Ancient geography and recent archaeology:Dhanyawadi, Vesali and Mrauk-u.
Bob HudsonArchaeology Department, University of Sydney, Australia.“The Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan” History Workshop.Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, November 2005.
Recent archaeological excavations and surveys at the old Arakanese sites of Dhanyawadi, Vesaliand Mrauk-u raise new issues about each. It appears that Dhanyawadi is not the eccentric shape portrayed in early archaeological plans, but an oval site with some notable similarities to thewalled Pyu sites of Upper Myanmar. Vesali shares one of these characteristics, an inward-curving brick gate. A radiocarbon date, the first for Vesali, intriguingly places another city gatein the 13
century AD. A review of the huge earth banks that surround Mrauk-u suggests that the popular notion that these were defensive may be a romanticised interpretation of what wasessentially a water management system
The early polities of Arakan were located in the valleys of the Kaladan and LemroRivers. While some traditional accounts locate early settlements, “royal capitals”, as farnorth as the Kyaukpandaung plateau (Tun Shwe Khine 1992: 20-21) the availableevidence points to the alluvial lowlands. Satellite imagery (Figure 1) shows howrestricted the area available for irrigated rice agriculture was. The old settlements occupya strip of land that is only between 15 and 35 kilometres wide, and perhaps 60 kilometresfrom north to south. To the north, west and east are hills, and to the south the combineddeltas of the two rivers meet the sea.
There are traditional claims in Arakan of royal capitals dating back to 3000 BC (TunShwe Khine 1992: 20). However the historical record begins with the c. AD 729Anacandra inscription which describes how the founding king of the Candra Dynasty,Dvancandra (c. 370-425 AD), “built a city adorned by surrounding walls and a moat”(Johnston 1944; Gutman 1976: 63, Vol 1). This is Dhanyawadi, whose Gupta-periodsculptures point to the 5
century AD (Gutman 2001: 29). It is the home of theMahamuni shrine, an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists (Forchhammer 1892; TunShwe Khine 1994). The shrine is pretty much in the geographical centre of an oval outerwall which encloses an area of 5.6 square kilometres. Southwest of the shrine is arelatively square enclosed area, with another square series of walls inside it (Figure 2).These two sets of inner walls are generally interpreted as a palace. Apart from the wallsthemselves, and a couple of small brick structures, there are few brick foundationsevident, suggesting that if this area enclosed an elite centre, then the inhabitants musthave lived mainly in wooden structures built directly on the ground. Excavations on theeastern side show the walls curving inward to form a corridor, providing a narrowentranceway to the complex. These walls, like the outer city walls, are several metresthick, faced with brick, and filled with rubble (Kyaw Zan 2004).One thing that immediately strikes the observer on seeing the curved brick gate is thesimilarity with curved brick corridor gates that have been excavated at Halin, Beikthanoand Sriksetra (Aung Myint 1998). We seem to have no written information from ancienttimes to tell us just why the gates were built in this shape. Was their function defence