Friday, November 18, 2011



By U Sandamuni(Mijjhima)

The Two Epigraphs

At the present state of our knowledge we know of two inscriptions, the characters of which resemble a pre - Christ epoch Brahmi. Both the inscriptions are written in Pali language, of these two, the earlier seems to be the Fat Monk Image inscription 1 belonging to c. 2nd -1st century B.C. As the inscription is not a dated one, we have to fall back upon the paleography of the record. Discovered in the ruins of an old brick pagoda lying about three miles to the east of old Waythali City, It contains a one - line inscription and is presently preserved at the Sittway Cultural Museum.

Of a somewhat later date is the inscription 2 discovered near the village of Taungpaukkri. The material, on which the insription is engraved, is the natural rock known as Selagiri, lying about two miles from Taungpaukkri. On the basis of paleography it may be dated sometime between 2™ century B.C. and 2 nd century A. D. The inscription 3, fragmentary in nature, contained a legible portion of five lines of writing, out of about twenty -five lines, the Vest being damaged.

With the exception of and medial signs, these two then mark the advent Arakan(Rakhine). The date the two inscriptions on the paleography is not in conflict the epigraphs found in the ad joining of India. One can cite the presence similar script in a record recovered the northern part of Bengal- (in the dfe of Bogra, now in Bangladesh.)

Certain Latest Information

With the discovery and decipherment a number of new epigraphically material we now know of certain latest information, which can be termed as an advancement of our knowledge in respect of the following:

(i)       The date 6 of the earliest inscription Arakan(Rakhine) is c. 2nd  - 1st  century B C
(ii)      Inscriptions of a later date found in Arakan(Rakhine) were mostly written  Sanskrit , but the two mentioned above  are written in Pali.
(iii)    The finds of two inscriptions datable to about c. 2 nd century B.C. 2nd century A.Dshow that their scripts bear affinity with Northern Indian or North - Eastern variety of Brahmi, rather than the Southern one.
(iv)   However, in a few later inscriptions 8 the traits of South Indian scripts are discernible.
(v)     There are instances of scripts where we can trace local development in regard to their formation. Again there are a few words in the inscriptions which can defi- nitely be termed as Arakanese(Rakhine)  
(vi)    The use of imprecatory verses 11 found  in a few inscriptions may be compared  with similar writings in Indian land- grant  inscriptions.

Making a home away from home

In studying the early epigraphs of Arakan(Rakhine) one is inclined to find a dose similarity with the ones discovered in India. It merely indicates that the people of these two contiguous regious had come into act with each other since a very early time. If the Arakanese (Rakhine) chronicles are to be believed the chief players in this drama of making a home away from home are not only the princes of Indian royal families and Buddhist missionaries but also traders who seemed to have before their eyes only those things which were simply materialistic. However, so far as epigraphically materials are concerned, this similarity can be traced in almost all the modes with which an inscription is brought out namely, (i) the script itself (ii) the alphabet both vowels and consonants as well as the medial sings, (Hi) language for writing (iv) theme of writing, which is, however, predominately, Buddhistic (v) style of writing, e.g. to be noted in the imprecatory verses and last, but not the least, (vi) materials on which the writing is engraved.

However, a significant deviation happens to be the almost total omission of any reckoning, the reason for which cannot be easily ascertained. It may be that the usage of regular feature among the Arakanese Buddhists. As a corollary, excepting a few cases 12 we hardly get any inscribed reference to numerals in Arakanese(Rakhine) inscriptions, The Indian epigraphs on the other hand, belonging to both early and periods, tend to date the reckoning either in the regnal years of the reigning king or in any one of the popular current eras.

A Major Source

A major source for the study of Arakanese(Rakhine) script and its development is the innumerable number of coins, issued mostly in silver, though a few coins issued in other metals are also known. Paleography of the coin legends indicates that some of these coins seem to have been issued from at least 5 th century A.D. Later, different members of different ruling houses continued to issue till about 1784 A.D., when Arakan(Rakhine) ceased to become an independent state.

The Alphabet used for inscribing

As already stated, we do not have the entire alphabet 14 from both vowels and consonants in the Fat Monk Image inscription and the Taungpaukkri rock inscription. The medial sign "au" is conspicuous by its absence. The respective vowels and consonants which cannot be traced in either of the inscriptions are i, i, e, ai, au and ta, tha, da dha. pha. sa and ha. The remaining alphabet that has been inscribed on these two inscriptions show little difference from Indian alphabet belonging to c. 2nd century B.C. to c. 2nd century A.D, of particular interest is the letter "da" engraved on Taungpaukkri inscription. It is an angular type similar to the form found in the inscription of Asoka." Tha " also probably belongs to the same age as that of "da". The letters "ka" and "sa" engraved on the backside of the Fat Monk Image inscription are akin to the ones found in the Mahasthan inscription, Bogra district, Bangladesh. Again "na", "pa" and "ra" of the Fat Monk Image inscription resemble closely to the letters found in the Taungpaukkri Fragmentary inscription.

Buddhist faith in Arakan ( Rakhine )

The theme of the inscriptions that have been discovered in Arakan (Rakhine) does indicate, in most cases, a Buddhistic leaning. But surprisingly one of the pre - Christ epoch inscriptions speaks of the word " jina " implying some sort of Jaina connection on the part of a least the maker or donor of the image. However, according to a lexical definition "jina " means both Buddha and the Vedic god Visnu. Since relation pertaining to Vaisnavism and the god Visnu are to be ascribed not earlier than seventh century A.D., it would be better to identify "jina” with Buddha. In that case the "saccakaparibbajaka" Fat Monk, whose image bears the present inscription might have been one of the early converts in the Buddhist faith in Arakan (Rakhine), the event probably taking place not later than 2nd - 1st century B.C.

The Buddha's sojourn to Arakna ( Rakhine )

The Taungpaukkri inscription, belonging to the pre-Christian epoch, significantly refers to the word "Bhikkhu - Samgha" implying thereby the monastic order of the Buddhists of Arakan(Rakhine). The monastery of the Bhikkhus happened probably to be situated close to the Gacchabhanadp, which was the ancient name of the river Kaladan. So this inscription evidence makers it clear that during the early centuries, either proceeding, probably, the Christian era, Buddhism must have become a popular religions creed in Arakan(Rakhine). If we take into account the numberous chronicles, traditions and anecdotes 21 relating to Buddha's sojourn in Arakan(Rakhine) during his lifetime, it would then appear that Buddhism gained an acceptance in Arakan (Rakhine) during 6th – 5th century B.C. itself. But as there is no cogent ground to support this tradition based hypothesis, it would be prudent to infer that the religion had became a dominant creed sometimes during 2 nd - 1 st century B.C. This inference is quite in consonance with inscription evidence discovered from Taungpaukkri, on the road between Selagiri and Mrauk U.

The descendants of Candasuriya and their pious dedication

The advent of script in Arakan (Rakhine) synchronizes with the period when the descendants of Candasuriya 22 , the earliest king of the Suriya dynasty, were ruling during the third Dhannavady phase (580 B.C. 327A.D.). We have seen that the paleography of the two early inscriptions found in Arakan (Rakhine) indicates a date sometime around 2nd - 1st century B.C. Now, following the chronological arrangement adopted in Arakan ese(Rakhine) chronicles, the first Suriya King seemed to have ascended the throne sometime in 580 B.C. 23 By 2 nd century B.C. when we have, for the first time, the evidence of script in Arakan(Rakhine), the sixth or seventh king from Candasurya, namely king Suriyacakka or his son king Suriyanatha might have been ruling over Arakan(Rakhine). Incidentally, the chronicles speak of king Suriyacakka as a contemporary of his famous Indian counterpart, King Dhammasoka 24 who issued numerous edicts throughout India during his reign (c.269- 232 B.C.). If it was not during the reign of Suriyacakka, then it was probably during the reign of his son Suriyanatha that we come across the first instance of script in the inscriptions ever discovered in Arakan(Rakhine). So in the early history of Arakan(Rakhine), the third Dhannavady phase will be remembered for at least one innovation; that it gave the Arakanese(Rakhine) the first ever script with which to write down whatever they would think specially about their pious dedication in the name of the great Buddha.

By U Sandamuni(Mijjhinna)

Sources: Rakhaing Tha Ha Ya Magazine No.6

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