The history of Arakan, its religions

Among the 7 Union States of Burma the Rakhine State or the Arakan is the immediate neighbour of the Subcontinent. There might have been some contacts between Arakan and the Subcontinent since the first dynasty of the Arakanese. Buddhism and the Pali language used in Buddhist Canons came very early to the Mons, Arakan and Pyus, much earlier than the emigration of the Burmese in the country which is now Burma. Pyu, Mon and Burmese/Arakanese scripts were based on the South Indian scripts.

The Rakhaings (Arakanese) traditionally believe that they are the descendants of the Sakya Sakis the race from which Lord Gautama Buddha came. Most historians and anthropologists, however, say that they belong to the Tibeto-Burmese groups.

The Arakanese (Rakhaing/Rakhine) believe that their ancestors had to chase out the demon-like beings (most probably Negrito tribes) before they established their first kingdom. After that the people had to be very united to repel the invasions of the tribes they chased out. That's why they named themselves Rakkhita People. The Pali word Rakkhita means „the one who protects his own race. And therefore their country was called „Rakkhita Mandala' and later deviated to 'Rakkhita Mandaing' and then to 'Rakkha Mandaing'. The word Arakan is therefore a derivation of Rakkha Mandaing - Rakhaing - Arakhaing - Arakan.

There is another hypothesis: The Sanskrit word rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso can be translated as the demon of water or an ogre-like being living in water. That's why the etymology of Arakan can be traced as a Sanskrit or Pali words A-Rakkha Desa (The Land which is now free from the Demons). The word Arakan is therefore a derivation of A-Rakkha Desa - A-Rakkhan - Arakan. Sir Arthur Phayre as well as Col. Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell's Hobson-Jobson A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive (First Published in 1886) supported this version too.

There is no doubt that the early kingdoms of Arakan were Hindu states. Some Hindu deities were found in ancient cities. However, Hinduism might have been replaced by Buddhism when the kings and people became Buddhists.

According to the legend of the Maha Muni Image, Arakan was already a Buddhist Kingdom during the time of Lord Buddha because Lord Buddha visited Arakan at the invitation of King Sanda Thuriya (Chandra Suriya).

U San Shwe Bu, on the other hand, wrote that King Sanda Thuriya ascended the throne of Arakan in 146 A.D, six hundred years after the Pari Nibanna of Lord Buddha. In contrast to the legend he stated that the statue was casted in the 2nd century AD.

In any case, it is safe to say that Arakan became a Buddhist Land at the beginning of Anno Domini, if not earlier. Since that time Arakan remains a Buddhist land till now and all Arakanese or Rakhaings are devout Buddhists. Nowadays, population ratio between Arakanese and Burmese may be 1:10, however if one compares the number of Buddhist temples, monasteries, monks and nuns the ratio is only 1:4. It is proven how religious Arakanese or Rakhaings were and are.

Arakan was well known to be the Land of Pagodas and Temples. There is a famous Arakanese verse: Thazun pan Khaing ta mraing mraing Rakhaing Phara paung, which was nicely translated into English verse by U Tha Hla as: The Thazun (a type of orchid) sprigs in sheer clusters, Sum the total of the pharas grandeur. According to this verse, there were 6352755 Pharas (Buddha Statues) in Arakan.

Maurice Collis described the situation of Buddhism in the year 1630 during the reign of Min Hayi (Man Hari) alias Thiri Thudhamma (Sri Sudhamma). In his book The Land of the Great Image, in page 168 where it was written: The Buddha had died in 543 B.C. Altogether 2173 years had elapsed since then, and for that immense period the image of the Founder of the Religion had remained on Sirigutta, the oldest, most mysterious, the most holy object in the world. The relics detailed to the disciples on Selagiri had all been found and enshrined. Arakan was a sacred country; it was the heart of Buddhism; and he (King Thiri Thudhamma) as its king, was the most notable Buddhist ruler in existence. Grave indeed was his responsibility. He had not only to maintain the state as the homeland of the Arakanese race, but as the one place on earth where an authentic shape of the Tathagata was preserved, a possession of greater potency than the most precious relics.

All kings of the Mrauk U dynasty, the last dynasty in Arakan, were Buddhists. Some kings had assumed Muslim Titles because, Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan), the founder of the Mrauk U City wanted to show his gratitude to the Sultan of Gaur who helped him regain the Arakanese throne in 1430. Hence, he promised the Sultan that the Arakanese kings would bear Pseudonym Muslim Titles. But in fact, all of the Arakanese kings were donors of many temples in Mrauk U as well as in the other parts of Arakan. They did make coins, one side with Burmese/Arakanese scripts and the other side with Persian (NOT Bengali).

For example: Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan), the founder of the Mrauk U City with the assumed Muslim Title 'Suleiman Shah' built seven Buddhists temples in Mrauk U. One of them was Laymyetna Phaya (Leemyatna Phara) in Mrauk U (now Mrohaung). His successor and younger brother Min Khayi (Man Khari), who had an assumed Muslim Title 'Ali Khan', erected the Nyidaw Zedi (Satee), which can be roughly translated as 'The Pagoda built by the Younger Brother'. His son and successor King Ba Saw Phru alias Kaliman Shah constructed four Buddhists temples including the Maha Bodi Shwegu Pagoda. His son Dan Ugga alias Daluya, who bore the Muslim Title Moguh Shah, was the donor of Thongyaik Tasu Temple (meaning the temple of Thirty One Buddhas). His successor Min Yan Aung (Man Ran Aung) alias Narui Shah founded the Htupayon Pagoda. Min Bin (Man Ban) had an assumed Muslim Title of Zabauk Shah; was the donor of seven temples including Shit Thaung Phaya (Shite Thaung Phara) or the Temple of Eighty Thousand Buddha Statues. Min Phalaung (Man Phalaung) alias Secudah Shah was the donor of six temples including Htukkan Thein, his son Min Yaza Gyi (Man Raza Gri) with the Muslim Title Salem Shah donated Phaya Paw (Phara Paw) Pagoda and Pakhan Thein in Mrauk U and also Shwe Kyaung Pyin Monastery in Thandwe. Min Khamaung, who subjoined the Muslim Title Hussein Shah constructed Yatanapon (Ratanabon) and Yatana Pyethet (Ratana Prethat) Pagodas and his son Thri Thudhamma (meaning the Protector of Buddhist Religion) alias Salem Shah the Second, erected the Sekkya Manaung (Sakkya Manaung) Pagoda.

The Burmese invasion in 1784, led by the Burmese Crown Prince then, was to snatch the Holy Maha Muni Image, the national Symbol of Arakan. Nowadays this colossal image can be seen near Mandalay and the statue is called in colloquial Burmese Phayagyi (Paragri), which is the direct translation of Pali Word Maha Muni. During the British Era this temple was translated as 'Arakan Pagoda'.

Many Portuguese mercenaries served under Arakanese kings since 16th Century A.D. Later, the Dutch mercenaries did the same job. So, there is no doubt that there must have been some Christians in Arakan, but almost all of them were foreigners with very few Arakanese who converted into Christianity through marriage.

According to Maurice Collis and U San Shwe Bu, in 1610 Arakanese King Razagri had appointed his younger son, Min Mangri, Viceroy of Chittagong. This prince was not in good terms with his elder brother and the crown prince then Min Khamaung, the Viceroy of Thandwe. Min Khamaung was a rebellious Prince towards his father, hence the king wanted to replace the position of the crown prince from his elder son to the younger son. However, Min Mangri made friendship with the Portuguese pirate-king Gonsalves Tibau of Sandwip Island. The marriage of Min Mangri's daughter with Tibau's son was agreed and she had to convert into Catholicism. Min Mangri had three children, two daughters and a son. In the year 1610 his son was four years old.

When King Razagri heard of this marriage and realized that this younger son was now allied with the ruffian who had treacherously seized his fleet, in 1612 Razagri sent an army under the Crown Prince Min Khamaung. Min Khamaung took this duty willingly, because his own right to become the future king was threatened. In the battle Min Mangri was shot dead and finally Gonsalves Tibau surrendered. The King of Arakan, decided to pardon Gonsalves Tibau and invited him to contrive some way of saving the young prince and his sister, who were his own grand children.

Meanwhile Min Khamaung had entered Chittagong without opposition and after attending his brother's funeral immediately called for his nephew and niece. When they were not forthcoming, he suspected Tibau, but it was not until afterwards that he learnt they had escaped to the Moghul Empire. Foiled in this, he finished his business and returned to Mrauk-U, where later in the year he succeeded his father when his father died.

Later these two children of Min Mangri were baptized by the Catholic priests. This son of Min Mangri afterwards became known as Dom Martin, a Catholic and the first Arakanese who went to Europe.

...Posted By... Arakan Research Centre ...Date... Friday, October 28, 2011. ...Post Title... , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

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