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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Full text of "Vaishali and the Indianization of Arakan" AND THE INDIANIZATION OF ARAKAN


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Cover: A collage depicting Shiva as Bhikshatanamurti (deity of ascetics), flanked by
DvarapaJa(s), possibly 5* or 6 ,h century CE.

Printed at
Balaji Offset

Navin Shahdara, Delhi-32

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Acknowledgements oil

Intr od uction ix

1. Background history 1

2. "Buddha's pretended peregrinations" in Arakan - 19

3. The Inscriptions of the Dhanyavati and Vaishali periods 28

4. The Ananda Chandra Inscription 39

5. The dynasties mentioned in the Inscription 48

6. The Court at Vaishali 58

7. Thp Chandra rains 64

8. The City of Vaishali 76

9. Religious beliefs 93

10. Vaishali today 100
11 .The Museum at Mrauk U 109

12. Thp Mahamnni Shrinp and Mnspnm 122

13. Thp Buddhist Council Hill 137

Addendum 149

Bibliography 154


QVCty deepest gratitude must go to the late Professor E. H. Johnston of
c/ltBalliol College, Oxford, who translated the Sanskrit text of the Ananda
Chandra Inscription, but regrettably did not live to see it published. Research
on ancient Arakan suffered a terrible blow by his untimely death in 1942.

I would like to put on record my grateful thanks to the long-suffering
Colleen Beresford (nee Rustom) and Terence Blackburn for reading the manu-
script, and for their innumerable and critical suggestions, in particular their
prudent advice regarding my forthright views on the neglect of the historic
sites, and the offhand attitude of the people, clergy and the authorities. Colleen
has not only allowed me to quote from her scholarly article "Some Coins of
Arakan", but has also provided me with a rare copy of one of San Tha
Aung's books on Ananda Chandra, together with some important news
cuttings and photographs vital to my work, and for which I am obliged.

The incredibly patient Terence Blackburn has kindly spent long hours
trawling the Internet for information relevant to the present work.

To U Sein Maung U, sometime Conservator of the Department of Archae-
ology, Yangon, for his unfailing help in countless ways, especially in obtaining
crucial information on the excavations at Vaishali which would have been
well beyond my reach.

To U Khin Aung, (Emperor Travels and Tours, Yangon. www., another accommodating friend and incomparable
tour organiser, for arranging my trips to this extraordinary region in 2002
and 2005, and for bravely accompanying me on many a bone-shattering car
ride, and hazardous climbs to jungle-clad hill tops in search of elusive ruins;
I was told later by the driver that these remote locations were particularly
attractive to snakes!

To Dr Pamela Gutman and Dr Michael Mitchiner whose important con-
tributions on the history, religion and culture of this region has been invaluable.
Their works have also helped to clear many an unanswered question on the
period. At this moment in time, they appear to be the only recognized au-
thorities on ancient Arakan.

t T


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The obliging staff at the Mrauk U and the Mahamuni Museums also have
my deep gratitude. Despite little financial backup from the relevant authori-
ties, these dedicated souls are undertaking a tremendous amount of work,
much of it in their own free time.

Grateful thanks to Daw Saw Saw Sarpay for some of the illustrations
which appeared in San Tha Aung's The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan.

Any interpretations, forthright or cynical opinions, and errors are, of course,
mine alone.

The drawings and photographs, unless otherwise stated, are by the au-
thor, as are the comments in square brackets.

Noel Francis Singer




CThis account originally appeared as an article "Sculptures from Vaishali,
O Arakan", in Arts of Asia, July-August 2007, vol. 38, no. 4.

The project initially began in 1999 and by 2006, reams of information had
been gathered, threatening to turn the article into a book. As space in any
magazine is at a premium, this meant that much of the data had to be
grudgingly jettisoned and the text ruthlessly edited.

Nevertheless, I was determined to retrieve the valuable data and reweave
the scattered strands into a book as I felt it was too significant to waste.
Many of the photographs not included in the article were also too valuable
to be consigned to oblivion.

Obviously, since the article was published, 1 have received more pertinent
information which necessitated several changes in the present text.

My interest in ancient Arakan had been simmering since the late 1950s,
when I lived in Myanmar, but was unable to visit the 'legendary' sites of
Mahamuni and Vaishali. In those days, it involved an unpleasant sea voyage,
and once there, transport was practically non existent. Many of the locations,
too, were also in the hands of rebel groups and extremely dangerous. A
virulent form of malaria was rampant — and still is — so intending travellers
beware. Medication, insect repellent and a mosquito net are a must. One
cannot be too careful about the food either, even in the best hotels.

Over forty years later, and now living in the United Kingdom, I finally
achieved my wish. Disappointingly, during each of my two visits, I came
away with almost all my long-held illusions shattered, saddened at the ter-
rible neglect, and the vandalism being perpetrated on ancient religious artefacts
by ignorant and misguided men, in particular the Buddhist clergy. There was
also extreme poverty in the outlying areas. The total lack of interest from the
locals was depressing. Then again, one cannot blame these simple rural folk.


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as finding the means to fill hungry bellies is far more important than expend-
ing energy on the preservation of mouldy old ruins and ancient artefacts.
During my travels in the countryside, it was most distressing to see such
abject poverty.

This account of Vaishali does not pretend to be a scholarly work, and
despite my lack of academic qualifications, I have tried to tell what is to me
a fascinating story which was probably replicated in various parts of ancient
Southeast Asia which came under the influence of the Hindu colonists.

The early history of Arakan from 200 to the 900 CE is far from complete
and still shrouded in what appears to be an impenetrable haze. Not only
have insufficient archaeological investigations been undertaken, it has also
been iveighed down and sabotaged by inaccurate information by native chroni-
clers of a later age.

Some foreign writers, too, have either slavishly repeated these fantasies,
presented their own interpretations, refuted the findings of others, or else,
ignored this early period altogether. For example, ancient Arakan of the
Chandras was omitted by George Coedes in his celebrated The Indianized
States of Southeast Asia.

A number of readers may find it surprising that I have not given due
weight to indigenous accounts of a later date quoted in this work. This is a
deliberate omission on my part owing to their unreliability, permeated as they
are with borrowed historical episodes and myths from Buddhist and Hindu
India. Although these native sources are claimed to be 'ancient', they prob-
ably date from a time after the 14 th century. Above all, they had a tendency
to fabricate, obsessed with a need to present a realm infused with Buddhist
piety of the Theravada School when in fact it was a Mahayana version,
together with Brahmanism, which predominated.

As things stand, an immense amount of research and scientific excava-
tion, unhampered by religious bigotry and political propaganda urgently needs
to be accomplished.

One occasionally hears of this or that foreign institution planning excava-
tions and conservation, but nothing constructive appears to have materialized
in Arakan. Judging by the articles in the Myanmar Historical Commission
Journal, attention seems to be focused on Myanmar proper.

This present work is based on the unique lithic inscription of circa 729
commissioned by Ananda Chandra, ruler of Vaishali, together with other
epigraphic evidence and iconographic. At this point in time, these are



the only contemporary historical materials available for this early period.
One can but hope that before long a fuller picture will emerge when other
relevant inscriptions have been excavated.

1 ItUmirijitliHlO

Gnap/er Q

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Background history*

CTTie elongated coastal strip of Arakan (Rakhaing) is situated on the western
kJ part of Burma (Myanmar) proper and extends for almost 360 miles. At its
widest it is roughly 100 miles, while at its narrowest it is only about 25 miles.
On the west is the Bay of Bengal, the region now called Bangladesh is to the
north, and on the east are the high Yoma mountains. Man tended to congre-
gate in the fertile river valleys.

What may conceivably be the earliest representation of this ancient land
can be seen in a map based on the findings of the Greek scholar Erathosthenes
(circa 276-194 BCE), the Chief Librarian of the Great Library at Alexandria.
In it, Hindoi or Indoi (India) and Taprobane (Sri Lanka) are indicated. In-
cluded are the Ganga (Bhagerathi) River and its Delta, together with part of
the curving coastal strip of Arakan. The Yoma range which separate this
region from the country now called Myanmar, is depicted as well. Unfortu-
nately, Arakan is represented as a blank space with no identifiable habitation

A chart by Strabo (c. 63/64 BCE-24 CE) which appears to have been
based on the above, is almost identical for this region. However, in a later
map derived from those of Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy: flourished 127-145
CE, another inhabitant of Alexandria), the coastline of Arakan has been
updated considerably, and the mountain barrier illustrated in detail. Of par-
ticular interest is the inclusion of the premier port city of Sada together with
another, also on the coast, called Berabonna. The river "Sados Flu" [thought
to be the present Kaladan) is shown.

Another map, also based on Ptolemy's researches and published in 1695,
identified the Yoma mountain chain as the "Meandrus Mons". In this

* All dales not designated BCE are of the Christian Era. Comments in square brackets are by the author

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version, only two cities are named, Sada on the coast, and Triglyphon, situ-
ated further inland and to the north.

An additional chart entitled "Geographiae Antiquae" and dated 1818,
depicted Sada and Berabonna, together with Triglyphon which had now
been relocated to the coast; several versions based on Ptolemy are known to

In those remote days, it is possible that it was in Bharatavarsha ("The
Realm of the Sons of Bharata", a fabled Indian ruler) that the earliest name
by which Arakan was known was first recorded, and where it achieved
notoriety as "Kala Mukha" (Land of the) Black Faces.'

The Mahaniddesa (circa 200 CE) noted that the Ramayana (The Adventures
of Rama: circa 500 BCE) and the Mahabharata (The Great (battle of the]
Bharatas: circa 400 BCE) identified it by that appellation, and described its
denizens as cannibals, presumably negritos. :

Not surprisingly, the Hindus called them rakshasa (demons) as they be-
lieved them to be the offspring of men and rakshasis (shape-changing female
demons) who through their magical powers could metamorphose themselves
into delectable maidens.- 1

The legend of the rakshasa filtered down the centuries, for the present-day
Rakhaing whose presence was first noted in the region in about the 10 ,h
century CE 4 knew their land as Yetkhapura (Rakshasa pura) or Kingdom and
City of the Demons; although it is unclear where this city-state was situated
or during which period it flourished.

Gerini was sceptical of the derivation of Yetkhapura from the word
"rakshasa", he felt that although Ptolemy in his Geographike Hyphegesis (Guide
to Geography) had populated the littoral .around the Gulf of Martaban with
cannibal tribes, he had not mentioned their existence in Arakan.

"The term Rakhaing can therefore be scarcely connected with the tradition of the
Raksasas occupying at one time the land, and any such pretended connection put
forward is undoubtedly the modern invention of Buddhist monks, anxious to find
some explanation for the name of the country.

Sir Arthur Phayre says that the latter was designated as Rakkha-pura by the
Buddhist missionaries from India; but I should like to hear how far back in antiquity
this name can be traced. It appears in the Mahavamsa [of Sri LankaJ under the form
Rakkhanga at so late a date as A.D. 1592; and in the Ain-i-Akbari at about the same
period under the form Arkung." 5



Luce, quoting Ptolemy [who in turn was citing Pomponius Mela (circa 43
CE) ] on the location of ancient Arakan, said:

"Descending the coast south-eastwards from the mouth of the Ganges, he names first
the Airrhadoi (with the port ofBarakoura) [this was presumably in the Chittagong
region]; then the country of Argyre ["Silver Land" i.e. ArakanJ with [the towns
of] Sambra, Sada, Berabonna and Temala [which Gereni believed was Cape
NegraisJ; then a Cape; then the cannibals ofBesynga (thought to be in the region
of the mouth of the Irrawaddy River] in the Sarabak Gulf [most likely the Gulf
of Martaban]."'

These areas were allegedly inhabited by other savage tribes, such as the
Beseidai or Tiladai who lived between India and China, therefore somewhere
in present day Myanmar. However, Luce, when quoting Ptolemy, offered
conflicting descriptions. While on one occasion he defined the people as "big"
of stature and "broad and hairy and broad-faced, white-skinned", further on
they are described as "stunted. 7 The Periplus had originally depicted them as

Nevertheless, according to Luce "Both Chinese and Greek sources agree in
placing, at the beginning of our era, undersized and white-skinned peoples in
Burma, and the existence of early trade-routes between China and India."*

How reliable is the anecdote concerning the cannibals?

Regarding these man-eating savages, was Ptolemy simply repeating the scare
stories of the geographers before him, and the sensational traveller's tales
which were liable to circulate in ports of the world? After all, it is a well
known fact that humans have a tendency to fabricate, either from sheer
ignorance or pure malice.

Revealingly, a location map in Moore's recent work pinpoints numerous
fortified habitation sites from possibly before 100 CE in the very areas suppos-
edly being terrorized by Ptolemy's cannibals. 9

The cold archaeological and scientific facts are these.

Cave paintings and stone implements said to be over 5,000 years old have
been discovered in the Badalin ("Shining-as-Mercury") Caves in the Shan
States. Older still are the mysterious hunter-gatherers of a prehistoric period
called "Anyathian", from the relatively modern Myanmar word ah-nyar-tha,
meaning a male from the upper part of the country.



Recent excavations have uncovered hitherto unknown finds from loca-
tions which have been identified as the Neolithic, 'Bronze Age' and the 'Iron
Age'. The Nyaungyan burial site, in particular, has revealed what appear to
be unique 'mother goddess' figures crafted out of thin sheets of bronze; the
identification of these symbols is still ongoing. Grave goods include decorative
ornaments for coffins, polished stone implements, large perforated stone discs
designed for the wrists and chest, glass rings, pottery and bronze artefacts. 10
Almost similar examples from these periods have also been reported in Thai-

It is doubtful if cannibalism was practiced amongst these people who
were certainly not wild savages.

Carbon-dated evidence has revealed that by circa 200 BCE, the Pyu (Piao
or Tircul), possibly one of the earliest civilized ethnic groups, were already
established within their small city-states in central Myanmar.

One must presume that the civilized and the uncivilized existed within
their own territories, with raids and counter raids being undertaken as the
centuries passed. It would appear that the more primitive tribes were finally
pushed further back into the wilderness, for the Pyu and the Mon, each in
their own kingdoms, soon came to dominate the land.

But that is another story.

The first wave of Hindu colonists

To return to what was occurring at the time in ancient Arakan.

In India of the 1" century CE, fuelled by their need for commerce, gold
and silver, the initial wave of Hindu colonists undertaking their samudra yatra
(sea voyages) across the Purva Samudra (Bay of Bengal) began in earnest. 12

These extraordinarily courageous travellers, composed of merchants, ad-
venturers, artisans, Brahmana, members of the ruling elite and, one must
assume, some of their fearless women folk, braved the terrifying and cramped
conditions at sea to seek out strange new worlds such as the fabled
Survanabhumi and Suvarnadvipa, which reputedly contained unimaginable
wealth. Once at their destination, the pioneers founded settlements and over-
came the hostility of the local inhabitants. Some of their elite married into the
families of tribal chiefs and in time, by their superior knowledge and
skills, came to rule over them.

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It was surprising to learn that even before that early date, many of the
coastal areas and shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca
were infested by pirates who either killed all on board or sold them into
slavery. This meant that for the prudent ship owners and merchants, precau-
tionary measures had to be taken, and a contingent of archers and spearmen
hired to accompany these voyages. 13

By the 3' d century, the coastal regions of Kala Mukha had been settled,
with the colonists dominating and coexisting warily with the aboriginal tribes.

The Lords of the Solar and Lunar dynasties from far off Bharatavarsha
had indeed arrived.

In the major habitation sites, Sanskrit was the written language for the
ruling classes, and religious beliefs were those current at the time on the

Dr. Emil Forchhammer, a Swiss Professor of Pali at Rangoon College, and
Superintendent of the newly founded Archaeological Survey [1881] described
this fertile region [which was, and is still infested with the deadly malaria
mosquito {Culicidae)].

"The earliest datvn of the history of Arakan reveals the base of the hills, which divide
the lower course of the Kaladan and Lemro rivers, inhabited by sojourners from India,
governed by chiefs who claim relationship with the rulers of Kapilavastu. Their
subjects are divided into the four castes of the older Hindu communities; the kings
and priests study the three Vedas; the rivers, hills, and cities bear names of Aryan
origin; and the titles assumed by the king and queen regent suggest connection with
the Solar and Lunar dynasties of India/' 1 *

Argyre, the Silver Land

Ptolemy, quoting Pomponius Mela, had identified this part of Eastern India
as Argyre (Silver Land) as he had been told that it contained numerous silver
mines. Its capital was Sada. But since this metal is not found in the region,
later scholars found his description perplexing, neither could the city of Sada
be identified.

Majumdar, too, could not agree with this location for Argyre and felt that
"we might look upon the island of Java as corresponding to Argyre, and
there are several facts which speak in favour of this supposition." 15

Fortunately, in 1978 the mystery was partly explained by Mitchmer, who
said that the reason it bore the epithet Silver Country was that its govern-



ment acted as a mediator for the export of bullion which originated in Nanzhao
(Yunnan) and an area of Myanmar which is now believed to be located in the
present Bawzaing area of the Shan States 16 [the Bawdwin mines are another
location]. This immense stretch of country in the Shan States was variously
under the control of the Pyu kingdoms of Vishnupura (City of Vishnu), Hanlin,
and the Varman and Vikrama dynasties of Sri Kshetra, named after the holy
city of Puri in Kalinga, and sacred to Vaishnavites-

According to Mitchiner, the silver was taken down the Temalos (Irrawaddy
River) to Temala, thought to be near present-day Syriam (Thanlyin), across
the river from Rangoon (Yangon); it was later to become part of the Mon
kingdom of Ramannadesa.

From Temala, the bullion from Nanzhao was shipped to agents in the
eastern kingdoms and to Sada in the Silver Land from where it was dis-
patched to India and beyond. This precious metal attracted the attention of
the Romans, for it is known that sometime during the 2 nd century CE, a small
expedition sailed across the Apara Samudra {Arabian Sea) and the Bay of
Bengal, and managed to travel to Nanzhao by way of the Irrawaddy River
— an incredible and obviously dangerous undertaking.

As to the identity of the capital of Argyre, Ptolemy was told that the
Sanskritic name of the ruling dynasty was Chandra, which his informants,
using the Prakrit parallel, pronounced Chada. Linguistic difficulties meant
that Ptolemy's rendition became Sada, which he also used for the capital. 17

Interestingly, the Mahaniddcsa also referred to the city as Sada, and said
that it was a premier port of call for shipping from Palur in the Ganjam
district of Kalinga (Udra or Orissa) and Tamralipti (Tamluk), on the Hugli
River, about thirty miles southwest of modern Kolkata. 1 *

Gerini, quoting from Ptolemy, said that Sada was identified:

"as the terminus of the sea-passage across the Gangetic Gulf (Bay of Bengal) from
Palttra [in Kalinga], effected in a direct line from west to east, and covering a
distance of 13,000 stadia. It xoas, therefore, the first port touched at in his lime by
ships proceeding from India to the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, Some ships,
however, took a more northerly route, and touched at the riverine port of Antibole on
the Dhakka or Old Ganges River, before making out for Sada and the Gulf of

However, Gerini did not agree with Ptolemy's identification and location
of Sada, and was of the opinion that the city was sited at the present port
town of Sandoway (Thandwair, with Ihe classical name of Dvaravati) which


is considerably further down the Arakanese coast. He added pertinently that
some of the later Portuguese maps were still calling the port Sedoa.

[Gerini's assumption is credible, for although all the maps based on
Ptolemy's researches show Sada as being situated on the coast, it is in fact
over fifty miles inland. Why would the vessels from India travel laboriously
inland, through winding mangrove creeks, and facing possible attacks by
pirates, when the present port of Sandoway was more accessible?]

The large sea going vessels from India, known as mahanavah, were head-
ing east to other Southeast Asian kingdoms, in particular to Survanabhumi
("Land of Gold"; claimed to be Lower Myanmar and Malaysia), and to
Suvarnadvipa ("Isle of Gold"), which Majumdar identifies as Sumatra, to-
gether with some of the islands in the region. Several interpretations of the
exact location of these fabled lands are current. Another name for this region
was the legendary Chryse, known to Pomonius Mela, Pliny the Elder and
others of an earlier period, and which is now accepted as covering a large
swathe of Southeast Asia.

The second period of Indianisation

The second phase of the Indianisation of Arakan occurred from about the 4 ,h
to the 6 th centuries, by which time the kingdom of the colonists had been well
established. One must also assume that by then, the earlier name of "Sada",
for its capital, had been replaced by "Vaishali"

As a port city, Vaishali was in contact with Samantata (Tippera-Noakhali
region. Southeast Bengladesh), India, Simhaladivipa (Sri Lanka) and other
overseas realms. Relations were strengthened by trade and diplomatic con-
nections and the movements of migrants, pilgrims and itinerant craftsmen.

Nearer home, the Chandra rulers were in communication by land and
water with the Pyu kingdoms across the mountains in the east, and with the
small Mon city states in Ramannadesa.

Collis, who in 1925 quoted his source in good faith, said that the archae-
ologist, San Shwe Bu, had provided him with a translation from an old
manuscript called "The True Chronicle of the Great Image" [the Mahamuni
bronze which was located at the earlier capital of Dhanyavati].

"The Chandra kings were upholders of Buddhism, guarding and glorifying the
Mahamunni [sic] shrine; their territory extended as far north as Chittagong" [then
known as Chatigrama]. "The conclusion to be drawn from this MS is that Wesali



(Vaishali] was an easterly Hindu kingdom of Bengal, following the Mahayanist form
of Buddhism and that both government and people were Indian as the Mongolian
influx had not yet occurred." 30

The uncertainty over the date for the founding of Vaishali

Even though the capital of the Chandras is now accepted as Vaishali, there
is as yet no coeval epigraphic evidence confirming it, neither is the term by
which they identified their kingdom known. Western scholars have based
their identification on the word "Waythali" (Vaishali), a corrupt later version
in use by the present Rakhaing and the Myanmar peoples who are incapable
of pronouncing the character "v".

If it was indeed Vaishali, Dr Johnston, an epigraphist of Balliol College,
Oxford, who translated the Sanskrit inscription (circa 729) of Ananda
Chandra, Maharaja of Vaishali, felt that the region had come under the
control of the descendents of the [Licchavi] ruling family from Vaishali, Bihar,
when they fled from the ascendancy of the Imperial Guptas (circa 300-
467). 314 "

Johnston's theory is plausible, as the time scale corresponds with the sec-
ond surge of Hindu migration into Southeast Asia, and the creation of the
new Vaishali, when the Licchavi, under Dven Chandra (circa 370-425) estab-
lished a Chandra vamsa (Lunar dynasty); previously the Licchavi claimed to
be of the Surya vamsa (Solar dynasty).

However, at the present time, different opinions are current amongst schol-
ars as to the identity of the city which Dven Chandra inaugurated. While
some believe that it was the older Dhanyavati (meaning "rich as a source for
food grains" because of the fertility of the earth), about sixteen miles to the
north, others are of the opinion that it was Vaishali.

If we assume that it was the latter, at the location [Latitude 20° 40' 05"
North, Longitude 93° 90' East] which was to become Vaishali, there was
probably in existence a sizable number of colonists from the subcontinent,
making it an ideal choice for the high-born Licchavi.

Then again, if it was Dhanyavati, it is unclear if the Licchavi replaced the
earlier ruling house. This was an important site containing the Mahamuni
Shrine, with its reputedly miraculous 'living' bronze image of Buddha. How-
ever, apart from legendry accounts invented centuries later, there is as yet no
evidence of a contemporary nature to suggest that the shrine was already in
existence when the Licchavi established the spot as their new capital.




As Sada was mentioned in the Mahaniddesa, followed by Mitchiner's in-
terpretation of Ptolemy's 2 nd century rendition of "Chandra", perhaps the
dynastic name of this older dynasty, too, was Chandra?

Little is known of these early raja (s) who ruled at Dhanyavati, apart from
the fabricated accounts in later native chronicles which date this dynasty
from 600 BCE to 400 CE. Htun Shwe Kaing has gone further and pushed the
date for "the First Dhanyavati dynasty" to 3000 BCE, which one must accept
as pure wishful thinking. 23

In circa 729 CE, the inscription set by Ananda Chandra provided a list of
the long line of past rulers, and the major events which occurred during their
time of sovereignty. It stated that as the region was unstable, the monarch
Dven Chandra had to subdue no less than 101 kings, presumably local tribal
chiefs {this is a common symbolic number used to describe the many races of
man, implying that as the conqueror of so many, he was entitled to the status
of supreme ruler or Emperor].

Dven Chandra then laid out a nngaram (royal city), 24 ovoid in plan and
measuring 2.7 square miles in area. It was protected by fortifications and

If this was the present site of Vaishali, one will have to speculate that
either for sentimental reasons, or on seeing the topography with its vast
fertile lands which resembled the locality of their former home, the Licchavi
decided to name their new city after it. Vaishali is a derivation of Visala
meaning broad, extensive, spacious, magnificent. It was also the name of
Visala, the founder of the dynasty, who was the son of Trinabundu of the
Dcsavaku dynasty, possibly a semi-mythical ruler.

The original Vaishali in Bihar, described as "a small but powerful republic
governed by nobles of the Vriji family", was one of the six great cities of India
visited by Buddha. 25 It is situated about 27 miles north of Pataliputra (Patna)
and contains the Licchavi Relic stupa and the Abhishek Pushkarini or Coro-
nation Pond of the later Vaishali rulers.

Fa-Hsien and Xuanzang, the Chinese pilgrims who were in India between
401-410 and 629-645 respectively, travelled to the older "Fei-she-li", and
reported that although the region was very fertile, this celebrated site was

already in ruins.

Whether it was Dhanyavati or Vaishali, centuries later in Arakan, the
Ananda Chandra Inscription of 729 [henceforth to be known simply as the
Inscription] enthused that because of its magnificence the newly built but


unnamed capital, "saundarya hasinam" (laughed at) the grandeur of Amaravati,
the Vedic deity Indra's fabulous capital in Svarga ("Light of Paradise"). 26 * 27

Gutman has suggested that the city built by Dven Chandra was not Vaishali
but Dhanyavati, and dated the former to the 6 th century; this was based on
surviving archaeological evidence such as sculptures. 78 Earlier, she had sug-
gested the 7 th century. 29

If this is the case, it had to be the splendid city of Dhanyavati which
supposedly expressed amusement at the opulence of Indra's Svarga.

On the other hand, if Dhanyavati had been constructed by Dven Chandra
sometime between circa 370-425, who then was responsible for relocating the
capital to a site named Vaishali?

At the moment, no one appears to agree and each expert offers a bewil-
dering array of dates and theories.

Vaishali founded in circa 2 nd century BCE

In 1972, Aung Thaw, Director of Archaeology, recorded that "a Hinduised
dynasty was ruling at Vaisali (Wethali) about the 2 nd century B.C." 30

Vaishali built in 327 CE

The writers Myar Aung and Shwe Zan have claimed that Vaishali was built
in 327 by Maha Taing Sandra, who is not listed in the Inscription, and that
this was the year in which the great Pharagri image was commissioned and
installed at the capital at the instigation of his consort Thupaba Devi (see
Chapter Eleven). 31 Conversely, the late San Tha Aung, insisted that the year
was 370.

Vaishali established early 6 ,h century

If the first half of the 6 th century has been recommended by Gutman for its
foundation, there were only two maharaja{s) listed in the Inscription for this
period. They were Bhuti Chandra (circa 496-520) and Niti Chandra (circa

In all probability, it was the latter, for the Inscription indicated that he
reigned for fifty-five years. There was also peace in the realm, and more
importantly, the economy appeared to have been strong [this may be attested


; I.Uhl nnivfliilin


by the fact that the coins issued by him are the most common in the Chandra
series to have survived].

But that was all.

There is no mention in the Inscription of a new capital being built during
his reign.

The mystery is, why was such a vitally important subject as the relocation
of the capital not confirmed and identified in the text? Although it recorded
the construction of a city, frustratingly it failed to name or date the event.

To confuse matters further, the later Rakhaing chronicles have also claimed
a date for the establishment of Vaishali — in fact a baffling number.

To quote but a few.

One source 32 asserted that Vaishali was built by the monarch Vasudeva
[not listed in the Inscription]. Another said that Vasudeva and his nine broth-
ers took over old Arakan and established themselves at Dvaravati (now
Thandwair, also known as Sandoway during British colonial times; the city
reputedly had a habit of floating off into the air and had to be tethered to the
ground by a massive chain].

Vasudeva is also another name for the god Krishna, who is the eighth
manifestation of Vishnu.

Providentially, we have Gutman's version regarding this mysterious
Vasudeva. She explains that he was the focus of the Bhagavata cult [con-
nected with the worship of Vishnu or Krishna] adopted by the Gupta monarchs,
which the Chandra rulers felt obliged to imitate, doubtless to bolster their self

According to Dallapiccola, in India the cult later amalgamated with the
Vaishnava faction of the Pancharatras."

One must assume that somehow this information filtered down through
the centuries to later Rakhaing chroniclers who were totally unaware of its
significance, and presumed that Vasudeva had to be the name of a very
important monarch, and was therefore the ideal candidate for the founder of


i tiumiiHitiitno


Vaishali constructed in 788 CE

An indication of how these supposedly ancient Rakhaing chronicles could get
their facts terribly wrong is revealed by Collis, who was equally ignorant of
the piece of information he was quoting.

"The area now known as north Arakan has been for many years before the 8 ,k century
the seat of Hindu dynasties; in 788 A.D., a new dynasty, known as the Chandras,
founded the city of Wesali [the dynasty then] came to an end in 957 A.D., being
overwhelmed by a Mongolian invasion."**

[The date could not possibly be 788, for the Chandra dynasty had ended
by circa 600. Yet, according to Kyi Khin, who was doubtless quoting one of
the later Rakhaing chronicles, it was Maha Tain Sandara who rebuilt the old
[and presumably abandoned] city of Vaishali in 788, and that it was de-
stroyed in 957. 36

Vaishali built in 790 CE

Forchhammer, quoting the Sappadanapakarana (Sarvasthanaprakarana), claimed
to be "an ancient Arakanese manuscript of great value" added another twist to
the story;

"In the year 152 B.E [Buddhist Era] (A.D. 790) the new city of Vesali [sic] was
founded by the King Mahataingcandra on the site where the old town had stood." 37

As the chronicle did not identify this "old town", Dhanyavati is out of the
question as it is nearly sixteen miles to the north. Another source, however,
said that this "old town" was Ramavati ("The City of Rama").

Vaishali created in 887 CE

Aung Tha U, who failed to reveal his source, made the surprising claim that
Vaishali was founded by Maha Sandra in 887 CE. M He was obviously not
aware that the oldest section of the Inscription [the text on the east face of
the pillar] was already in existence by the reigns of either Bhumi Chandra
(circa 489-496) or Bhuti Chandra (circa 496-520) wi Vaishali itself, and that
by 887, the Chandra dynasty had long ceased to exist.

The by now bemused and mystified reader will be relieved to learn that
at this point in time all theories are tentative. Until archaeological and scien-
tific investigations have been conducted thoroughly, and centuries of





entrenched and bewildering myths created by later native chroniclers which
have influenced some naive foreign scholars, eradicated.

It will probably be many years before a competent archaeologist or histo-
rian, will be able to unravel this mystery and present an acceptable account
of this period.

Regarding the founding of the earlier Dhanyavati, as Gutman has sug-
gested a period sometime between 370-425, one must also presume that this
should be accepted as the date for the construction of the Mahamuni Shrine
on Sirigutta hill, thereby causing the chroniclers, invariably monks of a later
age, to spin in their graves.

These pious men have stated, and with great authority, that the dedica-
tion of the shrine and its bronze icon was attended by none other than
Buddha himself, who 'activated' the icon by breathing 'life' into it, and named
it the Candasara image.

One is informed that on that fabulous day when the bronze image was
created, among the distinguished guests were none other than Indra and
Visvakarman (Tvashtri), the celestial architect and creator of Indra's Swarga,
who was also responsible for casting the image, and for the construction of
the shrine to house it.

This preposterous claim is still accepted by the entire country.

As supernatural beings, if Indra and Visvakarman were endowed with
such impressive magical powers, why was there a need to actually cast a

bronze image? Could it not have been magicked out of thin air?

Then again, why were Hindu gods attending and taking part in a Bud-
dhist ceremony?

If as it is now claimed that this centre of worship was of great importance
at the time, why was it not mentioned in the Inscription?

The Rakhaing who are of Sino-Tibetan stock, did not arrive at their present
homeland from Western China until about the 10* century CE. However,
their quasi-historical records which are secondary material compiled centu-
ries later, and liberally sprinkled with anachronisms, now maintain that they
have been in their country since 5000 BCE. They also claim, quite seriously,
the early Indian dynasties of Dhanyavati and Veshali as their own — peopled
by the Rakhaing race. 39



Gnapier L7our

The Ananda Chandra Inscription

CThe contents of all the previous records pale in comparison to that of the
Dharmarajandaja vamsa (dynasty) (circa 649-circa 729). Although none of
the dedicatory records include a date, the names on the coins and the signifi-
cant list of the rulers in the Inscription have helped scholars to identify the
royal donors.

Had it not been for Johnston and the Indian epigraphists before him, the
contents of the Inscription which remained inaccessible for well over a thou-
sand years, would never have been known. Although the Rakhaihg chroniclers,
monks and laymen alike, were incapable of deciphering the Sanskrit text,
they were not above providing fictitious names and accounts of the rulers of
this and other ancient sites.

While the Inscription, which consists of sixty-five verses [seventy-one and
a half lines] has provided important material regarding dates and locations,
its compiler could also be infuriatingly terse at times. Neither the name of the
kingdom or the two premier city sites of Dhanyavati and Vaishali are men-
tioned; it simply states that a nagaram (royal city) had been established.

Since nothing comparable to this eleven foot high monolith exists in
Myanmar, during my visits in 2002 and 2005, I was distressed to find it
neglected and the text flaking. Though it is four sided, only three faces are
inscribed in a Nagari script which is allied to those of North-Eastern India
and Vanga (Bengal).

As the monolith is cemented to the floor, each of the four panels has been
designated according to the cardinal direction in which it faces; this is for
easy reference.


iiitftumhi HiMflilnh


And now for some deduction games on the age of the inscription on each

The panel on the east face

While Johnston merely said that the script on the eastern face was the ear-
liest,' San Tha Aung felt that it could be dated to sometime between 300 to
600 CE. 2 Alternatively, Shwe Zan was less vague and claimed that the record
could be credited to either Bhumi Chandra (circa 489-496) or Bhuti Chandra
(circa 496-520). 3 Gutman has also suggested that it was similar to the type of
script used in Bengal during the early sixth century. 4

The panel on the north face

Although Johnston suggested a date for the type of script on the north panel
he mentioned that several smaller inscriptions in Bengali characters, had been
added during the tenth century. Gutman, on the other hand, felt that the
principal text in this section was of the mid eleventh century. 5 Then again,
Kyi Khin in his Report, indicated that the first four lines on the north panel
were of the 7* 1 century, and that the short inscriptions at the base belonged
to the 9 ,n century. 6

Regrettably, the contents of the eastern and northern faces have not yet
been fully investigated, and the situation has reached a critical point as the
surfaces are fast deteriorating. Half-hearted plans to have the texts studied
and translated have not materialized.

[The profound apathy which appears to grip most civil servants in the
relevant departments may be one of the reasons. One must also assume that
there are no competent epigraphists available to attempt unravelling the in-
scriptions. By all accounts, resources are now focused on the archaeology in
Myanmar proper, with early Arakan and old Mon thrust to one side].

The panel on the west face

Fortunately, this segment which is reasonably preserved, is a prasasti (record
of a ruler's qualities and achievements) of Ananda Chandra and his pred-
ecessors, including some earlier monarchs who are thought to be legendary.
Johnston dated the type of script to the sixth or early seventh century, 7 while
Gutman felt that it was from the earlier part of the eighth century. 8


flit 110


This priceless document not only lists the personalities of each monarch,
but also some of the major events of every reign, and is the focus of this

work. 9

Since the pillar which is now sited at the Shitthaung pagoda [the stupa
which [allegedly] contains eighty thousand Buddha images], the Inscription
has variously been called either the Shitthaung Pillar, the Mrohaung [another
name for the town of Mrauk U] Inscription, or the Ananda Chandra Inscrip-

As the earliest texts on the eastern panel may be attributed to either
Bhumi or Bhuti Chandra, the pillar should in theory be named after one of
them. However, for our present purpose, it will henceforth be referred to as
the Inscription, since we will be concerned primarily with the period of Ananda
Chandra's reign.

So far, the early history of this inscription pillar is a blank.

It was first mentioned in the Rakhaing chronicles when it was conveyed
from Vaishali on the orders of king Mong Ba Gree (reigned 1531-1553) to his
Shitthaung pagoda at Mrauk U, nine miles to the south. 10 Various dates are
given for this event, such as 1534, 1535 and 1536."' ,M »

The heavy pillar, together with its supplementary fixtures, were doubtless
placed on specially constructed carts. Another source said that the king's
elephant was used to carry the monolith to Mrauk U; surely a near impossible
task for an animal to undertake, trudging for nine miles with this immense
load?" The north entrance of the pagoda then became the Inscription's new
home. On the death of Mong Ba Gree in 1553, the pillar was neglected, and
thereafter for over four centuries abandoned and finally used as a gatepost.

[When more progressive times prevail, the inscription pillar should be
returned to its original site in Vaishali. As things stand, at this moment in
time, this is too much to hope for].

But this is no ordinary epigraphic record, it was once part of a ceremonial
tarana (portal) bristling with mystical connotations. The components forming
this doorway were the pillar itself, a lintel, an octagonal column and a swing-
ing gate.

With regard to the age of the first three objects, Gutman's interpretation
appears to be the most reliable. She has suggested that as the material used
was red sandstone, she proposed a date anterior to the middle of the seventh
century. Evidently, after this date its use fell out of favour in Arakan. 15


; iiiiitj


Next on the throne was Dharma Sura (possibly named after the monarch
of the Survasenas whose capital was Mathura on the Yumuna River; Sura
was also the name of a king of the Chandra vamsa (Lunar Race). Dharma Sura
reigned circa 636- 649. As his first name Dharma suggests, he appears to
have been of a religious inclination. During his reign the realm enjoyed pros-
perity. He ruled for thirteen years, and being a devout monarch he entered

This brief dynasty which held sway for forty-nine years may have ended
with Dharma Sura.

The interregnum

It is a tremendous shame that apart from the document relating to Ananda
Chandra, the rest of the texts engraved on various parts of the monolith have
not been translated.

Johnston felt that many of the smaller inscriptions contained lists of names,
which he assumed were of local lords, two of which he could decipher. These
were the mysterious Prabha Chandra and Bhupalah Sri Candakeyura

Perhaps, one day, all will be revealed as to who these personages were,
but one should not hold one's breath.

The Sri Dharmaraj-andaja vamsa (dynasty) (circa 649-729).

A new and powerful ruling family then took command of the situation in the

Johnston felt the above dynastic name implied that their ancestry could be
traced back to Brahma and Manu, the latter being the ancestral progenitor of
the ten lines of kings of classical India. It inferred they were of the noble
kshatriya (warrior) caste. 5 Sircar added that Sri Dharmaraj-andaja vamsa
meant a succession of distinguished and righteous rulers belonging to the
Dev-andaja clan (the deity Garuda (the sacred Brahminy kite: Haliastur Indus)
which is also the vehicle of Vishnu. This was indicated and affirmed in the
Inscription by the Garuda motif; the Gupta monarchs also employed this

And for the first time, thanks to the compiler of the Inscription, we have
evidence of the identity of the new ruling family and their origins.



In verse 64, he clearly states that Ananda Chandra was a descendant of
the Saiva-Andhra monarehs 7 [presumably of Vengi ?] whose kingdom was
located between the Godavari and the Krishna Rivers, and close to the Bay
of Bengal.

Johnston was unsure, and felt it was a dynasty based somewhere in the
Deccan [an immense region of middle India].

It is interesting that as late as the 7* century, ambitious members of some
of India's princely houses were crossing the Bay to Arakan with the intention
of carving out a kingdom for themselves. And they succeeded.

The founder of this new dynasty was Vajra Sakti ("The Thunderbolt of
Karttikeya") reigned circa 649-665. 8 In addition to having been descended
from the Saiva-Andhra kings, he is also described as one who was of the
Deva family, indicating that his mother was a princess of the Deva dynasty;
we have here a scion of two prominent ruling houses. Unfortunately, this
particular Deva dynasty cannot as yet be traced; the only Devas this author
is aware of ruled in the kingdom of Harikela, part of Samatata, and which
came into prominence well after Vajra Sakti/s reign.

Vajra Sakti who was in power for sixteen years was renowned for his
dedication to religion, and therefore, according to the text, comparable to a
Vajrin (Indra); had he been of the Theravada persuasion, as is now sug-
gested, would such a comparison have been used? The mention of
danasiladisamyukta indicated that he was a follower of the Mahayana school
of Buddhism 9 — doubtless with a dash of Brahmanism.

His successor, who reigned from circa 665-701 (thirty-six years), was the
devout Sri Dharma Vijaya (named after one of the Saiva-Andhra monarehs
who was [according to the Inscription] one of his ancestors; he could also
have been called after a ruler of Ayodhaya who was of the Surya vamsa
(Solar Race). Vijaya means victory and Dharma Vijaya indicates a person
who had overcome human weaknesses.

This monarch was a pious devotee of the "Three Jewels", and it should be
noted that when he passed away, he entered not Svarga but ascended into
lokasukham Tusitam (Tusita heaven).

References to the "Three Jewels" and "Tusita heaven" reveal that he, too,
was a Mahayanist, which San Tha Aung fervently denies. In fact, Rakhaing
chronicles identify Dharma Vijaya as a Theravada Buddhist and the Con-
venor of the Fourth Buddhist Synod allegedly held at Vaishali, in Arakan [see




Chapter Eleven for further details on this incredible piece of Rakhaing reli-
gious spin].

And here, too, thanks to Mitchiner's researches, can be quoted the sur-
prising and additional information to Dharma Vijaya's long and successful
reign. Mitchiner has been able to prove, by numismatic evidence, that this
monarch had expansionist tendencies, backed presumably by military might.
He marched into Samatata and seized that kingdom from its Kara rulers
[Dani said that Pattikera was the classical name of the capital of Samatata].

The annexation of this kingdom will certainly be news to Rakhaing histo-
rians who will no doubt claim another triumph for a member of 'their' race.

It would seem that Dharma Vijaya ("The Victorious One") was aptly

Infuriatingly, little information is available as to when this significant event
occurred, or the length of time Samatata was under the yoke of Vaishali. But
with the death of Dharma Vijaya, which Mitchiner believes to be circa 680 [as
opposed to Sircar's circa 701], in Samatata power passed into the hands of
the Khadgas who founded the kingdom of Harikela 10 [they were in turn
replaced by the Devas].

With the loss of its rich vassal state, Vaishali probably began its slow

Unusually, the Inscription then revealed the relationship between two

Narendra ("Monarch of Men") Vijaya (circa 701-704) who reigned for
two years and nine months, is identified as the son of Sri Dharma Vijaya.
Narendra Vijaya may have been a youth without progeny, for the line of
succession then reverted back to the son of Vajra Sakti, the founder of this

Johnston was uncertain of the new king's title and thought that it was
either Viranarendra Chandra or Sri Dharma Chandra. Sircar interpreted it as
Sri Dharma ("Upholder of the Religious Law") Chandra (circa 704-720). This
monarch, who was the father of Ananda Chandra, is described as having
descended from h-anvaya meaning that his forebears were royalty; Johnston
read this as "Isa" meaning Shiva.

The text described his attainments in glowing terms and indicated that
militarily he, like Dharma Vijaya, was dominant. He reigned for sixteen years,



However, during my visits in 2002 and 2005, enquiries among the villagers
revealed they had not seen any.

According to Mitchiner, the economy of Vaishali prospered until the 6*
century, thereafter the route of the silver trade bypassed the kingdom to
Samatata, further north, causing an economic downturn locally. Neverthe-
less, he also said that during the reign of Sri Dharma Vijaya (circa 665-701)
Vaishali extended its sovereignty to Samatata where his coinage was in cir-
culation. 3

If there was indeed a decline, there was no hint of this in the confident
tone of the Inscription, perhaps the silver trade had been replaced by a more
lucrative commerce in rice for which the land is still famous. The text implied
that under Ananda Chandra it was a prosperous realm, and that many re-
ligious buildings were constructed and lavish gifts bestowed on religious
establishments at home and abroad.


Amongst the ruins of Vaishali, the prevalence of dressed stone bases for
wooden pillars reveal that the majority of the structures, religious and secu-
lar, were of timber. The carved depressions in the stone sockets indicate that
the columns tended to be square, with a deep rounded centre inserted into
the base for stability.

More substantial materials were employed on devaprasada thirthika (reli-
gious edifices) such as the Buddhist stupas and the Brahmanical temples-
While the earlier buildings were constructed by sthapati (architects) from the
subcontinent who no doubt were versed in the Sthapatya veda (science of
architecture), their descendents evolved indigenous styles as evidenced by the
decorative stone fragments excavated.

Gutman mentioned in her thesis that one of these builders left behind at
the Mahamuni shrine a beautifully cast iron plummet, similar to a specimen
now on display in the British Museum. As the latter, datable to the sixth
century CE was excavated from the Surma riverbed in East Bengal, the former,
too, may have originated from somewhere in that region. Although this au-
thor was told in 2002 that this important instrument was now in a monastery
at Kyauk Taw, sadly, all traces of it have disappeared; it is probably now in
some foreign collection.


:iii)UtiMltl Hilild flvifi


By the time of the Inscription in 729, the places of worship in Vaishali
would doubtless have increased.

A dedicatory inscription of Vira Chandra Deva (reigned circa 575-578)
stated that he had constructed one hundred stupas. Considering that he
ruled for only three years, building work would have been frenetic. Then
again, these structures were probably votive stupas of brick or stone, about
four to eight feet high, some of which have survived. Models of this type can
still be encountered all over Eastern India, especially at the Mahabodhi tem-
ple, Bodh-Gaya. 4

Other monarchs from this dynasty, and the ones which followed, also
commissioned shrines and temples, since it was an established tradition for a
ruler to build at least one religious edifice during his reign. As the region had
been under the control of several dynasties, the number of Brahmanic temples
and Buddhist stupas were probably considerable. This assumption has been
confirmed by San Shwe Bu who observed in the 1920s that the area was "full
of ancient monuments now mostly hidden by jungle." 5 Sadly, few now re-
main as the bricks and stones have since been salvaged and put to other uses.

Regrettably, even though none of the buildings of the Vaishali period are
extant, one can obtain an idea from a few surviving models of the type of
Buddhist structures which once dominated the skyline of the old capital. The
November-December 2005 issue of Arts of Asia, page 122 (no. 41), contained
an illustration of a replica of a superb bronze shrine, which though incor-
rectly described as early 18 ,h century, is of the late Vaishali period, or possibly
earlier. As the architectural design is comparable to that prevalent in Orissa,
it indicates that some architects from that region were responsible for many
of the structures in Vaishali.

The convex-sided shikhara is crowned by a amalaka, a globular grooved
finial with ribbed sides like the Indian gooseberry (Emblica officinalis), the
cardinal points are decorated with smaller facsimiles. These amalaka have also
been incorporated on to surviving smaller stone stupas of the period. The
graduating roof is in five tiers, with the first and largest being ornamented by
rows of tiny kneeling figures depicted in the act of paying homage. Other
decorations consist of lines of quatrefoil motifs. Buddhas, either standing or
in bhumisparsa mudra within kotlhaka (s) (gate-chambers or porches) are flanked
by elegant dvarapala(s) while other divinities which appear to be of Mahayanist
origins, occupy niches.


I ttlJMIOlilltttlO


This superb object was originally installed in a relic chamber of a pagoda
built by royalty, but had fallen victim to desecrators of relic chambers, no
doubt organized by an antiques dealer in Yangon, and now languishes in a
private collection abroad.

Previously published artefacts from this period have been unimpressive,
but this exceptional example proves beyond doubt that there were craftsmen
capable of creating splendid works of art.

Models of shrines and Buddha images claimed to be of the Vaishali period
have also appeared in The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan by San Tha Aung
in his enthusiastic zeal to push back the antiquity of the city, oblivious to the
fact that the architecture and iconography all date to a time after the 12 ,h
century.* Just because these objects were discovered at Vaishali does not
necessarily validate them as being 'of pre 8 th century provenance. The former
capital was still a provincial outpost and a place of pilgrimage well into the
14 th century, but by then Brahmanism and the Mahayana form of Buddhism
had been replaced by the Theravada version.

Understandably, by the time of the Inscription, many of the older religious
structures built by former rulers were already in ruins. The text stated that
Ananda Chandra had undertaken their restoration, indicating that conserva-
tion of sorts appears to have been known; in the process it also gained the
much sought after religious merit for the pious restorer.

Arakan is lashed by monsoon rains from the Bay of Bengal for several
months each year, and perhaps the brickwork, despite its stone facing, was
substandard. This is very much in evidence at the excavated sites where the
surviving masonry reveals large bricks stacked one above the other in a hap-
hazard manner. Similar shoddy workmanship can also be seen at the
contemporary Pyu city sites in Myanmar proper.

Ananda Chandra was not only a restorer of ruins, he was also a munifi-
cent patron of Mahayana Buddhist and Hindu institutions. AH those endowed
by him were prefixed with his name, including an undisclosed number of
vihara (s) (monasteries) for the Buddhist Arya-Sangha. These were registered
as Anandodaya vihara ("Monastery of Ananda, the Compassionate") and
staffed by dasa (male) and dasi (female) slaves; land and cattle were allocated
for the use of the entire monastic community.

He also built a substantial mat ha (priory) for the Brahmin priests which he
named Anandamadhava; this was near the residence of the Brahmana of



In both surviving sculptures, male and female wear their elaborately dressed
long hair, secured by diadems, in a large bun on top of their heads. The
earlobes are weighted down by heavy cone-shaped earrings, reminiscent of
those seen in sculptures from early Cambodia and Indonesia. Jewelled orna-
ments are worn. The costumes are not complex.

Although the workmanship is unsophisticated, nevertheless the robes,
accessories and hair styles are invaluable as they represent the mode of dress
at court at the time these images were carved.

Among the other deities on view is an image of either Avalokitesvara or
Vishnu, although its four arms are missing, the padma, one of its attributes
has survived.

Many of these sculptures are not the accumulation of centuries, but are
the work of a master and his assistants, and were probably undertaken at
about the same time. This is indicated in the details, such as the features,
costumes, jewellery and elaborate hairstyles which are all identical.

The portrait of Bhikshatanamurti

One superb piece identified by Gutman as a Bodhisattva, has had several
interpretations foisted on it by recent Rakhaing writers. Shwe Zan, in par-
ticular, is adamant that it represents the legendry Sanda Thuriya, the alleged
builder of the Mahamuni Shrine to house the bronze image of Buddha. This
is despite the lack of an original inscription identifying the sculpture as such.

"See what you want to see" appears to be the maxim amongst the inhab-
itants of Rakhaing Land.

On inspecting this superb carving, a competent scholar will immediately
notice the pair of kundala (earrings) which it sports, and which do not match.
This identifies it as a representation of Shiva in his aspect as Bhikshatanamurti,
the patron deity of ascetics. While one earring symbolises Shiva's linga, the
other, round and perforated, represents Parvati's yoni.

Bhikshatanamurti is adorned with a superb hara (necklace), and an equally
splendid waist band. A long beaded yajnopavita [a type of sacred thread)
hangs down to the knees and is taken up at the back. The diaphanous dhoti
is secured at the hips by a belt. A sash is draped across the thighs and
knotted stylishly at the right hip, from where it falls in graceful loops — a
typical Gupta affectation.


I ItUMliUilBiUlO


The glory of this sculpture is in its exquisitely tranquil face and elaborate
hairstyle. While the rest of the head, which is backed by a large halo, is
covered in small curls, framed by an ornamental keshabandha (forehead band),
the long hair from the crown has been tightly braded and arranged in three
tiers of loops. The style is reminiscent of those in use in the early kingdoms
of Cambodia; part of the coiffure of a seventh century head of Hari-hara (an
amalgamation of Shiva and Vishnu) from Prasat Phnom Da and now in the
Musee Guiment, Paris, sports a similar design.

Regrettably, for people such as Shwe Zan, their self imposed tunnel-vision
precludes them from widening their knowledge regarding Hindu iconogra-
phy or the Brahmanic gods. Anything Indian is usually looked down on by
Rakhaing Buddhists who feel immensely superior. This superiority, which the
Myanmar are also guilty of, can be compared to the way the Raj sahibs and
memsahibs treated their native subjects.

Three mysterious deities at Oak-pon-taung

Less than a mile to the east of the Mahamuni Shrine, is a range of hills, one
of which is called Oak-pon-taung ("Hill-of-the-mound-of-bricks")- The de-
scriptive title indicates there were once ruins here, perhaps a monastic complex.
Conversely, there may have been kilns where bricks were made. When I
visited the spot in 2005, several stone architectural fragments, large decapi-
tated images of Buddha, and bricks, were being excavated by the monks of
the nearby monastery.

There was also a newly built shrine containing three mystifying figures,
which on closer examination of their ornaments, revealed the work to be
from the same period as the sculptures at the Mahamuni shrine. Regrettably,
and to my intense irritation, the trio had been insensitively renovated, thereby
obliterating the original details.

Earlier in 1988, a chapter in Myauk U Ian hnuti had mentioned "several
ancient stone images" which could be observed at the foot of this particular
hill. As it described the sculptures as being "seik htu" ("stuck-into-the-carth-
and-erected"), the expressive phrase implied that they were to be seen as they
had been left for centuries, either standing or lying on the ground.

In 1988, the carvings were obviously untouched and in their original form.
The abbot of the present monastery, then decided to take matters in hand and




have the trio 'brought up to date' so that they now look brand new and
covered in cheap gold paint.

When I complained — as I usually do when confronted with such des-
ecration* the young 'guardian' of the shrine looked incredulously at me, and
could not understand what all the fuss was about. After all, as far as he was
concerned, by performing this 'meritorious' restoration, an otherwise dam-
aged collection of sculptures had been elevated to a pristine condition — this
is the present attitude of the Rakhaing and the Myanmar — even among the

As the identity of the trio is no longer known, the monks have expediently
provided them with the epithet "Bo Bo Gyi nat yoke myar" (Great Grandfather
spirits); this is a popular title by which unidentifiable divine beings thought
to be 'ancient' are recognized throughout the country.

Who did these figures originally represent? Could they have been moved
from the Mahamuni shrine at some point in time, or was there a separate cult
centre at the bottom of this hill?

These are questions which need to be answered.

Apart from the usual nonsense, no one at the site could provide any
satisfactory information.

A notice board dated January 1, 2003, warned pilgrims:

"Scented water must not to be sprayed on the images; pebbles are not to be
placed in their hands; food offerings are prohibited; candles must not be lit;
no graffiti on the walls".

The figures had evidently been remodelled recently and the shrine opened
to the public.

It was clear the abbot of the monastery did not want the sculptures to be
propitiated by Buddhist pilgrims, as they were once Hindu deities of some
sort and not Buddhist spirits. Had the pilgrims done so, God knows how their
actions would have effected their spiritual well being - something I should
have asked the abbot!

1 was at the Mahamuni Shrine in 2002, but had no knowledge of the
existence of these statues. Had I visited the present site then, perhaps I may
have had the opportunity to photograph the trio in their original form - and
now it is too late.




The Rakhaing craftsman who undertook the 'restoration' had covered the
rough stone surfaces in plaster. Whether he retained the original mudra of
each or had changed them at the direction of the abbot is anyone's guess. At
present, the position of the hands of the trio look remarkably neat, as if

deliberately rearranged to form an artistic and complementary 'set'. All three
have one of their hands cupped, as if it was meant to hold either a bowl or
an object. The gestures are quite unlike any of the carvings at the Mahamuni

Fortunately, the restorer had preserved some of the identifying features
which can also be seen on the corresponding Mahamuni sculptures. These are
the distinctive diadems, huge earrings, the strange wing-like appendages behind
the shoulders, the ample neckband, armlets and the characteristic belt with
its curious buckle-like loop arrangement in the centre. On the other hand, if
the images had each been originally sculpted with a rounded back slab, simi-
lar to their counterparts, these appear to have been removed.

At the Mahamuni Shrine and its environs, full scale systematic excava-
tions and research, unhindered by present biased Buddhist beliefs and
superstitions, invariably orchestrated by the local monks and trustees, need to
be undertaken urgently.


1. Gutman, "Between India and Southeast Asia" etc., p. 12.

2. Forchhammer, A Report on the History of Arakan, etc., p. 14.

3. Gutman, Burma's Lost Kingdoms etc., p. 34.

4. Chan Htwan Oung, "The Mahamuni Shrine in Arakan", pp. 262-265, and San Shwe Bu, "The
Story of Mahamuni". pp. 225-229. Other Rakhaing sources also claimed that the image was

5. Thaw Kaung, The Selected Writings of U Thaw Kaung; The Mahamuni, p. 133. He was quoting
Gutman, Burma's Lost Kingdoms etc., pp. 7-10.

6. Seckel. D., The Art of Buddhism, p. 159.

7. San Shwe Bu, "Notes and Reviews: The Story of Mahamuni", JBRS, p. 228, 1916.

8. Aung Tha U, Rakhaing Yazawin, p. 135.

9. Myar Aung, Thamaing-dair-hma Mrauk U etc., p. 134.

10. Tun Shwe Khine, A Guide to Mahamuni, p. 10, 1994.

11. Aung Tha U, Rakhaing Yazawin, 136.

12. Ibid.p. 137.

13. Ibid, pp. 137-138.

14. Gutman, Burma's Lost Kingdoms etc., p. 35.

15. Ibid p. 35.

16. Forchammer, A Report on the History of Arakan etc., p. 6. [sections from Forchammer's account
were plagiarized by Tun Shwe Khaing in his Guide to the Mahamuni, 1994.



GAapfer Unirieen

The Buddhist Council Hill at Vaishali

0n arrival at the site of the former capital, one runs immediately into

A little to the north east of the present village of Vaishali is a seventy foot
high hillock known as Thanga-yana-tin-kon ("Hill-where-the-Buddhist-Coun-
cil-was-held") it was here, according to Rakhaing chronicles that the Fourth
Buddhist Maha Sangiti(s) (Great Council) was convened in 638 CE; 1 a claim
which is pure religious propaganda from a later age, and a confused one at

According to local accounts, the event occurred during the reign of Thiri
Dharma Wizaya, a name which possibly equates with Sri Dharma Vijaya
(reigned circa 665-701) in the Inscription, in which case the dates do not
correspond. According to Mitchiner, this was the famous conqueror who
annexed and extended his authority to Samatata in Bengal.

If we are to accept the date 638 as shown in the local chronicles, it should
place this event at the time of Dharma Sura (circa 636-649) of the Inscrip-

Unfortunately, all the dates in the Rakhaing chronicles cannot be recon-
ciled with those based on evidence accepted by international scholars.

Regarding these Buddhist Councils, the sequence of events is as follows
(several versions, together with dates, are known, and this is but one.]

The First Council was held under Mahakasyapa, at Rajagriha, in modern
Rajgir, Bihar, in 473 BCE.

The Second Council under the auspices of king Kalasoka, also known as
Kakavarnin, at Vaishali, Bihar, in 336 BCE.




The Third Council was organized during the reign of Ashoka, at Pataliputra
(Patna) sometime between 274-236 BCE.

The Fourth Council under the patronage of Kanishka (circa 78-101 CE) ,
the Kushan king, in Kashmir.

Historically, the Fourth Council was conducted not in the kingdom of the
Chandras, in Arakan, but by the Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka. The
Mahayana Buddhists, whom the Theravadins considered 'heathens' then
organized their own event either at Jalandhar or Kashmir in about 100 CE.

In Arakan, there is here either a deliberate attempt to mislead, or to be
more charitable, confusion, on the part of the native chroniclers over the
association of the words "Vaishali" and "Buddhist Council", leading them to
take for granted that the location was their Waythali. Over the centuries, the
vast majority of the Rakhaing historians had probably never heard of the
original Vaishali in India, believing that their Waythali was the only one.

It is unclear why the Rakhaing decided to assign 'their' council as the

As stated above, what they failed to realize was that the site where the
original council was held in 336 BCE was at Vaishali, Bihar, after Buddha's
parinirvana at Kusinagara in circa 486 or 483 BCE, and it was designated the
Second Council [even at Vaishali, Bihar, it is still not known in which part
of the city this event took place]. 2

More importantly, that this so-called momentous occasion was held in
Arakan is not recognised in other Buddhist countries.

Although the true facts are known today, such distortions continue to be
fostered by unscrupulous monks in an attempt to draw pilgrims and, more
importantly, their donations, to the locality.

Here it must be said that San Tha Aung who normally would not have
hesitated in bringing such a significant event to the attention of the English
speaking world, was obviously aware of this charade, and thought it prudent
not to include it in a chapter on the history of the Buddhist Councils. His
comment was simply:

"These were the Four Great Councils held in different part[$] of India after the
parinirvana of Buddha."*

According to U Khaymarthiri, the present abbot at the Thanga-yana-tin
hill, the supposed Council at Vaishali in Arakan was attended by 1000 monks


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