Bagan iconography displayed syncretic traits from the 10th to the 13th centuries. Southeast Asian classic art combined traits from India, China and indigenous sources, disseminated through maritime trade. The Bagan period can be divided into three phases: early (10–11th centuries), middle (12th century) and late (13th century). The late phase of the Bagan period can plausibly be dated from the end of the reign of King Narapatisithu or Cañsū II (1165–1211) to that of King Narasihapate or Tayokpyay Min (1256–87). The successors of King Narapatisithu were patrons of Buddhist cultural heritage, evident in many monuments of various sizes, big, medium and small.
Despite the short span of the late Bagan period, many monuments were constructed during this time. They can be dated by stone inscriptions and ink glosses concerning donations and Buddhist religious matters.
The significant features of the later Bagan monuments include:
The construction of pagoda complexes consisting of several structures;
The evolution of monastic complexes in the vertical dimension;
More complex stucco reliefs on the temple exteriors;
An increasing frequency of geometric items in the interior mural decorations;
Stone inscriptions providing factual information about donations (mostly written in Myanmar language);
Monumental complexes built at greater distances from the banks of the Ayeyarwady River;
An increasing tendency to build complexes consisting of a large number of smaller individual monuments rather than single massive structures.
In the late Bagan period, many small monuments were built in the form of complexes of stupas or monasteries. Important groups of small buildings built during this period include complexes at Winīdo, Sambūla, Sin Phyū Shin, Su ton Pyit monastery and Tāmani. Despite the large number of small buildings, some larger buildings, such as temples at Tayokpyay, Pyatthatgyī, Tha Htay Mote Gu and Thitsāwaddy, were also erected. Additionally, there are medium size buildings such as the temples of Thambūla, Phayāthons and Thetkyamuni. The large number of 13th-century buildings in Bagan suggests that the population grew more rapidly in late Bagan than in earlier periods.
The 13th-century buildings are characterized by informative stone inscriptions, ink glosses and rich decoration, but these decorative touches were not intended as static and massive sculptural forms and shapes; rather, they comprise many items or thematic objects related to the use of Buddhist Jataka and canonical motifs to decorate interior walls for didactic functions.
There are now sufficient radiocarbon dates for the walled cities of Halin, Beikthano and Sriksetra to suggest that they were all functioning by the early centuries ce. In the light of the new data, approaches to the periodization and interpretation of Myanmar's early urban system may need to be modified.
If you want to know the exact date of an ancient object or structure, find an inscription. In the 11th–13th century Bagan period, stone inscriptions give the founding year of dozens of pagodas. Some inscriptions, motivated by an urge to commence building at an auspicious moment, go so far as to nominate the day, hour or even minute when construction began (see, for example, Luce 1932). From Bagan onward, these absolute dates have provided a vital chronological framework for historical and archaeological analysis. When monks and scholars sat down in King Bagyidaw's “Glass Palace” in 1829 to try to bring together the often contradictory narratives of earlier chronicles, pagoda histories and religious commentaries, they recognized the value of inscriptions for their dates as well as for their dedicatory content (Pe Maung Tin and Luce 1923).
A “scientific” date, generally from carbon, can also provide an accurate time for a past event, but the time is within a range of centuries, not a specific year. However, radiocarbon dates can also go back many thousands of years before inscriptions. So far there have been relatively few samples from Myanmar tested to provide carbon dates, but the results of carbon dating so far show, among other things, that construction and other economic and cultural activity was taking place between the 1st and 3rd centuries ce at Sriksetra, Halin and Beikthano (figure 6.1). These date ranges help provide a framework within which we can view changes in art styles, palaeography, architecture and expressions of religious ideas in text or sculpture during the early urban period, before inscriptions appear.
Radiocarbon dates tell us when the material being tested was alive. The material is usually wood which, before it rotted away in the ground, was converted to charcoal by burning and was thus preserved. During its lifetime the wood took in an isotope, Carbon-14 (written as 14C).
This chapter starts with the assumption that Bagan of the 11th through the 14th centuries was a religious hub for monks and pilgrims and constituted one of three important nodes in a Buddhist common world or commonwealth, or what I have elected to call “Buddhist ecumene”. The Buddhist ecumene demarks a common world within which exchanges and interactions between the different nodes shared a religion: Buddhism. Buddhism represents an overarching principle for all the polities which belonged to the same ecumene, but it is by no means the only linking principle. Within this ecumene, ideas, texts and items travelled and were exchanged among the different nodes of the same network that were also connected via commercial trade. Polities waged wars, sometimes on the pretext of religion, but in other times to obtain more people, more resources and to assert supremacy over another. The ecumene refers to a network of centres which is marked by a common shared religion under the “one house” (oikos) of Buddhism.
Bagan represents one of the three key nodes of this Buddhist ecumene. The Buddhist ecumene begins with the reign of Anawrahta, an 11th-century king of Bagan whose exploits are recorded in the Burmese chronicles of the 18th and 19th centuries, the northern Thai chronicle(s) of the 15th century and the Sri Lankan chronicle, Cūlavaṁsa. The Cūlavaṁsa dates from the 13th century but contains updates through the 19th century. The chronicles present the view that Bagan, northern Thailand and Sri Lanka had close interactions with one another, which began as early as the 11th century. These accounts emphasize the king's importance and the position of the kingdom's capital, Bagan, within the context of a regional Buddhist commonwealth or network, characterized by the idea of a Buddhist ecumene (for detailed discussions, see Goh 2007 and 2014).
Textual accounts of Anawrahta and Bagan characterize the king making great efforts to obtain Buddhist texts and relics. His endeavours to take religious texts and relics to Bagan resulted in the sending of a number of expeditions to foreign countries such as Tarup-China, Sri Lanka and India. According to the textual accounts, most of these missions were carried out without the outbreak of wars.
From Bagan to St Petersburg
For nearly seventy years, four Burmese stone sculptures dating to the 11th–12th centuries have been in storage at the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. They arrived in Russia after World War II, part of a large group of Asian art objects (from India to Japan and Indonesia) from two institutions in Berlin, the Museum für Volkerkunde and the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst. It was only after the radical political changes in the Soviet Union in the early 1990s that, after a long period of obfuscation regarding their background, Russia and Germany were able to begin to work together, and with other specialists, on these collections.
The Burmese sculptures comprise three images depicting events from the life of the Buddha: the cutting of the hair in preparation for his life as an ascetic; the Naga King Mucalinda sheltering him from a storm in the sixth week after the Enlightenment; and the taming of the raging elephant Nālāgiri. We discussed these images at the EURASEAA 14 Conference in Dublin in September 2012 and our findings will be published in the conference proceedings. The fourth image, examined here, represents Viṣṇu on Garuḍa, Viṣṇu Garuḍāsana.
These sculptures were sent to the Museum für Volkerkunde between 1894 and 1896 by a German geologist and palaeontologist, Friedrich (Fritz) Wilhelm Nötling (1857–1928), who at the time was employed by the Geological Survey of India and was working at the Yenangyaung oil fields near Bagan. Nötling studied geology and related subjects before graduating in 1885, after which he worked as a private docent (tutor) at the University of Königsberg. In the same year, he was assigned by the Berlin Academy of Sciences to go on a mission to Palestine, and he subsequently published his first paper for the Geological Survey of Prussia in 1886. Until the University Reforms of the late 1900s, palaeontology was not taught at English universities, and the Geological Survey of India from time to time found it necessary to resort to Germany to find suitable people to fill palaeontological posts. In January 1887 Nötling sailed to Calcutta and served in the Geological Survey until 1903. He became a prolific researcher on geological, paleontological, prehistoric and ethnological subjects and published over forty papers and three books (Struwe 2006, p. 33).
This chapter isolates Bagan from its traditional moorings to Southeast Asian polities and highlights its westward links, particularly its relations with medieval Bengal, an expansive polity. The distinct geography and enigmatic history of Bagan — situated in an arid zone and driven by perennial cycles of conquest, expanding frontiers and growing exchange relations with small polities located between it and Bengal — illustrates how polities in the region responded to crisis and change. The region stretching from India's northeast into Burma experienced different trajectories of state formation, political legitimation and monetization; its nature can neither be studied within conventional paradigms of the state, nor by the “little kingdom” model (Schnepel and Berkemer 2003), the triad of time, change and linear evolution being irrelevant (Aung-Thwin 1991). Nor can its growth be analysed within a world-systems framework of cores and peripheries. Therefore, a different notion of political economy linked to time and change, distinct from the conventional notion of a sequential progression — from the prehistoric, through classical-ancient, to medieval, to the modern (Aung-Thwin 2002) — is necessary for our understanding of this region.
Enigma of Bagan
In its four-hundred–years-plus history (849 to ca. 1287 ce), Bagan displayed a state-driven religious policy, a state-directed labour system, a statesponsored building programme and state-administered trading practices. There was a direct and circular relationship between spending on religion, increased agricultural production, proportional demographic expansion and state development (Aung-Thwin 1985, p. 27). In this distinctive political and social formation, how important was trade and what was the role of money in Bagan's economy? What connections were forged by Bagan, with its silver supplies, with neighbouring polities? What follows is a visualization of Bagan's international connections, through tracing exchanges between Bagan and Bengal, to explain the curious absence of silver circulation in Bengal at a time when Bagan was reportedly accessing silver deposits. Was this silver traded at all? Why was it not exported as done previously? And what prevented the silver from reaching Bengal?
A Brief History of Money
A new polity in the mid-9th century, Bagan faced challenges on land while struggling to create a space for itself (Lieberman 2009, pp. 16–17). It seems isolated, cut off from silver supplies to its north and from the bay trade to its south.
On the surface, Southeast Asian archaeology presents an extreme example of the dichotomy between the theoretical extremes of the orthogenetic and heterogenetic types of city. The remains of major monumental complexes such as Angkor, Borobudur/Prambanan and Bagan contrast sharply with the remains of trading port-cities such as Palembang, Barus and Singapore. This apparently simple picture, however, begins to display more shades of grey the more one peers beneath the surface, as further exploration begins to provide more detailed information about the lives of these ancient cities. Research at the site of Trowulan, east Java, in the early 1990s necessitated a revision of the previous assumption that Majapahit's 14th-century capital was merely a complex of royal and religious buildings. Surface survey in the wake of large-scale looting of bricks for modern construction revealed dense scatters of pottery, both local and foreign. This pottery demonstrated the existence of numerous occupations and a dense population.
Archaeological observation at the sites of Bagan and Sriksetra (Pyay, Prome) is beginning to shed light on the distribution of population and range of economic activity at these sites. The occupations at the two sites overlap to a considerable extent, indicating that for a period of time they were linked in a complex economic relationship which written materials hint at but do not describe in detail.
Data obtained from the study of pottery distribution patterns is capable of measuring the degree of socio-economic complexity at a site. Preliminary analysis of recent discoveries indicates that Sriksetra and Bagan, like Trowulan, may have been hinterland capitals with some heterogenetic as well as orthogenetic characteristics. Preliminary pottery data indicates that Sriksetra and Bagan were similar but differed in several significant aspects, including internal settlement patterns and presence or absence of Chinese ceramics.
While our knowledge of pre-modern interaction between Southeast Asia and its neighbours to the east and west is increasing, we still know little of the interaction between Southeast Asian societies during this period. Stylistic studies of art suggest that Southeast Asian societies interacted and exchanged cultural and artistic traits to a relatively high degree, as well as economic commodities (Brown 1994).
This book was inspired by a conference in Bagan, sponsored by the Nalanda- Sriwijaya Centre, ISEAS, in 2012. Participants in the conference were invited to submit chapters for a book about ancient Bagan's connections with the rest of Asia. This book contains ten chapters, each by a respected expert in early Myanmar history. The publication of this volume marks an important step forward in reintroducing scholarship on Myanmar and Myanmar scholars to the rest of the world. Four of the authors are Myanmarese academics, and one of the three author-editors is of Myanmar ancestry.
The conference sought to gather evidence with which to dispel the myth that Myanmar has always been a hermit kingdom or nation. This book presents abundant evidence that the kingdom of Bagan, which flourished from around 1000 to 1300, played a major role in the development of the economy, religion, art and technology in the area which stretches from India to China.
At the time the conference was conceived, Myanmar was just reestablishing contact with the outside world. The publication of this book demonstrates that Myanmar's growing integration into the international community does not signify a new relationship; Myanmar has more often been a catalyst for development and communication between West Asia, South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia than a passive bystander. Buddhism formed one of the major contexts in which Myanmar exerted considerable influence over early Asian civilization. Bagan was also an economic power, and one of Southeast Asia's oldest and largest urban cultures. Myanmar is now resuming its role as an integral part of Asia which it played a thousand years ago.
The editors and authors would like to pay tribute to the late Pamela Gutman, who passed away during the interval between the conference and the publication of this book. She is greatly missed by all scholars with an interest in Myanmar. Her publications will long remain important contributions to the study of this fascinating nation. We would like to dedicate this volume to her memory.
The processes by which Buddhism was introduced and mediated in the culturally specific context of Kyaukse are exemplified by the Ta Mok Shwe-gu-gyi temple complex. While to some degree its development was stimulated through its relation to Bagan, Ta Mok's principal identity is local. In this context, it deepens our understanding of the complex interrelationships and definitions that constituted Bagan and questions normative concepts of centre and periphery. The archaeology of Ta Mok authenticates national traditions of the founding of the eleven khayaing of Kyaukse by King Anawrahta (1044–77 CE) (Than Swe 1994, p. 19). Pyu (2nd to 9th century CE) pottery, burnished wares, and bones possibly dating to 3000 bce from Ta Mok highlight earlier connections to other regions. Thus, in both its prehistoric and historic dimensions, the Ta Mok evidence demonstrates the nuanced manner in which global ideas and styles were used to address issues of active local concern.
Chronology of the Site
The Shwe-gu-gyi temple complex, 9.65 kilometres west of Kyaukse, is located inside the Ta Mok fort, the only one of the nine Pan Laung Shwe-gu (“golden cave”) located within the khayaing fort wall. Based on the plan, brickwork and iconography, five features of the complex are dated here to the reign of Anawrahta: the central temple, two gu or small caves on the southwest of the complex, the thein or ordination hall, the innermost of the encased images of the Buddha in the southwest gu, and a row of three images of the Buddha in the thein and the palin or thrones of these images.
Based again on stylistic grounds, we argue that Myit-taw Narapatisithu (1174–1211 CE) enlarged the central temple and added an upper storey. The interior and upper storey of the main temple and other buildings such as the ordination hall and images of the Buddha were repeatedly encased and redecorated from the 11th to 14th century ce. However, as described below, the many unique aspects of the temple set out new parameters for the art, patronage and chronology of wider Bagan.
The earliest structure that has been unearthed is located on the northeast of the two-storey temple: a square building provisionally dated to the 8th to 10th century ce late Pyu period, with burial urns at the foundation level.
A remarkable fact about Bagan is that presently over three thousand monuments are found concentrated in an area of forty-two square kilometres (sixteen square miles). An Inwa dynasty king, Moe-Nyin- Thado, recorded 4,474 structures there in the 15th century. There are presently 3,122 monuments and mounds in the list of the archaeological department. If there were over 4,400 monuments in the 15th century, it is possible that approximately a thousand monuments are no longer standing, either in scattered ruins, rebuilt into new structures not listed in the inventory, or possibly eroded away by the Ayeyarwady River over the past five centuries.
This chapter examines the construction techniques utilized at the Pyu sites such as Sriksetra and Bagan and compares these construction techniques with selected historical sites in Southeast Asia from the period between the beginning of the first millennium ce and the 14th century. This period starts with incipient urbanization and concludes with the end of Bagan in Myanmar history.
Overview of Ancient Civilizations in East Asia
The earliest complex societies in Asia were found in the Indus Valley and the Yellow River and Yangtze River valleys. These societies developed parallel to the civilizations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Crete.
The Yellow River and Yangtze River valleys were two core regions from where the Shang dynasty drew influences. Traditional records mention a series of legendary pre-Shang rulers, such as the Yellow Lord (Huang Di), who invented the key features of civilization like agriculture, the family, boats, carts, bows and arrows, and the calendar. It is believed that these rulers existed before the 22nd century bce. They were superseded by the Shang dynasty (1570–1045 bce), which coincided with the beginning of written and archaeological records. Chinese accounts of the Shang rulers match inscriptions on animal bones and tortoise shells that date from the 20th century bce at the city of Anyang in the valley of the Huang He (Yellow River) (Lawler 2009; Long and Taylor 2015).
To study Myanmar history, we need to examine chronicles, archaeological evidence, historical reports and studies, surveys and interviews with local people, among other sources. The Rakhine region is part of an ancient civilization which comprised several flourishing city states rich in cultural heritage. Chronicles mentioned that the Rakhine kingdoms, contemporaries of Burmese polities, were settled systematically by kings since the first century ce. An example was Dhanyawadi City. Rakhine kingdoms existed prior to the Mrauk-U period, which ended in 1785 ce. Each dynasty left an invaluable cultural heritage which showcased its glory and prosperity. This chapter examines the establishment of libraries in Mrauk-U connected with the propagation of Buddhism in the region between the 15th and 18th centuries.
A Brief History of Mrauk-U
Mrauk-U city is the most important archaeological heritage of the Rakhine people. Mrauk-U, which means “plentifully perceived foremost to be completely successful”, was Rakhine's last powerful kingdom. It represented the zenith of cultural values for the Rakhine people, and flourished from 1430 to 1785 CE (Rakhine State People Council 1988,p. 7).
The golden age of Mrauk-U was the 16th and 17th centuries, contemporary with the Tudor kings, Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare in England, the Moghuls in India, the Ayutthaya kings in Siam, and the kingdoms of Ava (lnwa), Taungngu and Hanthawaddy of Myanmar (Rakhine State People Council 1988, p. 8). U May Oung provides a chronology of Myanmar kingdoms based on various historical accounts of Myanmar and archaeological reports (May Oung 1912, p. 9).
Archaeological evidence from excavations of Dhanyawadi city provides much information on the period beginning with the 1st century ce. Excavations revealed irregular circular brick city walls, a moat, and the palace site. After Dhanyawadi, the Chandra Dynasty established the Vesali kingdom in the middle of the fourth century ce. U Pandi's Dhanyawadi Yazawinthit (New Dhanyawadi history) states that Vesali was founded in 790 ce, several decades before Bagan was built in 849 ce. Archaeological evidence from the Vesali site includes Buddha images, stupas, metal materials, inscriptions, et cetera. During the reign of the last Chandra king, Sula Chandra, Vesali became weak and was succeeded by a kingdom centred in the Lemro valley (Rakhine State People Council 1988, p. 8).
This study has provided a regional perspective on Thai economic history. Such a perspective is necessary in order to avoid an undue emphasis on Bangkok.
Of course, the long-term predominance of Bangkok in so many spheres has affected all parts of the country since the early nineteenth century. However, it is necessary to emphasize: (a) the continuous and autonomous development of the regions, even during periods of Bangkok's greatest primacy; (b) the relative lessening of Bangkok's primacy, which took place from the 1980s, and which saw considerable urbanization and economic diversification in the various regions; and (c) a growing integration of Bangkok's economy with that of the regions.
During the nineteenth century several factors influenced Thai regional development. One was the existence of natural resources. This could be seen most clearly in the South, where, for example, tin was mined predominantly by the Chinese — controlled and operated by enterprises, processed in Penang or Singapore, and exported to foreign markets. Later, the South developed rubber and other plantation commodities.
In other regions, too, specialization resulted in centres of commercial activity, sometimes geared towards foreign markets. Already before 1900, textiles from Chiang Mai and Phrae, gems from Kanchanaburi, and a variety of forest products throughout the country, found their way to domestic and foreign markets, including notable land border trades with Burma and Malaya. Later, such border trades expanded and widened.
A notable feature of Thai economic history has always been the unusually large proportion of the population engaged in agriculture (mainly rice farming), with consequent high proportions of Thais living in rural areas. A natural result of this has been very limited urbanization outside Bangkok until very recent decades. Such a pattern was well established before the First World War, and continued until the 1980s. The large agricultural populations that characterized all regions have influenced social and economic development. Only since the 1980s have there been marked changes, with regional urban centres such as Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Udon Thani, Rayong, and many others, exerting a profound local and non-local influence.
Thai regional economic development has been influenced by geographical factors to an extent that cannot be overestimated. Both transport and agricultural productivity have been dominated by geography.
For a long time (before 1760), the Northeastern Region, also known as Isan, had been under the rule of the Kingdom of Lan Xang. After 1779, the whole of Northeast and Laos came under Bangkok's rule and in 1893, western Laos was taken over by the French. Then, in 1903, some parts of the Northeast fell under French colonial rule as well. The centralization during the reign of King Rama V (which strengthened the unification between the central government and the national treasury) and the construction of the railroad linking Bangkok to Khorat allowed the educational system and culture of the region to be under the control of Bangkok.
The Northeast was a tributary state. Major mueangs in the region sent levies to Bangkok to fund exports and construction projects such as the construction of royal palaces. The growth of the Bangkok elites could in fact be attributed to levies from the Northeast. These levies reflected the economic expansion of the country even before the signing of the Bowring Treaty in 1855. A majority of the levies, particularly those paid in gold, came from the Northeast. This showsthat the region was able to pay its taxes in kind, rather than “money” or“labour”, which meant that the region was, to a certain degree, affluent.
The Northeast has arid weather because it is located in a rain shadow behind mountain ranges that separate it from other regions. The mountain ranges block the southwestern storms. As a result, the agricultural economy of the region became dependent solely on the South China Sea cyclones. The main river in the region is the Mekong which flows through a host of nations such as China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Also present are the Mun, Chi and Songkhram rivers. The Northeast is sometimes called the Khorat Plateau. The mountain ranges that form the boundary between itself and other parts of Thailand are the Petchabun, the Dong Phya Yen and the Khao San Kamphaeng. The Phanom Dong Rak range separates the region from Cambodia.
The soil in the Northeast is generally not suitable for rice farming. Therefore, farmers produce little excess rice. Many areas in the region have a rather arid climate. Some areas had been settled by migrant Laotians who had crossed the Mekong River from Laos.
The Central Region contains a vast fertile plain that is the Chao Phraya River delta. It is similar to other river deltas of the world such as those of the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia and the Ayeyarwady River in Burma, all of which are important to population settlement. Deltas are plains created by the accumulation of sediment carried by the river from mountains and other high areas. Delta soil is rich in natural fertilizers and is ideal for growing grains and crops to feed a large population.
The Chao Phraya River delta was first settled by communities of various ethnicities that migrated from abroad. It is suitable for building houses and for agriculture. The Central Region's delta has been deemed one of the most important “rice bowl” of the world. This reflects the area's richness and its suitability for rice cultivation with a potential to “feed” the people of the world. Other river basins exist in the Central Region, namely those of the Tha Chin and Pa Sak rivers. The western part of the region is not a plain but a continuation of mountain ranges from the North. The area is also fertile because it is a confluence of the Mae Klong and Phetchaburi rivers with coastal basins along the Gulf of Thailand. The Central Region also covers the east coast, which is the southeastern part of Thailand. The area comprises deltas formed by small rivers such as the Rayong, Chanthaburi and mueang Trat. The upper watersheds next to the Gulf and in the eastern part of the Central Region are the Bang Pakong basin and the Prachin Buri basin.
Before 1855, the economy and commerce of the region was expanding. Sugarcane farming for sugar production flourished in Bang Pla Soi, Nakhon Chai Si, Bang Pakong and Chachoengsao. There were no less than 200 sugarcane processing plants in Chachoengsao, some with as many as 200 labourers. During the reign of King Rama III, sugar production extended to 19 major cities, most of which were in the Central Region. Pepper was another important export. Its main production sites in Chanthaburi were run by the Chinese. The amount of pepper exported to China in 1822 was 600,000 hab. The development of a market economy affected the growth of the region's population and economy.
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