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Rock Art and Artisans in the Lemro Valley, Arakan, Myanmar

Rock Art and Artisans in the Lemro Valley, Arakan, Myanmar

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Published by: ေက်ာက္ၿဖဴသားေခ် on Oct 13, 2009
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Rock art and artisans in the Lemro Valley, Arakan, Myanmar 
Pamela Gutman
, Bob Hudson
, Kyaw Minn Htin
& Kyaw Tun Aung
This is a story that will appeal to all scholars involved with the interpretation of rock art. Figures depicted on rock surfaces in jungle terrain patrolled by soldier ants were thought in the nineteenthcentury to record an otherwise unknown early episode of invasion and resistance – and were widely published as such. A recent survey by a Myanmar-Australian team has made more correct records of the earlier forms and now offers fresh interpretations: the carvings are due to fifteenth-nineteenth century artisans working at quarries producing objects for the town of Mrauk-U,and they evoke local creatures and architectural echoes of the town and temples on which they worked.Keywords:
Myanmar, Burma, Arakan, political images, post-medieval, rock art
 Arakan (Figure 1) is the English name for the state of Rakhine, on the Bay of Bengal coastof the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma). Arakanese is a dialect of Burmese, and usesBurmese script. The early polities were located in the valleys and floodplains of the Kaladanand Lemro Rivers, an area that today is under rice agriculture (Hudson 2005).King Anacandra’s inscription of 
. AD 729 describes how the founding king of the FirstCandraDynasty,Dvancandra(
acityadornedbysurroundingwallsana moat’ 
brick-walledsite which is the home of the fifth-century Mahamuni shrine. Dhanyawadi was a pilgrimagecentre in the fifteenth-eighteenth century Mrauk-U period. Arakanese Buddhists believethat an image of Gautama Buddha previously housed in this building was cast during hislifetime when he had visited Arakan, made certain prophecies and indicated hundreds of sites where relics of his various lives would be found. This renowned and powerful image was removed to Mandalay following the Burmese conquest of Arakan in the late eighteenthcentury (Forchhammer 1892; Tun Shwe Khine 1994; Gutman 2001: 33; Leider 2005). Art history and numismatic studies place another walled city of 6.2km
, Vesali, betweenabout the sixth and tenth centuries AD (Gutman 1976; Nyunt Han 1984; Gutman
Department of Art History and Theory, University of Sydney, Australia
 Archaeology Department, University of Sydney, Australia & Field School of Archaeology, Pyay, Myanmar 
Yangon University, Myanmar 
 Archaeology Department, Mrauk-U, Myanmar (retired)Received: 19 September 2006; Revised: 2 January 2007; Accepted: 8 March 2007 
81 (2007): 655–674
Rock art and artisans in the Lemro Valley, Arakan, Myanmar 
Figure 1. Rakhine (Arakan) State, Myanmar, in regional context.
2001: 41), although a fourteenth-century radiocarbon date from a city gatepost suggestsintermittent reoccupation (Hudson 2005).The walled cities were not the only focus of cultural activity. Selagiri hill, a few kilometres westofDhanyawadiontheKaladanriver,hasyieldedstonesculpturesandinscriptionsdating
     R    e    s    e    a    r    c      h
Pamela Gutman
et al.
from the sixth to sixteenth centuries (Forchhammer 1892: 14; Gutman 1998). A Sanskritinscription of the
ye dharmma,
the ‘Buddhist creed’, which we identify palaeographically asbelonging to the sixth-seventh century AD, was found in 2001 on the top of Padaw hill andis now in the custody of a local monastery. This find suggests that the region from Selagirito Padaw (Figure 2) was occupied from the first millennium AD by people producing Indicartefacts.Between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, smaller walled settlements were built alongthe Lemro River at Sambawak/Pyinsa, Parein, Hkrit, Toungoo Neyinzara and Launggret(Figure 2), though erosion has since destroyed much of the evidence. These were polities with political and cultural links to Bagan, the dominant power up until the fourteenthcentury in Burma, and religious links to the Theravada Buddhists of Sri Lanka (Harvey 1925: 137-49, 370-71; Thin Kyi 1970; Gutman 2001: 14; the Lemro sites were recently re-surveyed by Berliet 2004: 234-39).Mrauk-U (Figure 2), which appears on early maps as Myohaung, literally ‘old city’, washome to dynasties that ruled from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. Described by aseventeenth-century visitor as ‘a second Venice’, the Arakanese capital sat amid streams,canals, reservoirs, earthworks, stone walls and low hills. Historians broadly ascribe threephases to the Mrauk-U era.The ‘early period’ begins with the foundation of Mrauk-U around 1430. The city wasrecorded as having been tributary to the sultanate of Bengal until the 1530s when theexpansionist King Man Pa conquered Chittagong.The ‘middle period’ runs from Man Pa to a dynastic break in 1638. The rulers alignedthemselves with the Portuguese, who provided armaments and assisted in the designof fortifications. This was the peak period for construction of defences and religiousmonuments, the latter sometimes decorated with stone relief sculpture. A mercenary army and a slaving and trading fleet brought political and economic power. Arakan took EastBengal, resisted a Burmese invasion, and conquered the Burmese capital at Pegu. Thekingdom struggled against Portuguese freebooters in the early seventeenth century, butenjoyed an economic boom supplying slaves and rice to the Dutch from the 1630s until the1660s, when the Dutch saw it as more advantageous to align themselves with the Mughals.In the ‘late period’ Arakan lost a key economic resource, the coastal port of Chittagong,as the Mughals re-established dominance over Bengal. The Arakanese resorted to piracy tomake up the economic shortfall. Local rebellions brought instability. Mrauk-U was shakenbyanearthquakewhichcausedatsunamiintheBayofBengalin1762.In1784theBurmeseinvaded and removed the Mahamuni image. In 1825 the British took Arakan and movedthe capital to Akyab (Sittwe) at the mouth of the Kaladan River (Oldham 1883; Charney 1998; Gutman 2001; Leider 2002; van Galen 2002).
Rock art 
Prehistoric rock art is known in Burma at only one site, Padah-lin, which features wallpaintings in a context that goes back 13000 years (Aung Thaw 1971). Recently, severalhundred pecked and abraded cupules were discovered in one of the caves at Padah-lin,the first such ancient stoneworking to be documented in mainland Southeast Asia (Tac¸on

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