Thursday, 06 August 2020

A study of coinage and foreign relations
M.S.Collis, in collaboration with San Shwe Bu.

Coins found in Arakan       

Mr. Htoon Aung Gyaw, Barrister-at-law and certain other private collectors of Akyab have in their possession over a hundred coins found in Arakan. When recently arranged by Mr. San Shwe Bu, many of them were seen to be duplicates, but sixteen belonging to the Maruk-U dynasty (1430 to 1784 A.D.) were distinct specimens, bearing the dates and titles of fifteen different kings of that time. Moreover there were a few coins belonging to the Wesali dynasty (788 to 951 A.D.). I propose in this paper to show the relationship of these coins to Indian coinage as a whole and to use them as a document from which to draw certain general conclusions on the history of Arakan. As that history has never been written and as the data for the early centuries are scanty and controversial, I trust that the inevitable shortcomings of this summary will be understood and excused.

Types of Indian coinage; Hindu

Speaking generally the coins of India fall into two distinct types, the Hindu and the Mohamedan. Specimens of Hindu coinage of as far back as 600 B.C. are in the British Museum, but it was not until India came into contact with mediterranean civilization in 327 B.C. that its coinage developed and became an art. This connection, beginning with the invansion of Alexander and continuing through the Satraps into Roman times resulted first in the striking of coins almost pure Greek in design and gradually in the adaptation of that design to Hindu ends. With the Guptas (320 to 455 A.D.) a coinage had been evolved which while owing much to the Greek theory of form, was pure Hindu in feeling. Now all this Hindu coinage, from its highest as a work of art to its lowest as a barbarous confusion, has certain definite characteristics. It exhibits portraits of kings, figures and animals, deities and symbols of deities. Inscriptions take a very subordinate place; dates are infrequent; as it is not always possible to identify a coin with a particular king, a classification by dynasties and localities is the most that can often be attempted.

Types of Indian coinage:  Mahomedan.                   

Mohamedan coinage, which came into India in 1203 A.D. has opposite characteristics. It is of an inscriptional nature. Save for a few exceptions, it contains not a portrait or a figure. The King's name, title, date and faith are carefully recorded. The coin's artistic merit depends upon the calligraphy; and as everyone is aware who has studied the Persian script as at mural decoration this can give a remarkably balanced and vital impression of art.

Coins of Arakan           

The coins found in Arakan belong to both the groups described above; those of Wesali are Hindu and those of Mrauk-U are Mahomedan. In order to understand the Wesali coins it will be necessary to set down here in outline what is known of that Kingdom and how it stood in relation to adjoining states.

Wesali, Archaeological evidence

The ruins of the city are still to be seen on the bank of a tidal creek about six miles from Mrauk U (now known as Myohaung) and about fifty miles inland from the Bay of Bengal. The site has neither been surveyed nor excavated, but the casual observer may perceive the remains of brick walls enclosing a large area. On the south side was to be seen until lately portions of a stone pier. Within the walls are numerous mounds and lying on them are pieces of stone statuary, bas-reliefs, capitals, floral designs in stone and inscriptions in the Nagari character of the 8th century. All these remains are purely Hindu in execution and subject. The figures represent deities; on the capitals is the sacred bull of Siva; the style is rougher than the best Hindu work, but is not debased. Close by the walls is a large stone monolith of Buddha belonging to the same date. This is the image now known as the Paragri, praying at which Fra Manrique found King Thiri-thu-dhamma eight centuries later. Various Nagari inscriptions, still undeciphered,  have been found in the vicinity of the city; and at Mahamuni, 15 miles N. E., are to be seen surrounding the mound on which once sat the great image of the Buddha, which is now Mandalay, a number of statues and bas-reliefs of the Hindu Pantheon. Incomplete and insufficiently worked out as is this archaeological evidence, it suggests that in the city of  Wesali were practiced both the Hindu and Buddhist religions or that it was a Mahayanist city.

Wesali MSS. evidence

Mr. San Shwe Bu has placed in my hands his translation of a curious Arakanese MS. called. "The true chronicle of the Great Image" 1 Its calligraphy is order than that of the rest of the MSS. in my possession.- San Shwe Bu. The age of this MS. like that of most  Arakanese MSS. is unknown, but it purports to give some account of the Wesali dynasty. It contents in this respect may be summarised as follows:-

The area now known as north Arakan had been for many years before the 8th century the seat of Hindu dynasties; in 788 A.D. a new dynasty known as the Chandra, founded the city of Wesali; this city became a noted trade port to which as many as a thousand ships came annually; the Chandra kings were upholders of Buddhism, guarding and glorifying the Mahamunni shrine; their territory extended as far north as Chittagong; the dynasty came to an end in 957 A.D. being overwhelmed by a Mongolian invasion. The conclusion to be drawn from this MS. is that Wesali was an easterly Hindu kingdom of Bengal, following the Mahayanist form of Buddhism and that both government and people were Indian as the Mongolian influx had not yet occurred.

Testimony from the history of Bengal

I. Fa-Hien

Four hundred years before the Chandras, Fa-Hien (405-411 A.D.), the Chinese pilgrim,visited the plain of Hindustan when that land was ruled by the Guptas. The supreme government was Brahmanical, but he was able to collect from the thousands of Mahayanist and Hinayanist monasteries, which were flourishing side by side with the temples of the ancient gods, quantities of Buddhist books and relics, with which he returned to China.

India was no longer Buddhist as it had been at the time of Asoka (272 B.C.); but numerous Buddhist foundations persisted.

II. Hiuen Tsang                

A hundred and fifty years before the Chandras, another Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang (630 A.D) visited the same area, then under the Emperor Harsha. Hiuen Tsang himself was a Mahayanist and from the conversation he states he held with Harsha, it is clear that the latter also inclined to that religious view, though in the course of his reign he had created temples to Siva, to the Sun and to Buddha. Hiuen Tsang returned to China with hundreds of Buddhist MSS. But his account of how the Bodhi tree at Gaya had been dug up and the footprint of Buddha at Pataliputra destroyed by the Puranic Hindus allow us to draw the conclusion that Hinayanism had already fled the country and that Mahayana Buddhism was really a compromise in which the Hindu gods and Buddha ranked equally.

The Pala Kings of Bengal                      

If we now turn on to the history of this Ganges area at a period contemporary to that of the Chandras, we find a further development of the same tendency. The ruling dynasty, the Pala, was Mahayanist; it was in communication with Tibet, to which country it sent two missions; and the last of the Palas developed the Tantric side of Mahayana Buddhism.

Conclusion: Wesali a Mahavanist State

These are some of the data for forming an opinion as to the religious condition of Bengal from 400-1000 A.D. As Wesali was a Hindu State adjacent thereto, the presumption is that its religious history was similar. Hinayanism had vanished; Mahayanism had compromised with original Hinduism to such a point that Buddha had become one of many gods; even the sexual magic of Tantricism was no anomaly. Such, it appears, was the Chandra kingdom of Wesali, Mahayanist in the sense that word carried in the Bengal of the 8th century. It is significant that at least one Tantric sculpture has been found in Wesali.

The coinage of Wesali

The Wesali coins can now be appreciated. They have been picked upon the site and a considerable number are in existence. Some of them are as large as a modern rupee; others resemble in size a four anna bit. They are of good silver and well preserved. Stamped on them are the bull, Nandi, the avatar of Siva; Siva's trident; on one is what appears to be a vase of votive flowers; on some there is an undecipherable Nagari insciption. Artistically they are a long way behind the Gupta coins, but they lie in that tradition and are superior to many of the debased coins of Southern India. Though all the symbols that occur on them are to be found at one time or another among those struck on Indian coins, I have seen none that are precisely their fellows. They have a generic similarity to the coinages of some of the lesser Indian States, and there is no doubt both from the number of them now in private collections, from their uniformity of design and verying values that they were coins and not, as has been suggested, commemorative tablets. Indeed, from what I have already noted of the size of Wesali and its foreign trade, to suppose that it had no coinage would be to postulate an exception, for at that period in India all states of any importance had at least a silver currency. Wesali, as will be explained later, must be regarded not as an early Burmese but as a late Hindu State. With the whole tradition of the great Hindu past it had inherited coinage. All these data indicate that the coins of Wesali were in the pure Brahmanical tradition. But coins bearing Brahmanical symbols are not inconsistent with a Mahayanist dynasty. I am not aware of any Indian coin of a period later than the 1st century A.D., which contains a Buddhist figure, symbol or inscription. The Mahayanist kings of the periods mentioned above struck Brahmanical coins. Nothing is therefore more to be expected than that the Wesali coins should also be Brahminical. It is merely another proof of how closely the Mahayanist Buddhism of 8th century Bengal approximated to Hinduism.

The end of Wesali & the beginning of the Arakanese     

Such was the kingdom of Wesali, an Indian state in the style of the period. But in 957 A.D. occurred an event which was to change it from an Indian into an Indo-Chinese realm and to endow the region of Arakan with its present characteristics. The "True Chronicle" records that in the year 957 A.D., a Mongolian invasion swept over Wesali, destroyed the Chandras and placed on their throne Mongolian kings. This important statement can fortunately be amply substantiated. Over the border in Bengal the same deluge carried away the Pala kings. The evidence for this latter irruption is fully cited in a paper by Mr. Banerji and there is no doubt that the Mongolian invasion, which terminated the ruler of the Palas, closed also the epoch of the Chandras. But while in Bengal the Hindus regained their supremacy in a few years, it would seem that in Arakan the entry of the Mongolians was decisive. They cut Arakan away from India and mixing in sufficient number with the inhabitants of the east side of the present Indo-Burma divide, created that Indo-Mongoloid stock now known as the Arakanese. This emergence of a new race was not the work of a single invasion. The MSS record subsequent Mongolian incursions. But the date 957 A.D., may be said to mark the appearance of the Arakanese, and the beginning of a fresh period.

The period 957-1430 A. D., General characteristics 

The cardinal characteristic of the new period is that Arakan (as the area may now be called) looked East instead of West. The Mongolians were savages and following their invasion supervened a period of darkness. But the invaders became educated in the culture of the country they had conquered. The resulting civilization was of a mediaeval character. The capital was moved from Wesali to the Lemro river, some fifteen miles south-east. There during the ensuing centuries numerous dynasties ruled, each with its own city but always in the same locality. Few archaeological remains of this period of five centuries exist, though brick foundations may be seen on the Lemro bank. There was no coinage. This fact is significant as placing the age in its perspective. We have here to do with a small kingdom in an age of small kingdoms. In Bengal the Mohamedans were not to arrive till 1203. Over the mountains in Burma proper was the quaint kingdom of Pagan. It was with Pagan alone the Arakan had any considerable dealings and it was to learn much. Thus during these five centuries the inhabitants of Arakan became more similar to the inhabitants of Burma and less like Indians. Their religion became less Mahayanist and more Hinayanist. The link with the past, however, was the Mahamuni image, which was still in its old place, for it fitted equally well into Hinayana as into Mahayana Buddhism.

Particular Characteristics of the period 957-1430 A. D.            

Arakan became feudatory to Pagan, that is to say it maintained its own kings but paid tribute as an acknowledgement of suzerainty. There existed a road connecting the Lemro with Pagan. That road was known as the Buywet ma-nyo. It has long been overgrown, but the present Government is seeking to resurvey it. It was along that road that the ideas of Burma passed into Arakan. Pagan herself had modified from the Mahayanist to the Hinayanist form of Buddhism and the modification was transmitted to Arakan during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Burmese writhing came over at the same time and in the same manner. No inscriptions in the Burmese script are found in Arakan before that date. The question of the emergence of the Arakanese language is more difficult. Whether it was the language of the Mongolian invader’s of the 10th century or whether it filtered across the mountains after contract with Burma in the 11th and 12th centuries is undecided. As Arakanese is the same language as Burmese, being merely a dialect, to suppose that it was the language of the invaders is to contend that the Mongolians who extinguished the Chandras spoke the same tongue as those who afterwards became predominant in the Irrawaddy plain. If the contrary is postulated, and it is argued that the Burmese language, coming over the mountain road, impinged upon the Mongolian speech of the then Arakanese and created modern Arakanese, linguistic difficulties are raised which are difficult to solve. This question awaits judgment.

The Mahamuni image and Pagan

The great preoccupation of the Lemro dynasties during this mediaeval period was the guardianship of the Mahamuni image. As it was believed to be a likeness of the Master cast during his life time its possession gave Arakan and important position in the eyes of the Pagan kings. For monarchs who had built so many thousand pagodas and who had raised up so sacred a city as Pagan, the possession of Mahamuni would have been the crown of their endeavours. But the Arakanese had an old belief that if it left their country, it would synchronise with the ruin of their race. As they were not strong enough to guard it by force of arms, they employed that peculiar system of magical astrology, known as Yadaya, to protect it. They attempted to render its site unapproachable for invanders or spoilers by enveloping it in a magical net. Both Anawratha and Alaungsithu, though suzerain lords of Arakan and though both dearly longed to enshrine the great Buddha in their own capital city, failed to remove it. The writers of the manuscripts conclude that the Yadaya calculations were well drawn. Being unable to take it, they worshipped there and the fact that the most revered image of all Budddhism was located in Arakan resulted in much coming and going between that country and the kingdom of Pagan. Thus were the two countries drawn closely together.The road over the mountains became a trade route. The MSS. relate great fairs held on it at a point between the two States. But of coinage there was no need.

Summary of the Lemro period   

During these five hundred years Arakan became a Holy Land. It had no political importance, but was a place of pilgrimage for the Buddhist world. Neither commercial nor cosmopolitan like the kingdom of Wesali, it developed those racial and religious charactristics which mark it still.

Arakan looks West again 1450A.D.                   

But India was again to play its part in the making of Arakan. To understand the age of Mrauk-U (1430 - 1785 A. D.), the profound changes which had taken place in Bengal since the time of the Palas must be called to mind.

The World movement of Islam  

When the life went out of the Roman Empire, clan vital drove the followers of Mahomet to create a polity in its stead. Under the propelling conviction of their war-religion they overran the middle block of Eur-Asia. Europe was restricted almost to small states on the Atlantic see board. Moslem civilization extended from Cordova to Dacca. An average observer of the period would have seen nothing in the world but Islam. From all points of view, military, political and cultural, the Moslem Sultanates were in the van of civilization. For every other state they represented modernity, as industrial Europe now represent what is modern for Asia and Africa. Bengal was absorbed into this great polity in 1293 A. D. But that was its extreme eastern limit. It never passed into Indo-China; and its influence from its arrival in 1203 to 1430 was negligible upon Arakan.

Why Arakan turned towards India in 1450

The circumstances which made Arakan turn from the East and look West to the Moslem States were political. In 1404 A. D., Min Saw Mwan was King of Arakan, ruling from Launggret, one of the Lemro Cities already mentioned. As the kings of Pagan had regarded Arakan as their feudatory, the Kings of Ava, who succeeded them, saw no reason why they should not reassert that view. Moreover the Arakanese had annoyed them by raiding Yaw and Laungshe. Accordingly the heir apparent to the throne of Ava invaded Arakan in 1406. Min Saw Mwan fled the country, taking refuge at Gaur, the capital of the Sultan of Bengal. That kingdom had been independent of the Sultanate of Delhi for eighty six years. It was one of the many sovereign states of the world wide Moslem polity. The Arakanese king remained there for twenty four years, leaving his country in the hands of the Burmese.

Founding of Mrauk-U

Nasir-ud-din Shah became Sultan in 1426 and Min Saw Mwan prevailed on that monarch to restore him to the throne of Arakan, as his tributary. Force of circumstances made him prefer to call himself a feudatory of the Sultans of Bengal than of the kings of Ava. He turned away from what was Buddhist and familiar to what was Mohamedan and foreign. In so doing he loomed from the mediaeval to the modern, from the fragile fairyland of the Glass Palace Chronicle to the robust extravaganza of the Thousand Nights and one Night. Nasir-ud-din restored him in 1430 A.D. and Mrauk-U was built. It is noteworthy that one of that Sultan's coins was recently found near the site of that city. It is a unique document in the history of Arakan.

Origin of Arakanese coinage

When the Moslems entered Bengal in 1203, they introduced the inscriptional type of coinage already described in this paper. Nasir-ud-din's coin is in the tradition and it was on that coin and its fellows that the coinage of that coin and its fellows that the coinage of Mrauk-U was subsequently modelled. In this way Arakan became definitely oriented towards the Moslem State. Contact with a modem civilization resulted in a renaissance. The country's great age began.

The Mrauk-U dynasty1450-1786  

Shin Arahan would have found himself as much out of place at the court of Gaur as St.Bernard in the University of Cordova. To avoid such a sensation and snatch advantage from change, the Arakanese had to forsake a fashion in ideas, which had fallen behind in the march of the world's thought, and bring themselves up to date.

Period I. 1430-1530. As feudatory to Bengal

They had to learn the history of recent events, the meaning of the triumph of Islam and how it arrived that the chief Moslem protagonists were Mongolian.For it was a curious fact that while the government of Further India was Mongolian-Buddhist, that of India and westwards beyond was Mongolian-Mohamedan. Situated as they were between the two, the Arakanese had opportunity of detecting their fundamental difference. That basic distinction centred in the matter of war and agggrandisement. While for Further India war was wrong and only happened by the way, for the Moslem block it was the first preoccupation of government. It took the Arakanese a hundred years to learn that doctrine from the Moslem Mongolians. When it was well understood, they founded what was known as the Arakanese empire. For the hundred years, 1430 to 1530, Arakan remained feudatory to Bengal, paid tribute and learnt history and politics. Eleven kings followed one another at Mrauk-U in undistinguished succession. If they struck coins, none have been found. In 1531 Minbin ascended the throne. With him the Arakanese graduated in their Moslem studies and the empire was founded.

The Mrauk-U dynasty. Period II, 1531-1638

Two capital events occured which gave the now instructed Arakan its weapon and its opportunity,—the arrival of the Portuguese and civil war in Bengal.

The Portuguese

The Portuguese arrived in eastern waters about the year 1500 in search of trade. From the Indian point of view they were an obscure tribe living on the extreme edge of the Moslem dominion; in fact they had only recently succeeded in driving the Moslem out of their own Iberian peninsular. Between them and India was the solid block of the Mussalman states and they had therefore been compelled to sail round by the Cape of Good Hope. But they had one extraordinary and unique characterstic - they were mariners, supreme seamen. There were no other sailors of note in the world. The enormous Moslem dominion was military. It had no need of the sea because its trade routes in Eur-Aisa were overland. The Portuguese shipmen were a mere handful; the total population of their country would not have filled a dozen of the larger Indian cities; but as they were unopposed on the sea, they found themeselves in command of it. Had this not been the case they could never have appeared at all in eastern waters so far from their base. But it was not enough to be in command of the sea; some point d'appui on land for trade and refitting was essential. This they acquired in various localities by peaceful arrangement with the local authorities. Looking for such a concession Don Jao de Silveira entered the harbour of Arakan in 1517, fourteen years before Minbin's accession. The Arakanese, their wits sharpened by experience, saw that here was one of those chances given to nations and individuals, which if boldly exploited yield a great profit. It seemed that a mutually agreeable understanding could be arranged. While the Portuguese were able to provide mastery of seamanship, with a more modern knowledge of arms and fortification, the Arakanese could throw into the bargin territorial concessions and trade openings. An agreement on these lines was reached. When Minbin came to the throne he turned Mrauk-U into the strongest fortified city of the Bay, employing the Portuguese to lay out his walls and moats and to forge and mount his cannon. He appointed them as military officers to train and equip a mercenary army of heterogeneous races, foreign and domestic; and he built, with their aid, a large fleet manned with his own men, who were hardy boatmen, but guided and stiffened by Portuguese mariners. Minbin in this way became master of a powerful modern weapon.

Civil war in Bengal

The second capital event, which gave Arakan its oportunity was the civil war in Bengal. The Moguls had arrived and the second of that line, Humayon entered Gaur, displacing the independent dynasty. But he could not maintain himself against the pretender Shere Shah. During the whole of Minbin's reign the administration of Bengal was interrupted by that struggle and eastern Bengal lay defenceless. For Minbin, armed as he now was, this was the opportunity. With a combined fleet and army movement he occupied Eastern Bengal. That province remained to Arakan for the next hundred and twenty years, till 1666. Its administration was left in the hands of twelve local rajahs, who paid an annual tribute to the Arakanese king's Viceroy at Chittagong.

Minbin's coin

In Mr.Htoon Aung Gyaw's collectionis one of Minbin's coins.  It presents a succinct commentary on the sudden rise of Arakan to importance in the Bay. On one side of it is inscribed the word "Minbin" in the Burmese character. On the reverse in Nagari is his Moslem title, Zabauk Shah.

Mrauk-U a Sultanate

So Arakan had turned into a Sultanate. The Court was shaped in Gaur and Delhi; there were the   eunuchs and the seraglio, the slaves and the executioner. But it remained Hinayana Buddhist. Mahamunni was still there, still fervently worshlipped. Moreover Minbin embellished Mrauk-U with its greatest temples and pagodas. But the architecture of the former is neither Mohamedan nor Buddhist.

The architecture of the Period

It's Hindu, but of so unique a design as almost to constitute a particular style. This architecture was the work of Indian builders employed by Minbin and working to his general specifications. It illustrates the cosmopolitan origins of the state of Mrauk-U, which derived from the Hindu and the Buddhist as well as from the Prortuguese and the Moslem. But it also indicates how Minbin was able to fuse diverse elements into a particular and separate style.

Consolidation of Mrauk-U 1600, The north-west frontier

If Minbin founded the prosperity of Mrauk-U, Razagri, his successor of forty years later, may be said to have consolidated it. In 1576 central and western Bengal was definitely administered by Akbar. Hence the Arakanese in eastern Bengal found themselves on the frontier of the Moghul. There was now no buffer state between. It was known that the Moghul regarded all Bengal as rightly his and that it was entered in his records as such. Hence it behaved Mrauk-U to guard that frontier well. But it was not feasible to do so with the regular army. Arrangements were therefore made with other Portuguese for this purpose. These were not those who acted as officers and instructors at Mrauk-U. They did not belong to the home army or navy. They were Portuguese mariners who had been allowed to found a trade settlement and refitting base near Chittagong. It was agreed between them and the king that they would protect the frontier against the Moghul in return for all the trade openings their position at Chittagong afforded. The king had his brother or near relative as Viceroy. It was the duty of that functionary to watch the Portuguese and see that they played fair. This they were not always inclined to do, but at that period the kings of Mrauk -U were strong enough with their home army and navy to over power the Portuguese when necessary. On at least one occasion they were constrained to punish them by burning their settlement. On another occasion Don Gonsales Tibau who belonged to an outside set of Portuguese, made a dash at the city of Mrauk-U itself. But he was turned back from the harbour of Arakan and was followed up and defeated in his own independent island at the mouth of the Ganges, Thus at this time when the government of Mrauk-U was strong enough to keep the Portuguese in order, the policy of posting the latter on the northern frontier was a sound one.

The south-east frontier

Maruk-U, having turned the tables on Bengal proceeded to do the same on Burma; this was the first and only Period in its history when Arakan was able not only to repulse the Burmese but even to annex part of their country. Razagiri, in alliance with Ava, took Pegu. On the division of the spoils the strip up to and including Syriam and Moulmein was added to his long coastline. This campaign was rendered possible by his excellent navy and Razagri in appointing the Portuguese de Brito, as Governor of Syriam was repeating the policy of the North West frontier. He depended on those mariners, in conjunction, presumably, with his own seamen, to keep his borders for him.

Maximum extent of the empire of Mrauk-U

For a short period during the reign of Razagri Arakan extended from Dacca and the Sundabans to Moulmein, a coast strip of a thousand miles in length and varying from 150 to 20 miles in depth.This considerable dominion was built up by means of the strong cosmopolitan army and navy organized by Minbin and by inducing the Portuguese outside his army of fight for him in return for trade concessions. It is difficult to conceive of a state with less reliable foundations. But during the short years of its greatness, the century from 1540 to 1640, it was brilliant and imposing. Copying the imperial Court of Delhi, its kings adopted the title of Padshah. The French traveller Fyiard, who was in India at the time, sums up its position in the Bay as second only to that of the Moghul. In my studies from Fra Manrique and the Arakanese MSS. I have tried to paint a picture of Arakan at this moment of its highest destiny. Here well add, in order to give those studies perspective a comparison of its coinage with that of the contemporary coinage of Delhi.

A comparison of the Moghul and Mrauk-U coinage 1600 

The coins of the Sultans were inscribed with a precise inscription in useful and sufficient Persian lettering. With Akbar and his successors the script becomes a fine art. Imperially cursive, whirling under the eye, it has a living beauty. We possess a coin of Razagri. On the obverse is his title in Burmese; on the reverse in Persian and Nagari. The style is essentially that of the Sultanates, convenient, clear, but conveying no impression of art. In fact Moghul Delhi never influenced Mrauk-U. That city drew from Gaur of Bengal, the Gaur of 1430. Beyond that it did not excel.

Decline and fall of Mrauk-U 1638-1785

The causes that make men rich are often the same as ruin them. What a gambler has won he may lose by an identical throw. Mrauk-U was glorious because wise kings took advantage of a strong alliance against distracted border states. It fell into poverty and contempt because weak kings were falsely served by their allies against united border states.

Internal causes of decay

In my sketches of Mrauk-U at its heyday I have indicated the weakening of the central government that followed the murder of King Thiri-thu-dhamma. The usurper. Narapati, was never fully accepted by the Arakanese. He depended upon his foreign mercenares. These were ready to unmake him. The sanctity of authority was gone. Moreover the victories of previous reigns had flooded the country with Moghul, Burmese and Portuguese prisoners of war. These were centres of discontent on which any adventurer could count. On such men counted Shuja, Aurangzebe's elder brother, rightful Emperor of Hindustan, when he fled to Arakan after being worsted in the struggle for the imperial crown which followed the death of Shah Jahan. Only a strong national king can control an army of foreign paid soldiers.

External causes: The Portuguese

After 1600 a change for the worse overcame the Portuguese. When their country was united with Spain and her resources were squandered on the European struggle in the Netherlands, she was unable to reinforce her eastern shipmen. The Dutch and the English had arrived and treatened trade rivalry. In consequence the Portuguese were transformed from assured traders into cut off and desperate adventurers. They realised that their empire of the sea was doomed, that being unable to look for help from Europe, they had only their own wits and swords to uphold them and that situated on the borders of great oriental states, so many thousand miles from home, the duration of their prosperity could but be short. They became pirates. The Viceroy of Goa's control over them, always slight, now disappeared. They recruted their numbers from the halfbreeds. Yet it was on the good faith of these desperate men that the King of Mrauk-U depended for the defence of his North West Frontier. The weak usurpers of Arakan had no hold at all upon such cutthroats. If it was to their interest to play fair, eastern Bengal could still call itself a part of Arakan. But in fact for 28 years before Chittagong was actually lost, the coinage of Mrauk-U bears no reference to it. The coins are stamped only with a Burmese legend.

External causes: The Moghul

As the 17th century advanced, the Moghuls consolidated their administration. But Bengal remained and irritant.  It was not so much that the Emperors objected to the eastern portion owing allegiance to Arakan as that it was the base from which resolute pirates crossed into their domains, raiding even to Moorshedabed. The pirate boats were manned by pure Portuguese, half breeds and Arakanese. They seized from the river banks goods and persons. Large numbers of these latter were sold in Arakan, where the rice crop was sown and reaped by them. But it was a short-sighted policy for the kings of Arakan to annoy so strong a neighbouring State as the Moghul empire. As noted above, however, it is doubtful whether the usurping kings after Thiri-thu-dhamma controlled or attempted to control the Portuguese. These foreigners had established an independent bandit State on the Bengal border. So intolerable a condition of affairs could not last. It was only a question of time when the Moghul would move. And in fact, as soon as Aurangzebe had secured the throne and his rival was in exile, he sent to Bengal a strong Governor, Shaistah Khan with instructions to stop the piracy.

Items in the decline of Mrauk-U (I) Loss of Chittagong 1666

Shaistah Khan made it clear to a certain section of the Purtuguese bandits that the whole force of the empire would now be used to suppress them, but if they liked to come over to his side before he attacked, they would be given rewards greater than they had received from the king of Arakan. The Portuguese cannot have been fools enough to believe that the Nawab would pay them as well as they had been able to pay themselves, but they saw that the game was up and in 1665 many came over. Moghul sources give a very full account of the events which followed- the nature of the country in which the operations took place, the huge fleet built by the Nawab, the assistance given by the Dutch and the fact that the expedition had for its military object the defeat of the rest of the Portuauese fleet. All was quickly over and Eastern Bengal was lost to Arakan. It is noteworthy that the Arakanese home army was not sent into Bengal in full force to resist the Moghuls. This supports the view here taken that the Portuguese had become almost independent and that the usurpers after Thiri-thu-dhamma exercised little control in Chittagong which had become a Portuguese robber state. When the Moghuls showed signs of advancing into Arakan proper, the Arakanese army resisted them in force and with success. After the loss of Chittagong the territory of the kingdom of Mrauk-U was reduced to the present districts of Akyab, Kyaukpyu and Sandoway. Those areas in Lower Burma which had been won by Razagri and resumed in part by Thiri-thu-dhamma had all lapsed back to the Burmese. Arakan was now confined to its natural boundaries and was no larger than it had been two hundred and fifty years prevously at the time when it was feudatory to Bengal. That phase in the country's history which began with Minbin was now over. But it was to last as an independent kingdom for another hundred and nineteen year.

Items in decline of Mrauk-U (II) Internal degradation 1666-1785

There were twenty five kings of Mrauk-U during those hundred and nineteen years. That is a sufficient commentary on the period. With the old legitimate line extinct and with a large mercenary army of miscellanous races which cared neither for the person of the king nor for the aspirations of the people, adventurers appeared every few years, sometimes every few months and the throne constantly changed hands, Between the fall of Chittagong (1666) and Sanda Wizaya (1710) there were ten kings averaging two and a half years each. Three reigned only one year and two did not reign one month. Between Sanda Wizaya and Nara Abaya (1742) the average was under two years, and the last seven kings to 1784 averaged just three years each. The three kirgs named, Sanda Thu-dhamma, Sanda Wizaya and Nara Abaya, each were a notable man and each tried to stop the downward tendency, but without success. So insecure a polity is little removed from anarchy, the coins we possess reflect this desperate internal condition. While we have several stamped with the titles of Sanda Thu-dhamma and Sanda Wizaya there are none extant of the ten kings between. Of the following set of six, two are represented and of the last seven all have coins except number 42 and 46 who both ruled but a few weeks. The coins themselves exhibit little variation. Their design is neither more not less inserving. It remains in the Mohamedan tradition of 1450 A. D.

The fall of Mrauk-U

Such a kingdom as was Arakan from 1666 to 1784 could only stand alone and independent as long as it had no aggressive neighbour. The Moghuls had ceased to an expanding power; Burma was mearly as distracted as Arakan; the English were new comers. In other circumstances it could not have endured a century and a quarter. But when in 1760 the Alaungpaya dynasty had united

Burma, Mrauk-U's fate was certain. The sole question was when the blow would fall. In 1782 Thaniada became king of Maruk-U. So reduced had become the once great kingdom, that his role did not extend more than a few miles beyond the walls.

Ngathande and Bodawpaya

There were six other pretenders in the country, each with his following and each anxious to enter the capital city. One of these, Ngathande, asked Bodawpaya, king of Burma, to invade the realm. After so long a period of looking west, Arakan turned east ward again. Ngathande's idea was that Bodawpaya would place him on the throne as a feudatory monarch. It was a familiar point of view in Arakanese foreign relations. Bodawpaya, however had no intention of anything of the kind. He used Ngathande, invaded the country and reduced it to the position of an administered province, the first time in its long history that it had lost a home government of its own.

The Mahamuni image

It is noteworthy that when Bodawpaya decided to annex Arakan, he bowed to the old idea that the Mahamuni was the defence of that kingdom. For so many centures it had been the common belief of Further India that as long as Mahamuni was in Arakan, the country would remain independent, that Bodawpaya thought it safer to tamper with those calculations in Yadaya which were reputed to protect both the image and the realm. He therefore sent masters of that Art before his troops corssed the mountains and the formular were detected.

Its loss a mortal blow

After his victory and to clinch the affair and prove to the world that Arakan was realy down, he removed Mahamuni to Amarapura, where it now sits. This event, long prophesied and long guarded against, crushed the Arakanese more than defeat in the field.

The Burmese administration of Arakan 1784 to 1825

Bodawpaya's first act was to strike a medallion in the style of the Mrauk-U coinage. The Burmese had never used coins and hence he had no model of his own. He copied therefore the Moslem design. The legend reads- "The kingdom of the Master of Amarapura and of Many White Elephants." This is the numismatic document to the fall of Mrauk-U.  It was the last coin struck in Arakan.

Bodawpaya’s medallion

The Burmese governor of Mrauk-U found the country in a very lawless state. One Chinbya organized a rebellion. To secure peace and maintain order the Burmese put to death some and deported others to Burma. Two hundred thousand are said to have fled to India.

Arakan learned nothing from Burmese connection of 1784-1825

In her previous connections with outside states Arakan had always been the gainer. As Feudatory to Pagan she had received the Little Vehicle and learnt her present alphabet. As feudatory to Bengal she had laid the foundations of her great age. But administered as a governorship by the Burmese of the 18th century, she had nothing to gain for the Burmese had nothing to teach a country which for centuries had been in touch with the world of thought and action through the Moslem Sultanates at a time when Burma herself was isolated and backward.

Arakan looks West again

But an extraordinary turn of events had changed the face of India since the fall of Chittagong in    1666. The Moghuls had disappeared and their place had been taken by other foreigners, not Mongolians on this occasion but English, persons strange to say who resided three thousand miles away but who maintained themselves by means of a sea connection as the Portuguese had done but far more successfully. These individuals became irritated with the Burmese in 1824 for the same reason that Aurangzebe had become irritated with the Arakanese in 1665, nemely in the matter of frontier raids. The Burmese had lived so long out of the world that their geography and political information were lamentable weak. They were not aware that the then masters of Hindustan represented a more modem polity than their own. The Arakanese, however, were better informed. For just as Min Saw Mwan realised in 1430 that the Sultanate of Bengal was a polity in the van of the world's thought and would be able to drive the Burmese out of Arakan and restore him, so the Arakanese of 1824 perceived that the English were modems and that the Burmese could not resist them. Accordingly they sided enthusiastically with them and facilitated in every way their occupation of Arakan in 1825.

Arakanese desire again to be foudatory to Bengal

When the Burmese had fled and Mrauk-U was occupied by the English, the Arakanese expected that the history of 1430 would be repeated and that an Arakanese prince would be palced on the throne. It is possible that the English might have classed Arakan as a Native State had there been a royal house in existence. But unfortunately the legitimate line had been exterminated 186 years before and it would have been difficult to select from the descendants -of the twenty eight various usurping commoners who followed, a prince acceptable to popular opinion. For forty years Arakan had been a conquered country and part of Burma, so that for the English to have reconstituted it as a princedom would hardly have been feasible. If the Arakanese were disappointed, it indicates that they were in need of the very education they were about to receive.

The significance of the English administration of Arakan 1825 to 1929

The Arakanese had graduated in various systems of ideas during the course of their history in Hinduism in Hinayanism, and in the real Politic of the Moslem Sultanates. They were now to graduate again and this time in economies. Economics had become the metaphysic of the modern world; by the canons of that science right and wrong could be distinguished. The significance therefore of the English dominance has been for Arakan its initiation into a modern system of thought. Just as the country's connection with Moslem Bengal dissipated mediaeval phantasies, so its subordination to the Government of India brought it again up to date.


The rhythm of the history of Arakan is that of a dancer who sways now to the East and now                to the West. Rarely has she stood upright. For a hundred years now she had been leaning westwards. But there are indications that her rhythm is beginning to re-establish itself and that she will again sway to the East.


Kings of Maruk-U         Date of accession        Coin                 Remarks

Min Saw Mwan              1430                                              Feudatory to Bengal
Min Khari (Ali Khan)       1434
Baw Saw Pru                 1459
Dan Uga                        1482
Ba Saw Nyo                  1492
Ran Aung                      1494
Sa-leng ga-thu               1494
Min Raza                      1501
Gazapadi                      1523
Min Saw U                    1525
Tha Zada                       1525
Min Bin( Zabauk Shah)   1531     Obverse: Chittagong-Minbin   The period of the

                                                Reverse: Nagari inscription     Arakanee empire..

                                                Giving Moslem title                Minbin to Thri-thu-

Dek-kha                        1553
Saw Hla                        1555
Min-Sak-Kya                 1564
Min-Pha-laung               1571
(Secundah Shah)
Razagri(Selim Shah)      1593   Obverse: Sin Byu Shin Nara- Naradipadi was the

                                                Dipadi Selam Shah 963          title assumed by

                                                Reverse: Bilingual legend,       Razagri at his

                                                Upper half in Persian and        coronation

                                                Lower half in Nagari. Appears

                                                to repeat obverse.

Minkha Maung            1612    Obverse: Sin Byu Shin Wara  Wara Dhamma Raza
(Hussein Sheh)                    Dhamma Raza…Hussein        was the coronation

                                                Shah 974.                              title of Minka

                                                Reverse: Bilingual legend,       Maung

                                                Appears to repeat obverse

Thiri-thu-dhamma           1622
Min-Sani                       1638                                                 Period of usurpers

                                                                                            And decline
Narapadigri                    1638     Sin Byu Thakin Sin Ni Tha-

                                                kin Narapadigri 1,000

                                                (Reverse same)

Thado Mintara            1645     Sin Ni Thakin Sin Byu Tha-    Reading of this coin

                                                Kin Thado Mintara 1007         in Phayre Museum

                                                ( Reverse same)                    Catalogue appears

                                                                                            to be incorrect

Sanda Thu-dhamma       1652     Shew Nan Thakia Sanda        First issue

                                                Thu-dhamma Raza 1014

                                                (Reverse same)

                                           Shew Nan Thakin Sanda       Second issue, which

                                                Thu-dhamma Raza 1034     is in two sizes, the

                                                (Reverse same)                 smaller having a bar

                                                                                      across the middle on


Thiri Thurya                   1684
Wara Dhamma              1685
Muni Thu-dhamma         1692                                                Reigneed 13 days
Sanda Thurya                1694
Nawrata Zaw                  1696
Mayupiya                      1696
Kalamandat                   1697
Naradipati                      1698
Sanda Wimala               1700
Sanda Thurya                1706
Sanda Wizaya               1710     Shwe Nan Thakin Sanda Wi-

                                                zaya Raza 1072 (Reverse


Sanda Thurya                1731     Shew Nan Thakin Sanda

                                                Thurya Raza 1093 ( Reverse


Naradipadi                     1731
Nara Pawara Raza         1735     Shew Nan Thakin Nara Pa-

                                                Wara Raza 1097 ( Reverse


Sanda Wizala                1737                                                Reigned 8 months
Katya                            1737                                                Reigned 3 days
Madarit                         1737
Nara Abaya                   1742     Shew nan Thakin Nara

                                                Abaya Raza 1104

                                                (Reverse same)

Thiri-thu                         1761                                                Reigned 3 months
Sanda Parama               1761     Shew Nan Thakin Sanda

                                                Parama Raza 1123

                                                ( Reverse same)

Maha Raza                    1764     Shwe Nan Thakin Abaya

                                                Maha Raza 1126 (Reverse


Sanda Thumana             1773     Shwe Nan Thakin Sanda
Raza.                                        Thumana Raza 1135

(Reverse same)

Sanda Wimala               1777                                             Reigned 40 days
Phaditha Dammarit        1777     Shew nan Thakin

                                                Dhammarit Raza 1140

                                                (Reverse same)

Thamada                       1782     Shew nan Thakin Maha        Fall of Maruk-U

                                                Thamada Raza.

                                                Burmese conquest

Uodawpaya                   1784     Amarapura Sin Byu Shin     Two sizes. Larger

                                                Naing Gan                         has an ornamented

                                                                                        Border of slanted

                                                                                        Lines and dots.


Coins struck by the kings of Arakan from 1523 C.E. to 1782 C.E





















  1. Its calligraphy is older than that of the rest of the MSS. in my possession.- San Shwe Bu.


Authorities Consulted

    • Mr. Tun Aung Gyaw's Arakanese coins, arranged, translated and annotated by Mr. San Shwe Bu.
    • The True Chronicle of the Great Image. An Arakanese MSS. translated by Me. San Shwe Bu.
    • Notes from private Arakanese MSS. placed at my disposal by Mr. San Shwe Bu.
    • Lecture by Mr. Htoon Chan, Bar-at-law. Printed in "Arakan News" of May 1916.
    • The coins of India. P. Brown,
    • Coinages of Asia. S. Allan.
    • The Palas of Bengal, Banerji
    • Early History of India. V. Smith.
    • Travels of Fa-Hein. Edited by Giles.
    • Padre Maestro Fray Seb. Manrique (Translated in Bengal: Past and Present).
    • Shihabuddin Talish. Persian MS. Translated by Sarkar.
    • The Glass Palace Chronicle. Tin and Luce.
    • History of Bengal, Stewari.
    • Musalmans of Bengal. Fuzli Rubbee.
    • Outline of Burmese History. Harvey.
    • Catalogue of Coins in Phayre Provincial Museum.
    • Report of Superintendent, Archaeological Survey, Burma, for the years 1917, 1921,1922 and1923.
    • From Akbar to Aurangzebe. Moreland.
    • History of the Portuguese in Bengal. Campos.
    • Coins of Arakan, of Pegu and of Burma. (In Numisman Orientalia) Sir Arthur Phayre.

The above Article appeared in Burma Research Society, 50th Anniversary publication’s # 2, Rangoon, 1960. P 1485-1504