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TRAVEL MYANMAR » CENTRAL & WESTERN » History of Bagan
 
 
History of Bagan 
 

Myanmar Chronicles claim that the first Bagan was founded in AD 108 and ruled to 1287 by a long dynasty of 55 kings. Strong archaeological support to justify this claim still remains to be discovered. However, we can safely say that the history of Bagan – City of Four Million Pagodas and the birthplace of Myanmar culture – began in the 9th century as evidenced by the remains of the brick city walls and the Sarabha Gateway built by King Pyinbya in 849.
During Anawrahta’s reign from 1044-1077, Bagan became the capital of the First Myanmar Empire. Shin Arahan, a learned Buddhist monk from Thaton, capital of the Mon kingdom, came to Bagan in 1056 and introduced Theravada Buddhism with the help and advice of this monk, Anawrahta carried out religious reforms and eliminated primitive beliefs, customs and animistic worship.

Theravada Buddhism was firmly entrenched and patronage was accorded to learned monks who were encouraged to teach the Buddhist Doctrine of the Theravada School in monasteries constructed by the State.

In his zeal to establish Theravada Doctrine in his kingdom, Anawrahta requested 30 sets of Tipitakas, Buddhist Scriptures, from Manuha, King of Thaton. When he was refused, he attacked and conquered Thaton in 1057 taking not only the Scriptures but also Manuha, his royal court, monks, architects, artists and artisans. As a result of this conquest many learned monks from Thaton flocked to join Shin Arahan to preach the Doctrine and other missionary works.

Theravada Buddhism predominated Mahayana Buddhism, Pali became the language of choice in religious education over Sanskrit and written Myanmar language adopting the Mon alphabet was introduced. The sum of all these results was the development of Bagan as a holy city and a seat of learning as the proliferation of monasteries catered not only to the needs of novices aspiring to the monkhood but also to the requirements of the laity in their pursuit of secular knowledge.

This religious fervour also stimulated an extensive building program in which some of Bagan’s finest edifices were produced. Notable monuments erected under Anawrahta, including the elegant Shwezigon Pagoda, the Pitakat Taik to house the Scriptures brought back from Thaton and the distinctive Shwesandaw Pagoda built soon after he conquered Thaton. This construction boom was continued by Anawrahta’s successors, in particular Kyansittha, Alaungsithu and Narapatisithu who built thousands more religious monuments.

The building fever soon became contagious and spread from the royal family to the nobility and finally to the commoners. It is estimated that during Bagan’s golden era from AD 1057 to 1287, a total of 13,000 monuments were built for devout Buddhists who believe that pagoda-building is the best way to earn merit. Those over 4,000 still remain in varying conditions despite the ravages of time; bear solid testimony to the strong faith and the high standard of culture exemplified in the art and architecture of the time.

The Bagan dynasty ended in 1287 AD when Kublai Khan’s forces from China invaded. It is believed that thousands of monuments were torn down under orders of Narathihapate, the last Bagan king, to build fortifications to resist the invaders, but to no avail.