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Written by Webmaster MRS
Wednesday, 11 June 2009 05:28

(Circa 1st — 10th Centuries A.D)Pamela C. Gutman*
Our sources for the early history of Arakan are remarkably similar to the sources for the same period of the history of Bangladesh. This, of course, is due to their geographical, proximity and the consequent cultural interchange between the two regions. In Arakan, the natural boundaries of mountains and sea protected a compact area suited to dry and wet rice cultivation, factors which led to urban settlement and centralized organization, while both sea and land routes made direct contact with India possible. The land route between China (including the Indian-influenced Nan-Chao), Burma and India passed through northern Arakan and its ports may have been outlets for the products of Upper Burma. Hence, Arakan was in an unique position as a centre for the diffusion of Indian culture, and her influence on the culture of the Pyu and Burmese centres of Srlksetra and Pagan must be evaluated.


Up to date no archaeological excavations have been undertaken in the area, although a survey was made by Dr. Forchhammer, the first Government Archaeologist in Burma in 1891.1 M. Charles Duroiselle, Director of the Archaeological Survey of Burma, visited Vesali and other sites briefly in 1920, and his successor, U Lu Pe Win, in 1940. From 1917 to 1923 the Honorary Archaeological Officer for Arakan, U San Shwe Bu, reported surface finds in the Report of the Director, Archaeological Survey of Burma (ASB). Since then, sporadic reports of new finds have appeared in ASB, notably in 1957-58, when a review of known data, was published.

Some information can be gathered from aerial photographs. Dr. Daw Thin Kyi, Professor of Geography at Rangoon Arts and Science University, has located the sites of seven cities dating, probably, from soon after the beginning of the Christian Era to 1784, and in her excellent paper2 has traced the evolution of town planning in northern Arakan. This information is now being verified by U Myo Myin Sein, Professor of Architecture at Rangoon Institute of Technology, who has undertaken a survey of Myohaung and other sites in the area.3

The earliest cities, contemporary with those in Burma proper 4, Central Thailand 5 and Bangladesh 6 occupy the well-drained foothill area of the ridge between the Kaladan and Lemro rivers. The first, Dhinnyawadi, (lat. 2O’, 52” N,long. 93” 3″ E) is accessible from the Bay of Bengal via the Kaladan River. Like the Pyu cities of Sriksetra and Beikthano there is an inner and an outer city, both surrounded by moats, the inner city probably being the palace site. The people lived in the outer city which enclosed the fields which they worked. The later city of Vesali (Burmese: Wethali) (lat. 20’40”N, long. 93’ 9”E) founded in the mid-fourth century7, is six miles south of Dhinnyawadi. Like the earlier city the outer walls, built of brick, are somewhat rounded and the inner city is rectangular 8.

A comparative stylistic analysis of these sites with contemporary sites in Bangladesh -Mahasthan, Mainamati, Ramkot and others awaiting excavation 9 – will do much to establish the nature of culture contacts between the two areas.


The only sculpture discovered so far at Dhinnyawadi can be dated by analogy with northeast Indian styles and by polaeography of the inscribed images to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and appears to belong to the Buddhist pantheon. As these sculptures are found within the precincts of the sacred Mahamuni Shrine, which is kept up even today, they probably belong to the Vesali period.

The sculpture found at Vesali includes both Hindu and Buddhist images closely connected to the various schools of northeastern India between the sixth and the tenth centuries A.D, Analogies may be drawn between this material and that of contemporary phases of the kingdoms of southeast Bengal, particularly Mainamati, and with the recent discoveries from the Ratnagiri site in Orissa10.

Bronzes in the Myohaung Museum, said to come from Vesali, show a close connection with the Pala School. Others in the possession of monasteries in the Akyab and Sandoway Districts show contact with Nepal and possibly Yunnan.


The inscriptions are obviously our most important primary historical sources. Those published. to date appear in Inscriptions of Burma,- Portfolio IV,11 and various issues of the Report of the Director, Archaeological Survey of Burma.12 A number remain unpublished. These are mostly fragmentary votive inscriptions now in the Myohaung Museum, although some monasteries and individuals are known to possess others.

The inscriptions fall into three groups. The prasastis, usually long, and written on stone columns, datable between the fourth and twelfth centuries, give us an outline of .the political history.13 The votive inscriptions belong to the same period, and are our most important source for the history of the religion. The copperplates are identical in nature to those found in Bangladesh from the sixth century, and are important for the reconstruction of socio-economic history.14

The language of all the inscriptions is Sanskrit, generally more correct in the land grants and king lists, showing that Brahmanical influence was strongest among the elite group at court.15 Local proper names are in an indigenous language which has not

Yet been identified, but appears to be related to the Tibeto-Burman group, possibly Mro, D.C Sircas has suggested that the words jala ans khal in sixth century copperplate are the Bangali words for channel and canal 16 .This differs from Javanese land agrnts for instance, where agricultural terms are indigenous but we cannot assume from this evidence alone that Arakan’s irrigation technology was derived from Bengak.

None of the inscriptions published: so far are dated, but judging by the script they appear to range from the fourth to the twelfth centuries A.D., very, soon after the first Sanskrit inscriptions appear in East Bengak and Assam. As. E. H. Johnston pointed out the palaeography of the inscriptions is, unlike the scripts of Burma proper, so closely related to the scripts of northeastern India that in dating them little or no time-lag need be considered.17


The coins of the period not only support the historical evidence of the inscriptions, but also suggest contact with north-eastern India, on the one side and Pyn and Mon centres on the other. The most important collections are those of the British Museum (which is based on the Phayre collection), the Indian Museum. Calcutta, and the White King collection now in the Hermitage, Leningrad; numerous private collections, some quite extensive, are to be found in Arakan and abroad.18

Although only silver was used, we find that the most important kings – those with comparatively long reign-periods, and whose economic base was firmly established – issued up to four denominations. Up till now the coins have been described as Saivite; as the usual type has a recumbent humped bull on the obverse and a trident-like symbol surmounted by the sun and moon on the reverse. However, we know from the seals of the Bhaumakara Kings of Orissa that the bull symbol was also used by Buddhist kings.19 By examining the earliest forms of the so-called trident, we find it was originally the auspicious sign of the Srivatsa, with the goddess Sri herself clearly depicted in the centre. This symbol was used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains from a very early period. Coins of the later Arakanese type found in Bangladesh are well known.20 Palaeographically and stylistically these are the immediate successors of the Arakaaese coins and a dynastic connection seems almost certain.


Numerous Arakanese chronicles survive, but none have yet been scientifically examined. Many have been printed, the most popular being U Pandi’s Dhinnyawadi Yazawinthi:, 21 and still more exist in manuscript.22 Some of these manuscripts are now being reproduced by photo-offset, and it is to be hoped that Burmese scholars will soon publish translations. Extracts from, the chronicles have been published in various, journals, 23 the most important being reproduced, by Phayre and Harvey in their respective histories of Burma.24

These histories follow the Buddhist system of historiography. The earliest would appear to incorporate traditions current around the Pagan period, and more likely from the fifteenth century at the time of the founding of Myohaung. The earliest portions, which cover the creation of the present world, the founding of the Arakanese dynasties and the flying visit of Gautama Buddha to Arakan, are the result of a synthesis of local, Indian and Buddhist traditions. The extensive king-lists, which variously purport to start between, the fourth and second millenia B.C., may, like their Sumerian counterparts, refer to kings ruling concurrently in different areas, who were all included in a later consecutive list in an attempt to legitimize the dynasty. A comparison of the early sections of the chronicles with those of Ceylon will establish the extent to which Buddhist models were used. In the later portions historical data can be verified by comparison with Burmese, Mon and possibly Bengali25 sources. Manuscripts dealing with related subjects—the histories of shrines, astrology and Arakanese calendar and so on—should also be examined in this light.

Anthropological studies will help to elucidate the nature of the traditional histories. Problems of concepts of time, traditional relationships with, neighbouring peoples and ensuing cultural contacts, and even the history of cultivation methods can be solved with, the help of these, sources. A fine start on this work has been made by L. Bernot in his Les Paysans Arakanais du Pakistan Oriental-. I’histoire, le monde vegetalet I’organisation sociale de refugies Marma (Mog)( Paris 1967 ). The chronicles therefore, should not be dismissed as mere legend. An analysts of their contents, with, due regard to the Pali texts, traditional computation of time and their legitimizing function may prove to be as valuable as epigraphical evidence has been.

Apocryphal Geography

The apocryphal geography of Arakan—that is, the use of Indian place names as usual or alternate names for Arakanese districts, towns and rivers, etc.—may be of some use in establishing the mature of Indian influence. Duroiselle26 and Forch-hammer27 both discussed this subject in relation to Burma generally, but a specific application of their theories to Arakan is needed.

External Sources

The early history of Arakan can be augmented by foreign accounts. These are usually limited to descriptions of ports and local products, although occasionally we find references to foreign relations and unusual customs. Among the classical sources28 the best known is Ptolemy’s Geography29 where Arakan is called Argyra. Ptolemy will have to be examined along with wheatley’s contention that in its present form the Geography was probably compiled by a Byzantine author of the tenth or eleventh century.30 The Chinese sources—dynastic histories encyclopedias, travels- and topographies—although, usually indispensable, in the writing: of Southeast Asian. History, have not yet revealed significant information about Arakarn31. The Tibetan, historian Taranatha in his dGos-‘dod-kun-‘byiat (1608) 32 mentions Arakan among the ‘koki’ countries, which also included Bengal and Orissa. The Arab geographers of the eighth to tenth, centuries may give us a certain amount of information about sea-routes and trade once Arakanese place names can be identified.33


* Research Scholar & Tutor, Department of Asian Civilisation, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

1.Emil Forcbammer. Arakan [An account of archaeological discoveries. In three Parts.} (Rangoon 1891. Reprinted, Universities Press.Rangoon 1973).
2.Dr. Daw Thin Kyi, “Arakanese Capitals: A Preliminary Survey of their Geographical Siting”, Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol. L III, pt. ii, Dec. 1970 [ Published May 1973] pp. Iff. maps.
3.I am most grateful to the Department of Higher Education, Government of the Union of Burma, for enabling me to join Professor U Myo Myia Sein’s expedition to Myohaung and Vesjll in March this year.
4.See U Aung Thaw, Historical Sites in Burma (Ministry of Union Culture, Government of the Union of Burma, 1972) pp.1-33.
5.See W. Solheim II’s articles “Prehistoric Archaeology in Eastern Mainland Southeast Asia and the Philippines”; “Northern Thailand, Southeast Asia, and World Prehistory”. Asian Perspectives, XIII (1972).
6.Nazimuddin Ahmed, Mahasthan, Department of Archaeology, Karachi, 1964; F.A. Khan. Mainamati, Karachi [ n.d. ] E. H. Johnston. “Some Sanskrit inscriptions of Arakan”. Bull. S.O.A.S., Vol. XI, pt. 2, pp. 357-35. D.C. Sircar. “Inscriptions of the Chandras of Arakan”,Epigraphia Indica. Vol. XXXII, pt. 3 (July 1957) PP. 103-109.
8.The later cities—Sambawak (Pyinsa) Parein, Launggret, and Hkrit – a series of small capitals to the west of the Lemro River, date from the early eleventh, century. Myohaung (Burmese Mrohaung; old Arakanese Myauk-U) founded in 1430 between the Kaladan and Lemro Rivers, is important in the history of Medieval Bengal.
cf. Burma Gazetteer. Akyab District, Vol.A. Reprint, Rangoon 1957 and the British Burma Gazetteer, Vol.II, Rangoon 1879.

1.M. A. Ghafur “Archaeological Research in Bangladesh”, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Vol. XVII,No. 1, (April, 1972) pp. 16-26.
2.Indian Archaeology—A Review, 1958-59.
3.Collotype reproductions made by Oxford University Press, Rangoon, Oriental Studies Publications No. 5, 1956. For inscriptions from Arakan see Plates 346-353.
4.See above fn. 7. For a review of inscriptions found in Arakan to 1959, see ASB for 1958/59. The Candra copperplate described by D. C. Sircar in Epigraphia Indica, XXXVII, pt. 2 ( 1967) pp. 61-66, also appears in ASB 1963/64.
5.E. H. Johnston, op. cit.
6.D.C. Sircar, op. cit. An excellent assessment and bibliography of the copperplate inscriptions in Bangladesh is given in Barrie H. Morrison’s Political Centres and Cultural Regions in Early Bengal. The Association for Asian Studies Monographs and Papers No. XXV, University of Arizona Press. (Tucson 1970 )
7.D.C; Sircar claims that a fragmentary inscription from Vesali is in Pali. However, a close examination of the stone, which is badly damaged, gives us no reason to suppose that the language is not Sanskrit, See E.I., XXXII. Pt. 3,(July1957) pp.103 ff.
8.E.I. XXXVII p. 64
9.E. H. Johnston.op- cit., p. 360. s. a. S.N. Chakravarti. “Development of the Bengali Alphabet from the Fifth Century A. D. to the End of the Mohammadan Rule”. Journal of the RoyaL Asiatic Society of Bengal, Letters Vol.IV (1938) pp-. 351-391 and A, H. Dani, Indian Palaeography (Oxford 1963)
10.The most important publication on the subject ate: A. Phayre,”Coin of Arakan of Pegu and of Burma” Numismata Orientalia, Vol. 2 pt.1(London 1882);V.A Smith Catalogue of Coin in the Indian Museum, Calcutta Vol.1 (Oxford, 1906);C. Duroiselle, Catalogue of Coins in the Phayre Provincial Museum, Rangoon, (Rangoon1924); E.H Johnstion, op.cit. pp.382-385 and. pi. V; 13-
C. A. Rustom. “Some Coins of Arakan” Nation Supplement [Rangoon] 11th Nov. 1962; R. D. Banerji. “Unrecorded kings of Arakan”, J.A. SM. (N.S.)XVI (1920) p. 85; A.H. Dani. “Coins of the Chandra Kings of East Bengal”, Journal of the Numismatic Society of India. -VoL XXIV, (1962), pp. 141-2.

1.E.I. XV, p.1; XXVIII, p. 211.
2.A.H. Dani, op. cit. and his “Mainamati Plates of the Chandras”, Pakistan Archaeology, Vol. Ill (1962) pp. 22-55.
3.U. Pandi. Dinnyawadi Yazcnointhit (Rangoon, 1910).
4.While most of these are in private or; monastery collections, the Universities Central Library. Rongoon, also has a number. The Archaeological Survey Library in Rangoon has a handwritten copy of the Raksapura Yazawin dated 1873.
5.Charles. Paton, “Historical and Statistical sketch of Arakan”, Asiatic Researches, XVI (1828) pp. 353-381 ; G.S. Comstock “Notes on Arakan, by the late …… in the country from 1834 to 1844” Journal of the American Oriental Society, I (1851) pp. 219-258 ; Phayre, A. ••On the, history of Arakan;”; / AJSJ^ XU?. t (1844) pp. 25-52 ; A.S.B, 1917/18. pp. 12-13 ; I920. p.17.
6.A. Phayre. History of Burma (London, 1883, reprinted London 1967). G.E. Harvey, History of Burma (London. 1925.. reprinted. London 1967).
7.J.C. Ghosh in his article “Candra Dynasty of Arakan”, Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. VII (1931) p. 39, mentions possible references to Arakan in the Kulaji books of the Varendra Brahmanas of Bengal.
8.”Apocryphal Geography of Burma” ASB (1922) 23, pp. 15-22.
9.Notes on the Early History and Geography of British Burma II The First Buddhist: Mission to Suvannabhumu (Rangoon, 1884) and his Arakan ,pt 3, which includes, a list of towns, given in the Sappandanakarana.
10.For these see G. Coedes Textes d’auteurs grecs et latins relatifs a l’Extreme Orient depuis le 4e siecle av.J.C jusqu’au 14e siecle (Paris,1910)
11.There are numerous editions of the Geography e. g. C, L, Stevenson, The Geography of Clauditus Ptolemy, English trans. with map (N.Y. 1932)
12.Paul Wheauey. The Golden Khersonese (Kuala Lumpur. 1961) p. 138.
13.For Chinese sources on Burmese history, tee G. H. Luce’s articles in Journal of the Burma Research Society, Vol. XTV, Pt. II. viz “Fu-kan-tu-lu”, -The Tan (95-132 A.D.) and the Ngai-Lao” “Countries Neigh-bouring Burma”, and Vol. XXIX, Pt. 3 (with U Pe Maung Tin) ‘ History of Burma up to the Fall of Pagan”.
14.A new translation of the 1946 Potala edition has been made by Lama Champa and Alaka Chattopadhyaya edited with extensive notes by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya under the title of Taranatha’s History of Buddhism, Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Simla, 1970). For Arakan, see pp. 330-1. (fol. 129A-130A).
15.See M. J. de Goeje (ed.) Bibliotheca Geograp

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