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Arakan: - One Who Preserves and Takes Care of Their Own Nationality.

Publication by Arakan Action Association (AAA.)

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Arakan Library was founded by a group of Arakan Action Association (AAA) in exile in Thailand from Burma in 2007 doing to voice for the knowledge, the people democratic and human rights.


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Arakan Action Association (AAA)

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Founding of Mrauk-U

Nazir-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 site of that city. It is a unique document in the history of Arakan.


Origion of Arakanese coinage.

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


The Mrauk-U dynasty 1430-1785

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 forske a fashion in ideas, which had fallen behind in the march of the world’s though, 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-Mohomedan. 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 aggrandizement. 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 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 occurred which gave the now instructed Arakan its weapon and its opportunity, - the arrival of the Portuguese and civil war is 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 domain. 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 characteristic - 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-Asia were overland. The Portuguese shipmen were a mere handful; the total population of their country would not have filled a dozen of the larger India cities; but as they were unopposed on the sea, they found themselves 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 dapper 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 in1517, 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 the way became master of a powerful modern weapon.


Civil war in Bengal.

The second capital event, which gave Arakan its opportunity, was the civil war in Bengal. The Moguls had arrived and the second of that line, Mumayon 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 defenseless. 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.

Mrauk-U a Sultanate.

In Mr.Htoon Aung Gyaw’s collection is 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 in his Moslem title, Zabauk Shah. So Arakan had turned into a Sultanate. The Court was shaped on Gaur and Dehli; there were the eunuchs and the seraglio, the slaves and the executioner. But it remained Hinayana Buddhist. Mahamuni was still there, still fervently worshipped. Moreover Minbin embellished Mrauk-U with its greatest temples and pagodas. But the architecture of the former is neither Mohomedan nor Buddhist. It is 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 Portuguese and the Moslem. But it also indicates how Minbin was able to fuse diverse elements into a particular and separate style.


Conslidation of Mrauk-U 1600.

The north west frontier.

If Minbin founded the prosperty 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 behoved 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 overpower the Portuguese when necessary. On at least one occasion they were constrained to punish them by burning their settlement. On another occasion Don Gonasales 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.

Mrauk-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. Razagri, 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 north-west frontier. He depended on those mariners, in conjuction, 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 to 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 traveler 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 I will 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 observe is his title in Burmese; on the reserve 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 as its heyday I have indicated the weakening of the central government that followed the murder of King Thiri-thu-dhamma. The usurper, Narapti, was never fully accepted by the Arakanese. He depended upon foreign mercenaries. These were ready to unmake him. The sanctity of authority was gone. Moreover the victories of pervious reigns had flooded the country with Moghul, Burmese and Portuguese prisoners-of-war. These were canters 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 Jehan. 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 threatened trade rivalry. In consequence the Portuguese were transformed from assured traders into cut-off and desperate adventurers. They realized that their empire of the sea 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 recruited 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 cut throats. 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 an 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 Moorshedabad. 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 susrping kings after Thiri-thu-dhamma controlled or attempted to control the Portuguese. There 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 Auranzebe 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.

Loss of Chittagong 1666.

Shaistah Khan made it clear to a certain section of the Portuguese 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 then 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 expendition had for its military object the defeat of the rest of the Portuguese 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 Moguls 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. These areas in Lower Burma which had been won by Razagri and resumed in part by Thirithu-dhamma had all lapsed back to the Burmese. Arakan was now confined to its natural boundaries and was no larger then it had been two hundred and fifty years previously 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 years.


Items in the decline of Mrauk-U.

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 miscellaneous races which cared neither for the person of the king nor for the aspirations of the people, adventures 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 kings named, Sanda Thudahamma, Sanda Wizaya and Nara Abaya, each was 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 Thudhamma 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 numbers 42 and 46, who both ruled but a few weeks. The coins themselves exhibit little variation. Their design is neither more nor less interesting. It remains in the Mohomedan tradition of 1430 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 be an expanding power; Burma was nearly 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 Thamada became king of Mrauk-U. So reduced had became the once great kingdom, that this rule did not extend more than a few miles beyond the walls.


Ngathande and Bodawphaya.

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 eastward again. Ngathande’s idea was that Bodawphaya would place him on the throne as a feudatory monarch. It was a familiar point of view in Arakanese foreign relations. Bodawphaya, 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 Bodawphaya decided to annex Arakan, he bowed to the old idea that the Mahamuni was the defence of that kingdom. For so many centuries it had been the common belief of Further India that as long as Mahamuni was in Arakan, the country would remain independent, that Bodawphaya 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 crossed the mountains and the formulae were deflected.