The land that is known as Arakan by the foreigners is called Rakhaing-pray by its own people, Rakhaing-thar (Arakanese) who were titled this name in honour of preservation on their national heritage and ethics or morality.

Mysterious Structures at Remote Hills at Ukhiya, close to the Myanmar border

[Original news report in Bengali (in the link given below) with English translation by Mong Pru]
The Daily Kaler Kantha
Dhaka, 5th April 2015-04-06
Tofail Ahmed, Cox’s Bazaar
(Special Investigative Report)

The suspicious building complex built on the government forest land close to the Kutupalong Rohingya Camp in Cox’s Bazar
Photo: The Kaler Kantha (Financial Express)

A mysterious building complex has been constructed ‘very quickly’ close to the Rohingya makeshift camp at Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The facility included 40 half-brick structures, mosques and hospital. Without the ‘knowledge’ of the general people, the complex was built on a remote area. No one even knows how the complex was built without any knowledge of the administration or the high officials of the forest department. But what is clear is that the construction work is being done under the armed guards. The incidence has stirred mystery and uproar in the local administration. It is now thought that the job is done by a militant outfit. Behind the face of the complex, they are building a militant training camp. And the project is sponsored by an Asia-based NGO, with alleged militant connection.

The local administration has reported the matter to the higher level in the government.

The complex is built by clearing the Machkaria forest, just six kilometers from Gundum point, close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Close to the complex there lie a registered and another unregistered refugee camps for the Rohingyas. The local residents have alleged that the mysterious infrastructure has been built with militant funds by illegally squatting on the government lands. The local residents have alleged that the complex is being secretly built with a budget of at least 50 to 60 million Taka under armed guards, which has also been ensured by the government forest department.

A source has confirmed that Jahangir Alam, the local Rajapalong Union Parishad chairman, the general secretary of Ukhiya Upazilla Awami League, who is a brother-in-law of the local Member of Parliament of the Awami League Abdur Rahman Badi, is closely related with the construction of the complex. Jahangir Alam in this regards said to the Kaler Kantha daily yesterday, “The two-third part of my union is hilly area. There is no other way than building houses in the hilly lands. The buildings in the Machkariya area are for the landless. We are just helping them out.” When asked about the source of funding for the buildings, he said that ‘they’ have the ‘society’ and the required money.
While inquired about the role of foreign NGOs and militant connection behind the complex, and his role in the construction, the leader of the local Awami League said, ‘I have social and political enemies. Many people can say many things about me.’
On investigation it was found that, this mysterious complex was built by illegally occupying at least 10 acres of the government forest land in the Machkariya forest of Ukhiya Sadar Forest bit, under the Cox’s Bazar South Forest Department during the past three weeks. The area has been haunted by the members of Rohingya militant outfit, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), for a long time. A number of militant outfits from the Middle East and Asia, under the cloak of NGOs, have close links to the RSO. A villager from Kutupalong village who refused to be identified said that the Rohingyas unregistered in the refugee camps are taken to the Machkariya and Madhirchara forest area. It is learnt that they have been reportedly trained in the area. After finishing the fundamental training here, the Rohingya militants are taken to Kulachi and Duchari under the Naikkhyongchari Upazilla of Bandarban and to the RSO militants’ camps near the Myanmar border.

Using the names of the NGO workers, various foreign nationals have been reported to visit the Kutupalong unregistered camps for long. The villagers know about the foreign rations and food stored in these houses for the rohingyas. Others also said about the training given to the rohingyas in these grounds.

When asked about construction of mysterious buildings on the forest grounds, the divisional officer of the Cox’s Bazar South Forest, Abdul Awal Sarkar said to the Kaler Kantha last Saturday, ‘these buildings were built in a short span of time by occupying the land of the forest department illegally. Though the members of the forest guards went to the spot, they could not visit the area because of the presence of armed guards there.’ He said, ‘I have already heard about the worries and the sensitivity related to the issue and have reported this to my superior. I have also requested for temporary suspension of local forest bit official Mozammel Haq for the illegal occupation.’

In this regards, the chair of the Rohingya repatriation movement and chairman of the Ukhiya Upazilla Awami League Principal Hamidul Haq Chowdhury told the Kaler Kantha daily, ‘I have been informed just five six days ago about the sudden construction work in the forest. I have also heard about the activities of the foreign militant outfits in the area in the guise of international aid agencies who have been constructing these buildings. Since this is a very sensitive issue I have reported it to my senior in the party. But I don’t know who are engaged in this construction.’

The chairman in charge of Cox’s Bazar Awami League Advocate A K Ahmed Hussein said yesterday, ‘This area is a border area. We are really worried about the mysterious infrastructure construction without the knowledge of our government since it is close to Rohingya camps. I informed this immediately after I came to know about this to the Deputy Commissioner. The DC also said he already heard about the matter and they are considering the matter.”

The Deputy Commissioner of Cox’s Bazar district, Md Ali Husain last night said to the Kaler Kantha, ‘the construction of so many brick and mortar buildings by illegally occupying the land of the forest department close to the Rohingya camp is highly alarming. We are going to make an inquiry into the matter. And we want to look at it with serious concern. The matter has been reported to me only today (Saturday). But I just wonder whether the confiscation of the land and construction of the building were done overnight?’

The officer in charge (Investigation) of Ukhiya police station, Mr Habibur Rahman, said, ‘I have heard about the construction of buildings in the hills close to Kutupalong Rohingya camp. This is done under the supervision of the local UP chairman (also the general secretary of Ukhiya Upazilla Awami League) Jahaghir Alam. I with the officer in charge will visit the area tomorrow and the day after.’

Though the incidence has shaken all the government and nongovernmental levels, the Ukhiya Upazilla Nirbahi Officer (UNO), Mr Hillol Biswas has no knowledge about it. While contacted on phone, the UNO said that he knew nothing about the matter and asked me to visit the area in person.

The members of the intelligence branches of Cox’s Bazar have said that they have informed about the sensitive issue to the high level in the government.

According to the office of the RRRC or Rohingya Refugees Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, four international organizations have been working in the Rohingya camps – UNHCR, WFP, UNFPA, IOM, and seven of the local NGOs. The NGOs include – the Bangladesh Red Crescent, TI, RTMI, VARK, Handicap International, RIV, and Save the Children. Though three of the international NGOs – MSF, Muslim Aid and ACF – have been declared illegal to work in the Rohingya camps in 2012, they have been working disregarding the government ban in the camps. Recently ACF and MSF have taken permission for working in the camps for two more years.

The UNO of Teknaf Shah Mujahid Uddin said that the Teknaf Sadar office of the Muslim Aid has been sealed off. But they have limited operations at Leda unregistered Rohingya camp. The ban declared by the government on the agency is still effective, he said.

There are allegations of bringing in Rohingyas en masse from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and conducting militant activities in the camps against Middle East based NGOs including the Muslim Aid. The intelligence branches have also reported about the engagement of Pakistani officials in the Muslim Aid, for creating a situation of indiscipline. Besides that some NGO officials from Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been reported to be engaged in matters related to Rohingya camps.

Last night the former leader of the RSO, Hafez Salaul Islam said to the Kaler Kantha, ‘the allegations against are totally baseless. We are not involved in militancy.’

Photo & source:

____CHT Human Rights Watch

Religious Relations Between Arakan And Sri Lanka ( Ceylon)

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Saturday, April 4, 2015 0 comments

 Religious Relations Between Arakan And Sri Lanka ( Ceylon)
By Ashin Sri Okkantha

Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) by Thera Mahinda who to the Island in about the middle of the 3rd century 7 B.C in the reign of King Asoka. It is generally accepted that at the time of the introduction of Buddhism, there was no organised religion in Ceylon. Owing to the popular, enthusiasm, Buddhism became the state religion in Ceylon, under Royal patronage.

The Mahavihara was established at Anuradhapura in 3rd century B.C.8 In later times, Mahavihara became the great centre of' Buddhist culture. As Mahavihara was famous Buddhist study centre, Abhayagirivihara constructed by Vattagamani Abhaya (29-17 B.C.) 9 also became a great centre in Ceylon in the 1st century B.C.

The later part of the 1st century B.C saw some very important events in the Buddhist history of Ceylon. From 43 B.C. for 14 years, five Tamils rules in succession at Anuradhapura. King Vattagamani lay in hiding in a remote palace during this period. In 1st century B.C. Mahachulika Mahatissa was succeeded by Vattagamani’s son, Choranaga. He was hostile and destroyed eighteen Viharas where he had not been Siyen refuge during 150 (?) days, of his rebellion against his cousin Mahachulika Mahatissa (17-3 B.C. ) 10

In addition to these calamities the whole, country was ravaged by an unprecedented famine generally known as DrahmanaTissa famine or Baminitiya. The people had no food at all and were forced to cannibalism, even eating the flesh of Buddhist monks whom they venerated. Many thousands, both Buddhist monks and lay-people, perished, many viharas were deserted, the Mahavilhara at Anuradhapura entirely abandoned, trees grew in the countryard, and the Mahathupa itself lay incomplete neglect. Many monks left the Island left went to India, the country was in chaos. 11

The elder monks of the Sihalese saw that the future of Buddhism was in danger. The continuation of the tradition of the three Pi taka which had so far been handed down orally from teacher to pupils, appeared no longer possible. The main concern of the Sangha during tliis tragic period was to perserve the teaching of Lord Buddha, which they valued above all else. Therefore; far-seeing Mahathera , under  the patronage of a local chief, assembled at Aluvihara at Matale, and  for the first time in history committed to writing the whole of the  Tri Pitaka with the commentaries thereon "in order that the true doc endure". 12

In the first century A. D. there was the beginning of dissensions in the Sangha which had till then been united under the influence of the Mahavihara. At later times, the Dhammaruci sect (Abhayagiri Vihara group) became a separate group, from Mahavihara known as Jetavana sect. Mahavihara Buddhism was replaced in Ceylon as a new Religion in second century A.D.

According to the Arakanese chronicles, the relation between Ceylon and Arakan began from the second century A.D.13 During the reign of King Thuriyathiri (c.A .D .201-221) 14, twelve Arak anise monk led by Mahaasiridnipadhi Mahathera were  sent for missionary purpose to Ceylon. It was the first relationship between the two countries. Acoring to the Chulavamsa, Vijayabahu-I (1065-1120) sent envoys with the valuable gifts to Anuradha. The king of Ramanna (Lower Burma) sought his assistance in the struggle against the Chola invaders. But there is not much evidence that the King of Ramnna sent his troops to aid the King of Ceylon. K.L.Hazra says "During this time Theravada Buddhism was in a flourishing condition in lower Burma” 15.
The conquest of Thaton in 1057 was a great even in Burmese history. After the Conquest of Thaton, Pagan became a famous Buddhist centre in South-East Asia.

In the same period, we believe that Arakan was the centre of original teachings of Lord Buddha and Arakanese chronicles also mention the religious relationship between Arakan and Ceylon. But the Ceylon are silent on Aryan's relation with Ceylon in this period. According to Arakanese chronicles, during the reign of Datharaza (1123 -1139). 16 The king of Ceylon sent envoys for religious purpose the King of Arakan, Datharaza sent a Buddhist missionary led by Ven. Atulavijaya Mahathera. Twenty-six venerable ones accompanied him. 17

The Polannaruva slab inscription of the Velaikkaras (c.A.D. 1137- 11533) 18 a1so refers to the purification of the Sangha of the three sects of Ceylon with the help of the monks from Arumana during Vijayabahu-I’s time. Arumana may be suggested as Arakan. In 1166, 19 King Manjuthin was succeeded by his son, Ngaraman. During time, a religious mission including 36 Buddhist monks were sent the King of Ceylon, Parakramabahu-I (c. A. D. 1153-1186). This mission was led by Ven,Uttara Dhamma. But the period between the death of Vijayabahu-I and Parakramabahu-I can be described as a dark chapter in the history of Ceylon. According to K.L.Hazra “During this period neither the Burmese sources such as the Sasanavamsa, the Glass Palace Chronicle nor the Sihalese sources such as Chulavamsa mention any religious or political contact between Ceylon and Burma”. 20

In Arakanese history, Mrauk-U signifies the golden age. The 15th and 16th centuries A.D were important landmarks in the history of both Arakan and Ceylon. There is evidence to show that during these centuries close political, cultural and religious ties existed between the two countries. King Ba-saw-phru (1459-1482) received three Pitakas from Ceylon in c.A.D. 1476, 21 and the King of Arakan sent a religious delegation led by Ven. Siddhattha.

In the 16th century, Arakan was a sea-power of some importance; it built hundreds of galiots and developed great skill in both sea and reverine warfare. During the reign of Nanda Bayin (1581-1599) 22 of Pegu he wanted to raise and equip new mission to right against the Siamese like his father Bayin Naung and request the Mons to join the army. 23  Many Mons crossed over the border of Arakan and Siam and took refuge in both countries. Nanda Bayin attacked Siam about five times between 1586 and 1593. He put to death many of officers and destroyed the country of Mon. Many Mon monks and lay-people left the country and fled to Siam and Arakan. The Siamese attacked Pegu in 1595. 24 At the same time, Arakan defeated and conquered the Pegu and Syriam, one of the import port of Lower Burma. During the reign of Minrazakri (1593-1613), 25 Arakan received the vast loot brought back by its raiders from Pegu together with Nanda Bayin’s daughter and white elephant. At the end of the 16th century A.D. Bayin Naung has lost power in the country.

In the 16th century, the relation between Arakan Ceylon played an important role in Buddhism and culture.26 As Ola leaf manuscript of the Kakdadora great found in Ceylon, refer to religious intercourse between Rakkhangapura 27 and Ceylon. This information is corroborated by the Chulavamsa, the Sulupujavaliya and the Narendracharitavalokapradipikava. During the reign of Vimaladhammasuriya-I, when Ceylon was in need of some monks to restore the Buddhist Sangha, the King of Ceylon sent an envoy to Rakkangapura and invited a Buddhist mission for restoring the Sangha. At that time, King Khaung-raza (1521-1631) 28 ruled in Arakan. He appointed his son, Min-bar as a governor of Sandoway and Ven. Dhammavilasa from Mrauk-U to send on a religious mission. The King of Ceylon warmly received the two Arakanese monks who came to each the teachings of the Buddha in Ceylon

The Arakanese monks were given the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha which Ceylon proudly possessed on their return. They brought it and gave it to Min-bar as a gift from the King of Ceylon. In the reign of Min-raza-kri, an envoy with the gift arrived in Mrauk-U and King of Arakan sent 20 Buddhist monks led by Ven . Chandavilasa Mahathera to Ceyloh. They arrived there in 1563. They reformed the Buddhist Sangha and held the higher ordination ceremony in the Udakukkhepapsima.

The Chulavamsa and the Sasanavamsa contain important evidence relating to the religious intercourse between Arakan and Ceylon In the reign of Vimalaldhammasuriya-II. Both refer to the arrival of the Sinhalese envoys in Rakkhingapura 29 and to how the Arakanese monks restored the Buddhist Sangha and established the religion in Ceylon. During the reign of King of MSrupiya (1696-1697), King of Ceylon, Vimaladhammasuriya-II sent a mission to Rakkharigapura. After receiving the message from Sihalese mission. King Marupiya selected Ven. Indamanju, the monk-in-charge of Sattathana monastery and Ven. Nandichakka, the priest of Laung-krat monastery, and sent forty Arakanese monks led by two venerable ones to Ceylon in 1696. 30 When they arrived they were received with great honour and the Upasampada ordination was held under the leadership of Nandichakka in the Udakukkhepasima on the Mahava1uka ganga or Mahali ganga at Getambe near Peradeniya in 1696. 31 Several members the royal and noble families were ordained. Thus Shalese Buddhist Sangha was restored by Buddhist monks from Arakan and they help the higher ordination in Ceylon.

A manuscript 32 recording the religious intercourse between Arakan Ceylon, was discovered at the Kadadora Vihra in Gannave Korale of Udahevahata in the district of Nuvara EIiya in the central province of Ceylon. The Chulavamsa, however, does not make any Reference to Ven. Chandavilasa, but only to Ven. Nandichakka. 33 The Suluupajavaliya mentions the names of both Theras.

In the 16th centuries, when Buddhist Ceylon had suffered severally as a result of internal trouble and foreign occupation, Arakan helped Ceylon to re-establ sh and reslore religious ceremonies and higher ordination in Ceylon. At present, TheravSda Buddhism of Ceylon is being spread widely in the world and Sihalese Buddhists have set up famous Buddhist study centres in Ceylon. The Mahabodhi Society originating in Ceylon has become the famous Buddhist Research Centre in the Buddhist world.

7. Dipavamsa, Vol. vii. Pp.18, 19, xii, 39-45
Mahavamsa, vol. v.p.195
8. W.Rahula, History of Buddhism in Ceylon, 1966, p.52
9. Mahavamsa vol. xxxiii. p.18
10. W. Rahula, W.Rahula, History of Buddhism in Ceylon, 1966, p.85
11. Vibhanga Attahakatha, p.52
12. Mahavamsa, xxxiii. Pp. 100-101
Dipavamsa, xx. P.45
13. Rakhaing Magazine, vol. iv. 1977, p.132
14. Rakhaingprenephitsaing Thamainghma, vol. i. 1984. P. 112
15. K.L. Hazra, History of Theravada Buddhism in South-East Asia, 1982. P.84
16. Rakhaingprenephitsaing Thamainghma, vol. i. 1984. P. 120
17. Rakhaing Magazine, vol.iv. 1977. P. 132
18. E.I. evbiii. 1925. P. 333
19. Ahin Candamalalinkara, Rakhaing Razawenthit Kyam, vol. i. 1931. P.347
20. K.L. Hazra, History of Theravada Buddhism in South-East Asia, 1982. P.89
21. Ahin Candamalalinkara, Rakhaing Razawenthit Kyam, vol. ii. 1931. P.31
22. D.C.E. Hall, Burma, 1950. P.46
23. D.G.E.Hall, History of South-East Asia, 1924. P.251
24. ibid. p.146
25. Ahin Candamalalinkara, Rakhaing Razawenthit Kyam, vol. ii. 1931. P.146
26. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of Royal Asiatic Society, vol.ii. 1952
27. Rakhangapura means “Arakan” or “Rakahing”.
28. Rakhaingprephitsaing Thamainghma, vol.i. 1984. P. 124
29. Chulavamsa, xciv. P.15-16
Sasanavamsa, p.27
30.Rakhaing Magazine, vol.iv. 1977. P. 133
31. Chulavamsa, xciv. P.15
32. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of Royal Asiatic Society, vol.ii. 1952 . p.157
33. Chulavamsa, xciv. P.15

This text, "Religious Relations Between Arakan And Sri Lanka ( Ceylon)" is from 





Thongran and Rakhine Culture

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Friday, April 3, 2015 0 comments

Thongran and Rakhine Culture By Saw Tun Oo

Each year with the Sun’s entrance into the zodiacal sign of the Aries (Mesha), Rakhine New Year commences at about mid-April. New foliage freshen up the trees. Our world smiles with the blossoms of yellow ‘padauk’, bright-red peacock’s pride, and the perched thirsty soil craves for a sprinkle from the heaven.

With it the spirit of our cultural renews. What we lost in the past, what we are losing today in our culture, tradition, literature, or the like – once again we realize that we are to remain content with our small aspirations, and yet smaller needs. Another annual get-together with our near and dear ones bringing smiles to our smile-less day-to-day existence.

Rakhines of Bangladesh – those living in Cox’s Bazar, Patuakhali, Baraguna, Bardarban and Khagrachari districts – who bear testimony to a stormy period of the southern part of Bangladesh under the Arakanese rule extending from the fifth to the seventeenth centuries AD, have up to now preserved the cultural, linguistic and traditional inheritance of our forefathers. So the tradition of Thongran is an inheritance of the customs of Arakan before 1784, in which year the capital Mrauk-U fell. The fall being caused not for the superiority of the muscle of the invading Burmans, but because the House of Mrauk-U[1] had been rendered confused under internal strife politically for over a century. At the lat hour a member of the Arakanese royal household sought help from Bodawpaya, the Burman King, to get back the throne of Mrauk-U from Maha Thamada, the people-elected king. On victory the Burmans turned into traitors, staging a whole genocide of the Arakanese people. Following this sad event countless Rakhine patriots made way into the neighbouring districts of British India, and augmented the population of Rakhines living there.

The census of 1981 puts the number of Rakhines to nearly three lakhs including that of undivided Chittagong Hill Tracts. Many of the Rakhines of Bandarban call themselves Marmas – a term first appearing in the Myasedi inscription made by Prince Raza Kumar of Pagan in AD 1084. The ‘Marma’ or ‘Myanmar’ as pronounced by Burmese denotes a ‘citizen’ of Burma – be he a Shan, Karen, Rakhine, or Mon living there. In a like manner the term of ‘Rakhine’ more suitably indicates a national of a succeeding generation of Arakanese. Therefore, however smaller differences we may have, in spirit we all share a common history, tradition, culture, religion, literature, language and way of life.

This wealth of our cultural heritage is best reflected in the Thongran festival – in celebrating merrymaking and feasting with songs, drama, and danas we all share in common. Thongran comes in the month of Tagu (Transit) when for a about a week merrymaking and merit-earning seem to be the order of the day. Old people go to monasteries to keep the Sabbath (Uposatha), to offer food and join sessions of mediation. On the first day Thongran the Buddha images and monasteries of pagodas are given a ceremonial washing with scented water. The village elders are offered a ceremonial bath by young people who in return are blessed. In the evenings, people of all ages, with females occupying the majority, throng into the monasteries to listen to sermons of the village monk. In many places where city life have invaded with the all-powerful video machines, punk fashion, disco-music and breakdance the traditional customs are quickly dying away.

Yet the most colourful part of the festivals, the Ri-taung-pwe, is fullblown and is going to stay. For this a mandatt or pavilion is usually erected by the main road. Decorations of coconut leaves, padauk flowers, ri-chann-uo (holy water pot, mangala ghat), paper flowers brighten up the pavilion. A boat filled to the brim with water is placed inside the mandatt, while girls at a row sit, with their backs to the observers, in wait for the boys. Boys come in groups to splash or ‘to play’ water, by asking permission from two elderly ladies in charge called ‘ouk-thing-thu’. Thongran etiquette strictly demands the maintenance of friendly bahaviour, free of malice, rough play or the like. The numbers of boys are to be kept the same as the girls. Special care should be taken not to splash water at someone other than one’s own partner. A girl cannot join a different mandatt which she did not select from the beginning. Only boys, happy with strong drinks, go from one mandatt to another playing water, cutting jokes and singing out thaingyatt.singing out thaingyatt. [2] A slip-off of one’s water-pot is dealt with a fine, and if any participant wipes his or her face – it is considered embarrassing or disgraceful. As a round comes to an end, the participants courteously take leave from each other, asking forgiveness for any misconduct done.

The thaingyatt verses, though traditional, are extemporized very often by modern additions. As example is:

“Here comes the Thongran eve:
Let’s make fun with water,
O Maree-shay,[3],  take no offence
Since once a year comes the Thongran;
Let’s play and be merry –
There, my Big Brothers
Told me to play water with you.
Oh my! How could I miss
Splashing water on my beautiful
Maree-shay, my Maree-shay
Let’s be kind to each other.”

To an untrained eye, the formal and informal feasting might seem connected with ‘approaching’ a girl for matrimonial relations. In fact the celebrations of Thongran, though they may not have religious significances, bring closer social and spiritual closeness of all who are Rakhines. The odds of the old year pass by, and the New One brings rays of hope, love and national feelings. Long after the cymbals, drums and bamboo flutes of the Rakhine Thongran cease to echo, a heartfelt melody that reflect the spirit of Thongran seems to work into our inner self throughout the remaining days of the years.

[1] The House of Mrauk-U: Mrauk-U Palace, as the seat of administration of Arakanese Kingdom.
[2] Thaingyatt: This verse, often traditional, is sung by a leading voice and joined by a chorus; musical instruments are used as accompaniments and the boys rhythmically dance to the tune.
[3] Maree-shay: Literally it means a female cousin of a man or boy with whom one may have teasing relationship, as socially permitted. But in this instance, this term is used courteously to accost a girl only; the word may not be used of a mandatt.

This article was first printed in a magazine ''Voice of Rakhine Vol-II'' published by Rakhine Students' Organisation of Bangladesh (RSOB) in the year 1989 edited by (then) Maung Than Aye (at present Ven. U Bodhinyana).

The FBI has arrested two women on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack, similar to the Boston bombing.

A Brooklyn court charged Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

The two women, US citizens, spoke only to say they understood the charges.
They had referred to themselves as "citizens of the Islamic State", prosecutors allege, and Ms Siddiqui had several gas tanks and instructions on turning them into bombs.
"My client will enter a plea of not guilty, if and when there is an indictment. I know it's a serious case, but we're going to fight it out in court," said Ms Siddiqui's lawyer, Thomas Dunn.

Ms Siddiqui "had repeated contact with members of the foreign terrorist organisation al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" the court documents said.

Her accomplice, Ms Velentzas, referred to Osama Bin Laden as a hero, according to the US Department of Justice.

"The defendants allegedly plotted to wreak terror by creating explosive devices and even researching the pressure cooker bombs used during the Boston Marathon bombing," said Assistant Director in Charge Diego Rodriguez, of the FBI's New York Field Office.

The justice department said the two women have plotted to build an explosive device since at least August of last year and studied chemistry and electricity.

They did not have a specific target but at one point considered Herald Square in Manhattan, according to the court documents.

Ms Velentzas apparently criticised a US Air Force veteran who was recently arrested for attempting to travel to Syria engage in violent jihad.

She questioned why people would try to travel overseas when there were targets in the US that provided opportunities for "pleasing Allah", the justice department said.

The documents say the women have been meeting with an undercover agent for several years.

Last month, officials announced that they had charged 47-year-old Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, a US citizen and a veteran of the US Air Force, for allegedly trying to provide material support to the Islamic State.

Mr Pugh has denied all of the charges.

Arakan, Burma's Forgotten Kingdom

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Thursday, April 2, 2015 0 comments

by Pamela Gutman

For more a millennium the policy we know as Arakan existed as a culturally strategic border state, the only state in Southeast Asia to be connected to India by both land and sea routes. The study of its culture is of particular interest as it reveals which elements of Indian cultural were adopted in Arakan and in the land to its east. We can then ask why some elements and not others were adopted, and attempted to relate this to the political, social and religious developments of the wider region.

In the periods when Arakan was at its most powerful the most important cultural influences came from the west, most immediately from the area today known as Bangladesh. When the Burmese and Mon kingdoms to the east prospered, and from time to time gained sovereignty over Arakan, the major influences came from there. Positioned as it was on the sea route around the Bay of Bengal, Arakan was also subjected to the influence of the cultures of southern and western India, and in particular to Sri Lanka, which as the most important Buddhist polity in the region has a significant impact on the religious development of the state. From the earliest urban sites we have the seal of the south Indian merchant dating to around the third century AD and an intaglio which appears to have originated in the middle east of the same period.

The archaeological remains are limited in what they can tell us, but the art and architecture which survives today suggests that the impetus for the adaptation of Indian and other influences was power. As contact with the wider region increased in the early centuries of the first millennium AD the economy diversified, urban centres developed and a more complex social structure developed. The ruler was invested, through Indian Brahmanic ritual, with superhuman qualities through which the fertility and therefore the prosperity of the state were not introduced, the caste system, for instance, although a fluid sort of class system. Not as dependent on birth as in India, did evolve.

It is also the site of one of the most famous Buddhist shrines in Southeast Asia, the Mahamuni. It is here, legend has it, that the Buddha himself came and allowed a statue to be made in his own image. The object of veneration for centuries, the image was seen as the palladium of the state and coveted by the kings of neighbouring countries.

The earliest site known to us is the walled and moated city of Dinnyawadi, "Grain-blessed". This is possibly the site of a pre-Indian cult of the earth goddess, and lying on the route from the hills to the sea would have been a trading centre. It is also the site of one of the most famous Buddhist shrines in Southeast Asia, the Mahamuni. It is here, legend has it, that the Buddha himself came and allowed a statue to be made in his own image. The object of veneration for centuries, the image was seen as the palladium of the state and coveted by the kings of neighbouring countries. While the legend as we know it probably dates from a time later than the building of the shrine, the images which survive suggest that the earliest form of Buddhism was Mahayanist, for we can identify bodhisattvas, guardians of the directions and other images which relate, surprisingly, to the Buddhism practised in China at the time. The style, however, is closely connected with the Gupta, although there are no direct connections with any Indian schools. It is possible that the sculptors used Indian texts, from which they made their own interpretation of the iconography.

Sometime around the sixth century the centre of power moved to Vesali, where we find evidence of a Brahmanised royal cult, in the form of a massive recumbent bull discovered in the centre of a brick structure used for royal ritual. The bull also appears on the obverse of a series of coins, together with the name of the king in Sankrit. On the reverse of the coins is a motif known as the srivatsa, symbolising the king's function to guarantee the prosperity of the land. This symbol is also found on coins from the same period elsewhere in Burma and in Thailand and south Vietnam, indicating a shared culture which, as Robert Brown indicates in his paper, must have existed in mainland Southeast Asia until the seventh century. The architecture of this period also has strong links with the countries further east. Two lintels in the style known as Sambor Prei Kuk, from the seventh century site in Cambodia, architecture fragments indicate contact with central and southern India.

Also found at Vesali are a great number of Vishnu images, indicating that his worship was widespread from perhaps the sixth to at least the ninth centuries. Vishnu was known too at the Pyu sites in central Burma. The iconography of the Arakanese examples is closely related to that of east Bengal at the time. There is evidence, too, of a popular form of Buddhism, with images inscribed in Sanskrit.

After a period of turmoil, probably the result of the coming of Tibeto-Burmans to Arakan from the north, Vesali was succeeded by a serious of smaller cities which came under the sovereignty of Pagan. The Buddhist art of the 11th and 12th centuries is strongly influenced by pagan, as can be seen by Buddha image in stucco, and a rare Vishnu and Laksmi from this period follows the heavy physiognomy of the late Pagan period. As the power of Pagan waned, however, Arakan was able to expand its authority to Bengal in the west and to Cape Nagrais in the south. By the beginning of the 15th century the Burmese invaded and the Arakanese king fled to the Sultanate of Gaur in east Bengal. He returned, with the assistance of the Sultan, to found the last of the great cities, Mrauk-U.

Mrauk-U at the height of its power controlled Bengal up to Dacca and Pegu in the Mon country to the south. The great originality of its art was in its architecture. Its builders used a technique of facing a brick core with stone slabs bound by mortar, and made extensive use of dark gray sandstone brought upriver from the coast. This use of stone was the great difference between the architecture of Arakan and that of Pagan and Bengal, where stone was scarcer. 

Mrauk-U at the height of its power controlled Bengal up to Dacca and Pegu in the Mon country to the south. The great originality of its art was in its architecture. Its builders used a technique of facing a brick core with stone slabs bound by mortar, and made extensive use of dark gray sandstone brought upriver from the coast. This use of stone was the great difference between the architecture of Arakan and that of Pagan and Bengal, where stone was scarcer. The architects combined the lessons of Pagan with the Muslim experience in building arches, domes and vaults, in which mortar played the dominant part of keeping the masonry together. They were thus able to conceive massive hollow pagodas, whose central shrines were entered through long vaulted passages.

The Shitthaung shrine, built be King Mong Ben after he conquered Bengal in 1536, was the magnificent statement of a cakravartin Buddhist king who had conquered Islam. An arched screen on the western side and the arrangement of stupas on the roof recall the mosque architecture of 16th century Gaur in east Bengal. Surrounding the central image are circumambulatory passages, on the outer of which the king is depicted as a god with the attributes of a cakravatin king, some derived from the iconography of Vishnu the Preserver. He is flanked by his Bengali and Arakanese wives, distinguished by their dress, and by depictions of his power and the prosperity he has brought to his country.
Other Mrauk-U shrines are decorated with glazed tiles, some decorated with middle eastern motifs, others have reliefs depicting the three worlds of Buddhism, some are guarded by figures reminiscent of the 5th-6th century images founded at the Mahamuni shrine. The sculpture of the period is similarly diverse. Crowned Buddha images are derived from the style of the late Ming, seated Buddhas from the art of northern Thailand. Some extraordinary Sri Lankan bronzes have been discovered, recalling the time when the Dutch rulers of Sri Lanka, wanting to overcome the influence of Catholicism brought there by the Portuguese, sent to Arakan for monks to perform the Buddhist ordination ceremony to purify the religion.

Gradually, however, the power of Mrauk-U waned. In its last century Arakan survived only because it had no aggressive neighbour. In 1784 it was conquered by the Burmese ruler Bodawpaya and the revered Mahamuni image was taken to Mandalay. With its loss, the Arakanese people seemed to lose heart, and its shrines and images were largely neglected for the next 200 years. it is only recently, with the emergence of Mrauk-U as a tourist destination, that the Burmese government has begun to restore some of the monuments. Ausheritage is in the process of bringing together a group of experts to assist in the restoration, and I hope that TAASA members will be able to participate in various ways.

I would like to thank U Kyaw Kyaw Hla, Chairman of the Trustees of Shitthaung pagoda; U Kyaw Htun Aung, Assistant Director. Archaeological Department; U Aung Kyaw Zan of Mrauk-U Travels and Tours and photographer Zaw Min Yu.

( TAASA Vice-President Dr. Pamela Gutman obtained her doctorate in Burmese art and architecture from the Australian National University and is the author of many publications including a forthcoming book on Arakan)


Ancient Arakan Gold and Sliver Coins

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