John Nisbet.

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

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Thaton in the fifth century a.d. In view of the record
of religious intercourse between Ceylon and Burma which
these stones detail — a record compiled by a king called
from a monastery to the throne — this looks almost as if
Dammazedi considered that the Suvarna Bhumi of the
ancients must have been either the Malay Peninsula or
Cambodia rather than his own kingdom of Ramanadesa ;
for gold is to be found in all the three countries.

The chief of the other objects of interest near
Zaingganaing are the base of the Mahasedi or "great



pagoda," built by Hanthawadi Sinpyuyin about the
middle of the sixteenth century, and the Shwegugale
or " little golden cave" pagoda, built by Varadhammaraja
in 1588 A.D,, as recorded on twenty-two stone slabs.
The latter is in a perfect state of preservation. There
is also an immense brick tower, locally called the
Kyaikpon, but mentioned in the Kalyani inscriptions
as the Maha Buddha Rupa, in which colossal statues of
the four Buddhas who have appeared during this cycle,
each of about ninety feet in height, face the cardinal

A few miles to the south-east of Rangoon lies the
ancient town of Thanlyin, corrupted by us into Syriam.
Following the old Mon custom it also has a Pali name,
Khodadippa. Once the chief port of Pegu, it was
utterly destroyed by the conquering Alaung Paya in
1756 A.D., when he founded Rangoon. Tradition dates
the foundation of Syriam back to the sixth century B.C. ;
but it was not till the end of the sixteenth century that
it became noted in history, when it was seized in the name
of the Portuguese by the adventurer Philip de Brito y
Nicote. Retaken by the Burmese in 16 13, it became
the centre of European energy in Burma, where Dutch,
French, and English traders were allowed to establish
their factories until the final downfall and destruction
of the town. But of these European settlements nothing
now remains except the ruins of a church, some nameless
tombs, and traces of walls. The Kyaikkauk or Syriam
pagoda is essentially modern in type, though it is
probably (like all the other large pagodas) merely a shell
built over a very ancient stupa or brick trunnulus. It
is said to have been, like the Shwemawdaw at Pegu,
built over sacred hair-relics of Gaudama.

Rangoon, founded by Alaungpayd in 1756 a.d. to
record for ever " the termination of war " ( Yangun)
between the Burmese and the Mon nations, was pre-
viously known in Mon history as Dagon. Its name was
taken from the great Shwe Dagon pagoda, whose lofty
golden spire, built on the low Singuttara hill, towers
gracefully upwards far above the sky-line to the north of
the city.



The Maha Yazawin, or "great royal chronicle" of
Burma, makes mention of a legendary town called
Tikumba Nagara, in the country of Arramana, on the
site now occupied by Rangoon. It further mythically
narrates that in 58.8 p-.c, or still during the lifetime of
Gaudama, the Kesadhatuchetiya or Tikumba Sedi, the
classical name of what is now known as the Shwe Dagon
Payd or Dagon Sandawshin Sedi, was founded by two
merchants' sons, Taphussa and Bhallika. During a visit
to India they were said to have obtained from Gaudama
himself several of the hairs of his head, and these they
enshrined with great ceremony under a small pagoda
twenty-seven feet in height.

The popular Mon name Dagon is thus a mere corrup-
tion of Tikumba, and only came into general use about
the beginning of the sixteenth century. Kumba, mean-
ing the frontal bone of an elephant, was figuratively
applied to small rounded knolls or hill tops, and Tiktimba
denoted three such knolls. Gradually this became cor-
rupted into Tisonba, " the three bowls for food alms,"
and gave rise to one of the legends that Gaudama and
his two chief disciples had buried their priestly alms-
bowls on the spot where the pagoda now stands.

The word " Pagoda," rendered in Burmese by the term
Payd, " lord, master," is supposed to be a corruption of
the Cinghalese Dagaba, derived from the Sanscrit words
Dhdtu,2L "relic," and " Garbha," a "womb" or "shrine."
The Burmese term Payd is, however, much more com-
prehensive than the Indian tope or stupa, for it includes
not only relic shrines and solid erections raised over
sacred relics, but also temples containing images of
Gaudama, e.g. the Arakan pagoda (Mahamyatmuni
Paya) in Mandalay.

The popular modern belief among the Burmese is that
the Shwe Dagon pagoda, the most revered of all the
Buddhist shrines throughout Further India, contains relics
of all the four Buddhas who have appeared on earth
during the present Kalpa or cycle. These include the
water-strainer of Kaukasan, the bathing robe of Gawna-
gun, the staff of Kathaba, and eight hairs from the head
of Gaudama.



The first historically reliable statements concerning the
Shwe Dagon, however, are those relating to repairs and
additions by the Mon Queen Shinsawbu of Pegu between
1459 and 1469 A.D., when the height of the pagoda was
raised to 129 feet, the hill upon which it stands was
terraced, and the top terrace was paved with stone flags,
while land and hereditary slaves were assigned in per-
petuo for the maintenance of the sacred shrine. These
facts are recorded on three large slabs erected by King
Dammazedi in 1485 a.d. in the middle of the stone steps
leading up to the eastern face of the pagoda, and about
fifty feet below the present platform. This was, as usual,
the chief approach, but now the southern staircase, lying
towards Rangoon, has become the main entrance. The
hideous travesty of Lower Burmese art occupying the
place of an entrance porch has only been erected within
the last twenty-five years.

Later Mon kings of Pegu made further additions,
while the earliest Burmese kings of the Alaung Payd dyn-
asty increased the splendour and the size of the pagoda
in order that it might eclipse in every way the Shwe-
mawdaw at Pegu, the great shrine venerated for centuries
by the Mon, and in which centred all their recollections
of national independence. In 1768 it reached its present
height of 321 feet from the platform. In 1774 King
Sinpyuyin, second son of Alaung Paya, replaced the Mon
Ti, or " umbrella," crowning the pinnacle of its spire,^
which had been thrown down by an earthquake in i 769,
by a new Ti of Burmese shape, and regilded the pagoda
from pinnacle to base. The ceremony of placing this Ti
was witnessed by the king in person. The event was
intended to symbolize the complete Burmanizing of the
Mon country, and to celebrate the successes which had
recently attended the Burmese arms in the wars against
Siam, China, and Manipur. To crush once for all
attempts such as had then recently been made in Marta-
ban for the restoration of a Mon monarchy, Sinpyuyin
ordered the execution of Byinya Dala, the aged

^ Every pagoda must be surmounted by a Ti. The only exception
known to me is referred to on page 403.

VOL. II. 385 cc


ex- king of Pegu, who had been kept in captivity ever
since he surrendered to Alaiing Payd.

But 1769 was neither the first nor the last time that
earthquakes have damaged the lofty pagoda. The Ti
is said to have fallen in 1426, and it is known to have
fallen in 1508 ; while the pagoda itself was damaged in
1508, 1526, 1564, 1769, and 1888 by earthquakes.

The whole of the Shwe DaQ^on was reoi^ilded agfain in
1 87 1, from funds subscribed by pilgrims and rents
accruing from the toddy - palms on the terraces and
.slopes of the pagoda hill. On the completion of the
regilding King Mindon was permitted to send down
from Mandalay a new Ti of iron, covered with gold-
plating and thickly studded with jewels, which was put
in its place with great state and ceremony. Measuring
47 feet in height and 13^ feet in diameter at the base,
and weighing a ton and a quarter, this present Ti is
valued at over ^40,000.

The upper terrace forming the platform of the pagoda,
at a height of 165 feet above the roadway at the base of
the hill, is about 300 yards long and nearly 230 yards
wide. The western staircase being closed for military
purposes, the platform may be reached from any of the
other three cardinal points. The best approach is from
the east or the north, thus avoiding the swarm of beg-
gars and loathsome lepers who congregate on the long
stairs leading up from the south side, now forming the
main entrance to the pagoda.

From the platform the richly gilt solid brick pagoda
rises, in gradually diminishing spheroidal outline, from an
octagonal base having a perimeter of 445 yards, to a
height of 321 feet, exclusive of the conical Ti, so that
its total height as seen from a distance is no less than
368 feet.

Immediately around the base of the pagoda a broad
clear space is reserved for those who come to make
obeisance, to venerate the Buddha, and to repeat the
religious formulae. But all round the outer edge of the
paved court there are many small pagodas, images and
shrines, Ti, rest-houses, masts and prayer flags {Tagon-
daing\ effigies of spirits, demons, sacred birds, etc., as



well as the two large bells which have already been
referred to (pages 302, 303).

The only other ancient monument known to exist in
Rangoon is that which forms the core of the Sul6
pagoda, though the outer work is new, as in the case
of the Shwe Dagon. Its present name is merely a cor-
ruption of Chnla Sedi or " small pagoda," in contradis-
tinction to the Maha Sedi or " great pagoda," the Shwe
Dagon. Originally a small stupa, it was enlarged and
encased by Queen Shinsawbu, and was further increased
to its present size and shape only about seventy-five
years ago.

The upper portion of the Sittang valley was known in
later Mon times as the kingdom of Toungoo, the capital
of which ultimately bore the same name.

In olden times the Toungoo district was called
Jeyyavaddanadesa, or " land of increasing victory." The
royal city itself was founded by King Maha Sirijeyyasura,
and was situated five miles to the west of the present
town. It successively bore the names of Ketumatta
Nagara, Myawaddi (Mravati Nagara), and Dwayawaddi
(Dvdravati), and now forms the Myogyi or "great city"
suburb, traces of which are still visible about three
miles to the south-west of the town. But in 15 10 he
abandoned this new capital and founded the present
town of Toungoo. Of the pagodas which marked the
four corners of the original city, and of the five gates and
the five image-houses which were built at regular inter-
vals on each side of the city wall, but few traces are now
left ; while nothing save a heap of bricks remains to
mark the site of the once celebrated Myazigon pagoda,
erected by King Thado Thinghathu in 1538, or of the
Nandawu pagoda (1584) to the east of the old palace.
The lake to the west of the town is a tank dug in 1586.

Near Toungoo there are four ancient pagodas, said to
contain relics given to the Burmese rulers by the Indian
King Asoka. These are the Myatsaw Sedi, known as the
" seven pagodas," about six miles to the south-east of
the present town of Toungoo, fabled to have been built
in 240 B.C., and still held in great repute as a place of
pilgrimage ; the Kyauksaukmadaw, fourteen miles to the



south of Toungoo; the GaiidapaHii to the north-west;
and the Shwclethla to the north of the town. These
are all built of brick, have been frequently repaired, and
now form terraced conical spires of the usual modern
Burmese shape.

Above the Mon country in the Irrawaddy drainage
the first of the ancient Burmese territories entered is the
kingdom of Pyi or Pri, the name of the modern chief
town of which, Pyimyo, has been corrupted into Prome
by the British. It is referred to in the Burmese royal
chronicles as Siri-Khetra or Thare Khettara, the capital
of a great country ; but this ancient city seems to have
been situated five or six miles to the east of the Irra-
waddy, where the modern Rathemy6 or "hermits' town "
has risen up from among its ruins. Here the remains of
massive walls, large tanks, and pagodas indicate that a
great city once flourished until after the middle of the
seventeenth century.

According to the tradition recorded in detail in the
Burmese royal chronicles Gaudama was presented, in
the fifth year of his Buddhahood, with a monastery built
of sandalwood at Vanijagama in Sunaparanta — now
the village of Legaing in the Minbu district. Accept-
incr the gift, Gaudama occupied the monastery for seven
days. During his visit he left the impression of his feet
at two places for the veneration of men and spirits. One
of these holy spots is on the left bank of the Man
(Namanta) stream, while the other is on the summit of
the Pawiidaung or Pawaiidaung, " the footprint hill,"
about seven miles above Prome.

The Pawiidaung is crowned with a massive boulder,
called the " Hermit's Cap," and shaped like a priests'
alms-bowl, which is surmounted by a pagoda about 30
feet high, but of modern appearance.

On returning from the Pawiidaung, where he turned
the soles of his feet, Gaudama saw a piece of cowdung
floating in the sea, which then stretched eastwards from
the hills immediately to the west of Prome across to the
Pegu Yoma. At the same time a mole offered him some
of its burrow ings as an act of homage. Hereupon Gau-
dama prophesied that, after his religion had flourished



for one hundred and one years, the following five great
events would happen — a great earthquake should occur ;
a great lake would appear at the end of the " footprint
hill " ; a river called the Samonsa Myit would appear ; the
Popa hill would arise from out of the earth ; and the sea
would recede from the land upon which Thare Khettara
would later on be built. And as a reward for its act of
homage, the mole was to become incarnated as Dut-
tabaung, King of Thare Khettara, from whose reign
should date the establishment of Buddhism in the
country of the Myamma or Bamd, the Burmese.

Two great geological and geographical facts are thus
satisfactorily accounted for, namely, the appearance of the
extinct volcano, Popa, in the southern portion of the
great central plain lying to the north of the Prome
district, and the recedence of the sea from the hills near
and below Prome. About thirty miles to the south of
Prome, where the hills terminate abruptly on the right
bank of the Irrawaddy and stretch westwards to the
main chain of the Arakan Yoma there is the Akauk-
taung or " Customs' hill," which was no doubt a sea-
port when the waves of the estuary of the Irrawaddy
surged at its base and the tidal waters stretched uninter-
ruptedly across the mouth of the Sittang river to the
city of Thaton in Ramanadesa.

The Akauktaung is now a place of pilgrimage pro-
fusely ornamented with shrines, pagodas, rock-sculptures,
and other images of Gaudama. And the prophecy of
Gaudama had the additional value, flattering to Burmese
national vanity, of furnishing a belief in the direct in-
troduction of Buddhism into the country by its founder
in place of showing that their national religion reached
them from the great rival Mon country, which it certainly
did as a matter of fact.

In 1774 King Sinpyuyin placed the old Mon Ti of
the Shwe Dagon pagoda here (thrown down by the
earthquake of 1769), and set up an inscribed stone slab
recording this fact and narrating the progress of his
journey from Ava to Rangoon and the ceremonies con-
nected with the erection thereon of the new Burmese



In the eastern portion of the town of Prome stands
the chief pagoda, Shwesandaw Payd, on a low hill
overlooking the river. The pagoda is itself about i8o
feet high, and is solid throughout and gilded all over.
A legend of course exists that it was built by Dutta-
baung, first King of Thare Khettara ; but three large
slabs, partly effaced, lying at the foot of the pagoda hill
record its erection by King Minbin between the years
1535 and 1539 A.D.

Two very much smaller pagodas, respectively only
85 and 40 feet high, situated in the town itself are of
far older date than the Shwesandaw. These are the
Shwepongan, a circular brick pyramidal pagoda, built
by King Kyansittha in 1078, and the Shwemokdaw
pagoda erected by King Narathihapate of Pagan in
1240 A. D. according to the inscription on a slab in the
courtyard. As usual, successive layers of brickwork
have been superimposed above the original shrine so as
to obliterate all traces of its primitive shape.

About fourteen miles to the south of Prome a com-
manding position is occupied by the Shwenattaung
pagoda, about 120 feet in height. It is, however, of no
great antiquity, as an inscribed stone in the courtyard
records that it was built in 1570 by Tabinzedi, King of
Toungoo, to commemorate his conquest of Prome.

About a hundred and fifty miles to the north of
Prome, on the left bank of the Irrawaddy and in the
Myingyan district, lie the ruins of Pagan or Pugama,
the once famous Arimaddanapura which flourished as
the Burmese capital from the middle of the seventh to
near the close of the thirteenth century.

Pagdn is rich in archaeological remains. There is
hardly any object of archaeological and religious historical
interest which cannot be found in greater variety and
perfection in Pagan than at any other place in Burma.
It is commonly called "the city of ten thousand
pagodas " ; and the phrase " in number like the pagodas
at Pagan " is current to express any enormous number.
The ruins there extend over an area about eight miles
in length, following the river, and about two miles in
breadth. But the remains are all of a purely religious



character, with the sole exception of the palace of
Manuha, the last Mon King of Thaton, who was led into
captivity by King Anawratazaw in 1057 a.d. This
palace, and portions of the Bidagattaik, or " library "
erected to contain the many elephant loads of palm-leaf
manuscripts brought from Thaton, and of the Kyaukku
Onhmin or temple are the only buildings in which stone
masonry, with a greenish sandstone, is to be found. All
the other buildings, both of earlier and of later date than
these, are constructed entirely of brickwork. It is sup-
posed that this oldest basal portion of the Kyaukku
Onhmin was originally erected as a temple by the Indian
masons who built the Ananda and other contemporaneous
shrines, the Bidagattaik and the palace of Manuha, with
the minute carvings upon which the stone carvings in
the Kyaukku are quite in keeping. But more recent
research seems to fix the date of the upper portion of
the Kyaukku at any rate as belonging to the reign of
King Kyawswa, which terminated in 1279 a.d.

Pagdn was long the centre of the most powerful
Buddhist hierarchy that has anywhere existed since the
time of King Asoka in Northern India. It received
hospitably the fugitive Buddhists from all parts of India ;
and from the middle of the eleventh till near the close
of the thirteenth century it was the great centre of
Buddhistic religion and learning in Indo-China. Thither
came priestly bodies from all the lands of southern
Buddhism, from Ceylon, Pegu, Siam, and the Shan
States, while sojourners came even from China, and from
Nipal, the home of northern Buddhism; and to each
fraternity or nationality separate quarters were set apart
for their residence.

Judging from clues furnished by the Kalyani inscrip-
tions found near Pegu, and from the Burmese histories, it
was conjectured that the most ancient remains of Pagan
would probably be met with in the hills to the east of
the Shwezigon and Ananda pagodas, built in imitation
of the more ancient Nagayon and Lawkananda shrines
that once stood in the ancient town of Saravati (Tharra-
waddy), but later on formed the southern portion of
Anawratazaw's capital.



The Pagan of the hills, as distinguished from the town
close to the left bank of the Irrawaddy, consists of
a number of curiously constructed shrines built against
the steep sides of ravines, and of an almost interminable
labyrinth of artificial caves, once the abode of Buddhist
monks, perforating the low hills in all directions and
even extending to the banks of the river. Many of
these contain images of the Buddha, inscriptions, and
mural paintings. These caves and cave-temples are
older, and in many cases more interesting from an
architectural point of view, than the shrines erected by
Anawratazaw, Kyansittha, and Narabadisisithu.

In imitation of the original cave labyrinths in the hills
to the east, subterranean monasteries were made by
digging a hole in the ground forty to sixty feet long and
thirty to forty feet deep. The sides were walled with
bricks, and entrance was obtained through a hole on the
level of the ground. From the bottom, passages led to
intricate galleries and caves. At a later date square, clumsy,
top-heavy monasteries were built above ground, with a
central chamber for the Pongyi or Prior, which was
surrounded by a spacious gallery. The monastery was
usually one-storied, but passages ran, one over the other,
through the thick exterior walls with perforated stone
slabs as windows.

What were considered the most important inscriptions
on stones were removed about a century ago from Pagan
to Amarapura by King Bodaw^ Paya, yet many of great
value still remain. Among- the most interestinpf discoveries
are two red sandstone slabs with Sanskrit inscriptions
lying in the courtyard of the ancient Kuzeik pagoda. The
oldest, dated 481 a.d., records the erection of a temple
of Sugata by Rudrasena, King of Arimaddanapura ;
while the second, dated 610 a.d., inscribed in the
characters of the alphabet of Northern India, records the
presentation of an image of Sakyamuni by two Sakya
mendicants from Hastinapura (Tagaung) to the Asoka-
rama at Arimaddanapura, during the reign of King
Adityasena. This is supposed to afford something like
substantial proof that, although Thaton received Southern
Buddhism Irom Ceylon, Upper Burma independently



received Northern Buddhism from the Ganges whilst
Buddhism flourished in Northern India.

With the exception of square stone pillars in the
Myaseti pagoda having on one side a Pali inscription, on
another a Burmese, on the third a Mon, and on the
fourth a legend in an unrecorded alphabet and language,
the vast majority of the inscriptions at Pagdn are in the
square Pali alphabet, and vary in date from about
1059 A.D. up to the close of last century. The stone
pillars standing near the entrance to the Shwezigon
pagoda are no doubt older, as they are said to have been
brought from Thaton in 1057. Here also were recently
found a number of ancient clay tablets or bricks bearing
legends of unknown date recorded in Nagari, Mon,
Cambodian and Burmese characters. Inscribed slabs
abound in large numbers, offering a vast and most
interesting field for careful epigraphical research.

The oldest buildings at Pagdn, and consequently those
of greatest archaeological interest, are the following : —


Nagayon Paya
Ananda . . . .
Manuha's Palace
Kyaukku Onhmin

Shinbinthayaung Paya

Dating from
1050 A.D.
1057 „

1057 M
1057 .,

1060 „

Built by

King Anawratazaw.

» »

The Hindus who con-
structed the last two

King Anawratazaw.

Kuzeik Paya
Thitsawadi Pa) a .
Shwezigon Paya .




King Kyansittha.
Queen Pwasaw.
King Kyansittha.^

Thatpyinnyu or Thatpinya
Payd ....



King Alonsithu.

Damayangyi Paya
Sulamani Paya
Kyidawmu Paya



King Narabadisisithu.
>» >>
>> >>

Gawdavv Pahn Paya



King Nandaungnya.i

Bavvdi Palin Paya



King Zeyatheinga.

^ An inscribed stone standing in the courtyard of the pagoda gives
these dates. But according to the royal chronicles King Kyansittha
ceased to reign in 1085 a.d., while Narabadisisithu reigned from 1167
to 1204 {inde V\iz.yx€?, History of Burma^ 1883, Appendix, page 281).



The Shinblnthayaung Payd is also said to have been
built in 1039 A.D. by Kincr Manuha of Thaton. It seems,
however, wildly improbable that the Mon King ruling in
the great centre of southern Buddhism would build a
pagoda in a rival capital about five hundred miles distant.
And it is equally improbable that a King who was
carried into captivity after his capital was sacked and