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Saturday, May 22, 2010



Bagan was born on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River in the central part of present day Myanmar. The powerful City-State rose on the east bank of the Ayeyarwady River in the 9th century and was the birthplace of modern day Myanmar State and Theravada Buddhism.

A traditional verse says "Kya Oh An Bagan Ti(which if transposed into numerals corresponds to the date of the establishment of the Bagan Empire).There were many kings that reigned there. Legends tell us that there were 55 Kings who ruled in Bagan but recorded history began only after the reign of King Anawrahta(1044-1077 A.D) who consolidated his kingdom into one of the most powerful city-states of that time. Bagan retreated into history after King Narathihapati (Tayoke Pye Min) fled the capital with the onslaught of the Mongols in 1287 A.D.

In the Niddesa Parabeik (a loosely binded book made of palm leaves on which the ancients record significant occasions) it was recorded that Arimaddanapura or Pauk kan Pyi gyi(the traditional name of Bagan) was established by King Pyinbya in 849 A.D, and referred to two palace sites inside the walled city. The palace of Pinbya Min was located at 144 Ta(a traditional Myanmar measure of distance) to the west of the Tharaba Gate. The Parabeik also recorded that King Kyan Sit Tha(1084-1112 A.D), who assumed the crown afterAnawrahta, also started a palace for himself in 1101 A.D and it took a year to finish it. On completion of his palace the King set up four stone inscription pillars to record his deed but with the passage of time the inscriptions were broken into pieces. Miraculously, however, all the pieces were recovered from near the Tharaba Gate and are now housed inside the Bagan Museum.

Starting from 2003, the Myanmar Archaeological Department had began excavations at the Bagan Palace site. Altogether 16 squares have been unearthed. The excavations also unearthed large systematically built structures made of brick and one small brick structure of 85 metres aligned north to south. One 40 metres long brick wall stretching from east to west two brick walls, brick floor, brick gutter and brick circles were also unearthed. There were many rows of such brick circles, each circle with smaller circles adjacent to it. Regrettably nothing was found of the Palace itself except for numerous earthen bowls,potsherds,glazed potsherds, earthen pots, terracotta discs, iron swords, brass rings and other assorted artefacts.

Architects have been able to reconstruct the layout of the Palace and construct a prototype based on the excavated physical evidence. The reconstructed Palace is now open to visitors.

Acknowledgement: Thanks are due to U Khin Aung Htun, and the G.M of Tharaba Gate Hotel for the basic information and photos.

Monday, May 17, 2010


"The black face will weep and the dead shall come to life". That usually means that the black monsoon clouds has gathered to bring the much needed rain on the parched land and the dead vegetation and the hibernating animals, like the frogs, will come to life again.

The monsoon rains are a blessing to our motherland. The rain clouds gather far away in the Bay of Bengal to bring life-giving water to our country. Vaulting above the high Rakhine Ranges and sweeping across the flat Ayeyarwaddy delta, the black rain clouds pour down to bring back to life the dry paddy fields, fill our ponds and rivers with nourishing water.

As the rivers and the ponds fill with water the farmers get ready to begin their work. Oxen are readied, the ploughs cleaned. But the farmers are happy. They are the true sons of the earth.

The land will once more be green again. Vast acres of paddy fields to feed the people of Myanmar and to fill the granaries with food. Typical scenes at these times would be a solitary farmer behind a pair of oxen tilling his land under the lashing rains, his dear wife and children waiting under the shade of the big rain tree, waiting for him to finish his work and join them for lunch. A simple farmers' lunch, nothing elaborate. Heaps of steaming rice, a lump of ngapi ( fermented fish ), a clear veggie soup made from the vegetables found on the land near their modest hut. A smoked fish, from the catch the farmer had caught in the streams the previous night, would be a treat for them. At another plot would be a bevy of young girls transplanting the young paddy from the nurseries.Smiling faces, dabbed with the yellowish paste of thanahka, a natural sunscreen from the thanahka plant. They are also happy with their work. They know also that it is an important job. Unless the young paddies are planted carefully they might not ripen into golden stalks heavy with rice grains. Their songs float on the air despite the heavy monsoon rains that pelt them mercilessly. The peals of thunder and streaks of lightning forming a perfect background to their singing. Those would be the typical scenes in all the farming communities in Myanmar.And nights would be filled with the sounds of the frogs, came back to life.
And we pray that the rains be heavy, filling our fields, our ponds and rivers with life-giving waters

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


It was the time of powerful Kings and valiant heroes, epic battles and marvelous palaces. In the late 15th century Myanmar was in turmoil. The Bamars were concentrated around Innwa in the central regions of the country and the Mons were in the lower part. A series of bitter fighting that lasted for 40 years wrecked the countryside. Many fled to Taungoo, at that time a Bamar outpost not far from the Mon capital of Bago(Pegu). Taungoo became strong and contested the Mons'rule and after the defeat of the Mons, the Bamar Kings from Taungoo had founded the Hanthawaddy Dynasty(first it was called the Taungoo Dynasty) by 1491. King Mingyi Nyo was the patriarch of this line of kings but the two most powerful monarchs of this period were King Tabin Shwe Hti(1515-1551) and King Ba Yint Naung(1551-1582).

Tabin Shwe Hti, named because he had one strand of golden hair on his head, came down often from his Royal Capital of Taungoo to fight with the Mon armies of Bago. But one tale that went into history was his daring challenge to have a Royal Ear-Piercing Ceremony on the platform of the Shwemawdaw Pagoda at Bago, right under the nose of his enemy.

But the King that really made history and established the 2nd Myanmar Empire was the brother-in-law of King Tabin Shwe Hti. His name was Bayint Naung or the King's elder brother. He became King of the Hanthawaddy Dynasty after King Tabin Shwe Hti. He fought to expand his Empire. At its height the 2nd Myanmar Empire included almost all areas of present day Myanmar as well as parts of Manipur in present day India, Chiang mai and Ayudhaya in Thailand. His Empire also went as far away as Vientien in Loas(known at that time as Linzin). But what he is more remembered is his grand Kambawzathadi Palace in Bago.

After the consolidation of his Kingdom King Bayint Naung(also referred to as Ba Yint Naung Kyaw Htin Nawrahta in some history text books) decided to build a palace for himself. Construction was said to have started in 1553. The plan called for construction of the palace on the south of the Shwemawdaw Pagoda with two courtyards. The Inner Courtyard would have 6 main buildings plus other smaller complexes, about 70 of them in total. Then there would also be an outer courtyard to house the other members of the royal retinue.

The Main Audience Hall, where he would receive his subordinate lords on their annual homage paying ceremonies and to be use for all official ceremonies, the Treasury, Sleeping Quarters for his Chief Queen and other royal consorts and concubines would be in the inner court. His favourite daughter Princess Raja Datu Kalaya was to have her own accommodations also. Even the Royal White Elephant would have his own stable as well as pens for the other fighting war elephants. The Palace was finished in 1553.

The various lords and governors of the provinces were commanded by the Court to contribute building materials for the palace. According to ancient records discovered there were 222 Teak pillars used in the construction of the Main Audience Hall, all contributions from the lords and other courtiers of the court. Some of these pillars can be seen inside a shed by the side of the reconstructed Main Audience Hall. Some stumps even have names scratched on the bases, presumably of the lord who had sent it to the palace construction. These pillars were unearthed not very long ago during excavations for recontruction of the Palace by the government in1990 and are supposed to be from the gutted Royal Palace which fell victims to its enemies in 1599.

Caesar Frediricke, a Venetian merchant who visited Bago during its glorious days, said, " The King's Palace is in the middle of the Citie, made in the form of a walled Castle, with ditches full of water around about it, the Lodgings within are made of wood all over gilded, with fine pinnacles, and very costly worke, covered with plates of gold". Another Portuguese merchant named Souza also described the palace as" even the lowliest room was covered with gold and murals. There were roofs made of gold sheets on some of the buildings and in some rooms there were life-size gold statues of the King and his Queens studded with gemstones".

But all that glitters had come to an end in 1599. The magnificent Kambawzathadi Palace, with its shimmering gilded roofs was torched and the mighty Hanthawaddy Empire was destroyed by invading armies.

Now only the re-constructed Main Audience Hall and the Kings's Sleeping Quarters, the Bamayathana Hall (Bee Throne Hall), stands as mute tribute to the powerful old days.