Myanmar Travel Information 2017

An Ancient Center of the Pyu People of Myanmar

Beikthano transliterated from “Vishnu” the Preserver. the second of the Hindu triad. is the oldest of the 3 ancient Centres of Pyu Civilization.

Chronologically Beikthano flourished during the 1st to 5th centuries CE. the second being Thayekhittayar (Srikestra) now called Hmawzar which lasted from the 5th Century to the 7th Centugy. Hanlin. the last Pyu Kingdom was located farther north in the Shwebo District of Sagaing Division and was most probably the Pyu Kingdom that the Chinese chroniclers described in their dealings with the “Piao” and records of delegations from the Pyu kingdom to the Chinese court in 801-802. At any rate. Halin was sacked and burned in 832 by the Nanchao Kingdom from the north.

Beikthano city is located 12 miles west of Taungdwingyi Township. Magway Division on the Taungdwingyi-Magway Highway. Its co-ordinates are latitude (20°) North and (95° / 23’) East and is built on ground 450 feet above sea level. The ancient city of Beikthano covered an area of 3.3 square miles. The eastern city wall was 10.000 feet in length. the northern wall was 9.000 feet. the southern wall was 8.000 feet. while the western wall has collapsed owing to soil erosion caused by the action of the Yanpè Creek.

Beikthano was defended by two walls. a City wall and an inner Palace Wall. Both of these walls were more circular (or rather rhomboid) than square in shape.Huge. specially shaped bricks had to be baked to be fitted as proper corner stones for these walls. Neither the City walls nor the Palace Walls were defended by moats. The majority of the Pyu citizenry lived outside the city walls or in the surrounding countryside.

They were content to live in houses made of wood and bamboo but insisted on their monasteries being built of wood and brick and their city and Palace also achieving corresponding grandeur. An account of Beikthano was recorded in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) Chinese chronicle Man Shu in the chapter “The Southern Barbarians as follows:

“The circular wall of his (the Pyu King’s) city is built of greenish glazed titles (brick) and is 160 li. It has 12 gates and three pagodas at each four corners. . . Their house tiles are of lead and zinc. . . They have a hundred monasteries with bricks of vitreous ware. embellished with gold and silver. vermillion. gray colours and red kino.” [Taw Sein Kho (1895). The Pottery and Glasware of Burma 1894-95”.Superintendent of Govt.Printing. Rangoon.]

The usual dates ascribed to the Beikthano kingdom are from the 1st Century CE to the 5th Century CE when the city gates and the Palace Walls were burned to the ground.

Charcoal from the excavated sites have been radio carbon-dated to the 1st century C.E. Conflicting scientific evidence however emerged at the 5th Radio Dating Conference (1962) of the International Dating Conference. Cambridge University. U.K.. where the decay of Radio carbon (14) from samples from Beikthano indicate that they should be more properly dated to 1950 B.C.E.. i.e. to nearly 2000 years earlier than the First Century C.E. The charcoal samples for these analyses were taken from the two lowest strata of a religious edifice unearthed at site No.(9) as well as charcoal from the two bottom strata at site No.(10).

Religious Beliefs

One mystery surrounding Pyu religious beliefs is that although they built hundreds of monasteries and were Buddhist attested by contemporary Chinese chronicles. there is a surprising dearth of Buddhist artifacts in all three Pyu Kingdoms.

This has led to conjectures that the Pyu received their Buddhism from Andra Pradesh in Southern India. The excavations have uncovered artifacts that are related to those found in Andra Pradesh. with dates corresponding to the periods in which most of the Andra Buddhist material at Amaravati and Nagarjunakone was made ( i.e. during the second to fourth centuries.)

As Prof. R.L.Brown. Professor of Indian and Southeast Asian Art History at the University of California at Los Angeles succinctly puts it:

“Another problem is that no Buddhist artefacts have been found at Beikthano. One suggestion is that this mysterious absence is due to Andran Buddhist influence predating the adoption of iconic representations of the Buddha and thus represents the aniconic period at Amaravati (before the end of the second century.)[ Brown. R.L. Pyu Art. Looking East and West”]. U Aung Thaw offers a similar suggestion that the Buddhist sect at Beikthano rejected the worship of the Buddha image. [U Aung Thaw. Reports on the Excavations at Beikthano. Rangoon. 1968. p.66]

Hanlin in Upper Myanmar resembles the two other Pyu sites in having no Buddhist artefacts either.

Pyu Culture

Beikthano city and its environs reflect the culture of the Pyus. The populace cremated their dead and buried the ash in funeral urns or jars outside or even within their dwellings.

They appear to have gained considerable expertise in the making of burial urns. Over 700 such urns have been uncovered together with 45 intact covers and show the influence of many decorative styles.

They were also accomplished masons. being able to construct brick walls and edifices that have lasted to the present day. The insides of some buildings have been artistically decorated with stucco figurines. lime-wash and paintings.

The craft of blacksmithing seems to have been also developed as evidenced by the iron-work on the City Gates. hinges and decorative scroll work and the production of iron weapons such as swords. spear-heads. arrow-heads and bows.

The Pyus also seem to have been adept at pottery making. judging from the 2060 pots and jars uncovered comprising pots for water carrying. jars for water storage. and cooking pots.

The gate to the city wall at dig No.8 has also revealed a twice life-sized marble figure presumed to represent a Nat (Animistic) Spirit Guardian of the City indicating that Pyus were also accomplished sculptors in marble.

A small paper-thin exquisite gold cup and two similar silver cups that have been excavated bear witness that goldsmithy and silversmithy too were well developed among the Pyus.

Skeletal Remains

When one of the religious edifices (Dig. No. 14) was excavated a stretched out skeleton near the south wall was uncovered. Along the north wall were lined up two piles of human bones. The outstretched skeleton remains were carefully marked. labeled and shipped to Prof. Dr. H. Zaw Htun of the Faculty of Anatomy. Institute of Medicine. Yangon for scientific examination.

Dr. Zaw Htun’s findings indicated that the remains were of a healthy Mongolian male. 25 years old and 5’ 5” tall. The cause of death was due to a heavy blow delivered to the right temple.

Beads

A total of 780 beads. comprising large numbers of earthenware beads and (29) stone beads were recovered from the excavations. At building No. (17) alone 500 beads were found and possibly indicates that the building was some sort of bead factory. Some of the stone beads were coloured either red or yellow or black. The art of colouring stone beads seems to have reached an unprecedented high during the Pyu period.

Conclusion

Beikthano was destroyed in the 4th or 5th Century C.E. Buildings and city gates were consumed by fire. indicating that it was the result of enemy attack. After a short period as a ruined city. it was rebuilt again as a succeeding kingdom. only to be sacked again and burnt to the ground. However the Pyu people continued to occupy the surrounding countryside in spite their no longer having city-walls and a Palace to protect them. The next Pyu kingdom was established down-river at Thayekhittara (Sri Kshestra). 5 miles west of Pyay that grew to prominence during the 4th and 5th Centuries CE.

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Maps of the lost cities of Myanmar

Tagaung. Myanmar's Origin?

Tagaung is situated on the east bank of the river Ayeyarwady. 127 miles north of Mandalay and 56 miles north of Shwebo. It’s civilization dates back to the early Christian era with Pyu culture. The ruins of the fort walls and traces of a moat are the only remnants of this ancient site. The western wall appears to have washed away by the river. Being in close proximity civilization of the Bagan era. a large ruined pagoda called the Shwe Zigon is an evidence that Buddhism prevailed at this site since those early days. As the new town occupies almost the whole of the ancient site. excavations of archaeological interest could not be carried out except for a few plots in 1967-69. The excavations showed evidences of habitation sites and religious edifices. which yielded many votive tablets of seated Buddha. Large images were completely absent. A civilized settlement existed within the fortified walls.

While planning to visit Shwebo and Hanlin. Tagaung should also be included in the itinerary.

Images of ancient Tagaung

We have been in love with Tagaung as a bedtime story or history since our childhood days. However. the ancient ruins and artifacts of Tagaung city do exist in Myanmar till now. Nowadays. Tagaung is a town in Thabeikkyin Township. Mandalay Division. Located on the east bank of Ayeyawady River on Mandalay-Nga-O-Bhamo Road about 127 miles north of Mandalay. the largest city in upper Myanmar. the present-day Tagaung has 950 households and a population of over 6.500. It is starting to become a busy town.

The modern-day Tagaung lies on the east bank of the Ayeyawady; but according to the ancient treatises. the ancient Tagaung was located on the west bank; thus. the change of its location would be a wonder for today's youths as well as researchers. But many strange things often occur in this world. So. before asking a question "How did Tagaung jumped across the river from the west bank to the east bank?. I would like to urge personnel concerned to study the changes in the course of the river first. It is known that in the olden days. the mighty Ayeyawady flowed from north to south in the east of Tagaung bank. The ox-bow lakes that can be still found at the place lying between the foot of Tagaung Hill and the town are the proof to the fact. If the area is studied with the use of advanced techniques and equipment. we will be able to confirm the fact. The ox-bows lakes were formed by the changes in the Ayeyawady River course. We can also roughly draw a conclusion reconfirming the fact if we thoroughly study the Tagaung area on the military map. Besides. if we can study the soil layers to know the age of the ox-bow lakes. we can calculate the nearest age of the ancient city.

Names of ancient Tagaung

There is a saying which goes "Flowers indicate a season. and treatises solve the miseries of history". In this regard. we have to rely only on the records and treatises of the various fields compiled by the learned researchers in the olden days. We should not discard the treatises on medicine. chemistry. astrology. puram and religion of the past. The Glass Palace Chronicle or the Great Royal History Book of Myanmar said that the city state. Tagaung. was founded since the time of Kakusan Buddha. Sadly. the status of Tagaung fell to the level of a hamlet. with only 40 or 50 houses. inhabited by poor people earning their living through fishing or lumbering during the colonial period. In reality. Tagaung was a royal city of Myanmar glory during the ancient days. The Tagaung city state was known as Than-tha-ya Pura state during the time of Kakusan Buddha; Ratha Pura state during the time of Konagon Buddha; and Thin-dwe state during the time of Kasapa Buddha. According to religious treatises. these three ages are eons earlier than in the history of the world's civilization. It was said that the Great King Abhiraja founded Tagaung about 700 years before the Lord Buddha attained the enlightenment. In addition to the four names - Than-tha-ya Pura. Ratha Pura. Thin-dwe and Tagaung - the city has other titles. During the different eras of the history. it was also called Ratha Pura. Thaw-ma-na-tha. Thin-ga-tha-ra-hta. Pyin-sa-la-riz and Pyin-sa Tagaung.

How old is Tagaung?

Because of its very long existence that is said to be countable by years in the millennium. we found it much difficult to measure Tagaung's age. Treatises vary from 0ne another in mentioning the founding date of the city. Some said that its was founded about 700 years before the Lord Buddha attained the enlightenment; some. about 930 years; and some. over 1.300 years. Another treatise. the Wuntah Nipati. compiled by Mehtee Sayadaw I Parama Sirivan Bhidhaja Maha Dhamma Raja Guru tells a different story about the city. On its page 75. the treatise said that since Maha Era (the era preceeding the time of Buddha) 7.700. a son of the King of Thin-tha Nago city state in Majjima region founded Thin-dwe (Tagaung) in Myanmar where Buddhism flourished; that the 77th king of the dynasty passed away 20 years after King Bodaw Insana dissolved the old Maha Era and started the new Maha Era from year one; that when Buddha visited the country. a large number of people including Maha Punna-hte became Buddhist monks. practised Dhamma and vipassana in various parts of Thuna-parana state and Tamya-dipa state and attained Nirvana; and that in the 20th year of the Buddhist Era. King Thadoe Zabudipa Dhaja passed away. and his son. Thadoe. Shwe-yit ascended the throne.

 

Siddhattha (the would-be Buddha) was born on the 68th year of the Buddhist Era; Siddhattha attained the Buddhahood in the 103rd year of the Buddhist Era; and the Buddha passed away in the 148th year of the Buddhist Era. According to the treatise. Thin-dwe was founded 1.050 years before Siddhattha attained enlightenment or in about 1588 BC. Thus. we can say that the age of the city is over 3.590 years. During that time. Than-thaya-yahta Thin-dwe or Tagaung was on the west bank of the Ayeyawady.

Pyu-gama before the establishment of Tagaung

Historical records said that before the establishment of Tagaung. there was a large village of the Pyu people called Pyu-gama (Pyu-gan) lying in the plains in the area. Later. the village was called Bagan (not the present-day Bagan in the central Myanmar); and Tagaung was also named the Bagan royal city. The announcement to repair and renovate the Shwezigon Pagoda in Tagaung was printed and distributed by Hanthawady Press in 1300 ME. The announcement said that in the 98th year of the Buddhist Era. Maha Raja ruled Bagan which was also called Ton-nge or Tagaung; that during the time. precious stones came down from the sky like rain; as the King wanted to build a pagoda for posterity. he ordered every house to supply one brick each to him; that with the bricks totalling 337.779 he received from each house. the King built the Shwezigon Pagoda. which was 394 feet high. and whose foundation was 24 feet deep; and in that year. the King entered monkhood at Thadoe Winsana Taung hill together with his 10.000 officials and attendants.

 

The announcement also stated the names of 20 supervisor Sayadaws. the chairman. the first secretary and the second secretary of the pagoda renovation board. and the address of the press at No 29 Yekyaw Street. Yangon. Many of the things the announcement had stated really existed on the land. For example. the Shwezigon Pagoda and Thado Winsana Taung hill actually lie in the area. In the military map. the hill was marked as Thaung Bwet Taung hill. Locals called it Thaung Phwet Taung or Thaung Whet Taung. As the King had collected a total of 337.779 lumps of bricks. we can imagine the large population and good business of the ancient Tagaung. We can also presume that Ton-nge. Tagaung and Pyu-gama were the names of the royal city. Besides. there is a saying which goes "Tagaung started from Ton-nge". Today's new generation can also imagine that the Pyu-Myanmars of that time were busy cutting trees and selecting and carrying logs to build Tagaung and the royal palace. and actively baking and transporting bricks and pounding limestone to build the Shwezigon Pagoda.

Author : Einda Swe

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