John Nisbet.

Burma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) online

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possible, and just arrived at Tagaung in time to save
their son's life by telling him how the riddle should be
read. He, with the generosity becoming a King, spared
the Queen's life and assumed the title of Thado Naga-
naing, " the conqueror of the dragon." The Queen
became reconciled to her second husband, and they

reigned happily together.

# # # =x= *

Taungbyon, eight miles north of Mandalay, has been

370



THE TAUNGBYON NATS

a place of pilgrimage for over seven hundred years, and
every year a great festival is held there during the month
of July or August. Here stand two small pagodas called
Sudaungbye and Sudaungbya. The first of these was
built by King Anawratazaw ^ in the eleventh century,
in honour of the twin brothers Shwepyingyi and Shwe-
pyinnge, whose spirits dwell in two small brazen images
housed in a Natnan or "spirits' palace." But, as all
petitions offered at this pagoda are said to be certain of
fulfilment sooner or later. King Mindon in 1874 built
the Sudaungbya pagoda specially for members of the
royal family, who were prohibited from attendance at the
other lest they might aspire to the throne and their evil
desires should come to pass. This annual Natpwe or
" spirit festival " is a strange practical example of the
interweaving of Buddhism and of animistic worship which
really forms a very noteworthy characteristic of Burmese
Buddhism, as has been elsewhere remarked (vol. i., page
196 ; vol. ii., pages 107, 108). And this is the legend of

The Twin Spirits {Nat) of Taungbyon.

About a thousand years ago a monk, while bathing
one day in the Irrawaddy river, saw a large wooden
tray floating towards him with two little boys on it.
Moved by pity, he rescued them and took them to his
abode. Here they grew up and went about with him
in the forest.

One day they found the dead body of a man covered
with charms of the sort which render their possessor
invisible at will so long as he lives. The monk told the
boys to take the body to his hut, where he intended to
roast and eat it so as to become possessed of the power
given by the magic charms.

When he got back to his hut, however, he found that
the lads had themselves roasted and eaten the body, thus
acquiring the supernatural powers he had wished to attain.

Out of revenge the monk arranged for the lads to be
killed ; but this fate only overtook the elder, while the

1 This was the very king who made war against Thaton, and converted
Pagdn into the centre of the Buddhist rehgion throughout Burma.

371



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

younger escaped to Pagdn and took service under King
Anawratazaw. Here liis duty was to gather flowers for
the royal household. In performance of this task he
used daily to go up to the top of the Popd hill and back
to Pagdn, though for any ordinary man this was a whole
week's journey.

Now, on the top of Popd there dwelt a giantess who
had assumed the form of a young and beautiful girl.
Falling in love with each other, she and the flower-
gatherer were secretly married ; and in due time twin
boys were born to them. On the day of this happy occur-
rence the father was late in returning to the palace with
his flowers. Wishing to be rid of a man possessed with
such supernatural powers, the King seized on this pretext
and ordered him to be killed. Before death he told the
King of the twins and begged him to adopt them, telling
him that they too would be possessed of wonderful
magical powers which would be of great service to him.
Aware of what had come to pass, the mother placed her
twin children in two large jars and shoved these into the
river so that they floated down to Pagdn. Here they
were found and taken charge of by the King, from whom
they received the names of Shwepyingyi and Shwe-
pyinnge (or "big" and "little" Shwepyin). They grew
up much beloved in the palace, and proved themselves
possessed of vast supernatural abilities.

Later on King Anawratazaw marched with a great
army into China to obtain from the Emperor Udibwa
the tooth of Gaudama. As the Emperor did not come
forth to meet the King, the latter felt insulted and caused
a sound thrashing to be given to the great image of the
chief Nat or spirit worshipped by the Chinese.

When beaten, this spirit called out loudly for help from
the Ministers of State, and it was only then that the
Emperor of China knew of the coming of the Burmese
King. Charmed swords and spears, and magic water and
fire were placed all round the city walls in defence of the
Chinese capital. Four men, sent by the Burmese King
to call the Emperor to account, succeeded in passing the
barriers of swords and spears, but failed to cross the
charmed water and fire.

372



THE TAUNGBYON NATS

Then the twin brothers Shwepyin were sent. Through
their supernatural powers they were able to make their
way into the Emperor's chamber while he still slept.
After marking his face with lime and writing on the
walls of his apartments, they plucked three hairs from
his head and took them to Kino- Anawratazaw.

When the Emperor awoke, he was greatly annoyed at
the way he had been insulted. But, when he read what
stood written on the walls of his chamber, he hastened
to conciliate the King and to give him the great sacred
relic, the tooth of Gaudama,^ together with presents of
gold and silver, and several virgin princesses to add to the
number of his minor queens. Thus peace and concord
were established between the two countries ; and on his
return to Burma, King Anawratazaw built the Sudaung-
bya pagoda at Taungbyon to commemorate the happy
event.

In consequence of their great services and abilities the
brothers Shwepyin had many enemies, who soon found
means of bringing them under the royal displeasure.
While the memorial pagoda was being built each
member of the King's household had to contribute bricks
and labour. When the work seemed to be complete it
was found that two bricks were wanting in part of the
inner wall ; and the enemies of the twins made out that
this was solely due to the intentional neglect of the two
brothers. The King at once, in anger, ordered their
execution ; but they became invisible, and only appeared
now and again at intervals.

Being loyal, however, they eventually gave themselves
up, trusting to the royal clemency. Though he would
not forgive them the King could not entirely forget his
former affection for them, so he ordered them to be
killed at a great distance from his capital.

As they could not be killed by ordinary means they
were taken far away to the north of Pagan, to a place
where strangling with a rope of leather was tried (near

^ This relic was always enshrined in a tower, opposite to the bell-
tower, at the east gate of the capital of Burma. It now occupies this
similar position in Mandalay city (Fort DutTerin) ne:^r the Hhitdaw
or Great Council Hall.

373



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

where the village of L6ndau7tg or " rope hill " now
stands) ; but in vain. Then they were taken to a different
place where another vain attempt was made to kill them
with a male bamboo (whence the name of the village
Wayindok). Finding that, notwithstanding the failure
of these two attempts, the King would not forgive them
but was bent on their destruction, they at last told their
executioners they could only be killed if taken to a
certain place and made to undergo torture on the rack
{Kiiinyat). So this was done, and the village which
has sprung up there bears the name of KtUywa to this
day.

Shortly after this, as the King was returning to Pagan
from a royal progress up the river, his raft was stopped
by some unknown agency at a place called Kyi In. On
being consulted, the astrologers said the stoppage was
caused by the twin brothers who had become trans-
formed into spirits and intended to punish the King for
his ingratitude after the services they had rendered to
him in China.

The King ordered the two Nat to be summoned.
When they appeared before him he demanded to know
what they wanted with him, and with much grief they
upbraided him for causing their death. Expressing
great regret for his conduct, he asked pardon of them,
and requested them, as a mark of forgiveness, to make
Taungbyon their abode. Here he built the " spirit
palace " for them, and he placed there, as caretaker, one
of the virgin princesses received from the Emperor of
China.



374



Chapter XV

ARCHEOLOGY

IN various parts of Burma there is a wealth of
antiquities and of associations with reli^^ious and
historical events upon which one can look back through
a long vista of many centuries. But it is only in the
dry central zone of the Irrawaddy valley that the ancient
monuments have had any fair chance of preservation.
Elsewhere, and especially in the moister portions of the
province near the sea-board, the ravages committed by
the excessive rainfall and the luxuriant vegetation prove
rapidly destructive.

Favoured by the damp, warm climate the seeds of
epiphytic Ficus, brought by birds which perch on the
pinnacles of pagodas and other sacred edifices, soon
develop into trees whose roots, insinuating themselves into
crevices in the plasterwork and between the bricks, com-
pletely overgrow small pagodas or rend asunder large
masses of brickwork. And with very few exceptions
all the ancient monuments throughout Burma are built
of brick, exceedingly few being of stone. The mon-
asteries, being built of teakwood, fall to pieces and totally
disappear within a comparatively short space of time.

The celebrated Shiuethayaung is an example of how
completely some of the antiquarian treasures of the
province can very soon be hidden by jungle growth.
This colossal recumbent image of Gaudama is i8i feet
long and 46 feet high. After being so long hidden by
rubbish and jungle as to have been forgotten even to
tradition throucjhout the surrounding: district, it was only
discovered by chance in 1881 by men searchmg for
laterite, to be used as metal on the new railway line then

375



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

being laid clown close by. So entirely was all know-
ledge of it wiped out after the destruction of Pegu in
1757 that no history is attached to it, although the new
town of Pegu, founded about 1777, stands within a mile's
distance. It can only be estimated to be about 400
years old.

Despite these ravages of time, with teeth sharpened by
luxurious tropical vegetation, almost every part of the
province offers a rich field for the work of the archae-
ologist either in connection with the general religious
history of the country, or else more especially with the
royal dynasties which formerly held sway in the different
kingdoms before all became welded into one empire by
Alaung Paya early in the second half of the eighteenth
century.

In Arakan, the western portion of the province
bordering on the Bay of Bengal, Myohaung or Myauku,
the ancient capital of the kings for several centuries,
contains numerous pagodas exhibiting a curious mingling
of Hindu and Burmese architecture and sculpture
enclosed in an extensive network of stone walls, moats,
and embankments still fairly well preserved. Being
situated far inland upon a tidal creek forming one of the
numerous branches of the Lemru river, it lies consider-
ably out of the beaten track. But the Shitthaung,
Dokathein, and Lemyethna pagodas are structures
worthy of examination on account of their unique
design, being partly temples and partly fortifications
formerly used as places of refuge in time of war. An
intricate labyrinth of passages leads through the massive
stonework to spacious galleries filled with marble images
of the Buddha. Ancient Hindu temples and other
structures still exist there, with an old Mohammedan
mosque among the ruins. Most of the buildings are
of massive stone blocks ornamented with designs of
both Indian and Burmese origin, into which coloured
tablets are set in the shape of banyan leaves or lotus
rosettes. Rough ancient rock-cut sculptures are numerous
along the base of the hills to the west and north.

Of the many shrines in Arakan the most famous is
the Mahamuni pagoda on the Sirigutta hill, near Payagyi,

376



THE MOULMEIN CAVES

which undoubtedly exhibits Indian characteristics. Prob-
ably it is connected with the northern Indian Buddhism
which existed in the upper portion of Burma before the
introduction of the southern Buddhist teachings now
prevailing throughout the country.

Ramanadesa, the ancient Mon or Talaing kingdom
now forming the central portion of the Tenasserim Com-
missionership and stretching thence westwards across the
lower portions of the Sittang and Irrawaddy valleys
to the Arakan mountains, is specially rich in ancient
monuments,

Moulmein itself is quite a modern town, built after the
British annexation in 1826 on what is said to have been
the site of the ancient Ramapura, founded by Hindu
colonists. The immediate vicinity of the town has little
or nothing of antiquarian interest to offer, but numerous
caves, formed naturally in the limestone rocks and
situated (as noted below) within a radius of fifty miles
to the north and east, are objects of great interest.
There are large numbers of these caves, and all are
filled with sacred images and manuscripts. The most
celebrated and the best known of these are the " Farm "
(P'harum) or Kayun caves on the Ataran river (ten
miles), the Dammatha caves on the Gyaing river (eigh-
teen miles), the Pagat caves on the Salween (twenty-
six miles), the Kogun caves on the Kogun stream
(twenty-eight miles), and the Binji caves on the Dom-
dami river (fifty-one miles). Their chief interest lies,
perhaps, in the images which have for centuries back
been deposited by successive generations of pilgrims,
for they help to explain the forms of many of the
old and small images deposited at pagodas and other
sacred shrines throughout the country. Here, for
example, are frequently to be found images with snake
canopies over the head of the Buddha and snakes coiled
round the pedestal, such as are rarely to be found in
other parts of Burma.

These peculiarities are supposed to be of Cinghalese
and Dravidian origin in the earliest times, but influenced
later by Cambodian and Siamese art when Ramanya
was under Cambodian rule from the sixth to the tenth

377



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

centuries and under Siamese domination in the fourteenth
century. But it seems improbable that " in this very
rainy country of Ramanya," as the Kalyani inscriptions
at Pegu correctly describe it, many of the images or
ornamentations can be anything like so old as any of
these dated.

Many of the walls and roofs of the caves are
ornamented with painted plasterwork and terra-cotta
tablets embedded in cement, illustrative of episodes in
the life of Gaudama. Even the stalactites and stalag-
mites in some of the caves, and especially in the large
Dammatha cave were and still are partially ornamented
in this quaint manner, though these structures often
have stalactites formed over them.

A good many of these ancient limestone caves are
infested with bats, and the removal of the guano is
farmed out on payment of an annual revenue.

About sixty miles to the north of Moulmein lies
Thaton, the most ancient city of Lower Burma, the
Suvarna Bhumi of the Buddhist books, and the Aurea
Rcgio or Golden Chersonese of Ptolemy and other writers.
Talaing traditions vary as to the circumstances connected
with its foundation. One tradition would have it founded
by Siharaja, a conteniporary of Gaudama, who was
advised to select the site of his capital on a spot where
gold was found, which would soon attract a large popu-
lation. Close by, the sands of a small hill-stream are
still washed for gold by those content thus to eke out a
scanty livelihood. Another tradition ascribes its founda-
tion to early Indian colonists coming from the coast-line
near the mouths of the Kristna and Godavery rivers.
Though now far removed from the sea, it was then, no
doubt, on the sea coast ; for at the base of the hills far
to the north-west (near the village of Kinyua) the
remains of ancient mooring-places are still traceable
dating from the time when these hills formed part of the
eastern shore at the estuary of the Sittang river.

Be this as it may, it was to Thaton, as is conjectured
on the evidence of Buddhist writings preserved in
Ceylon, that southern Buddhism was introduced long
before it made its wav into Burma proper. It was to

3/8



ANTIQUITIES OF THATON

Thaton, as capital of the Suvarna Bhumi or Ramanya
(Ramanadesa), as it was subsequently called, that the
two missionaries Thawna and Uttara were sent by the
third great synod held at Pataliputra (Patna) about
241 B.C. to teach the doctrines of Buddhism to the Mon
race.

It was not, however, until about seven hundred years
later, about the middle of the fifth century a.d., that the
Buddhist scriptures were supposed to have been brought
by Buddha Ghosa, "the voice of Buddha," from Ceylon.
Thenceforth, for the next six centuries, Thaton remained
the great religious centre of Burmese Buddhism, the seat
of religious learning and the storehouse of sacred relics
and precious manuscripts, till it was conquered, sacked,
and destroyed by fire in 1058 a.d. by Anawratazaw, the
Burmese King of Pagdn, who carried off to his own
capital many elephant loads of sacred writings and the
most learned of the priesthood (see page 112).

At Thaton, therefore, it might be expected that some
of the earliest archaeological remains in Burma should
be found, together with the remains of sacred edifices
forming the prototypes of those at Pagan. But the
ravages of the damp tropical climate and of centuries
of entire neglect have obliterated almost every trace
of ancient buildings. Bounded on the east by a low
range of hills running north and south, the land to the
west forms a vast paddy plain, covered deeply with
Hood-water during the rainy season. These conditions,
and the tropic heat with its wealth of luxuriant vegeta-
tion, are a sufficient explanation for the total disap-
pearance of even the very foundations of ancient
structures.

Of all the early works only five Mon inscriptions have
been found at Thaton, the palaeography of which indicates
an age of about four hundred years, and some terra-
cotta tablets exhibiting undoubtedly Brahminical or
Hindu characteristics, such as Siva with his trident,
though the features of the persons represented are
distinctly Mongolian in type.

Pegu, lying to the west of the Sittang, and situated
on the Pegu river about forty miles north-east of

379



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

Rangoon, is archaeologically perhaps now the most
interesting place in Lower Burma. The modern town
is built upon the site of Hanthawaddi (Hamsavati), said
by tradition to have been founded in 573 a.d. by princes
from Thaton ; and it was the later and the last capital of
the Mon kingdom.

In Pegu town itself is the golden Shwemawdaw
pagoda, ranking next in sanctity to the Shwe Dagon
in Rangoon. It is said to have been erected originally
as a small pagoda, having only about one-fourth of its
present height, to enshrine two hairs of Gaudama ; but
successive kings of Pegu and of Burma enlarged it to
its ultimate dimensions of 288 feet in height and 1,350
feet in basal circumference.

The extent of the ancient city may still be traced by
the ruins of the wall and the moat which surrounded
it, each side of the quadrangle measuring about a mile
and a half. When Alaung Paya took Pegu in 1757 a.d.,
he razed to the ground every building save the sacred
structures, and dispersed or carried into captivity all its
inhabitants in order to root out every trace of the Mon
capital. Of the numerous pagodas only the Shwemawdaw
has been reverenced and kept in repair.

But the most interesting remains are those to be found
close by, in the Zaingganaing quarter to the west of the
town, near where the colossal recumbent figure of
Gaudama, the Shwethaymcng already referred to, was
discovered in 1881. And of these the most important is
the Kalyani Sima or TJiein, the ancient " hall of ordina-
tion," founded by Dammazedi (Dammacheti), King of
Pegu, in 1476 A.D. Thither, during the fifteenth and six-
teenth centuries, flocked Buddhist monks from all parts of
Burma, and even from Siam and Ceylon, to receive their
Upasampadd or monastic ordination. It received its
name from the fact of its having been consecrated by two
Mon priests who had received afresh their Upasampadd
ordination at the hands of the Mahavihara fraternity, the
spiritual successors of Mahinda, on the Kalyani river in
Ceylon. Even at the present day monks whose ordin-
ation is of doubtful validity often desire re-ordination in
this Thein.

380



ANTIQUITIES OF PEGU

As the Buddhist rehgion had originally no organized
ecclesiastical hierarchy it was ordained by Gaudama that,
in order to provide some check in the way of discipline,
harmony, and moral control, Upatvsatha meetings should
be held at each new moon and each full moon, and also
a Pavarana, or general assembly, once a year at the end
of the rainy season, where the assembled priests should
be asked if they had committed any of the offences
enumerated in the Patimauk, or if they knew of or
suspected such offences in other monks. It was the
duty of all priests to attend these assemblies, and the
place consecrated for the purpose of such meetings was
a Smia, or Tlievn in modern Burmese. These Pavarana
have now degenerated into the modern Pazudyand or
nominal confession of monks (see page 132).

When King Dammazedi, in 1476, founded the
Kalyani Sima, he, partly from religious impulse due
to the fact of his having been a monk himself, and
partly in emulation of King Asoka's creation of the
celebrated inscribed monoliths throughout India, erected
close by the Thein ten stone slabs bearing inscriptions
on both sides. On the first three stones the inscriptions
are in the Pali language, while those on the remaining
seven stones are in Mon and form a translation of the
Pali text. The main object in founding the Kalyani
Sima was doubtless to provide for Ramanadesa a con-
secrated place for the due performance of religious cere-
monies as prescribed in the Wini. But indirectly it also
secured some sort of continuity in priestly succession
from Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism into Ceylon, be-
cause it was held that the direct succession from Thawna
and Uttara, the first teachers of Buddhism in Suvarna
Bhumi, had been interrupted because of the incursion
of the Burmese from Pagan in the eleventh century and
of the Shan invasion of Pagdn, then the centre of
Burmese Buddhism, during the thirteenth century. The
erection of the stones bearing the Kalyani inscriptions
was therefore probably for the express purpose of main-
taining the purity of Buddhism by thus indelibly record-
insf the manner in which Them should be consecrated
in order to secure their validity.

381



BURMA UNDER BRITISH RULE

In addition to this, the great value of the Kalyani
inscriptions lies in the detailed information they give
as to religious intercourse between Pegu and Burma
with Ceylon and Southern India during the fifteenth
century, and as to the Burmese view of the apostoHc
succession of the Buddhist priesthood.

Until a few years ago these stones were lying scattered
and broken in fragments. They may have been smashed
through the vandalism of the notorious Philip de Brito y
Nicote of Syriam, who held Pegu for ten years at the
beginning of the seventeenth century. But in that case
they would probably have been restored or replaced by
some later Mon sovereign. It is hardly likely that
sacred objects of this nature would have been destroyed
by Alaung Payd's troops ; for the Burmese soldiery are
not sacrilegious, and these stones would be objects of
extreme veneration among them. It therefore seems
far more likely that the work of destruction was carried
out by British Indian troops during the second Burmese
War in 1852, when there was much stubborn fighting
in and around Pegu. Such iconoclasm is essentially
characteristic of Mohammedan soldiery.

The fragments have now been restored, and the stones
are about 1 2 feet high, 4 feet 2 inches wide, and i foot
3 inches thick. Although the text is not completely
legible, translations of the inscriptions have been obtained
from well authenticated palm -leaf manuscripts of the
Pali text.

These Kalyani inscriptions make no mention whatever
of the tradition about Buddha Ghosa having brought a
complete set of the Buddhist scriptures from Ceylon to