Bagan: Ancient Capital of Myanmar


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The Royal Palace of Bagan

Bagan, lying on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady River in the dry zone of Central Myanmar, is the most important historical site in Myanmar. It was the capital for two and a half centuries when the Myanmar Empire reached the zenith of its power. It was here that Myanmar art and architecture passed through a golden age. Recorded history of the dynasty begins with the accession of Anawrahta (A.D 1044 - 1077) in whose reign Bagan rose to pre-eminence. Bagan is Pyu in origin. It is probably Pugama and it would have been in existence after the fall of Sriksetra in AD 832. Bagan then known as Pukam has also a classical name, Arimadanapura. Situated in a strategic position though on an arid plain, it commands the rice fields of Kyaukse in the north east and Minbu in the southwest.

There are early literary references to the Bagan Palace site. These refer to two palace sites inside the Bagan city wall. In the Niddesa Parabeik, a traditional saying is recorded. "Kya Oh An Bagan Ti". Arimadnanapura or Pauk-Kan Pyi Gyi was established by King Pyinbya in AD 849. The palace was located 144 'ta' to the west of the Tharaba Gate. A long line of fifty-five kings ruled over the kingdom of Bagan, beginning from AD 108. But the present walled-city of Bagan is attributed to King Pyinbya, the 34th king of the dynasty. King Kyansittha also built a new palace, beginning building in AD 1101, and completing it in AD 1102. Afterwards, he set up four stone inscription pillars to let posterity know how he had built his new palace. With the passage of time, the inscription became broken into pieces which were recovered near the Tharaba Gate, on the south side of the road within the city wall. All the pieces are now preserved in the Bagan Museum.

Given the proven existence of palace sites during the reign of King Bayinnaung (Kambawzathadi) and later King Alaungmintaya (Shwebonyadanar), it is presumed that King Anawrahta would also have a palace.

The Bagan Branch of the Archaeology Department carried out recent excavations at the Bagan Palace site, starting from April 2003. A total of sixteen squares have been unearthed. Four layers can be observed. The basal soil level is distinguished by its colouration, a deep red colour. The excavated findings are earthen pots and potsherds, glazed potsherds, earthen bowls, terracotta discs, broken pipes, pieces of terracotta oil-lamps, pieces of bone, pieces of broken iron artifacts, iron swords, bronze rings and terracotta animal figures. There are a range of designs on the potsherds like hamsa (hintha), tiger, bird, etc. In the fourth (lower) layer, a heap of pots and potsherds were found. Various designs of dots, lines and waves can be seen on the potsherds. There do not appear to be funerary urns, but did contain animal bones and teeth including ox and those of deer. Of particular interest are the decorated libation jars. It has rings on the neck portion and diamond-shaped motifs stamped on the shoulder. Among the excavated finds, the finding of fragments of votive tablets which are inscribed with the Mon script of the Early Bagan Period, and terracotta ring ware are very interesting. We have never found this type of ring ware before.

The excavation also revealed large systematically-built structures made of brick, one small brick structure, 85 m long north to south, one brick wall, 40 m long east to west, two brick walls, brick floor, brick gutter and brick circles. Many rows of brick circles were unearthed and each row consists of pairs of circles. In a pair, each large circle is accompanied by a smaller circle adjacent to it. It is a peculiar lay-out of a floor plan. The big circles are not for the posts, just for supporting the floor. the small circles may be for the posts for fixing the beam to support the floor. In the large brick structures, there are stone-bases for wooden pillars, arched-niches of brick for votive offerings, staircases to descend to the ground structure below. The small structure, contains a small room with flooring made of stone slabs. The east to west brick wall is connected to the north to south wall, forming a square. The sizes of the bricks are very different. There are twelve sizes of bricks found, exhibiting a wide range of both length (17"-3") and width (9"-2.75"). The height range is (3"-1"). Regarding the brick laying, some were found to be in a vertical position, although most were laid horizontally. This use of both vertical and horizontal positioning of bricks is typical of the Bagan Period as a whole.

Two types of conservation - structural and chemical conservations were undertaken, For structural protection of the brick walls, a supporting system of wooden beams was erected. For conservation of the large terracotta ringwares, wooden frames were built to make boxes around the ringwares. These were then covered with thick plastic sheeting. For the conservation of the brick walls, a mixture of lime, mortar and red earth powder was used with a ratio of 1:1:3. This was blended with chemical glue. This mixture was used to fill the spaces between the brick layers.
There is no doubt that this is the palace site. The excavated site is now preserved as it is, keeping the artifacts in situ. This is the cultural heritage for all of us. This cultural heritage is very important to preserve not only for the archaeologists or archaeology students but for all the people of our country.



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