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

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waddi in northern Arakan, and that it was the original
resemblance or " excellent younger brother " of Gaudama,
taken from life (whence probably the name Myatswa

For centuries it was an object of adoration to pilgrims
from all Buddhist lands, and many wars were waged
against Arakan for the main purpose of securing posses-
sion of this sacred image. From the earliest times kings
of Pagan, Prome, and Pegu had tried to obtain it. In
the beginning of the eleventh century King Anawratazaw
of Pagan invaded Arakan for this purpose and conquered
the country ; but fortunately, becoming inspired with
religious veneration for what was considered the pro-
tector of the kingdom, he retired without carrying it

To the south of the Arakan pagoda are the great
Bodawgyi inscription and the large Bodawgyi bell, each
in a separate shrine, together with a most valuable collec-
tion of inscriptions. Running in seven rows from east
to west there are 468 stone slabs with inscriptions still
well preserved, while another group of 109 inscribed
stones is to be found on the western side of the pagoda.
Altogether the lithic monuments here number about 750.
During the reign of Sinpyuyin (1763 - 1775) stone inscrip-
tions were collected from all parts of the kingdom and
deposited here. This work of merit in adoration of the



Mahdmuni image was largely continued by Bodaw Payd
( 1 781-18 1 9), and again during the reign of the Mindon
Min (1852-1878). As it now stands the collection is of
great historical interest, for the inscriptions range over a
period exceeding a thousand years, from 746 to 1839 a.d.
Most of them are in Burmese, though many are in Pali,
and some in the Mon or Peguan language.

Mandalay is entirely a modern city. It was generally
spoken of in Burmese times as Shwemyo, " the golden
city," but also bears the classical name of Yadanabon, or
"cluster of gems." Founded in 1857, on a part of the
plain lying to the south-west of Mandalay hill indicated
to King Mindon in a dream, it was occupied in i860 as
his capital. Here, as customary, the city and the palace
buildings were planned more or less closely on the usual
lines of a royal capital, particularly with regard to the
relative positions of the various buildings and their rela-
tion as to the cardinal points of the compass (see plan in
chapter viii. of vol. i.).

With the exception of a few solid brick pagodas in the
south-west corner of the palace enclosure, and others on
Mandalay hill and on Yankintaung, a hill a few miles to
the east, all the buildings, whether sacred or secular, have
been erected during the last forty-four years.

During the reign of King Mindon, a monarch deeply
imbued with Buddhist religious feelings, his capital of
course maintained the traditions of the Court of Burma
as the centre of Buddhist light and learning. Both
within the capital, and all around it to the north, east,
and south, large monasteries were erected of teak timber
and richly adorned with wood carvings. These were
purely Burmese in design, and formed the finest specimens
of modern Burmese art uncontaminated by European
influences. Those more particularly favoured by the
King and his Queens were thickly covered with gold
leaf outside and inside ; but the plain teakwood carving,
darkened with coatings of crude earth-oil for protection
against sun and rain, are unquestionably more artistic.
Many of these, now abandoned, are gradually falling into
disrepair and ruin, and some were destroyed completely
during the incendiary fires in the spring of 1892 and of



1893. But others still fortunately remain as the last exist-
ing specimens of art work carried out under Burmese rule.
Of these the Hman Kyaung, or " looking-glass monas-
tery," built to the east of the Atumashi by King Thibaw
in 1882, and Queen Supayalat's Shwe Kyatmg, or
"golden monastery" i^Myadaung Kyaung), built in 1883
in what is now a road to the south-west of the city, are
the most beautiful examples in Burma of profusely gilded
carving. The small monastery built for Prince Thibaw's
priesthood, near the south-east corner of the Hlutdaw in
the palace enclosure, is a gem of looking-glass mosaic.
And many of the royal monasteries to the east and south
of the city wall are splendid specimens of pure Burmese
carving in teak wood.

Built with the mere idea of impermanence, these still
remain, though little or nothing is done to keep them in
proper repair and they have lost much of their original
grandeur ; while the Atiimaski Kyaung, or " monastery
without its like" (wrongly called in English "the Incom-
parable Pagoda"), built to the north-east of the city in
brickwork to secure for it something like permanence,
was destroyed by fire in 1892. Of this monument, which
took twenty years (1857-1877) to build, and was at the
same time a monastery built by Mindon in memory of
his father and a shrine containing the latter's chief
throne as well as a colossal bronze image of Gaudama,
nothing now remains save the ruins of its basement.
And in the following spring was destroyed the Shweydt-
daw or Seindayawgyi, the great gilded wooden image of
Gaudama, about thirty-five feet high, which stood on
the southern spur of Mandalay hill with the right arm
extended and the forefinger pointing to the spot indi-
cated in King Mindon's dream as the auspicious site for
his new capital.

Close by this, a little to the north of the Atumashi,
is the Kuthodaw or " great work of royal merit," also
called the Laivka7nayasin, but better known to the English
as " the thousand and one pagodas." Here, around a
central pagoda, the ornamentation of which was damaged
by the sacrilegious hands of our Mohammedan soldiery
after the third Burmese war, are grouped 733 upright



marble slabs. Each is enshrined within a miniature
pagoda ; and upon these slabs is engraved the Pali text
of the Bidagdt or Buddhist scriptures, written in Burmese
characters. Within the inner enclosure stand twenty-
four stones with the texts of the Beikku Patimauk,
Beikku, Beikku Nipacitti, and the Paraziga (Parajikd).
Along the outside of the inner wall are sixty-eight stones
upon which are inscribed the remaining three books of
the Vinayapitakam, namely, the Mahavagga, Ciilavagga,
and Parivarapatho. The second or middle enclosure
has lOO stone slabs on the inner side and 109 on the
outer, which contain the text of the seven books of the
Abidamma Bidagat (Abhidhammapitakady). Along
the third or outermost wall 432 stones are arranged in
three rows, containing inscriptions of the five NikAya of
the Thutta Bidagat (Suttapitakady) and the Milinda-
panha. This monumental version of the Burmese
Bidagdt therefore forms a complete copy of the whole
Tripitaka or " three baskets," — the Sutta, the Vinaya,
and the Abhidammapitaka. The central or chief pagoda,
within which is enshrined the Pali commentary written
upon leaves of gold and silver, was built by King
Mindon; while the smaller pagodas surrounding it and
containing the engraved slabs were erected by his brother,
the War Prince, and his Ministers of State between 1857
and 1864.

On the western side of the Irrawaddy, distant about
six or seven miles from Mandalay, stand the ruins of
the basement of the Mingun pagoda, one of the largest
masses of brickwork known to exist. Begun by Bodaw
Paya in 1790 or 1 791, it was abandoned, after years of work,
when it had been carried up to only about one- third of
its intended height, 500 feet. So keen was the king on
erecting this, that he had a temporary palace built in
the vicinity, from which he personally supervised the
work. Near it stands the bell cast at the same time.^

Bodaw Paya had a passion for great works of religious
merit, for he apparently recognized that he had a fearful
debit balance to his life's account. He repaired the
embankment of the Atmgpinle or "pent up sea," an

^ See page 302, where "/// 1771 " should read ^^ about 1791."



ancient tank with a superficies of about twenty square
miles, to the south-west of Mandalay, where water could
be stored in sufficient quantity for the irrigation of several
thousand acres of rice lands. He also repaired the
embankment of the lake at Meiktila, which must be of
very ancient date, as it is known to have been previously
repaired by Alonsithu during the twelfth century.
Bodaw Paya went there with his whole Court and spent
three months superintending his royal work of merit,
carried out of course by corvee or forced labour.

About a hundred miles to the north of Mandalay lie
the remains of the ancient city of Tagaung or old Pagan,
also called Hastinapura in Pali, for centuries the seat of
a long list of legendary kings belonging to a dynasty
that came from India. It is believed to be the oldest
Indian settlement in Burma. The royal chronicles relate
that about the middle of the sixth century B.C. a king
called Dhajaraja, of the Sakya race, settled at Kathe
(Manipur) and conquered Tagaung or old Pagan. In
1 89 1 terra cotta tablets were found there bearing San-
skrit legends in Gupta characters, and also a large stone
slab in similar characters dating from early in the fifth
century a.d. This latter bears out the legendary state-
ments of the chronicles that successive waves of immigra-
tion from Northern India had brought letters and the
Buddhist religion to Upper Burma long before Anawra-
tazaw's conquest of Thaton in the eleventh century.

The inscription records that Maharaja Dhiraja Jaya-
pala of Hastinapura in Bramadesa (Burma) on the
Erdvati (Irrawaddy) granted an allotment of land and
money to the Aryasamgha or " community of the faith-
ful " at the great monastery of Mahakasyapa (Kathaba)
for the feeding of mendicants and the maintenance of
lamps at the pagoda near by. Dense jungle now covers
the ruins that remain of this ancient capital, and no doubt
hides many an ancient record of vast antiquarian in-

To the south, east, and west of old Tagaung the
Shwezigon, Shwezedi, and Paungdawkya pagodas are
held in much reverence and are probably very ancient.
Alaung Payd, the founder of the last of the dynasties



that ruled in Burma, repaired them, as the marble slabs
near them record.

At Bhamo, classically called Chinardttha, the only
buildincT of antiquarian interest is the Theindawgyi
pagoda, which an inscribed stone there states to have
been built in 1387 a.d.

Celts of basalt or some schistose rock have been found
in Northern Burma, where they are believed to be stones
produced by thunderbolts [Mogyo), while copper celts have
not infrequently been found in the Toungoo district. Com-
paratively little is known, however, about this minor
branch of Burmese archaeology. No detailed archaeo-
logical survey of the province has yet been undertaken.
But what is already known about the antiquities shows
that it presents a fine field for research. And the recent
appointment of a very well qualified archaeologist should
soon bring to light many of the hidden treasures.


Chapter XVI


THE Peguans and the Burmese, now much inter-
mixed, who form the great bulk of the population,
occupy the valleys and the uplands in the vast riverine
tracts which are flanked in every direction, save seawards,
by hills inhabited by jungle tribes, and for the most part
densely wooded. Except the great Shan race (so called
from the Chinese word Shan, meaning "mountains"), —
which pressed forward from the east right to the edge of
the plateau within about thirty miles of Ava, Amarapura,
and Mandalay, and overran Northern Burma and Assam,
formerly separate States in many places, — all of these
hillmen belong to wild tribes. These hill tribes, the
denizens of the thickly forested mountain ranges, were
probably partly the aborigines of the country, and
partly the earliest immigrants, both of whom were
gradually driven out of the lower tracts by the incursions
of stronger races which asserted their sway along the
main rivers.

The distribution of the population under such circum-
stances regulated itself mainly in accordance with physical
features and conditions. To the west, the ancient king-
dom of Arakan, lying beyond the western watershed of
the Irrawaddy river and its great affluents, was founded
by the Arakanese. These, occupying the fertile portions
of the Kaladan and L^mru rivers, drove into the hills
the primitive races which now exist as separate tribes
called Chaungtha, Kwemi or Kami, Chaw, Shindu, Mro
and the like.

In the central portion of the country the great
river Irrawaddy forms the main axis around which



liave ever revolved the wheels of poHtical, commercial
and social activity. During the flood season, lasting from
June till October, it is a noble highway fed by the copious
rainfall deposited by the south-west monsoon air cur-
rents ; but during the winter solstice it sinks to so low a
level that shallow-draft, flat-bottomed steamers have to
crawl tortuously through buoyed-out passages between
sandy shoals. Sometimes they ground so heavily, espe-
cially in going down stream, as to become firmly fixed in
the sand. Here they have occasionally to remain till
the river begins to rise gradually in March and April,
owing to the melting of the snows in the far-distant
mountains, within which the still unknown sources of this
mighty river are cradled.

In the lower portion of the Irrawaddy valley the Mon
or Peguan race asserted their supremacy at a very early
date and spread eastwards across the valleys of the
Sittang and the Salween rivers, making their capital at
Thaton, then on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Marta-
ban. The races displaced by the Peguans and driven
into the hills probably consisted chiefly of the Karen now
inhabiting the central Pegu Yoma range, forming the
watershed between the Sittang and the Irrawaddy, the
Paunglaung range, between the Sittang and the Salween,
and the eastern slopes of the Arakan Yoma to the west
of the Irrawaddy delta. This race, also, however, in-
cluded the wild, lawless Karenni or " red Karen " living
in the hills between the headwaters of the Sittano- river
and the Salween, and the Taungthu or " hill men," the
first known occupants of Thaton, who on being driven
forth by the Mon, spread over the hills to the south and
east, and wandered northwards into the Shan hills, where
they founded the State of Thaton. Confined to the
islands of the Mergui Archipelago, at the extreme south
of Tenasserim, are to be found the Salon (or Selung),
a timid, nomadic race, consisting of several tribes who
subsist by fishing. They are perhaps one of the most
primitive of all the tribes in Burma, having no religion
other than animistic superstition, no holy men or holy
days, no conventional rules as to domestic habits, and no
domestic animals except dogs.



The whole of the tracts under Peguan occupation were
those having a heavyannual rainfall varying from about loo
to over 200 inches during the south-west monsoon season.
Higher up the Irrawaddy valley, where the gradually
lessening rainfall gave rise to the central dry zone, the
true Burmese race settled and throve, ultimately acquir-
ing supremacy over the whole of the country from Assam
to Mergui, and from Chittagong to Siam and China.
Though far from being the most fertile part of Burma,
this heart of the country is the best portion to live in.
From March till October the heat is greater than further
south or further north, but the air is dry and iho. feeling
of heat consequently less ; while the climate from Novem-
ber to February is genial and pleasant.

The original immigrants from India, from whom sprang
the Burmese race in the upper portion of the Irrawaddy
valley, gradually found their way down to the advantage-
ous position for a capital offered by the vicinity of the
confluence of the Chindwin river with the main waterway.
During the course of their advance they ousted older
settlers, now represented by the various Chin tribes on
the mountains to the west of the Chindwin river, and
the Kachin inhabiting all the hills to the east, north,
and west of the upper Irrawaddy itself

To deal with these hill races in anything like detail would
require a volume for itself ; and a very interesting volume
it might be made. But within the limits of one chapter
the most that can be done is to make brief allusion to the
four most important hill races, namely, the Shan, Karen,
Chin, and Kachin, leaving out of consideration all the
minor hill races and the tribes partly of Burmese origin,
like the Kadu and the Yaw in central Burma, or the
Yabein, an outcast race living by silk culture, in Lower
Burma. The Shan, however, are really far more than
mere hill tribes. They are virtually but one portion of a
nation once great but now scattered throughout Burma,
Siam, and China, the Siamese being the only branch of
this old stock which has retained its independence.

These various hardy hill races, with which the hills and
mountains flanking the plains of Burma are sparsely
peopled, have always been treated with the greatest



harshness and oppression by the Burmese ; and in re-
tahation they have always been accustomed to raid down
upon the plains for the purpose of stealing, kidnapping,
and burning-.

The distribution of these tribes throughout the last cen-
tury can easily be briefly noted. On the hill range form-
ing the watershed between the Sittang river and the lower
Irrawaddy, and on the low hills to the east and west of
this, were located the Karen, who since coming under
British rule after the second Burmese war have become
a loyal and peaceful body of subjects. To the north-east
of this, on the hills between the upper Sittang and the
Salween, the red Karen were a standing terror both to
the Shan States marching with them to the north and
east, and to the Burmese living on the plains of the
Sittang. Further to the north and east, on the lofty
plateau and among the valleys extending far away to
Yunnan and Siam, were the Shan forming many States
under chiefs of their own. Above the Mandalay district
the savage Kachin tribes dominated all the hills north of
the Shan States, from the Chinese frontier on the east,
across Bhamo and Mogaung, and northwards to Assam.
Besides raiding down on the plains from time to time, they
also invariably levied toll on all traffic passing through
their wild jungle tracts. To the west, on the hills beyond
the Chindwin river, the Chin swept down from mountain
fastnesses, harrying and terrorizing the valleys of the
Myittha and the Manipur rivers. The wild red Karen
were quieted once and for all by the British military ex-
pedition undertaken against them in 1888-89, but various
expeditions had to be made against the Kachin and the
Chin ; and the latter are not yet so pacific as to render
occasional military coercion unnecessary.

The Shan race, or Tai, "free men," as they call them-
selves, consists of three main groups exhibiting well
marked linguistic differences coincident with definite
political divisions. Originally coming from south-western
China, and most likely the race which pressed the older
Karens southwards towards Thaton and the Irrawaddy
delta, their earliest migration southwards is supposed
to have taken place about a hundred years before the



Christian era. Tiie three poHtical divisions in which the
free men of the hills are now classifiable consist of the
Chinese Shan [Shan Tarok) in the north, the Siamese
[Shan Yodayd) in the south, — our word '' Siam " being
only a corruption of the French " Sciam^' intended as
the transliteration of Shan, — and the central Shan States
which were tributary to the kingdom of Burma and now
form part of the British Empire. The Tai or Shan race
is thus the most widely spread of any throughout the
Indo-Chinese peninsula.

In language and in physical characteristics the Shan
have strong racial affinities with the Chinese. The
Mongolian type of features is perhaps more marked
among them than among the Laos and Siamese, the
complexion being light and the eyes almond-shaped.
The elaborate tonal system of the Shan language and its
abundance of homonyms are very similar to the Chinese,
while the grammatical structure of sentences is much the
same in both languages.

Concerning their early history traditions exist that in
very ancient times the Shan were closely connected with
the Chinese before settling in Szechuan and the country
lying south of the Yangtse river. After Chinese rule
began about 250 B.C. to extend itself to this latter region,
many of the tribal headmen were officially recognized by
the suzerain as tributary chiefs. These heads of clans
have the Tai title of Chow or Sozo, which still forms the
title of the hereditary princes of the Burmese {Sawbwd)
and the Siamese Shan States [Chawpya).

For centuries portions of Yunnan held out against
Chinese rule. Even down to the beginning of the
seventh century a.d. the Tai State of Nanchao flourished
in western Yunnan, and maintained itself as the kingdom
of Tali until it was conquered by Kublai Khan in the
thirteenth century. Long previous to this, about the
beginning of the Christian era and again about 240 a.d.,
these Shan Tarok were strong enough to make military
incursions into Burma, overrunning the whole of the
upper Irrawaddy and overthrowing the Burmese kingdom
of Tagaung. All that is known about the early history
of the Tai points to the fact that the race was united and



essentially homogeneous, with powerful political organi-
zations which had grown out of the necessity for resisting
the pressure of the Chinese from the north.

It seems probable that the first Tai immigrations into
Burma took place about 2,000 years ago ; though their
traditions assign to these a date several centuries earlier.
The main migrations, however, probably occurred during
the sixth and the fourteenth centuries consequent on
Chinese invasion and conquest of the Tai tracts.

According to one of their legends, two brothers
descended from heaven about the middle of the sixth
century a.d. and found in the valley of the Shweli river,
which joins the Irrawaddy not far from the ancient capital
of Tagaung, a race which welcomed them as their rulers.
This is probably but a mythical way of recording the
historical fact that about this time a g-reat wave of im-
migration rolled down from the mountains of southern
Yunnan, flooding the Shweli valley and the surrounding
tracts. The Shweli river was of course the natural out-
let from Yunnan into the Irrawaddy valley. No doubt it
had long before that formed the path followed by earlier
Tai colonists, but they had never previously come in
sufficiently large numbers to attain political importance.
Now, however, from the Shweli valley the immigrants
spread south-east over the fertile valleys and the hills
forming the Shan plateau, northwards into the present
Khamti region and Assam, and westwards across the
Irrawaddy right on as far as the Chindwin river.

The Burmese Shan appear to be, as regards purity of
blood, the main branch of the Tai race. They are the
Tai Long, or " great free men " ; while the other two
branches call themselves Tai Noi, or "little free men."
Confusion may perhaps arise on this point from the fact
that the Siamese call themselves Htai {Tai) Noi\ while
they refer to the Laos, from whom they are directly
descended, as Htai Nyai, the equivalent of Tai Long ;
but then the Laos call themselves Tai Noi, and refer to
the Burmese Shans as Tai Lonz. All of these facts gfo
to show that the immigrants into Burma formed the
main branch in which the earliest and strongest political
organization centred.



During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as the
result of Kublai Khan's conquest of Western China and
its subsequent effects, the southern branch pressed south-
wards down the valley of the Menam to its delta and
formed the kingdom of Siam,

The great Royal Chronicles of Burma are strangely
silent as to the powerful Shan kingdom of Mong Maw
which grew up contiguous to it on the north, and had its
capital, Mong Maw Long, on the Shweli river, although
they are careful to enumerate ninety-nine Saivbwa as
having been tributary to the Kings of Burma. For four
centuries the Shan kingdom maintained itself, now pros-

Online LibraryJohn NisbetBurma under British rule--and before; (Volume 2) → online text (page 37 of 41)