By Aman Ullah
Before 10th century, Arakan was inhabited by Hindus. At that time Arakan was the gate of Hindu India to contact with the countries of the east. Morris Collis writes in his book “Burma under the iron heels of British” that the Hindu ruled Arakan from first century to 10th century. Hindu civilization and literature spread all over Arakan du’ring this long thousand years. After the vanishing of the Hindu civilization there still remain the names, Danyawadi, Ramawadi, Maygawadi and Dwarawadi, the four-Wadis given by Hindus. Temples built by Hindus, coins melted by Hindus and the stone inscriptions written by Hindus were still to be found in Arakan.
According to A.P. Phayre and G, E, Harvey, History of Burma state that: “The capital of Arakan Shiri Gupta hill is 20 miles north of Mrohaumg. Mahamatmuni Image (the Great Image of Lord Buddha) is on that hill. This place is older than Vesali. The place was established by Hindus. Mahamatmuni image was built by the king Sandathuriya (146-198 A. D.).There were Hindu gods around the image of Mahamatmuni. These images of gods indicated that Arakan was a Hindu land until 10th century. Those Hindus might be Bengalis.
The Arrival of Buddhism into Arakan began around first century Christian Era. Mohan Ghosh wrote in his book ‘Magh Raiders of Bengal’ that, “In 8th century under the Hindu revivalist leader, Sankaracharijya, Buddhists in India were persecuted in large-scale. In Magadah, old Bihar of India, Buddhists were so ruthlessly oppressed by chauvinist Hindus and rival Mahayana sect of Buddhists that large numbers of Hinayana Buddhists had been compelled to flee eastward who ultimately found shelter in Arakan under the Chandra kings. There were also Buddhist refugees from Bengal, during the Tibeten conquest in the eighth and ninth centuries, crossed over to the nearest place viz. Arakan where they could preserve their religion.”
It is to be noticed that Magadah in its pristine days included Bengal. These Buddhist immigrants assumed the name Magh as they have migrated from Magadah. By this time, in Arakan, all the three religions — Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam — flourished side by side, but there had been large-scale conversion to Islam.
While the three great religions were flourishing side by side, a Mongolian invasion from the north swept over Arakan which ended the Chandra dynasty in 957 C.E. Hinduism in the easterly Hindu State of Vesali thus vanished forever. This invasion not only closed the epoch of the Chandras but also carried away the Pala kings of Bengal at the same time. Vesali could never reemerge but in Bengal the Hindus regained their supremacy in a few years by pushing back the barbaric Mongolians into deeper mountainous areas.
MS Collis, in collaboration with San Shwe Bu, wrote in his article ‘Arakan place in the civilization of the Bay’ that, “Such was the kingdom of Wesali, an Indian state in the style of the period. But in 957 A.D. occurred an event which was to change it from an Indian into an Indo-Chinese realm and to endow the region of Arakan with its present characteristics. The “True Chronicle” records that in the year 957 A.D., a Mongolian invasion swept over Wesali, destroyed the Chandras and placed on their throne Mongolian kings. This important statement can fortunately be amply substantiated. Over the border in Bengal the same deluge carried away the Pala kings. The evidence for this latter irruption is fully cited in a paper by Mr. Banerji and there is no doubt that the Mongolian invasion, which terminated the ruler of the Palas, closed also the epoch of the Chandras. But while in Bengal the Hindus regained their supremacy in a few years, it would seem that in Arakan the entry of the Mongolians was decisive. They cut Arakan away from India and mixing in sufficient number with the inhabitants of the east side of the present Indo-Burma divide, created that Indo-Mongoloid stock now known as the Arakanese. This emergence of a new race was not the work of a single invasion.” In the record of the MS, ‘the true chronicle of Great Image’ which was given to Collis by San Shwe Bu, “the date 957 A.D. may be said to mark the appearance of the Arakanese, and the beginning of a fresh period.”
In the year 976 AD Shan invaders entered Arakan and held the country for eighteen years, during which period they robbed the inhabitants and carried off from the temples everything of value. Anawrahta, who came to the throne of Burma soon after the retirement of the Shans from Arakan, next invaded the country, compelled the Arakanese to acknowledge his supremacy, and exacted tribute. During the reign of Kyansittha, son of Anawrahta, in Pagan, Min Bilu of Arakan was deposed by a usurper, and his son took refuge in Burma This prince’s son, Letyaminnan, was restored by Alaungsithu, grandson and successor of Kyansittha, and Arakan was again subordinate to Burma for some years from 1103 onwards.
Arakan became subordinate to the Pagan monarchy in AD 1102-3, from the time when Letyamengnan was placed on the throne of his ancestors. He fixed his capital at Parin. The country enjoyed rest for a long period, and there is nothing in the annals worthy of remark until after the capture of Pagan by the Mongols. In the early part of the fourteenth century mention is made of invasion by the Shans, which apparently refers the attacks by the kings of Myinsaing and Panya.
According to Collis, Arakan became feudatory to Pagan, that is to say it maintained its own kings but paid tribute as an acknowledgement of suzerainty. There existed a road connecting the Lemro with Pagan. That road was known as the Buywet ma-nyo. It has long been overgrown, but the present Government is seeking to resurvey it. It was along that road that the ideas of Burma passed into Arakan. Pagan herself had modified from the Mahayanist to the Hinayanist form of Buddhism and the modification was transmitted to Arakan during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Burmese writhing came over at the same time and in the same manner. No inscriptions in the Burmese script are found in Arakan before that date. The question of the emergence of the Arakanese language is more difficult. Whether it was the language of the Mongolian invader’s of the 10th century or whether it filtered across the mountains after contract with Burma in the 11th and 12th centuries is undecided. As Arakanese is the same language as Burmese, being merely a dialect, to suppose that it was the language of the invaders is to contend that the Mongolians who extinguished the Chandras spoke the same tongue as those who afterwards became predominant in the Irrawaddy plain. If the contrary is postulated, and it is argued that the Burmese language, coming over the mountain road, impinged upon the Mongolian speech of the then Arakanese and created modern Arakanese, linguistic difficulties are raised which are difficult to solve.
Before 12th century, there was no Burmese literature in Arakan, Burmese literature arrived in Arakan during 12th century. Phonetically Rakhines have 42 syllables; that is eight syllables less than Burmese. Their language is Burmese with some dialectical difference and an older form of pronunciation, especially noticeable in their retention of the “r” sound, which the Burmese have changed to y’. In regard to Rakhine Maghs language, Sir Arthur Phayer wrote that, Rakhine Maghs are the descendants of Tobeto-Burman. There is no difference between Rakhine Maghs and Burmans except a little in their languages.
The great preoccupation of the Lemro dynasties during this mediaeval period was the guardianship of the Mahamuni image. As it was believed to be a likeness of the Master cast during his life time its possession gave Arakan and important position in the eyes of the Pagan kings. For monarchs who had built so many thousand pagodas and who had raised up so sacred a city as Pagan, the possession of Mahamuni would have been the crown of their endeavors. But the Arakanese had an old belief that if it left their country, it would synchronize with the ruin of their race. As they were not strong enough to guard it by force of arms, they employed that peculiar system of magical astrology, known as Yadaya, to protect it. They attempted to render its site unapproachable for inlanders or spoilers by enveloping it in a magical net.
In the middle of 12th century even the famous Mahamuni Image could not be found for it had been overgrown with jungle in the prevailing anarchy. According to Pamela Gutman, “the king Dasaraza 1135-1165 AD had repaired Mahamuni Temple which was partially destroyed by the Pyu army of Letyaminnan and was remained neglected. The king had to seek the help of the Mrus to find out the Mahamuni, which was then covered by dense forest.”
Both Anawratha and Alaungsithu, though suzerain lords of Arakan and though both dearly longed to enshrine the great Buddha in their own capital city, failed to remove it. According to San Shwe Bu’s MS, the Yadaya calculations were well drawn. Being unable to take it, they worshipped there and the fact that the most revered image of all Budddhism was located in Arakan resulted in much coming and going between that country and the kingdom of Pagan. Thus the two countries were drawn closely together; the road over the mountains became a trade route; great fairs held on it at a point between the two States; and there was no need of coinage.
The cardinal characteristic of the new period is, as Mr. Collis mentioned, that Arakan (as the area may now be called) looked East instead of West. The Mongolians were savages and following their invasion supervened a period of darkness. Wilhem Klein, in his book ‘Burma the Golden’, termed it as, “The Mongolians were a savage people and the five centuries which followed the arrival of Tibeto-Burmans in Arakan were an age of darkness”.
But the invaders became educated in the mixed culture of the country they have conquered and were ultimately assimilated with its inhabitants during those long five centuries. After the disappearance of Hinduism and the assimilation of Mongolians and Tibeto-Burmans there remained only two distinctive races — the rohingyas and the Maghs — who lived together in Arakan centuries after centuries.
But the invaders became educated in the culture of the country they had conquered. The resulting civilization was of a mediaeval character. The capital was moved from Wesali to the Lemro river, some fifteen miles south-east. There during the ensuing centuries numerous dynasties ruled, each with its own city but always in the same locality. Few archaeological remains of this period of five centuries exist, though brick foundations may be seen on the Lemro bank. There was no coinage. This fact is significant as placing the age in its perspective. We have here to do with a small kingdom in an age of small kingdoms. It was with Pagan alone the Arakan had any considerable dealings and it was to learn much. Thus during these five centuries the inhabitants of Arakan became more similar to the inhabitants of Burma and less like Indians. Their religion became less Mahayanist and more Hinayanist. The link with the past, however, was the Mahamuni image, which was still in its old place, for it fitted equally well into Hinayana as into Mahayana Buddhism.
During these five hundred years Arakan became a Holy Land. It had no political importance, but was a place of pilgrimage for the Buddhist world. Neither commercial nor cosmopolitan like the kingdom of Wesali, it developed those racial and religious characteristics which mark it still.