The country also known as the land of pagoda
has a long and very complex history. Yangon or Rangoon the former capital is the main city in Myanmar. Mandalay is the second biggest city in the country and known as a cultural and religious hotspot. Buddhism is the primary religion, there also are animistic ideas centered around the Nats, this are ghosts since ancient times.
Bagan the old capital under King Anawrahta is a primary showcase of history, it was the capital between (1044 to 1286 A.D.).
The country has lots of variations due to the topography and is one of the great travel destination on planet earth. From the snow peaks of the northern mountains, off shots of the Tibetan Himalayas through the tempered climate of the Shan plateau.
The jungle in the hills and the dry zone in the central plains down to the tropical islands in the Andaman Sea with the sea gypsies and a great underwater world, ideal for scuba diving. Plus myriads of pristine beaches on the main coast and islands wait for the traveler.
Several airlines such as Yangon Air, Myanmar Airlines International, Air Bagan and other serve the international and domestic air traffic. The main domestic airline is the state owned Myanma airline.
Bolts, ropes, and parts of foreign ships unearthed at Thaton show evidence that the city was an important seaport during the first millennium and most probably had regular trading and cultural contacts with historically important Indian ports such as Tamralipti (now Tamluk) in Bengal, Palura near Gopalpur in Orissa, Madras, and the present-day state of Gujarat, and major Buddhist centres such as Conjevaram south of Madras, Amaravati on the Deccan, and Nalanda in North-east India plus today Phuket in Thailand andPenang in today Malaysia.
Archeological excavations in the Thaton area have revealed that the old city was built on a quadrangular plan surrounded by laterite-faced walls and a moat with a palace at the centre. The main pagodas such as the Shweizayan and Thagyahpaya were situated to the south between the palace and city wall.
Some terracotta plaques from the Thagyahpaya, a number of Brahmanical images, stone carved relief of the Buddha, and some small bronze Buddha statues which predate Bagan have also been found. Today, apart from some terracotta and carnelian beads, pottery and gold jewelry has been uncovered.
Bagan (AD 1044-1287)
Bagan pagodas and temples and Myanmar history
Myanmar Bagan, or Arimadanapura as it is known by its classical name, was founded as a Pyu city on the left bank of the Irrawaddy about AD 849 in Tattadesa, the dry zone of Burma.61 It appears to have remained a relatively obscure town for about two centuries during which time there flourished a variety of beliefs, including spirit and nature worship and the Ari cult, a sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
The greatness of Bagan began with the reign of Anawrahta (1044-77), the founder of the first great Burmese kingdom. He united for the first time much of what is known as ‘Burma proper’. He led an expedition against North Arakan in the west, and the Shan to the east were forced to acknowledge his suzerainty and pay tribute. Hismost important conquest was that of the Mon kingdom of Thaton in 1057. Tradition asserts that Anawrahta, on his accession, was concerned with the rather debased state into which the religion had fallen at Bagan. To rectify matters he took into his service a young Theravada priest, Shin Arahan, from Thaton, who urged him to obtain copies of the Tripitaka (the Theravada Buddhist canon), which would provide the appropriate authority for purifying the religion. From the young priest he learned that the Mon possessed thirty sets of the Tripitaka in both Pali and Mon. According to the Burmese chronicles, Anawrahta dispatched a courteous request for copies of the sacred texts to the Mon King Manuha, which was refused, whereupon Thaton was invaded:
Anawrahta is reported as bringing back around 30,000 Mon inhabitants to Bagan. On his way home, as part of his plan, he also conquered Sriksetra and carried off the relics from the Bawbawgyi pagoda to be enshrined at Bagan, leaving some of his own votive tablets in their place.
The capture of Thaton was of seminal importance for religion and art. Theravada Buddhism, with its Pali canon, eventually became the universal popular religion in Burma. The Burmese, who did not have a written language of their own, adopted the Mon alphabet and many important aspects of their culture. Politically, the capture of Thaton marked the beginning of a long struggle for hegemony between the Burmese and Mon people. The conquest not only secured the kingdom from external invasion but also offered a window to the sea to facilitate trade and commerce.
Diplomatic relations with Ceylon, the pre-eminent centre for Theravada Buddhism, were established and gifts and sacred texts exchanged. Anawrahta laid the economic foundations of the state by extending and repairing previously established irrigation systems for growing rice at Kyaukse and Taungbyon in the north and Minbu in the south. He enthusiastically propagated the Buddhist faith and his votive tablets may be found enshrined in pagodas throughout Burma. He inaugurated the great age of temple building by constructing a number of solid pagodas such as the Myinkaba-zedi, Khabin Maung-di-zedi, Lokananda, Shweihsandaw, East and West Hpet-leik, and Shwezigon.
Despite Anawrahta much-vaunted success in establishing Theravada Buddhism at Bagan, Mahayana Buddhist and Tantric elements, possibly fuelled by close cultural contacts with neighboring Pala Bengal, remained popular at Bagan. Hindu deities guarded his Shwesandaw pagoda. He was unable to extinguish animistic practices of spirit worship which were deeply engrained in the general population. As a compromise, nat images were permitted on the Shwezigon pagoda platform along with orthodox Buddhist icons.
Anawrahtas son Kyanzittha (1084-1112), continuing the work of his father, raised the dynasty to new heights. On his accession, he put down a Mon rebellion which had taken the life of his younger brother Saw-lu (1077-84). He built a splendid palace and was crowned king with full Brahmanic rituals. As an admirer of Mon culture, he set about repairing Mon-Burmese relations. He affected a marriage between his daughter and the grandson of Manuha, former king of Thaton. Mon became the lingua franca of his inscriptions, some of which rank as great literature. His life is recorded in the Myazedi Inscription erected by Alaung Sithu (1112-67), his grandson and successor. Written in four languages Pyu,
Mon, Burmese, and Pali it is known as the Rosetta Stone of Myanmar or Burma during his reign some of the most beautiful of the smaller temp were built, such as the Pahtothamya, Naga-yon, and Abeyadai culminating in his masterpiece, the Ananda. He also sent missions China with the purpose of facilitating overland trade with Yunnan As an act of merit, he undertook the repair of the Mahabodhi temp at Bodhgaya in India.
By the eleventh century, with the Muslim invasions of the subcontinent, Buddhists were being persecuted in India, causing manyBuddhist monks to flee to more hospitable places such Ceylon and Burma. Their knowledge of Buddhist religion, art, arch lecture, language, and Pali literature was eagerly received in Bagan. A number of brick monasteries at Bagan follow Indian cella proti types quite closely. These monastic complex enclosed by high walls, contained a pagoda, preaching and ordination halls, dormitories for monks and lay devotees, a library, a store house an alms house, a rest-house for travelers, and wells. To create pleasant environment where Buddhist learning could take place unimpeded by the mundane cares of the world, the donors planted fruit, and palm, and areca palms within the compound income-producing land and slaves we’re often dedicated to maintain the work of merit. Such an establishment took about a year to build.
The population was divided into communities according to occupation and ethnic background. Craftsmen who practiced the same craft all lived in the same quarter and their offspring were expected to carry on the same trade. Artisans, however, were not indentured. They were paid for their services in gold, silver, lead, horses, elephants, textiles, and agricultural produce such as salt, rice, pepper, tea, and areca-nuts.82 While at work on a project, artisans were given free food and clothing. The highest paid artisans were carpenters, masons, wood-carvers, and painters. Other craftsmen included wood-turners, plane men, blacksmiths, image makers, umbrella makers, and goldsmiths. There were also craftsmen who kept the populace supplied with pots and pans, jugs, trays, and clothing. Distinctions were made between suppliers of materials and artisans such as brick makers and brick masons, stucco makers and stucco decorators. There were also some instances of craft specialization such as between carpenters, plane men, wood-turners, and painters of temples and painters of monasteries. Each occupational group was under a headman who was responsible for maintaining records and collecting revenue. The headman in turn was answerable to a follower of the king who received the revenues of a given location or occupational unit as a fief in return for his loyalty and support.84 These craftsmen, along with agriculturalists, food suppliers, and people from other service occupations, constituted the nuclear or crown service area and were the cornerstone of Bagan’s greatness and prosperity.
Kyanzittha was succeeded by Alaung Sitha, who reigned for fifty-five years. The chronicles portray him as the ideal Buddhist king, traveling widely throughout his realm, tending to his subjects, building works of merit, and composing exquisite poetic inscriptions. He is credited with developing a more ‘Burmese’ culture. In his works of merit he favored a larger, more open two-storey temple as personified in his masterpiece, the Thatbyinnyu. During his reign ‘old Burmese’ began to replace the Mon language in inscriptions. In reality, much of the travel undertaken during his reign was brought about by the need to quell rebellions in Arakan and Tenasserim.
The intermittent chaos and disorder which appeared during the reign of Alaung Sitha continued in subsequent reigns and slowly began to erode the strength and energy of the dynasty. Palace intrigues and assassinations also marked much of the latter period and some of the kings were given over more to pleasure than to the affairs of state. A more austere form of Theravada Buddhism was introduced from Ceylon about 1192 which caused a schism with the former order or followers. Supported by the rulers, the new or reformed order sent many for ordination to Ceylon. It not only made inroads in Burma, but in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos as well.
Some of the more pious kings sought solace by spending more time and money on their works of merit than on the affairs of state. Beautiful edifices continued to be built by Bagan royalty right up to the Mongol invasion around 1287 which gave the coup de grace to the Bagan Dynasty. State patronage of monasteries and lavish temple building activities probably destroyed the economic foundations of the state. In addition to draining state resources, the granting of endowments to monasteries and fiefs to retainers diffused land and labor and so weakened central authority.
The fall of the Bagan Dynasty at the hands of the Mongol, immortalized by Marco Polo’s contemporary account of the Battle of Ngasaunggyan, was neither as dramatic nor as clear-cut as the history books proclaim. The Mongol hold on Bagan was fleeting; the Shan, with Burmese help in 1303, repelled a Mongol attack, and apart from paying periodic tribute to the Chinese court, Burma was left much to its own devices. Despite the vicissitudes of war, Bagan remained the ‘dearest and fairest of lands’ in the minds of the Myanmar’s or Burmese. Its cultural and dynastic traditions continued. It remains an important religious and educational centre until well into the fifteenth century. Various Burmese kings and usurpers visited from time to time to perform works of merit to enhance their legitimacy/ Political power, however, was no longer centralized. It was disperse amongst the Mon, Shan, Burmese, and Arakanese who spent most c the following period vying with each other for hegemony.
The Ava Period (AD 1287-1752)
The Ava period has traditionally been portrayed by historians as a period of political disintegration and cultural decay. While there is certainly some truth in this, a number of factors were at work sowing the seeds of far-reaching changes. The kingdoms of Ava, Pegu, and Arakan had their periods of individual greatness each was at one time or another a notable cultural centre. The Ava period coincided with the European ‘Age of Discovery’ which was to have a far-reaching effect on the history. The epoch is noted for developments in administration, the flowering of a vernacular literature, and the evolution of an artistic tradition which was less Indian and more ‘Burmese’ in spirit.
Shan Dominance (1287-1555)
During the latter part of the Bagan period, the Shan, a branch of the Tai race, had been steadily trickling into Upper Burma. While the dynasty was strong they were held in check. The capture of Yunnan by the Mongol in 1271 upset the equilibrium, causing large numbers of Shan to migrate to the south. Taking advantage of Bagan’s weakness, they made themselves masters of the Kyaukse, an important rice growing area.
Through judicious marriages with former royalty and nobility, and by fomenting various intrigues and participating in a number of shifting alliances, they gradually made themselves the masters of the upper country with capitals first at Pinya (1298-1364), then Sagaing (1315-64), and later Ava (1364-1555). The Shan were far from united and their period of dominance in Upper Burma was racked by rebellions, mass migrations, deportations, and general chaos.
The Shan rulers during the early Ava period became localized and followed the system of administration established at Bagan, which centered on a large area around the capital subject to direct rule. Outlying areas were granted as semi-autonomous appendages to younger brothers and other princes of the blood. Lesser areas were assigned to minor royalty and to high officials. Such a system did not encourage stability. As in Bagan times, royal succession was not governed by primogeniture and the death of a monarch often resulted in a struggle between leading contenders, such as the brothers of the former king and offspring from different queens. The successful claimant, to secure the throne, often cleaned house with a massacre of kinsmen. Despite the political instability, Nicolo di Conti, a Venetian merchant who was the first European to visit Burma by sea (c. 1435), found the city of Ava to ‘be more noble than the rest’.
During this period, in the calmer seclusion of the monasteries, monks devoted their lives to studying Pali texts. Out of this study, poetry was born. Jataka stories and homilies, panegyric odes, historical ballads, and one- to three-line, four-syllable nature and love poems came to be written in the vernacular. Notable poets include monks such as Shin Uttamagaw, Shin Thilawuntha, Shin Rahtathara, and Shin Aggathamadhi. Shin Thilawuntha is also credited with producing the Yazawingyaw, a chronicle which includes the first written account of the reigns of some kings. A number of learned courtiers, princes, and literary ladies also wrote verse, the most notable poet being Adunyo, a courtier of the King of Arakan who wrote a historical ballad entitled Yakhaing Minthami [Princess of Arakan] in 1455. Mi Hpyu and Mi Nyo were noted women writers of nature and love poems. Since Buddhism did not generally support the composition of poems and songs, writers of literature looked to the courts for patronage and appreciation.
Pegu or Bago (1287-1539)
On their secession the Mon, with some help from the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai, founded a dynasty at Martaban under Wareru (1287-96). Subject to intermittent Burmese and Thai raids, the kingdom of Pegu led a precarious existence for its first hundred years. This was followed by a period of relative peace and prosperity in the fifteenth century, during which time monarchs devoted themselves to works of merit. Queen Shinsawbu (1453-60) enlarged the Shwedagon while her son-in-law and successor Dhammazedi (1460-92), an outstanding monarch and former monk, sent a mission to Bodhgaya in 1472.He used its plan to build a unique pagoda complex at Hpaya-thon-zu to commemorate the events associated with the Buddha’s Enlightenment. He also ‘purified’ the religion by sending twenty-two monks in 1475 to the Mahavihara in Ceylon to be ordained according to the Ceylonese tradition.
Upon their return, they reordained the Myanmar monk hood throughout the country. The Kalyani Sima (ordination hall) in Pegu was built to commemorate the event which is recorded on an inscription housed there. By this time the city had become a prosperous centre of commerce and a regular port of call for foreign merchants who traded in rubies and gems from upper Burma, and lacquer, ivory, horn, lead, tin, jars, pepper, and palm wine. Pepper from Aceh, camphor from Borneo, and sandalwood and porcelain from China were also traded, as were piece-goods, velvets, and other European wares. Notable travelers who mention the port of Pegu / Bago in their writings include the Russian Athanasius Nitikin (c.1470) and the Genoese Hieronimo de Santo Stephano (c.1496).Another Italian, Ludovico de Varthema, visited around 1505-7 and described the town as a ‘walled city west of a beautiful river with good houses and palaces built of stone and lime’.105 In 1519 the Portuguese entered into an official trade agreement with the port of Martaban and opened a trading station.106 Later foreign visitors to Pegu who left valuable accounts of their impressions include the Portuguese Duarte Barbosa (1518), Venetians Cesare Frederic (c.1569) and Gaspero Balbi (1583), the Englishman Ralph Fitch (1586-7), and the Portuguese priest Nicholas Pimento (1598).
With the fall of Bagan, the Arakanese no longer felt the need to acknowledge hegemony. In asserting their independent status they resorted to raids on Burmese territory. In retaliation Ava was invaded in 1406, forcing the incumbent Minsawmwan (1404-34) to flee and seek refuge in the sultanate of Bengal. After twenty-four years of ignominious exile, he prevailed upon the Bengal ruler, Nariruddin Shah, to restore him to his rightful inheritance in return for vassal status. To celebrate his restoration, Minsawmwan founded a new capital at Mrauk-U (also called Myohaung) in 1433. His successors, anxious to ensure their continuing independence, offered itinerant Portuguese adventurers, such as Jao de Silviera, territorial and trade concessions in return for assistance in the construction of fortifications, arms production, and in the training of a hardy fleet of mariners. The arrival of the Portuguese coincided with a rebellion in Bengal which gave Min-bin (1531-53) the opportunity to turn tables, occupy Bengal, and make it a tributary of Arakan. With that success, Arakan was ready to embark on a golden age. According to reports by the Augustinian friar Father Sebastien Manrique, who visited Arakan between 1628 and 1633, the outer city had a circumference of 19.2 kilometers. It was cleverly designed with Portuguese help to make use of natural obstacles such as lakes, tidal rivers, and rocky hills as fortifications to counter the possibility of a invasion. A sumptuous moated palace surrounded by three concentric sandstone walls lay at the heart of Mrauk-U. Its main buildings consisted of an audience hall and private apartments built in the Burmese style of gilded and lacquered teak. Unfortunately, no traces of these wooden buildings have survived.
Shan penetration at the time of the Mongol conquest caused a number of nobles to move south to Taungngu on the Sittang River. Taungngu eventually became a stronghold of resistance to the Shan-dominated Ava. Tabinshwei-hti (1531-50) aimed at uniting Burma under one leader. With help from hired Portuguese mercenaries, he laid siege to Pegu in 1539 and shortly after assumed control of the entire Mon kingdom down to Tavoy or Dawai. He then moved northwards, marched on Prome, and defeated the Shan ruler of Ava. He designated Bago as his capital and attempted to conquer Arakan but was unsuccessful. He then turned his attention to Ayutthaya and invaded Siam in 1548 in retaliation for attacks on Tavoy, present day Dawai but was unable to take the city. The final years of his reign were marked by Mon rebellions. These rebellions were subdued by his successor Bayinnaung (1551-81), a remarkable military commander who extended Myanmar or Burmese boundaries to their greatest extent. In 1554 he launched a two-pronged attack against Ava from Taungngu and Bagan. By 1559 he had subdued all of Upper Burma, the Shan States, Manipur, Chiang-mai, and Vientiane. His action marked the end of Shan attempts to dominate Burma. Control over Chiang-mai gave him the opportunity to invade Ayutthaya in 1564, so marking the beginning of a series of Burmese-Siamese wars which were to continue intermittently for two centuries.
In the style of the Indian monarch Asoka and Bagan’s Anawrahta, after his wars Bayinnaung strove to be a good Buddhist king by building pagodas, distributing copies of the Pali scriptures, feeding monks, and promoting the collection and study of the Dhammathat (customary law). He also banned sacrificial practices amongst Muslim and Shan subjects.
Despite his remarkable military career and subsequent good intentions the country was exhausted and after his death his empire rapidly disintegrated, ushering in a further century of chaos. In an attempt to hold his father’s empire together, Ngazudayaka (1581-99) directed much of his military efforts towards recapturing Ayutthaya.
Siam retaliated in 1593 by taking the ports of Tenasserim and Tavoy and threatening Pegu.
Arakan, taking advantage of Ngazudayaka’s preoccupation with Siam or today Thailand, sacked the city of Pegu in 1599 and carried off much booty and thousands of prisoners. The Arakanese placed Syriam in the hands of the Portuguese mercenary-adventurer Felipe de Brito y Nicote. Anaukhpetlun (1606-28) succeeded in reuniting the country by taking Prome in 1607, Taungngu in 1610, and Syriam in 1613. By the time of his death, he had largely succeeded in regaining control from Tavoy in the south to Bhamo in the north and Chiang-Mai in the east.King Thalun (1629-48) moved the capital from Pegu to Ava. To bringabout some stability and to increase rice production, he made a number of administrative changes. The nuclear area was strengthened with deportees from captured areas, while work units of people providing goods and services to the crown were reorganized. Members of royalty continued to be granted apanages and received revenue from them, but residency was no longer a requirement. Instead, recipients had to remain in the capital and administer their grants through agents, or local governors, and subordinate officials whose loyalty was to the king. Local officials were expected to enforce royal decrees and to see that the crown received its due revenues and services. The crown conducted periodic ‘inquests’, and provincial authorities were expected to compile regular reports pertaining to the area under their jurisdiction.
In the administration of the kingdom a monarch was traditionally assisted by wungyi (ministers of state), usually four in number, who sat in the Hlut-taw (the Supreme Council of State). This body handled all legislative, executive, and judicial matters pertaining to the realm. It conducted the foreign affairs of the kingdom and dealt with military problems and questions involving the religion or religious lands. It served as the supreme and final court of appeal and none could ignore its summons. It was also responsible for issuing death warrants. Royal orders were registered and issued through it and officials appointed by the king had their positions confirmed by this body. All petitions and communications from provincial officials to the king were funneled through it. The president of the Supreme Council of State was nominally the king, who was usually represented by one of his sons or senior ministers.
In addition to the ministers of state, there were eight atwinwun who resembled government secretaries. They were ministers of the Byedaik (administration), and like members of the Supreme Council of State they had access to the king and were consulted on all matters. The Byedaik sorted petitions for the Supreme Council of State, administered the finances of the realm, handled problems of public safety, and controlled the army. To keep the machinery of government in motion, these two administrative bodies were assisted in their work by a fleet of attendants, messengers, and clerks who formed a liaison between the various ministries and the outlying provincial areas. Under the more peaceful conditions of Thalun’s reign, pagodas were built and literature and the arts flourished. Literature during the Taungngu period was noted for poetry which glorified imperialism and romance. By the middle of the sixteenth century, prose works had become popular. One of the more notable is a chronicles of the kings down to the seventeenth century, the Mahayazawingyi, compiled by U Kala about 1714-33. Besides a history of kings, his chronicle gives a list of ‘twelve arts’ which he claimed to have been in existence since Bagan times: goldsmith, blacksmithing, bronze- and coppersmith, wood-carving, wood-turning, wickerwork, painting, stucco work, masonry, stone-carving, gem-setting, and singing.
During the late Taungngu period, the country turned more inward and kings from their distant capital in Ava took little interest in events outside. Trade was largely in the hands of resident Portuguese and Indians. The Dutch, French, and English set up factories at various times in the ports of south Myanmar for the purpose of trade and ship repair, but were forced to close them due to unstable internal conditions and raids from Siam. Periodic forays from the Hindu state of Manipur in the west and from remnants of rebel Ming forces on the Chinese border contributed to unstable conditions. Banditry was common and famine was endemic. The issue of excessive taxation levies on the Mon population led to a rebellion in 1740 which overthrew the Burman governor. The Mon moved on to capture the King of Ava, Mahadamayazadipati (1733-52), thereby sweeping away the Taungngu Dynasty and leaving a vacuum at the centre.
The Konbaung Period (1752-1885.
Alaungpaya (1752-60), the son of a local hereditary official in the Shwebo area, became the leader of Burmese resistance to the Mon. By 1757, through bravery and aggressive leadership, he had retaken Lower Burma, united the country, and had succeeded in establishing a new dynasty, known as the Konbaung, with the peacock as its insignia. The overall population of the crown service nuclear area was reorganized and expanded. Colonies were settled in the south to lessen Mon dominance, and in the east as a barrier to Shan infiltration. Large numbers of Mon were resettled in the western delta. The kingdom of Burma, now united, was poised for a period of military glory which was to make it greatly feared by its neighbors. To secure the borders, retaliatory raids were launched Manipur to the west by Alaungpaya and his successors until 1 As a result, thousands of people were deported and settled in riverside villages of Sagaing and Amarapura districts. Manip served as boatmen and silversmiths. Their weavers are credited introducing important weaving innovations to the Burmese w their famous Kathe horsemen were incorporated as an import cavalry regiment in the army. Manipuri Brahmins became astrologers at the Burmese court. A similar fate awaited the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya at hands of Hsinhpyuhsin (1763-76). From his new capital in Ava, launched a pincer attack from the south via Nontaburi and north Vientiane and Chiang-Mai. After a fourteen-month siege, Ayutthaya was reduced to a heap of rubble. According to the Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings Burma,
In the capital they found persons engaged in the following trades professions, namely musicians and dancers, carpenters, carvers, turn blacksmiths, gold and silver smiths, copper-smiths and braziers, masonry decorators with natural and artificial flowers, painters both in ordain; colors and illuminated with gold and bright material, workers of marques lapidaries, barbers, persons skilled in incantations, charms, and persons skilled in the cure of diseases of elephants and ponies; breakers a: trainers of ponies,- weavers and workers of gold and silver threads,- and persons skilled in the culinary art. There were also found the Tripitaka on astrology and medicine.
A large quantity of royal treasure was found, in the shape of utensils set: diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and nine kinds of gems: also gold cups, bowl trays used by royalty: and gold and silver bullion and precious gems, cloth worked in silver and gold, and various other kinds of cloths the products Kyin, Sein, and Gyun countries; seven richly gilt howdahs used by hi Siamese majesty. The Chronicle also notes that the Burmese rested in the capital for about 9-10 days and they took away about 30,000 prisoners of war 1,200 cannons, and tens of thousands of small arms.
Of the Siamese royal family who were taken prosoners, the queens king’s sisters, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters were giver suitable residences within the palace enclosure at Ava and provided with comforts according to their rank and dignity. The king’s brothers, sons, nephews, and grandsons were given residences outside the palace enclosure and were equally well provided for, while Siamese nobles and other Siamese were assigned certain localities in which to reside.
Boredom at the capital and nostalgia for their culture led a number of Siamese or Thailand court players and former aristocracy to perform the Indian epic, the Ramayana, a musical dance-drama featuring the abduction of Sita, the wife of Rama, at the hands of the demon Ravanna.
It was played at the court to great acclaim and gradually over the years it became Burmanized. During the reign of Singumin (1776-82), the royal treasurer and poet U To, in his Yama Yagan, a discursive epic, retold the tale in Burmese using his native village as a background. The Chief Queen of Sin-gu-min, Shin Min, an accomplished poetess, active around 1776-82, wrote songs to replace the Siamese originals. By the time of Bodawpaya (1782-1819), much of the Burmese populace, through public theatrical performances and traveling professional balladeers, had become aware of the Ramayana or Yama Zat..
His minister, Myawaddi Wun-gyi U Sa, energized Myanmar or Burmese music by skillfully incorporating various Siamese musical conventions into the Burmese repertoire. This interest in Siamese music and plays also led to a renaissance in Literature and drama. U Kyin U (c. 1819-53) and U Pon Nya (c. 1807-66), two of Burma’s outstanding playwrights, wrote numerous works for the court, many of which remain popular to this day.
Lacquer workers, wood- and ivory-carvers, silversmiths, and makers of wall-hangings, eager for new themes began to incorporate characters from the Ramayana epic into their design repertoire. Hanuman, the monkey warrior, became a popular effigy on ivory knife handles. Episodes of the story began to appear on incised lacquer boxes, decorated silver bowls, and along the balustrades of monasteries. The Mahalawkamayazein pagoda near Monywa, built in 1847-9, has 347 relief-carved marble plaques devoted to the epic.
While they were able to reap inestimable cultural advantages from the conquest of Ayutthaya, border wars with China between 1765 and 1769 made it impossible to maintain a political hold on Siam. On the western border, Arakan was racked by succession disputes, banditry, and civil strife. Refugee appeals for help gave Bodawpaya an excuse to invade and annex the kingdom in 1784. The Arakanese king, 20,000 of his subjects, quantities of arms, horses, and elephants, and the sacred Mahamuni Buddha image were taken to Mandalay. This act brought the frontier of Burma up to that of British India, which was of great future consequence for the Konbaung Dynasty.
Bodawhpaya was equally active on the domestic front. In 1783, acting on astrological advice, he relocated his royal capital to Amarapura 6 miles west of Ava. To find out his country’s taxable capacity, like the Taungngu Dynasty King Thalun before him, he instituted nation-wide general revenue ‘doomsday’ inquests in 1784 and 1803. Some of these records, written on palm-leaf and mulberry paper, have survived and offer invaluable information on the social and economic conditions of the time. Bodawpaya, at one point of his life, harbored illusions that he was Maitreya, the future Buddha, and expended much of his energy on building pagodas and temples at Sagaing and at Mingun. A later interest in foreign religions led him to allow some Christian missionaries to enter Burma.
U Tin of Mandalay, in his monumental work Konbaungzet Maha ya-zawin-daw-gyi [History of the Konbaung Dynasty], which is based on diaries of the royal court and memoirs and papers kept by the royal princes and ministers, describes the ‘eleven crafts’. The goldsmith’s craft by Konbaung times comprised the setting of jewelry in gold, the beating of gold and gilding, and the weaving of gold thread; blacksmithing included the production of agricultural tools and knives and the forming and making of objects from moulds; wood-turning also included the fashioning of ivory and bone and the making of objects to be lacquered; painting consisted of works in both tempera and gold; masonry included the work of both brick makers and bricklayers; lacquer was divided into those who made plain wares and those who did decorative work; stucco work included makers of mortar as well as molders; wood-carving encompassed both work in relief and in the round. Bronze- and coppersmith, stone sculptors, and polishers of gems continued to be on the list.
He notes that members of these crafts included Indians, Siamese, Talaings (Mon), Shan, Khasis, Burmans, and others in various service units who were under the general jurisdiction of the Minister of the Treasury. Michael Symes, a British envoy who sailed up the Irrawaddy in 1795 to the capital of Amarapura, noted that villages devoted to crafts became more frequent as he approached the city. Each was inhabited for the most part by a particular class of people professing some trade or craft. Individual crafts in the crown service areas were under the supervision of royal officials, such as the Manager of Glass Factories, the Master of Foundries and Forges, the Director of Blacksmiths, the Governor of Goldsmiths, and the Master of Brickfields.145 The official received a royal order specifying what was required. This was then conveyed to subordinates, some of whom were located at the site of manufacture. They supplied the required materials, supervised production, and had the finished product conveyed to the capital. The head of each department had jurisdiction for civil and criminal disputes between employees. Craftsmen continued to be given remuneration for their services in cash and kind.
Artisans in areas outside the jurisdiction of the crown service units were free to ply their craft, and paid taxes, usually in silver, to the leading local official or holder of the fief.146 The essential unit of craft production was the household, with dependent relatives and apprentices working for a master craftsman. In Konbaung times most craft work was done on special order. The patron would meet with the master craftsman to discuss the project and a certain amount of money or supplies would be left as a deposit. The balance owing for labor would be paid on completion of the article to the satisfaction of the patron. According to a list of wages compiled from Konbaung records, goldsmiths during the reign of Min-don were the highest paid of all craftsmen, followed by carpenters, blacksmiths, and coppersmiths. Silk-weavers and bricklayers were on a par with unskilled laborers.
The early Konbaung Dynasty history, with its agrarian-oriented economy and general mistrust of foreigners, was not particularly interested in fostering maritime trade. Broadcloth, piece-goods, hardware, and glassware were imported via the ports of Rangoon, Bassein, Martaban, and Tavoy in exchange for teak. Overland trade with China involved the exchange of silk for cotton. Commerce and business at all levels were taxed and carefully regulated. The king had a monopoly on teak, ivory, petroleum, iron, and gems. However, the constant need for munitions and serviceable artillery for their numerous wars led the Konbaung rulers to grant limited trade and ship-repairing concessions to the French and English East India Companies arch rivals in the struggle for hegemony in India.
Bodawpaya’s insatiable demands for forced labor and conscript service impoverished the countryside and drove the Arakanese to revolt in 1794. Conditions further north, in Manipur and Assam, were also restive and led to punitive action on the part of the Burmese. The policy of ‘hot pursuit’ of rebels into British territory during the reign of Bagyidaw (1819-37) led to a serious breach in Anglo-Burmese relations. This, coupled with the protagonists’ profound ignorance of each other and a stubborn refusal on the part of the British to conform to court etiquette, eventually led to the outbreak of the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824..
By the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, the country was forced to pay a large indemnity and to cede Arakan, Tenasserim, Assam, and Manipur to the British. Anglo-Burmese relations did not improve and the Burmese were forced to cede the rich province of Pegu to the British crown in 1852.
Relations with the British improved during the reign of King Mindon (1853-78), a pious, tolerant, and peace-loving monarch who sought to adapt his country to the realities of the late nineteenth-century world. In 1861 he abolished the traditional system of collecting revenues and replaced it with a household tax based on income. Princes and officials surrendered their traditional appendage revenue rights in return for regular stipends from the treasury. Min-don also sought to raise revenue by sponsoring trade and commerce. Coal- and iron-mines were opened, river steamers were purchased, and telegraph stations were established to facilitate communications. Western-style factories were built to process lacquer, cutch, sugar, cotton, and silk and to manufacture items such as glass and velvet. These factories used imported machinery and were often administered by European managers and technicians. For example, the French supervised the minting of Mindon’s new coinage and ran his arms factory. Emissaries were sent abroad to establish good relations with European powers. Conscientious envoys such as U Kaung, the Kinwun Mingyi minister, studied religious, banking, and social institutions, forest administration, naval and military organization, as well as European customs and usages and reported their findings to the king on their return. Mindon encouraged modern studies and built a church and school for the Rev. Dr Marks, an Anglican missionary, and sent some of his sons to be educated at this institution. French and Italian missions also received financial support from the king.15s As a devout Buddhist, he strove to make his new capital of Mandalay a major centre of culture by filling it with magnificent teak monasteries and masonry temples and pagodas. In an effort to revitalize the Buddhist religion, he convened the Fifth Buddhist Synod in Mandalay in 1872
The Myanmar Colonial Era (1885-1941)
Because of disturbed conditions throughout upper Burma, the people did not reap a great deal of benefit from Mindon’s reforms. His death was followed by the usual palace intrigue which resulted in the accession of the politically inexperienced Prince Thibaw (1878-85). Lacking the wisdom and respect of his father, the young king appeared to be in the clutches of a court faction led by his wife Supayalat and the Taing-da Minister. The outcry in Britain over Thibaw’s much publicized ‘massacre of the kinsmen’, pressure from Rangoon merchants eager for profits, and the king’s surreptitious overtures to France for recognition and aid led the British to invade Upper Burma in late 1885. They carried off Thibaw and his family as prisoners to Calcutta, so marking the end of the Konbaung Dynasty and Burma’s independence as a sovereign state. Local resistance, however, was fierce and it was not until 1890 that all of Burma was brought under British control. Burma was made a province of India and was ruled on the Indian pattern of administration rather than on the former system with its hereditary local officials. With the exception of the Shan States and hill tracts inhabited by tribes, the country was divided into districts under a deputy or assistant commissioner and village tracts were placed under a civil servant, the township or district officer, who was subject to transfer.158 At the centre there were various departments for settlement and land records, forestry, agriculture, veterinary and fisheries, public health, and education. These were set up and co-coordinated by the secretariat in Rangoon.
During the colonial era there was extensive exploration of natural resources, and foreign capital was invested on an ever-increasing scale. The effect on local life was dramatic: The country changed from having a self-sufficient agrarian economy to an extractive one, primarily dependent upon foreign markets. Rice and teak became the main agricultural exports.160 Companies were established to exploit the mineral wealth: tungsten was mined at Maw-chi in the Karen-ni area; lead, silver, zinc, and copper were extracted from the Bawdwin Mines of the Burma Corporation near Lashio in the northern Shan States; petroleum came from Yenaung-yaung in the center, and rubies, sapphires, and jade were mined in the far north. Labor was needed to work many of these new concerns, and the large-scale immigration of Indians (and to a lesser extent Chinese) in search of greater economic opportunities added to an already complicated ethnic mix.
Colonialism generally did not nurture local crafts as these were regarded as superfluous in British plans for the economic advancement. Many artisans such as painters, wood- and stone-carvers, and manufacturers of gold-leaf found themselves out of work or suffering a severe loss of revenue.
The abolition of the monarchy removed a whole system of patronage forarts and crafts, thereby creating a void which could not be filled by the demands of colonial officials or the nouveau riche, a class of local entrepreneurs who became wealthy by exploiting the economic opportunities offered by the colonial administration. Western education also fostered a new elite who tended to be more enchanted with the glories of Western civilization and technology than with traditional values.