. King Takayutpi could not marshal the kingdom's much greater resources and manpower against much smaller Toungoo, led by King Tabinshwehti and his deputy Gen. Bayinnaung. Toungoo captured the Irrawaddy delta in 1538, Pegu in 1539, and Martaban in 1541. The kingdom was briefly revived in 1550 after Tabinshwehti was assassinated. But the "kingdom" did not extend much outside the city of Pegu. Bayinnaung quickly defeated the rebellion in March 1552. Though Toungoo kings would rule all of Lower Burma well into the mid-18th century, the golden age of Hanthawaddy was fondly remembered by the Mon people of Lower Burma. In 1740, they rose up against a weak Toungoo Dynasty on its last legs, and founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom.

Shan States (1287–1563)

The Shans, who came down with the Mongols when they invaded Pagan in the 13th century, stayed and quickly came to dominate much of northern to eastern arc of Burma—from northwestern Sagaing Division to Kachin Hills to the present day Shan Hills. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Shan States were the princely states that ruled large areas of today's Burma (Myanmar), Yunnan Province in China, Laos and Thailand from the late 13th century until mid-20th century. The term "Shan States" was first used during the British colonial period as a geopolitical designation for certain areas of Burma (officially, the Federated Shan States, consisted of today's Shan State and Kayah State). In some cases, the Siamese Shan States was used to refer to Lan Na (northern Thailand) and Chinese Shan States to the Shan regions in southern Yunnan such as Xishuangbanna. +

The most powerful Shan states were Mohnyin and Mogaung in present-day Kachin State, followed by Theinni, Thibaw and Momeik in present-day northern Shan State. Minor states included Kale, Bhamo, Nyaungshwe and Kengtung. Mohnyin, in particular, constantly raided Ava's territory in the early 16th century. Monhyin-led Confederation of Shan States, in alliance with Prome Kingdom, captured Ava itself in 1527. The Confederation defeated its erstwhile ally Prome in 1533, and ruled all of Upper Burma except Toungoo. But the Confederation was marred by internal bickering, and could not stop Toungoo, which conquered Ava in 1555 and all of Shan States by 1563. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Shan are a relatively large and prosperous minority related to the Dai in China. Their language is similar to Thai and Lao. They have traditionally been rice cultivators and lived in tropical and semitropical monsoon forests along river valleys and in pockets of level land in the hill country of northeast Burma and to a lesser extent in northwest Thailand and southern China. Some other groups regard the Shan as “a standoffish people.” The origin of the Dai, Shan and Dai-related people is matter of some debate. They have been in southwest China and Southeast Asia for some time. The Dai established powerful local kingdoms such as Mong Mao and Kocambi in Dehong the 10th and 11th centuries, the Oinaga (or Xienrun) in Xishuangbanna in the 12th century and the Lanna (or Babai Xifu) in the northern Thailand in 13th to 18th century.

The Shan migrated from southern China to Burma around A.D. 1000. Over time they established a number of small states in the mountainous regions of northern Burma. They paid tribute to China, Burma and Chiang Mai and became powerful landlords, dominating other ethnic groups and in some cases making them into their serfs. The Shan-controlled areas were on the fringes of the Chinese, Burmese empires and separated from the main population centers by rugged mountains and rain forests. The Shan empire split into small kingdoms in the 16th century ruled by hereditary princes called saophas. They usually fought among themselves and only offered minimal tribute to the Burmese kings.

History of the Shan States

The first founding of Shan states inside the present day boundaries of Burma began during period of Pagan Dynasty. The first major Shan State was founded in 1215 at Mogaung, followed by Mone in 1223. These were part of the larger Tai migration that founded the Ahom Kingdom in 1229 and the Sukhothai Kingdom in 1253. The Shan migration accelerated after the Mongols overran Pagan in 1287. The newly founded Shan States were multi-ethnic states that included a substantial number of other ethnic minorities like the Chin, Palaung, Pa-O, Kachin and Burmans. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Shan States were a dominant force in the politics of Upper Burma throughout 13th to 16th centuries. Strongest Shan States, Mogaung, Mohnyin and Theinni, constantly raided Upper Burma. Mogaung ended the kingdoms of Sagaing and Pinya in 1364. The Mohnyin-led Confederation of Shan States captured the Ava Kingdom in 1527 and ruled Upper Burma until 1555. +

Nonetheless, Shan States were too fragmented to resist the encroachment of bigger neighbors. In the north, Ming China annexed today's Yunnan in the 1380s, stamping out final Shan resistance by the 1440s. In the south, Burma captured all the Shan States that would become known as Burmese Shan States in 1557. Though Shan States came under the suzerainty of Irrawaddy valley-based Burmese kingdoms from then on, the Shan saophas (chiefs) retained a large degree of autonomy. +

Under the British colonial administration, the Federated Shan States were consisted of nominally sovereign entities, each ruled by a local monarch, but administered by a single British commissioner. When Burma gained independence in 1948, the Federated Shan States became Shan State and Kayah State of the Union of Burma with the right to secede from the Union. However, the Shan States and the saophas' hereditary rights were removed by Gen. Ne Win's military government in 1962. +

Confederation of Shan States

Most Shan States were just a little principalities organized around the chief town in the region. They played a precarious game of paying allegiance to more powerful states, sometimes simultaneously. Smaller states like Kale, Bhamo, Nyaungshwe (Yawnghwe) Mobye (Mong Pai) paid allegiance to more powerful Shan states like Mohnyin, Mogaung and Theinni. The larger Shan States in turn paid tribute to larger neighbors like Ava and China. The following is a list of major Shan States: Bhamo, Kale, Kyaingtong, Mobye, Mogaung, Mohnyin, Momeik, Mongpawng, Mone, Nyaungshwe, Theinni, Thibaw. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Confederation of Shan States were a group of Shan States that conquered the Ava Kingdom in 1527 and ruled Upper Burma until 1555. The Confederation originally consisted of Mohnyin, Mogaung, Bhamo, Momeik, and Kale. It was led by Sawlon, the chief of Mohnyin. The Confederation raided Upper Burma throughout the early 16th century (1502–1527) and fought a series of war against Ava and its ally Shan State of Thibaw (Hsipaw). The Confederation finally defeated Ava in 1527, and placed Sawlon's eldest son Thohanbwa on the Ava throne. Thibaw and its tributaries Nyaungshwe and Mobye also came over to the confederation. +

The enlarged Confederation extended its authority down to Prome (Pyay) in 1533 by defeating their erstwhile ally Prome Kingdom because Sawlon felt that Prome did not provide sufficient help in their war against Ava. After the Prome war, Sawlon was assassinated by his own ministers, creating a leadership vacuum. Although Sawlon's son Thohanbwa naturally tried to assume the leadership of the Confederation, he was never fully acknowledged as the first among equals by other saophas. +

An incoherent confederation neglected to intervene in the first four years of Toungoo–Hanthawaddy War (1535–1541) in Lower Burma. They did not appreciate the gravity of the situation until 1539 when Toungoo defeated Hanthawaddy, and turned against its vassal Prome. The saophas finally banded together and sent in a force to relieve Prome in 1539. However, the combined force was unsuccessful in holding Prome against another Toungoo attack in 1542. +

In 1543, the Burmese ministers assassinated Thohanbwa and placed Hkonmaing, the saopha of Thibaw, on the Ava throne. Mohnyin leaders, led by Sithu Kyawhtin, felt that the Ava throne was theirs. But in light of the Toungoo threat, Mohnyin leaders grudgingly agreed to Hkonmaing's leadership. The Confederation launched a major invasion of Lower Burma in 1543 but its forces were driven back. By 1544, Toungoo forces had occupied up to Pagan. The confederation would not attempt another invasion. After Hkonmaing died in 1546, his son Mobye Narapati, the saopha of Mobye, became king of Ava. The confederation's bickering resumed in full force. Sithu Kyawhtin set up a rival fiefdom in Sagaing across the river from Ava and finally drove out Mobye Narapati in 1552. The weakened Confederation proved no match for Bayinnaung's Toungoo forces. Bayinnaung captured Ava in 1555 and conquered all of Shan States in a series of military campaigns from 1556 to 1557.

Arakan (1287–1785)

The Arakanese is a nationality in Myanmar forming the majority along the coastal region of present day Rakhine State in Myanmar. They possibly constitute around 5 percent of Myanmar's total population today. They also live in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh, especially in Chittagong and Barisal Divisions. "The presently dominant Rakhine are a Tibeto-Burman race, the last group of people to enter Arakan during 10th century and on.” (Pamela; The Lost Kingdom, Bangkok, 2002, P-5)]. Various Arakanese kingdoms stretched from the Ganges Delta to Cape Negrais on the Irrawaddy Delta. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The people of Rakhine claim a history that began in 3325 BC and archaeological evidence has been found for the beginning of the 1st century AD at the excavations at Dhanyawadi. According to the chronicles, the first independent Rakhine kingdom was established in 3325 BC by King Marayu. The name of the kingdom “Dhanyawadi” means "the land blessed with abundant grain." Buddhism it is said was introduced into Rakhine during the lifetime of the Buddha himself. Ancient Dhanyawadi lies west of the mountain ridge between the Kaladan and Lemro rivers. +

Although Arakan had been de facto independent since the late Pagan period, the Laungkyet dynasty of Arakan was ineffectual. Until the founding of the Mrauk-U Kingdom in 1429, Arakan was often caught between bigger neighbors, and found itself a battlefield during the Forty Years' War between Ava and Pegu. Mrauk-U went on to be a powerful kingdom in its own right between 15th and 17th centuries, including East Bengal between 1459 and 1666. Arakan was the only post-Pagan kingdom not to be annexed by the Toungoo dynasty. +

Waithali

It has been estimated that the center of power of the Arakanese world shifted from Dhanyawadi to Waithali in the 4th century AD. Although it was established later than Dhanyawadi, Waithali is the most Indianized of the four Arakanese kingdoms to emerge. Like all of the Arakanese Kingdoms to emerge, the Kingdom of Waithali was based on trade between the East (pre-Pagan Myanmar,Pyu, China, the Mons), and the West (India, Bengal, Persia). [Source: Wikipedia +]

Anandachandra Inscriptions date back to 729 A.D. originally from Vesali now preserved at Shitethaung indicates adequate evidence for the earliest foundation of Buddhism and the subjects of the Waithali Kingdom practiced. Dr. E. H. Johnston's analysis reveals a list of kings which he considered reliable beginning from Chandra dynasty. The western face inscription has 72 lines of text recorded in 51 verses describing the Anandachandra's ancestral rulers. Each face recorded the name and ruling period of each king who were believed to have ruled over the land before Anandachandra. +

Some important and badly damaged life-size Buddha images were recovered from Letkhat-Taung, a hill east of the old palace compound. These statues are invaluabe in helping to understand the Waithali architecture, and also the extent of Hindu influence in the kingdom. According to local legend, Shwe-taung-gyi (lit. Great Golden Hill), a hill northeast of the palace compound maybe a burial place of a 10th century Pyu king. +

The rulers of the Waithali Kingdom were of the Chandra dynasty, because of their usage of Chandra on the Waithali coins. The Waithali period is seen by many as the beginning of Arakanese coinage - which was almost a millennium earlier than the Burmese. On the reverse of the coins, the Srivatsa (Arakanese/Burmese: Thiriwutsa), while the obverse bears a bull, the emblem of the Chandra dynasty, under which the name of the King is inscribed in Sanskrit. +

Mrauk U and King Narameikhla (ruled 1404-1434)

Mrauk U was a maritime kingdom situated to the west of Lower Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal. King Narameikhla (ruled 1404-1434), or Min Saw Mon, established Mrauk U as the capital of the last unified Arakanese Kingdom in 1430, after 24 years of exile in Bengal. He regained control of Arakan with military assistance from the Sultanate of Bengal. The Bengalis who came with him formed their own settlements in the region. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Narameikhla ceded some territory to the Sultan of Bengal and recognized his sovereignty over the areas. In recognition of his kingdom's vassal status, the kings of Arakan received Islamic titles, despite being Buddhists, and legalized the use of Islamic coins from Bengal within the kingdom. Narameikhla minted his own coins with Burmese characters on one side and Persian characters on the other. Arakan remained subordinate to Bengal up until 1531.

Even after gaining independence from the Sultans of Bengal, the Arakanese kings continued the custom of maintaining Muslim titles. The kings compared themselves to Sultans and fashioned themselves after Mughal rulers, despite remaining Buddhist. They also continued to employ Muslims in prestigious positions within the royal administration.

King Narameikhla (reigned 1404-34) was the founder and first king of the Mrohaung dynasty in Arakan and the son of the son of King Rajathu (reigned 1397-1401). When Arakan became the scene of fighting between rival powers in the 15th century, Narameikhla was forced in the first year of his reign to flee to Bengal, where he became a vassal to King Ahmad Shah of Gaur. With the aid of Ahmad Shah's successor he regained control of Arakan in 1430. In 1433 he built at a new capital at Mrauk U, which remained the capital of Arakan until the 18th century. As a nominal vassal of the Muslim kings of Gaur, Narameikhla employed Muslim titles in his coins and inscriptions, though he and his subjects were Buddhists. He was succeeded by his son, Ali Khan (reigned 1434-59), who had adopted a Muslim name. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Mrauk U: a Great Trading City

Eventually reaching a size of 160,000 in the early 17th century, Mrauk U served as the capital of the Mrauk U kingdom and its 49 kings until the conquest of the kingdom by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784. Due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, Mrauk U developed into an important regional trade hub, acting as both a back door to the Burmese hinterland and also as an important port along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. It became a transit point for goods such as rice, ivory, elephants, tree sap and deer hide from Ava in Burma, and of cotton, slaves, horses, cowrie, spices and textiles from Bengal, India, Persia and Arabia. Alongside Pegu and later Syriam, it was one of the most important ports in Burma until the 18th century.[citation needed]

The city also traded with non-Asian powers such as Portugal and then the VOC of the Netherlands. The VOC established trading relations with the Arakanese in 1608 after the Portuguese fell in favour due to the lack of loyalty of Portuguese mercenaries, such as Filipe de Brito e Nicote in the service of the Arakanese king. The VOC established a permanent factory in Mrauk U in 1635, and operated in Arakan until 1665. Much of Mrauk U's historical description is drawn from the writings of Friar Sebastian Manrique, a Portuguese Augustinian monk who resided in Mrauk U from 1630 to 1635.

At its zenith, Mrauk U was the center of a kingdom which stretched from the shores of the Ganges river to the western reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy River. According to popular Arakanese legend, there were 12 'cities of the Ganges' which constitute areas around the borders of present-day Bangladesh which were governed by Mrauk U, including areas in the Chittagong Division. During that period, its kings minted coins inscribed in Arakanese, Kufic and Bengali. The inclusion of Kufic and Bengali were not that the Mrauk U kings had embraced Islam, but in order to gain legitimacy over the mainly Islamic Bengalis who were subjects.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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