Saturday, April 26, 2014

Archaeological Evidence of Buddhist Links Between Sri Lanka and Arakan

Archaeological Evidence of Buddhist Links Between Sri Lanka and Arakan
by C. Raymond

Arakan (or Rakhine, in the Arakanese language) is the region occupying three hundred and sixty miles (c.600km) of the northeastern Bay of Bengal coast. Situated between India (the present-day Bangladesh) and Burma proper, Arakan has served historically as a vital conduit for the propagation of India culture, art,  and religion throughout Southeast Asia. Because of this critical geographic position, Arakan's history has been intertwined with both the fortunes of the Hindu and  the Muslim dynasties of eastern India and those of the Burmese king of Pagan, Ava, Pegu and Amarapura.

The historic boundaries of Arakan have expanded of shrunk with the military prowess and administrative abilities of the various Arakanese kings: in time of  greatness, the Kingdom of Arakan extended even to Chittagong (well into Bengal), and encompassed about twice the territory of the present Burmese state of Arakan.

According to the Arakanese chronicles, the region's earliest inhabitants were the Raksha orbilu (referring, possibly, to negrito aborigines of uncertain origin.) Subsequent waves of immigration included tribals such as the Mros and Saks, followed by Chins, Khamis, Daignets and Chaungthas, the descendants of whom remain to this day in the more isolated, hilly areas of Arakan. The local chronicles make much of the coming to Arakan of Indo-Aryan peoples from the Gangetic Plain, and the founding of the cities of Dhanyadi and Vesali in the foothills above the Kaladan River Valley, some fifty miles upriver from the present city of Sittwe (Akyab).

If the Mahamuni legend as related in the ancient manuscript entitle* Sappadadamapakarana is largely historically accurate, Buddhism has a. particularly long history in Arakan: according to these tales, Chandasurya, king of Dhanyawadi (the first Arakanese capital) during Buddha's lifetime, was graced by a personal visit from Lord Buddha. In reality, however, King Chandasurya did not ascend the throne of Arakan until 146 A.D., some six hundred years after the death of Buddha. But in Sappadadamapakarana, the The Buddha, with his retinue of five hundred rahans (Burmo-Rahkine for the Pali arahat), flew through the skies from India, to preach a great sermon on Kyautaw Hill (near Dhanyawadi). The Buddha's week-long visit was a great success: the King, his court and all his subjects were passionately converted to the new faith. Before departing, the king prevailed upon the Buddha to allow an exact likeness of himself to be made as a continual reminder of the truth and goodness of his teachings. The Buddha agreed, and with considerable help from the gods, the inhabitants of Dhanyadi cast a bronze image under the Buddha's personal supervision. After the sacred image was finished, it was installed with much pomp and ceremony on a small hill close to the city. This statue known as the Mahamuni Buddha became famous for its magical powers for ages afterwards. 

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