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Bagan: Ancient Capital of Myanmar

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Buddhism

The founder of the Bagan Empire was King Anawrahta (A.D. 1044-1077). He broadened his domain from a small area in Central Myanmar until it spread beyond the present-day boundaries. It was he who introduced pure Theravada Buddhism to Upper Myanmar with the help of Shin Arahan, a learned monk from Suvanna Bhumi or Thaton in Lower Myanmar.

Urged by his spiritual adviser Shin Arahan, the king requested the Mon monarch Manuha of Suvannabhumi to kindly send him a set of the Pali Buddhist scriptures. Unfortunately the request was rudely turned down and Anawrahta waged a fierce war against the Mon king. He conquered Suvanna Bhumi chiefly to acquire Buddhist scriptures known as the three Pitakas or Baskets of Learning. Some thirty huge sets of the Pali Buddhist scriptures were carried along with prisoners including the Royal family. Fitting honor was extended to the scriptures which were housed with all solemnity at Bagan in a library specially built for the purpose.

After Anawrahta had brought over the Pali scriptures to Bagan, the study of the scripts coupled with the pressure put forth by Shin Arahan, encouraged the king to make Theravada Buddhism the religion of the state. His enthusiasm ushered an era of religious reform. Pagodas rose, a new programme of education was adopted, and the cause of culture was strongly encouraged and advocated. After the death of Anawrahta, Kyanzittha (1084-1113) followed the programme of reform.

According to the Shwesandaw inscription of the year 1093 Kyanzittha sent a mission to India to restore the temple at Buddhagaya, where Gautama had attained Enlightenment, an act which became the first official attempt on the part of a Myanmar king at establishing cultural contacts with India. Shin Arahan continued to be spiritual adviser of the king, and it was to him more than to anybody else that Myanmar owes the establishment of Theravada Buddhism, and the era of pagoda building which he inaugurated was the most creative age in Burmese religious and cultural history.

 

 
   

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