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.

Arakan (Rakhine) : A Promised Land

Posted by Arakan Indobhasa Thursday, March 6, 2014

Arakan (Rakhine) : A Promised Land
A. S. Nayaka
Arakan, a land which cherishes Buddha's principles of moral code, tranquility, love, compassion and wisdom, has patronized Buddhism for more than two millenniums, was the seat of an ancient sovereign country and religion, the nursery of art, and the center of the Buddhist stronghold. Myriad ancient pagodas and vast ruins of priceless archaeological treasure scattered all over the country are glorious symbols of past and are the present great recollections of the people of Arakan. Many are still buried and under the earthed. The large number of statues and pagodas gives one of an example of Buddhist art, but also makes it one of the richest repositories of sculpture in Arakan. Buddhism has been the national religion of Arakan and the epic center for the transmission of faith to Southeast Asia. The insightful influence of the Buddhism has been compelling testimony that can be seen in Arakan from the hill sides dotted with the pagodas, the symbols of yellow robe, the religious order of monks, and monasteries in almost every village shaping the character of the village people and their institutions. Since the region has been isolated from the rest of world for centuries and has remained and preserved unique customs and traditions in addition to Arakan’s own history, and religion which had existed since the dawn of civilization.

In the past Arakan was known as Thuwannapura, Ramathuwannapura, Ayujjhapura, Rakkhapura, Dynyawaddy, Mahawihika and Mahinthakamandala. According to tradition Indo-Aryan people reached Arakan from India Gangha delta and settled in Kaladan Valley at the very early time. Before migrating to Arakan, those Indo-Aryan are thought to have mixed and intermarried with a migrant Mongoloid tribe in eastern India and Arakan. An eminent Arakanese archaeologist, U San Shwe Bu, pointed out that the Indo-Aryan came to Arakan from Majjhimadesa who were living on the bank of river Ganges. Moreover, ancient Arakanese belonged to Magadha region as their ancestral places who later settled in Arakan region and consequently found their first capital city at Dynyawaddy. The Dynyawaddy was classified in three different ages known as the first Dynyawaddy (3500- 1483B.C.), found by Marayu, the second Dynyawaddy (1483-580 B.C.) by King Kanrazagree; the third Dynyawaddy (580-B.C. to 326 A.D.) was found by King Canda Suriya. The second period in history of Arakan was Vesali Kyauk-HleGarr (321-1018) found by Dven Candra, and the history recorded the highest civilization in the Bay of Bengal had thrived with the international trade and commerce. Gold and silver coins of five denominations were used.

Located east of Vanga and Smatata of ancient India of which great religion, culture and politics had enormous influenced on the Arakanese people since immemorial. The historians believed that the Mongoloid race in Arakan was mostly inter-related with Indo-Ariyans, who came over and probably ruled the native population, gradually impressing on their culture and religion. Arakanese chronicles said that the name of Rakhine was originated from Pali word Rakkhapura meaning the land of Rakasha, Rakhasa, Rakkha, Rakkhaing, who are titled this name in honor of preservation on their national inheritance and moral values.

"The Zambu among the islands
The Rakhine among the nations
Such are their fames circulated.
Virtuous as they are, and patriotic,
Diligent in work and charitable to all-
Equally liked deities and men;
Let theirs be the coveted Nibbana".

True to this stanza, as illustrated in the Buddhawan-an ancient Arakanese script, the Arakanese (Rakhines) heroically lived in their ancient homeland of Arakan state devoting to safeguard the two essential qualities, namely nationality (Amyo) and morality (Sila). Above classical verse illuminated how the true nature of the Arakanese way of life and their highest expectation is to achieve the ultimate goal of Nirvana. The Buddhist ecumenical outlook and way of life seems to have enough scope for adjustment and subsequence change of indigenous believes and practices, so that religion became swiftly acknowledged by the local inhabitants but was able in the process to bring about harmonious development in social values and traditions in the nation as a whole.

The remoulding of Arakanese Buddhism took place in the social background of Arakan's unfolding society which played a determined role in giving shape to the characteristic features of Arakanese society. Buddhism has long been an important part of the cultural heritage of Arakan, and it flourished in Arakan receiving royal patronage. It has not been a mere system of believes to Arakanese; it encompasses the entirety of our culture and civilization and national character the very essence of our lives. Of all the bonds, which defined Arakanese as the people as a nation, religion was undoubtedly strongest. Arakanese national identity becomes indistinguishable from its religion. It is undeniable fact to say that everyday life of an Arakanese from the cradle to grave, together with his art and craft and literature and culture, and arts other element of his life, are all based upon and moulded by the one common factor, the spirit of Buddhism.

The advent of Buddhism in the 6th century B.C. was an epoch-making event not only in the history of Indo-Arakan sub-continent, but also it was in the history of the world. We know very little about pre-Buddhist India. The historical materials on the basis of which ancient history has been written are scanty. The true historical knowledge, which we gather, is from the time of the Buddha.  The most authentic sources of ancient history are the inscription, copperplates, coins, traveler's reports, historical accounts, and religious texts from various religions. Out of them, the inscriptions, coins, and copperplates are associated with the epigraphic records of ancient time. The Greek Ambassadors and Chinese travelers have left valuable accounts relating to Indian sub-continent.

 Arakanese claimed to be the first state in Asia to have received Buddhism from India. In fact, Arakan’s historical traditions are inseparably interlined with Buddhism from India. It is known that the early Buddhists of India had a strong inclination to carry their religion, and with it their civilization into the Arakan region which lay immediate frontiers. There can be not doubt either those Buddhist adventures, traders and missionaries managed to reach the Arakan region at very early period even before the advent of Christian era. These adventures, missionaries, and their followers brought with them the arts of civilization which were laid the foundations of political and cultural history of Arakan.

Most of the Arakanese chronicle sources unanimously state that Buddhism, which had existed during the reign of Sanda Suriya, who dedicated the illustrious Maha Muni Image in B.C. 554, has become the prime faith the phenomenon now called Buddhism in Arakan which began its gentle progress to farthest reached of the globe. Ancient Arakanese legendary gives detail accounts of King Sanda Suriya who endowed the great shrine Maha Muni on the occasion of Lord Buddha landing to Arakan in 123 Bowdaw Inzana Era, 25 years before Buddha's Mahaparinibbana. The Buddha visited to Arakan expressly to enable King Sanda Suriya to build a life-size image of himself and Buddha blessed on alighted on the top of Thelagiri Hill situated  the east of Kyawtaw  on the bank of Kaladan. The Buddha had parted His Holiness teeth emitted rays of light that shone forth with a dazzling vividness in all directions, and to the reverend Ananda, his beloved cousin. He blessed the wishful remarks: "Danyawaddy is great and splendid country which shall have ninety-nine towns on its eastern bank of the Gacchapanadi and ninety-nine towns on its western bank. Its kings shall continue to be the ancient Kshatriya stock and particularly our Sakya race has been descended from Ajjuna Hermit-King of Kapilavastu. As a Bodhisattva, I was reborn many a times here; I shall have in this noble country; my own image built that shall enclose in this land for 5000 years during the life of my Sasana or Buddhism". Arakanese were justly claimed to be the first in Asia outside India to have heard the word of the Buddha that was too from his His Holiness lips. When the image was finished, it was established in Thiriguta Hill amidst universal rejoicing when gods and men could mingle freely to worship the great image of Maha Muni.

How deeply intertwined the image of Maha Muni was in the heart of Arakanese might be gathered from the following classical passage in poem Arakanese Princess Egyin written by Badu Mong Nyo in 15th century.

                                                   (Rakhine Princes E-Crun)
Truly peculiar and noble indeed,
That banner of king of king,
Sadden elephant of snow-white variety
Possessed while ruling Dynyawady,
Golden Land, country complete with prosperity.
The reign of Sanda Thuriya, generous monarch,
Coincided with the life of the Buddha.
Invited Him to Dynyawady with all his heart.
Due to his request in earnest,
Lord mercifully let him cast
Maha Muni Image, now we have.
Visukamma and Sikra Deva came to help.
Alloy of five noble metals was used by them
But they could not accomplished by then
Only after the Buddha offered
Seven Handfuls of His bodily warmth to the sculpture,
Beloved Brother, His Holiness comes to life,
As His representative exact, the image he left;
Man, Deva and Brahma have a chance
To worship Him in great respect.
Great image was held in reverence.
(Rahine Roma Magazine)

 Later Maha Muni, the great image of worship became symbols of an independent Arakan, has retained its deep spiritual vibration  inspired countless beings to contemplate upon righteous way of life, higher principles to live for and noble ideas to aspire after, and the shrine itself has been the most focus of attention for millions of pilgrims throughout centuries. Its history supplemented by geographical, archaeological, and literacy sources of Arakan as well as travelers accounts had enlightened us, it is true.

Information regarding early introduction of Buddhism in Arakan is from two sources; first from the archaeological discoveries and the second from the records of Arakanese literature. From archaeological evidence, we find a number of symbols that are of religious significance, special to Buddhism. Perhaps most importantly, there have been discovered several image stone figures. An ancient stone inscription in Nagari character was discovered by renowned Archaeologist Dr. Forchhammer. Known as Salagiri, this hill was where the great teacher came to Arakan some two thousand five hundred years ago. Somewhere from eastern part of this hill, a stone image in Dhamma-cakra-mudra now kept in Mrauk-U museum, was found earlier in 1923. This relief sculpture found on the Salagiri Hill represents Buddha preaching King Canda Suriya belongs to 5th century A.D.; five more red sandstone slabs with the carving were found close by the south of this Salagiri Hill in 1986. They are the same type as the single slab found earlier in 1923. These carving slabs of Bhumispara-mudra, Kararuna-mudra, Dhammacakra-mudara, and Mmahaparinibbana-mudra represent the life of Buddha.

These sculptures provide earliest evident about the advent of Buddhism into Arakan; during the life time of the Buddha and these discoveries were therefore assumed as the figures of King Canda Suriya of Dyanawady, who dedicated the Great Maha Muni Image. These archaeological findings have been studied by eminent scholars and conclusion is that the Maha Muni was made during the king Sanda Suriya era. But some historians and scholars viewed the creation date of Maha Muni shrine still remains a mystery and the lack of comprehensive data, and this subject remains controversy till date.

The oldest artifact, stone image of Fat Monk inscribed "Saccakaparibajaka Jina" in Brahmi inscription comes to the date of first century A.D.; the stone inscriptions are of Sanskrit, Pali, Rakhine, Pru and Arabic languages. The cubic stone inscriptions record the peace making between the governor of Thandaway Mong Khari (1433-1459) and Razadhiraj the Mon Emperor in Arakanese inscription. This was found from a garrison hill at the oldest site of Parein. A stone slab with the alleged figure of the Buddha preaching, King Canda Suriya bored testimony to the Salagiri tradition, depicting of the advent of the Teacher to Dyanyawaddy.

Since after receiving Buddhism and uninterrupted Buddhist tradition has been in the main fabric of the Arakan society which was influenced by Indian Buddhist tradition and culture as evident from important Arakanese historical sources and archaeological findings in the region. Monumental edifices, inscriptions, pagodas and images of the Buddha discovered in Arakan are compelling evident-witness to the prosperity of kingdom. Located in various ancient royal sites, the edicts and inscriptions of each king -clear indication of personality and heritage along with the pious activities-he had performed in support of the Buddhist religion during his reign. Even today mouldering ruin of ancient statue and pagoda in almost parts of Arakan are surviving example of what was once architectural genre. The principal pagodas and monasteries once a lofty and richly decorated structures, still stand and pitifully through. Others stupas, monasteries, pillared halls, shines, railing, and original established parts all over the country have been ruined to the ground level. A number of archaeological treasures have been stolen and many have been broken into the pieces. Many have savagely ruined by man and nature. Some are left out as a witness to the original grandeur of the Chaitya.

Anandacandra Inscriptions date back to 729 A.D. originally from Vesali now preserved at Shitethaung indicates adequate evidence for the earliest foundation of Buddhism. Dr. E. H. Johnston's analysis reveals a list of kings which he considered reliable beginning from Candra dynasty. The western face inscription has 72 lines of text recorded in 51 verses describing the Anandacandra's ancestral rulers. Each face recorded the name and ruling period of each king who were believed to have ruled over the land before Anandacandra.  Archaeology has shown that the establishment of so many stone pagodas and inscriptions which have been totally neglected for centuries in different part of Arakan speak of popular favored by Buddhism. Mrauk-U, the last kingdom of independent Arakan founded by King Mong Saw Mon in 1430, has become the principle seat of Buddhism, has reaching at zenith of the golden age. Mrauk-U was divided into three periods: the earliest period (1430-1513), the middle period (1531-1638), and the last period (1638-1785). In Arakan antiquities at the Mrauk-U seems to give rational evidence as to where Buddhism was settled down. These include stone inscriptions, Buddha images, the Buddha's foot-prints and the great pagoda itself which, stripped its later-constructed top, would be of the same design as the Gupta style of ancient India.

The crowing event in the history of Arakan was the Convention of the Buddhist Council at the top of golden hill of Vesali under the royal patronage of King Dhammawizaya in 638 AD. through joint effort of two countries, Arakan and Ceylon. This momentous triumph of the great council was participated by one thousand monks from Ceylon and one thousand monks from Arakan kingdom. As a fitting celebration of the occasion, the lavish construction of pagodas, statues and monasteries were undertaken for the purpose of inscribing the Tripitaka. After Vesali, Pyinsa was found by Lemro dynasty in 181 A.D; the great king of dynasty was King Mim-Yin-Phru, who turned his attention towards the development of Buddhism, and in 847 A.D. he conveyed the second Buddhist council in Arakan attended by 800 Arahants. Arakanese chronicles report that therein the Tripitaka and Atthakatha were incribed on the golden plate and enshrined. Never has there been impediment in the practice of Theravada Buddhist faith since it has introduced in Arakan. The copious findings of inscription Ye Dhamma verse were practical evidence that Theravada was dominant faith if epigraphic and archaeological sources were to be believed. The Royal patronage has always been significant factor contribution to stability and progress of the religion in Arakan.

Now how far these accounts are credible for the modern scholars? Arakan is the only state in Southeast Asia to be geographically connected to India by both land and sea route which is considered as the transition center of spreading Buddhism to Southeast Asia. There can be no denying factor that Buddhism has been great cultural forces in Arakan and rallying point for Buddhists over the world. Ancient Indian historians concluded that eastern regions of India were always regarded culturally and strategically as part of India, and the rest of the territory remained Indian in culture and predominantly within geopolitical orbit of India.  The famed Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsan recorded in his travel account that one of Chinese monks; a priest of King-Chau (in Hupeh) of China went to India by southern sea-route and arrived at A-Li-Ki-Lo known as Arakan. A-Li-Ki-Lo (Arakan) was the eastern limit of India. It was part of Jambudipa. Bing ancient geographical part of Jambudipa, Arakan exists as a contiguous land with India, and thus Indian civilization has spread over Arakan since the very beginning of Arakan history. This geographical proximity and Arakanese literature records are more historical realistic and considered that Buddhism had spread to Rakkhapura before Asoka period of India.

It has become customary with modern scholars to play a double role. On one hand, they use Arakanese sources for their research material. On other hands, they neglect the significance of the narratives in Arakanese sources. Whatever historical enlightenment modern scholars could get from the Arakanese sources, they avail of it while they cast aside whatever they do not find their own liking, branding it as neither “nationalism”, “mysticism” or “mistake”. This seems to be unfair and misinterpretation to the spirit of Arakanese authority and the value of their national treasure.

 By dismissing the long-settled Arakanese theories on such an important subject of Buddhism which has arrived to this region formerly part of Jambudipa earlier before commencement of Christian era, in fact Sappadanapakarana-a palm leaf manuscript found by Dr. Forchmer gives interesting accounts that the Buddha with 500 Arahans came to Dynyawaddy by aerial journey. The earliest known artifacts discovered were a Fat Monk dating back to first century A.D. and other Buddha images preaching to King Canda Suriya, and the earliest important inscription found at Taung-paukgree village are good sources to be believed that Buddhism had existed in Arakan during reign of Canda Suriya. On the other hands, vast collection of less known Arakanese literatures are great volume to be examined if literature sources are to be believed, and archeological unearthed are the foremost symbol of earliest Indian Buddhist civilization link to this region, as geographical proximity between India and Arakan is still unquestionable. But some outside observers do not seem to accept these indications of Arakan preserved. According to Arakanese chronicle sources, Buddhism have been arrived to Arakan first by visiting Buddha himself with five hundred Arahants in 554 B.C. and subsequently by arriving missionaries sent by Asoka in third century B.C; it is not that easy, as it might seem to the modern scholars who are working in consultation with Arakanese sources. If they find the materials inconceivable, and then either they should not go after it, or they should refute it in clear terms, and that is they do should do. Their position therefore is far from satisfactory. Their attitude has the shortcoming of the outsider’s approach. They have not been able to show any grasp of the Arakan way of opinion and currently have only managed to come with sarcasms.

To give an example, when an Arakanese historian simply says that the Maha Muni Image was made during the life time of the Buddha, he is regarded as an authority; but when he enters into details with traditional background and with its original literature source, he is said making mistake. What is that? Should one say so, without having looked deeper into the significance of scholar’s statement that might have been made on logical and historical grounds? In fact, statements occurring in older classics cannot be interpreted in a straightforward manner--we live in a world different from that of theirs and that has intervened a shift of linguistic and idiomatic convention, followed by revolutionary changes in the concept of science and technology. What one should do in respect of philosophical classics is to adopt an objective and unbiased attitude. It may quite well be the fact that the complex statements which were once reasonable and intelligent. Before we come to say that they are “discreditable”, we should first consider the possibility that the statement could be interpreted to have some forgotten sociological implication. We should have the tolerance to wait till the so-called incomprehensible statements are finally settled by endeavoring and persevering scholars. Such an honest attempt by the scholars concerned is badly needed today, especially for Arakan history research.

A scholar, desirous of knowing the history and culture of ancient Arakan, can in no way discount an enormous treasure of Arakanese literatures. They have been partially laid down contribution of a large volume of worthy still lies buried to be translated into other languages, which the scholars have not yet explored. A careful study of them will be a valuable contribution not only in the sphere of influence of Buddhist literature, but also on Indian history, civilization, and culture of India and Arakan. Arakan, thus, proves to be in some respects as important an apparatus for the study of certain periods of Indian civilization as language of that subcontinent. At the same time, the process of the contribution of Buddhism and assimilation of Indian culture in Arakan proves us with extraordinary interesting and historical valuable example should prove another culture and religion without totally forsaking its own deeply rooted tradition. Scholarly venture upon various aspects of Arakan is, therefore, desirability. This pious task may very well be shouldered by the scholars.

In the circumstantially, the Arakanese are left with no other means than either to surrender to the impositions of the modern scholars as mentioned above, or to refute their views by appealing to logic and history and to start to do scientific research maintaining the culture, literature and spiritual heritage which is based on the teaching of the Buddha and pristine legacy of Arakan. Nothing greater can be said to credit the Arakanes' appeal of the teaching of Buddha and their commitment to safeguard to their ancestral land and the pristine faith of Buddhism.

After introduction of Buddhism to Arakan, history records, how it has been preserved by the Arakanese with the patronage of rulers, as the greatest national treasure to be protected, interpreted, followed, and propagated. Even through during the colonial periods, the protection of this has continued to be the main policy of Buddhist Arakan, which has taken a leading role in nationalist movements for their freedom. Downfall of Arakan independence suffered a great lost of Arakanese Buddhism at hands of vandals, and it was an undeniable truth of history: the victors destroyed symbols of ancient civilization in Arakan to stamp their future on conquests. Since 1785 onwards the painful legacy of colonial rule has brought Arakanese to untold miseries and thousands of Arakan's historical statues and precious artifacts that have lost forever. Among them, the lost of Maha Muni was the greatest sorrowful to the Arakanese than the lost of their independence, as the Arakanese themselves resolutely regarded that their devoted life and the Maha Muni were inseparable by any mean. The victors may take the Maha Muni as booty in the name of conquest but they can never break the spirit of Arakanese to demand nothing less than---it is immortal legacy of Arakan given by the Buddha---it is traditionally unquestionable. The belief in and sentimental attachment of Buddhism and unshakable adoration to Maha Muni could not be erased from their mind and replaced by one another.

Even today, the very holy name of Maha Muni always lives as legacy in the hearts of Arakanese although it has taken away from its birth place of Dynyawady to Burma, which is now enshrined in Mandalay, and it is considered as the oldest sole surviving legacy and is one of the most important sacred images in the Buddhist history of Southeast Asia. Being landmark historical testimony towards the presence of the greatest of mankind has ever witnessed the fame of Maha Muni as the heart of prime faith inspired countless people throughout its history and given the most enduring legacy of pride to the Arakanese in Buddhist world. Indeed, nation as whole owes much to the religion and Arakanese wholeheartedly acknowledging their indebtness to Buddha's teaching. It is therefore not surprising that the Arakanes are always obliged to be cherished and to be proud of belonging to THE LAND OF THE MAHA MUNI, whose legacy is universal truth.

Thazon pan khaing ta mraing mraing
Rakhine phara paung.

The Thazon's sprigs in cheer clusters
Sum the total of Rakhine phara grandeur.
(U Tha Hla, The Rakhaing Vol. (I) No. (7)

Not only Arakan is rich in natural resources, but it is also rich in the establishment of the Buddhist monasteries, pagodas which play a very creative role to development of Arakanese culture and civilization. Arakan offers some of the richest archaeological sites in the Southeast Asia. A number of Buddhist landmarks erected by the Arakanese are still be found intact or the archaeological ruins under the earth. In the city of golden Mrauk-U there are scattering innumerable temples and pagodas which preserved as places, thereby exerting a great influence on spiritual life of the people.

Arakanese chronicle records that more than six million shrines and pagodas flourished in Mrauk-U. In fact, they formed the pride of golden Mrauk-U. Dr. Forchhammer described in his Arakan, "in durability, architectural skill, and ornamentation the Mrauk-U temples far surpass those on the banks of Irrawaddy". Buddhist arts both in the field of architecture and Buddha-image constructions are on the same line of flourishing. An illustrative example of this fact can be seen in the temple of Chitthaung pagoda and colossal Dukekanthein temple. Hence Arakan with its rich legacy has been able to achieve a great success in enriching and disseminating their culture and civilization. Even at the present, these cultural heritage lives sources are precious legacies of sacred symbols of Buddhism since the Arakanese are conscious of the contributions of their country towards the growth and development of their culture, literature and spiritual heritage, they are anxious to see their ancestral land once more restored to its pristine glory.

These truths to be the self- evident, Arakanese adopts religion in their totality and ever since has been giving them as a consummate taste of spiritual life. Buddhism is the religion of the mainstream of the people of Arakan, and it is pervading force in Arakanese society. The propound influence of religion can be seen in Arakanese life-style, mannerism, tradition, character, art, architecture, language, and all other aspects of the Arakanese culture. Religion has become to integrate in providing basis unity of Arakanese people that unfold itself as a creative force that inspires them to higher goals of achievement. How Arakanese had decisively upheld Buddhism and how they were impressed by Buddha's teaching that is to the Arakanese Buddhism means their entire life, and fulfillment---holding near and dear to them---while Arakan to be very truly is the Land of the Great Image, deserving its blessed legacy of Buddha.

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