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The Raiseand Fall of the Kingdom of Mrohaung in Arakan

The Raiseand Fall of the Kingdom of Mrohaung in Arakan

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Published by Khaing Khaing

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Published by: Khaing Khaing on Dec 16, 2008
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The Rise and Fall of the Kingdom of Mrohaung in Arakanby D.G.E. HallArakan stretches for some 350 miles along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal to thesouth of the Chittagong division of East Bengal. It is separated from Burma by a long, deeprange of mountains, the Arakan Roma, through which there are only two serviceable passes,the Ann connecting with Minbu on the west bank of the Irrawaddy, and the Taungupconnecting with Prome. The Arakanese call themselves Rakhaing and their countryRakhaingpray. According to Sir Arthur Phayre, the word is a corruption of the Pali rakkhaso(Skt. rakshasa) meaning ‘’ogre’’ (Burmese bili) or guardian of the mansion of Indra on MountMeru. Sir Henry Yule identifies the Angyre or Silverland of Ptolemy with Arakan. ButArakan produced no silver and the previously accepted views of Ptolemy’’s idea concerningthe Indo-Chinese peninsula are now open to question.The Arakanese of today are basically Burmese, though with an unmistakable Indianadmixture. Although mainly Buddhist, they have been influenced by long centuries of contactwith Muslim India. Their language is Burmese with some dialectical differences and an olderform of pronunciation, especially noticeable in their retention of the ‘’r’’ sound, which theBurmese have changed to ‘’y’’. The Bengalis refer to them by the name Magh, a wordadopted by seventeenth-century European writers and written ‘’Mugg’’. The name is alsoapplied to a class of people belonging to Chittagong who are Buddhists but speak Bengali andare not Mongoloid. Much that is fanciful has been written about its possible etymology, butthe question is as yet unsolved.Buddhism would seemto have reached Arakan long before its arrival in the interior of Burma,and the famous Mahamuni image, brought from Arakan by the Burmese in 1785, and now tobe seen in the Arakan Pagoda at Mandalay, may date from the early Christian era.Buddhism would seem to have reached Arakan long before its arrival in the interior of Burma,and the famous Mahamuni image, brought from Arakan by the Burmese in 1785, and now tobe seen in the Arakan Pagoda at Mandalay, may date from the early Christian era. Inscriptionsmention a Candra dynasty, which may have been founded as early as the middle of the fourthcentury A.D. Its capital was called by the Indian name of Vaisali, and thirteen kings of thedynasty are said to have reigned there for a total period of 230 years. The Arakanesechronicles claim that the kingdom was founded in the year 2666 B.C., and contain lists of kings beginning that date.The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as the tenth centuryA.D. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similarto that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near modernAkyab. It was a district subject to chronic raids from hill tribes- Shans, Burmese, andBengalis- and there were long periods when settled government can hardly have existed. Butthe spirit of independence was always strong, and in the business of raiding the Arakanesecould usually give as much as they received. Their main activity was by sea into Bengal, andthey developed great skill in sea and riverine warfare. By the middle of the sixteenth centurythey were the terror of the Ganges delta.North Arakan was conquered by Anawrahta of Pagan (1044-77), but was not incorporated inhis kingdom. It remained a semi-independent feudatory state under its hereditary kings. WhenPagan fell in 1287 Arakan asserted its independence under the famous Mong Hti, whosereign, according to the chronicles, lasted for the fabulously long period of ninety-five years(1279-1374). His reign is also notable for the defeat of a great Bengali raid. After his deathArakan was for a considerable time one of the theatres of war in the great struggle betweenAva and the Mon kingdom of Pegu. Both sides sought to gain control over it. First the
Burmese, then the Mons, placed their nominees on its throne.When in 1404 the Burmese regained control King Narameikhla fled to Bengal, where he washospitably received by King Ahmed Shah of Gaur. During his exile he distinguished himself while assisting his host to repel in invasion, and when in 1426 Ahmed Shah died and wassucceeded by Nazir Shah the new ruler provided him with a force for the recovery of hiskingdom under the command of a general called in the Arakanese chronicle Wali Shah. Thisman, however, turned traitor, and in league with a disloyal Arakanese chieftain imprisonedNarameikhla. The king managed to escaped, and in 1430 regained his throne with the aid of asecond force supplied by Nazir Shah.He thereupon built himself a new capital named Mrauk-U in Arakanese, but usually known byits Arakanese name of Mrohaung. The date of its foundation is given as 1433. KingNarameikhla held his kingdom as the vassal of Gaur, and in token of this he and hisimmediate successor, though Buddhists, added Mahommendan titles to their Arakanese onesand issued medallions bearing the Kalima, the Mahommendan confession of faith.In 1434 Narameikhla was succeeded by his brother Mong Khari, also known as Ali Khan,who declared his independence of Gaur. His son Basawpru, who succeeded him in 1459, took advantage of the weakness of Barbek Shah of Gaur to seize Chittagong. He and his successorscontinued to use Mohammedan titles, no longer as a sign of vassaldom but as a token of theirsovereignty over Chittagong, which was recognized as lying beyond the geographical bordersof Arakan. Chittagong had for centuries been a bone of contention between Arakan andBengal and had often changed hands. It was not to remain in Arakanese hands until 1666,when the Mughals recovered it permanently for India.Basawpru was murdered in 1482 and his country entered upon a half-century of disorder anddynastic weakness. No less than eight kings came to the throne; most of them wereassassinated. Then in 1531 a capable young king, Mong Bong, came to the throne and Arakanentered upon a new era. It was in his reign that the first European ships made theirappearance, as raiders, and that the Portuguese free-booters (feringhi) began to settle atChittagong. It was in his reign also that Tabinshwehti revived Burmese power, conquered theMon kingdom of Pegu, and threatened the defences of his capital with massive earthworksand dug a deep moat, which was filled with tidal water from the river. Hence in 1544, whenthe inevitable Burmese attack came, although Mong Bong could not defeat the invaders in theopen, the defence works of Mrohaung proved an obstacle against which even the greatTabinshwehti could not prevail when he appeared before them in 1546. While the siege wason the Raja of Tipperah raided Chittagong and Ramu with his wild tribesmen. But againvictory was on the side of the Arakanese.When Mong Bong died in 1553 he had a force of Portuguese mercenaries. His sea power,based on Chittagong, was the terror of the Ganges region, and his country was on thethreshold of the greatest period of her history. But her somewhat spectacular rise was hardlydue to the genius of her rulers. It coincides with a period of weakness in Bengal, when, beforethe gradual extension eastwards of the Mughal power, the native governments of that regionwere tottering. The possession of Chittagong was the key to the situation; for Mong Bongleased to the feringhi who took service under his flag the port of Dianga on the seacoast southof the mouth of the river Kurnaphuli, some twenty miles south of the modern city of Chittagong. The place soon attracted a large European and Eurasian population which drove athriving trade with the ports of Bengal. But piracy and slave-raiding were the chief occupations of the feringhi, who gathered there in increasing numbers and before longbecame as great a source of embarrassment to the King of Arakan as to the Viceroy of Goa.Matters came to a crisis during the reign of Mong Razagri (1593-1612). He was the king whoemployed Philip de Brito in his attack on Nanda Bayin of Pegu, thereby opening the way forthe feringhi leader to make himself master of Syriam.
Matters came to a crisis during the reign of Mong Razagri (1593-1612). He was the king whoemployed Philip de Brito in his attack on Nanda Bayin of Pegu, thereby opening the way forthe feringhi leader to make himself master of Syriam. When de Brito defeated the Arakaneseflotilla sent to dislodge him from the Mon port and captured the crown prince, Mong Razagridecided that he must break the power of the Portuguese at Dianga. For that port also wascoveted by de Brito; he planned to use it as a base for the conquest of Arakan. In 1607,therefore, the king sent an expedition which attacked Dianga by land and massacred itsinhabitants without mercy. Six hundred Portuguese are said to have fallen.Among those who escaped was the egregious Sebastian Gonzales Tibao. He had beenengaged in the salt trade. Now with other refugees he took to piracy, and in 1609 madehimself ‘’king’’ of Sandwip Island by exterminating the Afghan pirates who had made theirnest there. At Sandwip he received a refugee Arakanese prince who, as Governor of Chittagong, had quarreled with his brother, King Razagri. Tibao married the prince’’s sisterand when he died suddenly, probably from poison, seized all his treasure. Soon afterwards theMughal Governor of Bengal began an attack upon the district of Noakhali, east of Gangesmouth, which had submitted to Arakan. This threw Tibao and Mong Razagri into oneanother’’s arms. But while his ally was conducting an unsuccessful land campaign Tibao took possession of the Arakanese fleet by luring its leaders to a conference and murdering them.Then he raided up the Lemro River to the very walls of Mrohaung, capturing the royal bargeas a trophy.When in 1612 Mong Razagri died his successor, Mong Khamoung (1612-22), decided that thepower of Tibao and his ruffians must be finally broken. His first effort failed because the Rajaof Tippera raided at the crucial moment and he had to withdraw his forces. Tibao, aware of his precarious position, with hostile Bengal on one side and revengeful Arakan on the other,appealed to Goa, urging the viceroy to avenge the massacre of Dianga. He suggested a jointattack on Arakan and offered to pay annual tribute to the Portuguese crown for his island‘’kingdom’’. The viceroy sent a fleet of fourteen galliots, which arrived off the coast of Arakan at the end of the wet monsoon in 1615. Mrohaung was attacked, but partly throughfaulty arrangements for cooperation and partly through the help given to the Arakanese by aDutch ship lying in the harbour the Portuguese failed to effect a landing and sailed away. Twoyears later Mong Khamoung captured Sandwip, wiped out the feringhi settlement anddestroyed its fortifications. Tibao is said to have escaped, but is heard of no more.The feringhi had now shot their bolt. Philip de Brito’’s escapade at Syriam had already cometo its sorry end in 1613. So they made their peace with the king and settled down once moreto assist him in his efforts to gain control over the southeastern parts of Bengal- ‘’the conquestof the middle land’’, as the Arakanese Chronicle euphemistically calls it. There was noconquest in the real sense, though for a time Arakan held the districts of Noakhali andBackergunge and some of the Sunderbunds delta. What chiefly took place was slave-raiding,in 1625 even captured and held for a short time. This kind of thing could never have occurredhad it not been for the crisis in the Mughal Empire resulting from Shah Jahan’’s rebellion in1612 against his father Jehangir. Year after year the feringhi armada returned to Diangabringing thousands of Bengali slaves. Before long not a house was left inhabited on eitherside of the rivers between Chittagong and Dacca.Mong Razagri’’s attampt to rid himself of the Portuguese coincided with the first Dutchtrading voyage to Arakan. In 1605 they had planted factories at Masulipatam and Petapoli onthe Coromandel Coast. From these two centres they began to explore the possibility of establishing trading relations with Bengal and Arakan. An invitation from King Razagri led tothe dispatch of two merchants, Pieter Willemsz and Jan Gerritsz Ruyll, to Mrohaung in 1607,the year of the Dianga massacre. The king, like so many other rulers in South-East Asia,received them with delight, offered them customs-free trade in his dominions, and expressed

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