• Vedic Burma-Myanmar

    Written by Vrndavan Parker

    Ancient Vedic Burmese Coins8th century silver coin from Arakan of Niti Chandra, with Shaiva symbols and a Brahmi legend. Reproduced from the British MuseumArticle Source The
    earliest human settlements in ancient Myanmar were along
    thecoastline, in the fertile plain along the Irrawady River, and
    probably in the remote mountain ranges. As per local chronicles the
    first historic kingdom was established by Hindu immigrants, led by
    Prince Abhiraja of the Sakya warrior clan that ruled Kapilvastu. He
    founded the city of Sankissa (modern Tagaung), and also conquered the
    Arakan region. The Mon people living
    in the coastal districts have a tradition that Hindus from southern
    India, specifically from the lower courses of the Krishna and Godavari
    Rivers, crossed the sea in ancient times and settled on the Irrawady
    delta. Their culture and language migled with those of the Mon. According to the traditionalhistory of Arakan, the firstking of the province came fromBenares on the Holy Ganga in India. The
    discovery of stones inscribed with the ancient Indian Brahmi
    alphabet,used in the records of the Maurya Empire (326-185 BCE), prove
    that these traditional accounts have a basis infact. Archaeological
    remains prove that the Sanskrit and Pali languages ofIndia's Vedic
    Civilization were cultivated in Myanmar, and thatits people had
    adopted the Brahmanical and Buddhist religions then prevailing in
    India. Moreover the rulers of different kingdoms in Myanmar all had
    Sanskrit names.

    Historic Kingdoms At
    the time of the Buddha, a Kshatriya clan form North India ruled upper
    Myanmar for 16 generations. Later this kingdom was lost and the clan
    founded a newstate in lower Myanmar, with Sri-Kshetra (modern Prome)
    as capital. Here they merged into the original inhabitants, the Pyu
    people. The Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang who visited India in the 7th
    century CE mentions this kingdom of Sri-Kshetra in his book. ASanskrit
    inscription on the pedestal of a Buddha image bears the local ruler's
    name: Jayachandra-varman. Hiuen Tsang
    mentions another kingdom to the south of Sri-Kshetra called
    Dvaravati.This was ruled by the Hinduised Mon people. The Mons also
    inhabited the coastal regions of lower Myanmar,which were known as
    Ramannadesa.As per epigraphic
    records a Hindu dynasty called Sri-Dharmarajaniya-Vamsa ruled in
    Arakan between 600-1000 CE. Coins found in the region have the names of
    rulers like Dharma Chandra, Niti Chandra and Vira Chandra.The
    capitalof this kingdomwas Vaisali whose ruins (modern Vethali) are
    found near Mrohaung. The greatest of
    all these historic states was the Pyu Kingdom of Sri-Kshetra. It had 9
    fortified garrison towns, while the capital Sri-Kshetra was over 40 km
    in circumference. It wasprotected by a moat and a wall built of glazed
    bricks, which had 12 gates and towers at the four corners. Withinthe
    city lived thousands of families, with over a 100 Buddhist monasteries,
    and an opulent royal court awashwith gold and silver. On
    the east of the Pyu Kingdom lay the Thai Kingdom of Nan-Chao—its
    rulers claimed descent from Ashok of the Maurya Empire and its Sanskrit
    name was Gandhara. In 754 CE the Thai king defeated the Chinese and
    invaded Sri-Kshetra, receiving the submission of the Pyus. A branch of
    the Thais, the Shan, settled in upper Mynamar and gave their name to
    the region.Again in 832CE the Thais invaded, this time entering the
    capital city, plundering its wealth and taking 3000 prisoners. But
    the Pyu Kingdom survived this blow. A new capital was established at
    Arimardanpura (Pagan) in 849 CE, which continued till the 11th century.
    By this time a new power was making its presence felt in Myanmar. The Myamma People The
    Myamma (modern Bamar)trace their original home to Tibet and, passing
    through India, reached the forested regions of Myanmar at a remote
    period. Their being no substantial local population, the Myamma
    multiplied rapidly and probably alsorecieved a small infusion of Indian
    immigrantsinto this mass. The
    Myamma were tough and warlike, when compared to the Pyus or Mons, and
    the decline of the Pyu Kingdom was their opportunity. They established
    their own rule over Pagan—in 1044 CE Aniruddha, the greatest ruler of
    Myanmar, ascended the throne. He conquered and annexed the Mon Kingdom,
    in the process embracing the Hinduised Mon culture, adopting the Mon
    religion (Theravada Buddhism) and scripture, and adopting the Mon
    script for writing. Aniruddha's conquests covered the whole country,
    including parts of Arakan. Even the proud Shan princes had to submit to
    Aniruddha. His son
    Tribhuvanaditya-dharmaraja (1084 CE) built the famous Ananda temple,
    inspired by the designs of contemporary Indian temples. He alsosent
    funds for the repair of Bodh Gaya in Bihar, and married a Chola
    princess. South Arakan acknowledged his supremacy. His grandson was
    married to an Indian princess from Pattikhera (Tripura). Internal
    dissensions and intrigues plagued the ruling family for the next few
    generations. At this time a new danger was looming on the horizon. In
    1254 CEKublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China, conquered the Thai
    Kingdom of Gandhara (Nan-Chao) and scattered the Thai people—branches
    entering the Shan region and others going south into Siam (modern
    Thailand). In 1271 CE Kublai demanded
    the submission of Myanmar. The latterretaliated by boldly sending an
    army into the borderland, which was defeated. Revolts broke out across
    the country, and the king was murdered,but the knockout blow was
    delivered by the Mongols. Kublai Khan's grandson marched into Pagan and
    completely destroyed it. The Mongolsthough did not stay to rule the
    country, whichentered a phase ofpolitical disintegration and cultural
    decay for the next three centuries. Modern andancient names The
    nameBurma, familiar to people from the colonial period, was a
    corruption of Brahma (Bramma) and was initially believed by
    philologists to be derived from theVedic God of that name. Given the
    Indian influence on South-East Asia inthose times this appeared
    logical. Butfrom inscriptions it
    becomes apparent that it was the tribal name Myamma, which was
    Sanskritized to Mramma, and later became Brahmaor Bramma. This is
    because of the adoption of the Sanskrit and Pali languages by the
    various peoples of Myanmar in ancient times. This
    name Bramma was later anglicised to Burma, and continued through the
    colonial and post-colonial periods till it was changed to Myanmar. This
    change harks back to the glorious period of Myamma rule and the
    political unification of the country. And since the Myamma tolerated and
    openly embraced the cultures of the various peoples of the country,
    it's fitting to revert to the old name for the country.

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