Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Pamela Gutman
Department of Art History and Theory, The University of Sydney


This paper seeks to examine the nature of power and religion in the early urban centres of Arakan, Dhanyawadi and Vesali, in the light of the Anandacandra inscription, the early coins and the sculptural remains.

It queries why later chronicles distort this evidence, and discusses the fifth century Mahamuni sculptures in the context of Mahayana Buddhism at the time and evidence for the bhagavata cult of Vasudeva, concluding that the cultures of the early cities adopted those Indic elements which resonated with the role of the tribal chief in his transformation to a king ruling with the authority and support of lndian deities.


The role of the king in ancient Arakan was not dissimilar to the function (or what should be the function) of the government today. He was expected to uphold the religion and to protect the land and the people, ensuring their fertility and prosperity.

While the peoples who inhabited Arakan at the beginning of the first millennium had no doubt long been in contact with their neighbours in India and to the east through trade and other relationships, the first five centuries of the Common Era saw the development of urban centres which adapted certain Indian cultural traits to suit their environment. In this the ruler sought to assure his people of his right to protect them and to ensure the continuation of the prosperity and fertility of the land through his links with the cosmic forces which controlled the progression of the seasons and the coming of the rains.

In this paper I examine the evidence for the Indic religions practiced in the first known urban centres in Arakan and attempt to relate those religions to the functions of kingship. Later accounts of the history of the early centres, often compiled by Theravadin monks, tend to obscure the obviously Mahayanist and Hindu practices followed from around the fifth century C.E. In doing this it is necessary to look at what was happening in Arakan in the context of concurrent developments in India (including the area now called Bangladesh), Sri Lanka and in the rest of Southeast Asia. Our key sources are the famous inscription of Anandacandra dating to the first half of the eighth century, the earliest local account of the history of the rulers and the religion, and the coinage and the sculptural and architectural remains we find today, much of which is preserved in the Mahamuni and Mrauk-U Museums.

Many Arakanese, even today, accept the accounts of their history in chronicles written many hundreds of years after the events they record. Some of these have borrowed fiom the pali traditions brought fiom Sri Lanka. These traditions have often been incorporated into the local histories or razawin in order to legitimize the power of the ruler at the same time as conveying a perceived religious truth. Jacques Leider in a forthcoming paper states that the local histories reflect the adaptation and localization of Buddhist teaching, thought and practice.1 Given his masterly accormt of later Arakanese historiography in that paper, I will not attempt to discuss the subject here, but will instead draw from the earliest complete account of the history of the royal dharma and its function, the protection of the religion and the people, the Anandacandra inscription of c. 729 C.E. on the west face of the Shittaung pillar inscription.

The Anandacandra Inscription1

Fig 1 Anandacandra inscription

While the first three lines of the inscription are largely illegible, the word Bodhisattva has been read in 1.1, and the word trilocana in 1.2 should refer to Siva in a stanza to Hindu deities. The inscription then enumerates several dynasties ruling before that of Anandacandra's line. An examination of the relevant sections of the inscription gives us a picture of how the king sought to legitimize his rule through tracing the royal lineage, and also of the nature of the religions patronized by the elite in the eighth century. It should be recognized that the royal lineage rarely depends on ancestry, rather, it portends to relate the history of the royal dharma or law through which the state was maintained and its prosperity guaranteed.

Fig. 2 Wicks 1992 p. 87

Verses 4-9 refer to six kings with Sanskritic names, each of whom ruled for 120 years, suggesting a Puranic tradition which did not survive in the later chronicles. This is followed by a list of rulers with more realistic reign lengths (verses 10-18), distinguished by a preponderance of non-Sanskritic proper names, suggesting a semi-historical tradition. The first of these is Candrodaya, whom Johnston was inclined to equate with Candrasuriya of the Chronicles1. He is followed by the Annaveta kings, whose name indicates an indigenous form of leadership, who ruled for five years, a king whose name is lost who reigned for the unlikely period of 77 years, and then five rulers, one a queen, whose names are mostly not Indian. The lengths of the reigns of the ancestral monarchs is said to have been 1,060 years, although given the information in the inscription it is not possible to see how this is reached. However it is also recorded that the succeeding dynasty reigned for 230 years, completed, as we shall see, in 600 C.E. Taking 1,060 years to be correct, it appears that the first reign was calculated to begin in c. 690 B.C., coinciding with the first year of the Einzana era said to have been initiated by Gautama Buddha's grandfather in 691 B.C1. This era, still known in Burma, could have been chosen to illustrate the contemporaneity of the royal ancestors with those of the Buddha, a tendency often seen in the localization of events in the Buddhist tradition in later chronicles.

The following section, verses 19-32, deal with the Candra dynasty, whose names can be verified by coins issued by the 4" to the 13" kings and by votive inscriptions. The inscription states that the 16 kings of the dynasty ruled for 230 years, although only 13 are named. A coin issued by a Suriyacandra, paleographically datable to about the beginning of the seventh century may give us another name1. Various chronicles mention that the Candra dynasty of Vesali reigned for 230 years, fiom 788 until 1018 AD. None of the names of the kings mentioned in the chronicles are found in the Anandacandra inscription, and Johnston suggested that it would seem that the chronicle lists have ultimately derived fiom an authentic list which has survived in a form corrupted beyond recognition. It is possible that when a later tradition sought to localize the Sasanavamsa story of the Buddha Gautama arriving to convert the country to the time of a legendary Candrasuriya who was probably the semi-historical progenitor Candrodaya of the Anandacandra inscription. The length of the Dhannavati dynasty of the chronicles therefore was artificially extended to include all the kings reigning until the foundation of the Vesali dynasty of the chronicles which is said to have started in 788 AD.

It is apparent, however, from the inscriptions, coins and architectural and sculptural remains found at Vesali that the city was occupied by at least the sixth century. Similar evidence indicates that Dhanyawadi continued to be occupied in the seventh century and probably much later. In Mrauk-U there is evidence of occupation from at least the seventh century, and an inscription on the reverse of an image of Surya, stylistically and paleographically datable to the early sixth century mentions kings not listed in the Anandacandra inscription or in the various later chronicles1. The linear progression of the urban centres imposed on the history by Anandacandra's prasasti and by the later chronicles must now be reconsidered as archaeological evidence accumulates.

The pre-Indic tradition and early urbanization

Fig 3 Early urban sites of Arakan image: Bob Hudson

The earliest urban site we know of in Arakan is Dhanyawadi situated 96 km. upriver from Sittwe. Like other early urban centres in Southeast Asia it may, in the pre-urban period, have been a trading centre for the exchange of forest and sea products. Before further work is done we can only speculate on the nature of the religion on to which Buddhism and Hinduism were imposed. By looking at the archaeological record of pre-urban sites and at anthropological parallels in Burma and in India today, we can assume that the people venerated local spirits connected with the earth: villages, rivers, hills and so on, and that a form of ancestor worship was practiced. Usually scholars see the transition fiom local spirit and ancestor cults to the great Indic religions as coinciding with the development of an urban society, with the ruling elite the key sponsors1.

In the later Buddhist tradition one of these local earth spirits was transformed into the earth spirit Vasundhara who famously wrung water from her hair to drown the army of Mara, the personification of evil, at the time of the Buddha Sakyamuni's Enlightenment. A tradition recorded in a late chronicle, Do We's Maha Razawin, is that as part of the coronation ritual the Arakanese king deposited coins struck by him and by his predecessor into the Vasundhara hole within the Mahamuni temple enclosure. The Sappadanaprakarana (Sawasthanaprakarana) the History of the Mahamuni referred to by Forchhammer, also refers to this hole in the account of the nine miracles which took place when the Mahamuni image was installed, namely that the Vasundhara hole dug in the image’s presence could not be filled with the holy water poured into it by its votaries. Both these accounts contain memories of a cult relating to an earth spirit connected with the prosperity of the land absorbed into local Buddhist practice. Neither mention an image connected to the cult. It is interesting that a Buddha image recently discovered at Urittaung and stylistically datable to around the seventh century has an unusual standing Vasundhara at its base, probably the earliest in mainland Southeast Asia. The story of Vasundhara's role in the Enlightenment of the Buddha is not mentioned in the Pali Canon, and appears in Southeast Asia long before Sinhalese Theravada Buddhism became dominant in Southeast Asia, becoming popular because the story resonated with the pre-Buddhist earth spirit beliefs1.

Fig 2 Vasundhara at Urittaung

Fig 3 Vasundhara at Shittaung

Symbolism of Power on the early coins

The coins issued by the early kings illustrate the influence of Indian symbolism in the early urban context. The earliest coins from Arakan are usually assumed to have been issued by Devacandra (ca. 454-76). These have a conch, often surrounded by vegetation or flames on the obverse and a srivatsa on the reverse.

Fig 4 coins Wicks 1992 3.5

The coin type appears to have changed during Devacandra's reign, and he and the following kings, Yajnacandra to Dhrticandra (ca. 476-600) have a bull and the name of the ruler on the obverse, and again the srivarsa on the reverse

Fig 3 Wicks 1992 3.6

No coins were issued by the next five kings who ruled before the founding of Anandacandra's dynastic line by Dharmavijaya, whose name "Victory of Dharma" suggests the reemergence of state support for Buddhism in ca. 665 C.E. This dynasty and other kings following it in Arakan, Bengal and Assam continued to use the bull and srivatsa motifs on their coins.

Fig. 6 Gutman 1978 pp.223

The early coins of Arakan have many similarities with coins from sites in Burma proper, notably the "Pyu" and "Mon" sites, and further east, from Dvaravati and pre-Angkorean sites of Funan. Ail the Arakan examples, and most of the others from mainland Southeast Asia use the srivatsa on the obverse. I have discussed this in detail elsewhere1, but will mention its significance briefly again here. The srivatsa is the symbol of the abode of Sri, the ancient earth goddess, promoter of fertility and prosperity. The form was widespread in india from the last centuries BC, where it was one of a range of auspicious symbols primarily associated with prosperity. As the king came to be seen as the abode of Sri, the srivatsa was principally associated with royalty, and was used to indicate both the divine nature of kings and the royal nature of the gods in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconographies. In the earliest coins of mainland Southeast Asia the srivatsa is usually depicted over a water symbol. In Arakan this is a number of vertical lines suggesting a (lotus) stem, which in later coins becomes a row of dots. The idea of fertility (and hence prosperity) is accentuated by foliage sprouting from the top and sides of the srivatsa symbol. The apex of the svivatsa is usually surmounted by the symbols of the sun and moon. This juxtaposition of motifs is never found in India but illustrates the concept of kingship as it existed by the fifth century. In earlier society the chief was concerned with assuring social stability and reproduction and soil fertility through the propitation of the tribe's common ancestor, who could mediate with the territorial and celestial spirits. The advent of urbanization precipitated the need to guarantee the support of a wider population, probably of diverse origin. The answer was found in the magic power attained through Indian kingship and religion. Perhaps even more than his Indian counterpart, who controlled a more developed and diverse economy, the king as ruler of an agrarian economy had to be seen to regulate the forces of nature in order to assure the fertility and prosperity of the country. Texts such as the fifth century Suvarnabhasottamasutra which gained popularity in India and China, may well have been used as models of kingship. Notably the chapter on “Instruction concerning divine kings" has1

The law-abiding king fills the triple world with his fame, and the lords of the gods in the dwelling of the thiry-tfiree will rejoice “In Jambudvipa the law-abiding king is thus our son. He establishes people in good action.... Asterisms and likewrse moon and son move properly. In due time the winds blow. In due time the god sends rain. The god provides plenty in the realm...

The symbols on the obverse of the coins represent the issuing ruler. As mentioned before the earliest, ascribed to Devacandra (ca. 454-76C.E.) have a conch or sankha surrounded by foliage or flames. The conch belongs to an ancient group of water symbols connected with the goddess Sri and which later became incorporated into the iconography of Kubera, the god of wealth and of Vishnu. On the Arakan coins the conch may indicate the wealth bestowed by Sri, who, as we have seen, resided in a deserving king. It might also be read as indicating Devacandra's Vaisnavite affiliations. The recumbent bull appears on all the coins of kings from Devacandra's secoad issue onwards. Although it often appears on Greek, Roman and pre-Hindu and Hindu Indian coinage, it is otherwise unknown in Southeast Asia, although it is the most common motif on intaglio found at Pyu sites and also at Vesali1. While the bull is usually described as the vehicle of the god Siva, in Indian iconography this can only be traced to the fourth century. The bull in pre- Indianised society could be seen as a symbol of wealth and therefore power, although the Anandacandra inscription tells us that the earliest dynasty of Candra kings sprung from the lineage of Isa, a name of Siva. Saivite remains found in Arakan to date, however, are few1.

Thus the king, seen as the source of his realm's prosperity, emphasized this function on the reverse of every coin as a constant reminder to his people. His guarantee of the value of the coin was likewise illustrated by the dynastic insignia on the obverse, a device which perhaps also emphasized his lineage. Having established coinage as a major medium of exchange, he was able to centralize and thereby dominate the economy of the state.

The earliest Mahamuni sculptures: a Mahayanist tradition

It is sometimes assumed that Dvencandra of the Anandacandra inscription is the counterpart of Candrasuriya, the founder of the Candra line in the chronicles. The inscription describes him as a conqueror of kings and as the builder ofa city surrounded by walls and a moat His date, it is estimated1, lies within the fourth century C.E., and his dynasty lasted until the beginning of the seventh century. The early sculptures and inscriptions found at the Mahamuni shrine and associated sites, as well as at the Selagiri hill nearby, can be stylistically dated between the fifth and seventh centuries. This may indicate that the site remained inhabited as well as being a pilgrimage destination after the centre of power moved to the later city of`Vesali, which the chronicles see as a successor city, or that both cities were occupied simultaneously for a period. It is interesting to note that the Mahamuni shrine is situated NE of the palace site, a direction associated with the sun and the dead ancestors in Sri Lankan and certain other Southeast Asian traditions1.

The most important sculptures are those still found at the Mahamuni, most dating to around the fifth or sixth centuries. I have reached this date through a stylistic analysis of the sculptures and also through a thin shred of epigraphical evidence1. These sculptures are regarded in the chronicles and still today as having a protective function.They represent a system of Mahayana Buddhism unique in the extent of its remains to India and to the rest of Southeast Asia. The key images are of Bodhisattvas and guardians of the directions and their attendants. Nagas and Naginis also played a role.

Fig. 7 Gutman (1976) Vol 2, Bodhisattvas at Mahamllni

The bodhisattvas, which can be stylistically connected with Gupta art, are distinguished by their royal ornaments: the wing-like projections decorated with rows of coils behind the shoulders illustrating the blazing glory which emanates from the body of a bodhisattva, their ornate kirita-makutas or headdresses and by the elliptical prahhavalis or nimbuses behind their heads. They sit in lilasana, left leg folded under, right knee raised with the foot drawn back to the centre and pointing to the outer side. It is interesting to note that this position is the one in which guardians continue to sit in the art of Arakan, of Burma proper and in other parts of Southeast Asia for a millennium or more. Each bodhisattva once carried an attribute in one hand, with the other hand resting on the knee. Unfortunately at the Mahamuni the attributes which would identify them have usually been destroyed, probably by Theravadins after the Mahayana ceased to be practiced. It would appear that these images represent a bodhisattva mandala, similar in nature to the circle of the eight great bodhisattvas which appear in Indian art in the fifth or sixth centuries1. We can hypothesize their function at Mahamuni through an examination of Buddhist sutras no longer extant in India but translated fiom into Chinese from the third century C.E.

In early Mahayana literature eight bodhisattvas are regarded as providers and protectors. One of the oldest texts in which they are named is the Bussetsu-hachi-kichijo-jin-kyo (Taisho 427), first translated into Chinese by the Yueh Chih monk, Chi Ch'ien in the third century C.E. In this brief sutra the eight Buddhas and the eight Buddha-lands protected by the Four Deva Kings are described. In the concluding passages, eight bodhisattvas appear and vow to aid all beings on the path to Buddhahood, saying that they will support the needy in times of illness, and at the moment of death will rush to meet the departing devotee1. Granoff has noted that the cult of the eight bodhisattvas, whose identity changed over time and place, was closely associated with securing mundane benefits for the faithful through the recitation of their names.

Fig 8 Huntington PI.12.37

Fig. 8 shows an early depiction in Cave 12 at Ellora, usually dated to the seventh century. Here the bodhisattvas sit in an identical position to those at the Mahamuni, and each carries an identifling attribute such as a lotus, a sword on a lotus, a vajra on a lotus, a book on a lotus and so on. The central Buddha is identified with Sakyamuni, the main object of worship at the Ellora and Ajanta caves1

Fig. 9 Gutman 2001 Pl. 6,

The power of the eight bodhisattvas was not within their identity as one or other bodhisattva but is more related to conceptions of directional and astrological symbolism. The bodhisattvas were closely related to the Four Deva Kings or guardians of the directions, the Sanskrit lokapalas who participate equally in the protection of the worshipper. Five images representing the Deva kings and members of their retinue survive at the Mahamuni.

Fig 10 Gutman 2001 pl 21, 1976 pl xlv b,e

While resembling the Bodhisattva images in their asanas, ornaments, and crowns they are smaller in size indicating their inferior role in the hierarchy. They each carry a sword in one hand, the other being held at waist level, palm facing outward. Like the bodhisattva figures radiance emanates from behind their shoulders, here depicted as winged projections.

By the fifth century the four guardians of the directions who guard the four quarters of the earth were also seen to protect the kingdom as illustrated by the 'Sutras of National Safety". Recitation of the Suvarnabhasottamasutra1 was believed to bring immediate aid from the four guardians, who will arrive on earth accompanied by countless hosts of demons and can thus protect a country against national perils such as famine, invasion, plague, revolutions and so on. The Guardians also became part of a neatly worked out law-enforcement apparatus, headed by Indra in his heaven. In the Sutra on the Four Celestial Monarchs1 the four are Indra's adjutants, dividing up the world between them and making inspections on Buddhist fast days to examine the conduct of all living creatures from the king to the humblest insect. Those reported to Indra and his gods as righteous reaped rewards such as the appointment of guardian spirits to watch over their welfare.

Another related group comprises smaller-scale figures with high back-slabs. Their ornaments are similar to those of the guardians of the directions but they lack a crown and have a flag flying over the head. One has the remains of an inscription behind giving the name "Yaksa-senapati Panada" in Gupta script of the late fifth century. Ponada was one of the 28 Yaksa generals led by Kuvera or Vaisravana, guardian of the north.

Fig.11 Gutman 1976 II PI. XLVIa

Also represented at the Mahamuni are nagas and nagis, crowned figures with serpent hoods These male and female demi-gods absorbed into Buddhism from earlier times lived in the bowels of the earth and were associated with underground wealth.

Fig. 12 Gutman 2001 pl,20

It would appear that the Candra killgs were seen as the mediators between the people and the celestial and territorial forces governing the prosperity of the land and maintaining the social order, Indra's counterparts on earth. The Suvarnabhasottamasutra, for instance, states that the king was blessed by the thirty-three divine kings (Indra and the thirty-two gods presiding on Mount Meru, the earth's axis) hence becoming a divine son of the gods, magically created to rule on earth. The textual basis for the transformation of the role of the tribal chief into a divinely-ordained king is found in accounts of Brahmanical abhiseka ceremonies, notably the aindramahabhiseka, the Indra consecration of the king described in the Aihreya Brahmana (VIII.9ff). During this ceremony the king enters into a contract with his people, pledging to maintain the rajadharma in order to assure the continuance of the cosmic and moral order and thus the prosperity ofthe land.

There is little or no evidence of Mahayana Buddhism in the rest of Southeast Asia in the fifth century, although we know that fiom as early as the third century certain kings of Sri Lanka regarded themselves as bodhisattvas1 and supported the Mahayana. They continued to do so until at least the ninth century. One early Sri Lankan king, Kasyapa I, styled himself an embodiment of Kuvera, the guardian of the north, in an effort to gain the support of the populace1 The style of the few images of Mahayana deities remaining in Sri Lanka is usually connected to the art of South India rather than the North, as is the case at Dhanyawadi.

The Anandacandra inscription does not allude to the religious beliefs of the Candra kings between the fourth and seventh centuries, nor to their successor Ilings. However, the kings who ruled from ca.639 A.D. (interestingly, the first year of the Culasakaraj era) obviously followed the Mahayana, although they did not neglect other religions. Anandracandra calls himseIf upasaka, a Buddhist lay worshipper, and records the commission of inter alia gold and silver caityas containing the relies of the Buddha, Bodllisattvas, Cunda and others1. No images of Cunda, in Northern Buddhism considered an emanation of the Adibuddha Vajrasattva or Tathagatha Vairocana, have been found in Arakan, two eighth century bronzes showing north indian influence have been discovered in Sri Lanka1 That a Mahayana tradition, or a Theravadin lineage venerating Avalokitesvara and other bodhisattvas, existed until the eighth century is seen by a number of representations of Bodhisattvas1.

There are, of course, a number of Buddha images discovered at both Dhanyawadi and Vesali which cannot be attributed to any particular Buddhist tradition. As Peter Skilling has stated1, the vital difference between the Mahayana and the Sravakayana (the eighteen Vinaya nikaya or schools) is not one of doctrine but aim. What defines Mahayana is its orientation: out of compassion for sentient beings, a bodhisattva aims for ultimate awakening. The cults of relics, stupas and Buddha images are shared by all schools and most movements.


Anandacandra tells us in his inscription (vv. 54-56, 60) that he built four monasteries for Brahmans and provided them with fields and servants, musical instruments and musicians. Two were named after him: the Anandamadhava where the Somatirtha brahmans, possibly from India, resided and another called Anandesvara.Moreover, he restored deva (i.e. non-Buddtrist) temples and holy places built by former kings. No Hindu god is mentioned by name in this context, however the sculptural remains suggest that Vaisnavism predominated. At Vesali there are more Vaisnavite remains than Buddhist, although an important, possibly earlier image comes from Dhanyawadi.

Fig. 13 Vishnu from Dhanyawadi

As in other parts of Southeast Asia, Vishnu appears to have played an important role in kingship. Recent research1 in Cambodia, Vietnam, South Sumatra and West Java shows that a related group of mitred Visnu images dating from the early fifth to early seventh centuries were introduced through a merchant network, several centuries after the development of trade relations between India and Southeast Asia. Like the Dhanyawadi Vishnu and others found at Vesali1,their iconography identifies them as Vasudeva, hero deity of the Bhagavata cult espoused by the Gupta emperors whose power the Southeast Asian rulers wished to emulate. Vaisnavltes believe iri an absolute and universal god. Like Buddhists they are inclined to proselytize. The universaIist doctrine of bhakti which they were promoting at the time of the early "Indianisation" of Southeast Asia allowed salvation for all, not only those belonging to high castes, and in introducing forms of devotion accessible to all, particularly non-Brahmans, they were a force for integration and assimilation.

Vishnu's attributes reflect his sovereignty: the discus is a weapon in battle, the conch is used for signaling in battle and the mace is emblematic of rulership, all of which declare his sovereignty over all life he has created. He is the apotheosis of the Great Hero1.

In early Vaisnavism Vishnu was considered to enter all kings, and by identifying himself with Vishnu the king would be able to coIrquer the three worlds. All cakravavtins, or paramount sovereigns were regarded as bearing a portion of Vishnu's personality. That the king should be seen as representing Vishnu was also understandable given that the ruler's key function was to guarantee the furtherance of vegetation and thus the fertility of the land. It was the king's duty to make rain and to cause the crops to thrive, and the same functions are attributed to Vishnu who is always concerned with generation and fertility1.The belief that Vishnu entered the body of the king came to be emplzasized from Gupta times in India' and under the Pallavas at the time of Narasimhavarman the association with Vishnu became quite apparent as the kings associated their ceremonies and rituals with those of the deity in the temple.

An important Vishnu image was recently found at Dhanyawadi in a ruined shrine on Chinmadaung hill east of the Mahamuni shrine, just inside the city wall. The image, 046m high and made of a grayish sandstone, stands erect, Like most of the Mahamuni images, it has an unornamented oval prabhavali or halo rising above the shoulders. Vishnu is four-armed. A spherical object is held in his upper right hand while the lower rests on a cakra or wheel atop a square pillar on a three-tiered base. His upper left hand holds a conch and the lower is placed on a gada or mace. He wears a two-tiered kirita-makulta topped with a knob and princely ornaments: a three-stranded necklace with a medallion in fiont, upper arm-hands and belts around the waist and hips. A brahmanical thread falls over the left shoulder and around the right thigh. A scarf drawn over the hips is draped again at mid-thigh level, knotted at each side with the loops and ends falling gracefully down, and a lower garment, not visible at the front, falls to above the ankles. It is interesting to note that the Vishnu images at Vesali are identically adorned, and that the Bodhisattva images from the now-destroyed stupa on Selagiri hill opposite Kyauktaw are remarkably similar. While iconographically the image is closely related to the early Visnus in Southeast Asia mentioned above, elements of the costume and ornaments recall Andhra art of the third century1 while the depiction and arrangement of the ayudhyas closely resembles Gupta period examples from north and northeast India1.

In conclusion, Arakan was the Southeast Asian polity nearest to India, and it was among the first to display the characteristics of the earliest Southeast Asian urban centres in terms of city planning and, possibly, state organization. Bob Hudson will show in his paper how the planning of Dhanyawadi and Wethali had more in common with the Pyu centres of Burma proper, and it has been shown that their culture shared many characteristics with those further west, Dvaravati and Funan1 than with any known Indian models. Arakan's earliest urban culture was grounded in that of its original inhabitants -possibly the Sak (Thet) and Chin-related peoples who, like others throughout the region revered local spirits such as an earth spirit which was transformed into Vasundhara by the sixth or seventh century. From at least the time of the bronze age the peoples of Arakan had been acquainted with the cultures of India and other parts of Southeast Asia through trade, and around the beginning of the Common Era were appropriating symbols of power and prosperity.

Thus the symbolism behind the "lndianized" art of the early cities reinforces pre-Indic traditions connecting the people to the soil, the need to preserve water and to guarantee its annual reappearance. The kings of Dhanyawadi and Vesali appropriated those elements of lndian culture which would enhance their power in the eyes of their people. They sought to gain the support of the people through guaranteeing their protection and their prosperity. They welcomed Buddhist monks and Brahmans from India and Sri Lanka and adapted their teachings to suit local conditions. The cultural elite developed a refined aesthetic and unique art forms. Anandracandra and his predecessors, like their counterparts elsewhere in Southeast Asia was open to Indian concepts which would enhance their hold on power,choosing those which would serve them best.


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This paper was submitted at "Arakan History Conference", Bangkok 23.11 - 25.11.2005, organised by the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

(Draft only. Please don't quote)