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Religions in Arakan

Religions in Arakan

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Published by: Kingsuriya on Dec 26, 2009
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Religions in ArakanU Khin Maung Saw8/9/2009
Paper presented at the Arakanese History and Religion Seminar, London, August 20091. Introduction:
Among the 7 Union States of Burma the Rakhine State or the Arakan is the immediate neighbour ofthe Subcontinent. There might have been some contacts between Arakan and the Subcontinentsince the first dynasty of the Arakanese. Buddhism and the Pali language used in Buddhist Canonscame very early to the Mons, Arakan and Pyus, much earlier than the emigration of the Burmese inthe country which is now Burma. Pyu, Mon and Burmese/Arakanese scripts were based on theSouth Indian scripts.The Rakhaings (Arakanese) traditionally believe that they are the descendants of the "Sakya Sakis"the race from which Lord Gautama Buddha came1. Most historians and anthropologists, however,say that they belong to the Tibeto-Burmese groups.The Arakanese (Rakhaing/Rakhine) believe that their ancestors had to chase out the demon-likebeings (most probably Negrito tribes) before they established their first kingdom. After that thepeople had to be very united to repel the invasions of the tribes they chased out. That's why theynamed themselves Rakkhita People. The Pali word Rakkhita means „the one who protects his ownrace. And therefore their country was called „Rakkhita Mandala' and later deviated to 'RakkhitaMandaing' and then to 'Rakkha Mandaing'. The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "RakkhaMandaing - Rakhaing" - "Arakhaing" - "Arakan".There is another hypothesis: The Sanskrit word rakshasa, Pali rakkhaso can be translated as “thedemon of water” or “an ogre-like being living in water”. That's why the etymology of Arakan can betraced as a Sanskrit or Pali words A-Rakkha Desa (The Land which is now free from the Demons).The word "Arakan" is therefore a derivation of "A-Rakkha Desa - A-Rakkhan" - "Arakan". Sir ArthurPhayre as well as Col. Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell's "Hobson-Jobson" A Glossary of ColloquialAnglo Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical andDiscursive (First Published in 1886) supported this version too2.
2. Religions in Arakan:2.1. Hinduism:
There is no doubt that the early kingdoms of Arakan were Hindu states. Some Hindu deities werefound in ancient cities. However, Hinduism might have been replaced by Buddhism when the kingsand people became Buddhists.
2.2. Buddhism:
According to the legend of the Maha Muni Image, Arakan was already a Buddhist Kingdom duringthe time of Lord Buddha because Lord Buddha visited Arakan due to the invitation of King SandaThuriya (Chandra Suriya).U San Shwe Bu3, on the other hand, wrote that King Sanda Thuriya ascended the throne of Arakanin 146 A.D, six hundred years after the Pari Nibanna of Lord Buddha. Contrast to the legend hestated that the statue was casted in the 2nd century AD.In any case, it is safe to say that Arakan became a Buddhist Land at the beginning of Anno Domini,if not earlier. Since that time Arakan remains a Buddhist land till now and all Arakanese or
 
Rakhaings are devout Buddhists. Nowadays, population ratio between Arakanese and Burmesemay be 1:10, however if one compares the number of Buddhist temples, monasteries, monks andnuns the ratio is only 1:4. It is proven how religious Arakanese or Rakhaings were and are.Arakan was well known to be “the Land of Pagodas and Temples”. There is a famous Arakaneseverse: Thazun pan Khaing ta mraing mraing Rakhaing Phara paung”, which was nicely translatedinto English verse by U Tha Hla as: “The Thazun (a type of orchid) sprigs in sheer clusters, Sum thetotal of the pharas grandeur”. According to this verse, there were 6352755 Pharas (Buddha Statues)in Arakan.Maurice Collis described the situation of Buddhism in the year 1630 during the reign of Min Hayi(Man Hari) alias Thiri Thudhamma (Sri Sudhamma). In his book The Land of the Great Image, inpage 168 where it was written: "The Buddha had died in 543 B.C. Altogether 2173 years hadelapsed since then, and for that immense period the image of the Founder of the Religion hadremained on Sirigutta, the oldest, most mysterious, the most holy object in the world. The relicsdetailed to the disciples on Selagiri had all been found and enshrined. Arakan was a sacred country;it was the heart of Buddhism; and he (King Thiri Thudhamma) as its king, was the most notableBuddhist ruler in existence. Grave indeed was his responsibility. He had not only to maintain thestate as the homeland of the Arakanese race, but as the one place on earth where an authenticshape of the Tathagata was preserved, a possession of greater potency than the most preciousrelics".
2.2.1 Buddhists kings with Pseudonym Muslim Titles:
All kings of the Mrauk U dynasty, the last dynasty in Arakan, were Buddhists. Some kings hadassumed Muslim Titles because, Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan), the founder of the Mrauk U Citywanted to show his gratitude to the Sultan of Gaur who helped him regain the Arakanese throne in1430. Hence, he promised the Sultan that the Arakanese kings would bear Pseudonym MuslimTitles. But in fact, all of the Arakanese kings were donors of many temples in Mrauk U as well as inthe other parts of Arakan. They did make coins, one side with Burmese/Arakanese scripts and theother side with Persian (NOT Bengali).For example: Min Saw Mun (Man Saw Muan), the founder of the Mrauk U City with the assumedMuslim Title 'Suleiman Shah' built seven Buddhists temples in Mrauk U. One of them wasLaymyetna Phaya (Leemyatna Phara) in Mrauk U (now Mrohaung). His successor and youngerbrother Min Khayi (Man Khari), who had an assumed Muslim Title 'Ali Khan', erected the NyidawZedi (Satee), which can be roughly translated as 'The Pagoda built by the Younger Brother'. His sonand successor King Ba Saw Phru alias Kaliman Shah constructed four Buddhists temples includingthe Maha Bodi Shwegu Pagoda. His son Dan Ugga alias Daluya, who bore the Muslim Title MoguhShah, was the donor of Thongyaik Tasu Temple (meaning the temple of Thirty One Buddhas). Hissuccessor Min Yan Aung (Man Ran Aung) alias Narui Shah founded the Htupayon Pagoda. Min Bin(Man Ban) had an assumed Muslim Title of Zabauk Shah; was the donor of seven temples includingShit Thaung Phaya (Shite Thaung Phara) or the Temple of Eighty Thousand Buddha Statues. MinPhalaung (Man Phalaung) alias Secudah Shah was the donor of six temples including HtukkanThein, his son Min Yaza Gyi (Man Raza Gri) with the Muslim Title Salem Shah donated Phaya Paw(Phara Paw) Pagoda and Pakhan Thein in Mrauk U and also Shwe Kyaung Pyin Monastery inThandwe. Min Khamaung, who subjoined the Muslim Title Hussein Shah constructed Yatanapon(Ratanabon) and Yatana Pyethet (Ratana Prethat) Pagodas and his son Thri Thudhamma (meaningthe Protector of Buddhist Religion) alias Salem Shah the Second, erected the Sekkya Manaung(Sakkya Manaung) Pagoda.The Burmese invasion in 1784, led by the Burmese Crown Prince then, was to snatch the HolyMaha Muni Image, the national Symbol of Arakan. Nowadays this colossal image can be seen nearMandalay and the statue is called in colloquial Burmese Phayagyi (Paragri), which is the directtranslation of Pali Word Maha Muni. During the British Era this temple was translated as 'ArakanPagoda'.
 
2.3. Christianity:
Many Portuguese mercenaries served under Arakanese kings since 16th Century A.D4. Later, theDutch mercenaries did the same job. So, there is no doubt that there must have been someChristians in Arakan, but almost all of them were foreigners with very few Arakanese who convertedinto Christianity through marriage.According to Maurice Collis and U San Shwe Bu5, in 1610 Arakanese King Razagri had appointedhis younger son, Min Mangri, Viceroy of Chittagong. This prince was not in good terms with his elderbrother and the crown prince then Min Khamaung, the Viceroy of Thandwe. Min Khamaung was arebellious Prince towards his father, hence the king wanted to replace the position of the crownprince from his elder son to the younger son. However, Min Mangri made friendship with thePortuguese pirate-king Gonsalves Tibau of Sandwip Island. The marriage of Min Mangri's daughterwith Tibau's son was agreed and she had to convert into Catholicism. Min Mangri had three children,two daughters and a son. In the year 1610 his son was four years old.When King Razagri heard of this marriage and realized that this younger son was now allied withthe ruffian who had treacherously seized his fleet, in 1612 Razagri sent an army under the CrownPrince Min Khamaung. Min Khamaung took this duty willingly, because his own right to become thefuture king was threatened. In the battle Min Mangri was shot dead and finally Gonsalves Tibausurrendered. The King of Arakan, decided to pardon Gonsalves Tibau and invited him to contrivesome way of saving the young prince and his sister, who were his own grand children.Meanwhile Min Khamaung had entered Chittagong without opposition and after attending hisbrother's funeral immediately called for his nephew and niece. When they were not forthcoming, hesuspected Tibau, but it was not until afterwards that he learnt they had escaped to the MoghulEmpire. Foiled in this, he finished his business and returned to Mrauk-U, where later in the year hesucceeded his father when his father died. Later these two children of Min Mangri were baptized bythe Catholic priests. This son of Min Mangri afterwards became known as Dom Martin, a Catholicand the first Arakanese who went to Europe.
2.3.1 The term ‘Phalaung’:
Phalaung is the Arakanese term for the Portuguese. It is a corrupted word from Persian Farangi orFiringi, i.e. a Frank, meaning European. This term for European is very old in Asia. Till now, inThailand all Whites are called "Phalang". The Burmese used to call Portuguese as Ba-yin-gi(Barangi), a corruption of Farangi. However, a modern Burmese meaning of Ba-yin-gi is for RomanCatholic Christians.This Arakanese king, Min Phalaung's real name was Chit Hnaung (Shite Hnaung) meaning thelatest beloved (son). He was the youngest son of Min Bargyi (Man Bargri) and was born on that daywhen Arakanese armed forces destroyed the Portuguese fleet and conquered the Portuguese Fortof Dianga. That's why his father named him Min Phalaung (Man Phalaung) which can be roughlytranslated as "King or Ruler of the Portuguese". Here, I would like to cite Maurice Collis, “Theappeal of the Portuguese”: "We (the Portuguese) have come to assure His Majesty that thePortuguese of Dianga are His Majesty
‟ 
s devoted humble servants, as they have ever been in thepast, having served him and his father and grandfather of the glorious memory, not only by harryingthe Mogul in Bengal, but fighting his enemy, the king of Pegu. If God grants me the fortune of beingadmitted to the royal presence, my endeavour will be to convince His Majesty of my nation
‟ 
scontinued desire to serve him". 6The first chapel, however, was built only after 1630 A.D., because the Catholic Missionary ofAugustinian Order, Father Sebastien Manrique arrived Arakan from Goa in 1630 and askedpermission to build a chapel from the Arakanese king. King Thri Thudhamma was so kind by notonly allowing the Portuguese priest to build a chapel near the royal palace, but also he lent himmoney. In the opening ceremony of the church the Arakanese king lent him golden flower vasesdecorated with various jewels. Father Manrique recorded this in his memoirs by praising King ThriThudhamma that the Buddhist king was so generous and helped him what even monarchs of otherChristian sects would not have done although they share the same god and follow the principles ofJesus Christ.7

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