Latest Highlight

Aman Ullah 
RB History
August 25, 2016

The ethnic Rohingya is one of the many nationalities of the union of Burma. And they are one of the two major communities of Arakan; the other is Rakhine and Buddhist. The Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) peacefully co-existed in the Arakan for many centuries. In addition to Muslim (Rohingya) and Buddhist (Rakhine) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including the Chin, Kamans, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami who, though many are Christians today, were traditionally animists. The Kamans are Muslims and the Mramagri (Baurwa) are Buddhists. Some ethnic Burman also comes to live in Arakan since 1784 after invasion and occupation by the Burman.

Rohingyas, who trace their ancestry to Arabs, Moors, Pathans, Moguls, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoliod people, are living in Arakan generation after generation for centuries after centuries. Their arrival in Arakan has predated the arrival of many other peoples and races now residing in Arakan and other parts of Burma. Early Muslim settlement in Arakan dates back to 7th century AD. They developed from different stocks of people and concentrated in a common geographical location from their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burman invasion in 1784. 

The Rohingyas are an indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification, which need to define an indigenous people, and entitled to have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Being indigenous peoples, they have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of State. They have not only the right to a nationality but also have the right to their lands, territories and resources, which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spirituals traditions, histories and philosophies.

The Rohingyas are much more than a national minority. They are a nation with a population of 3.5 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area – they consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the society. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their ancestral history and their ethnic identity, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system.

Since Burmese independence in 1948, the Rohingyas have been struggling for their right of self-determination upholding the principle of peaceful co-existence within Burmese federation. They have long been trying to identify themselves with the Union of Burma on the basis of equality and justice. They think that the individual rights is not enough for them; they need their collective rights as a people, as an ethnic group, as a nationality who speak different language, who practice different culture, who worship different religion and who also has different historical background and, above all, all of us have territorially clearly defined homelands and nations since time immemorial. 

That’s why they want to rule their homeland by themselves They are trying to find a political and legal system which will allow them to rule their respective homelands by themselves, and at same time living peacefully together with others who practice different religions and cultures and speak different languages. In other words, they are trying to find a political system which can combine and balance between “self-rule” for different ethnic groups and “shared-rule” for all the peoples in the Union of Burma. 

For this reason the Muslims of Arakan rendered their support to the British against the Japanese occupation in order to strengthen their standing in the region and encourage Muslim loyalty, the British had published a declaration granting them the status of a Muslim National Area. This entire area was re-conquered by the British at the beginning of 1945. The British set up Peace Committees and organized civilian administrations which functioned until Burma was granted independence in January, 1948. Most of the office-holders were local Muslims, Rohingya, who had previously cooperated with the British. 

The principal political effect of the ‘Peace Committee of North Arakan’ was that it made the Muslims of Arakan autonomy conscious. The promise of British to create a Muslim national area doubled their desire for Muslim state. However, when the demand of Muslim State was put to Rees William Commission, the result was not good.

For this consciousness they went to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1947 either to fight for including north Arakan within Pakistan or pressurize General Aung San to grant autonomy to the Muslims of north Arakan. To form an autonomous Muslim State, they took arms and was demanded “To form an autonomous Muslim State in north Arakan, comprising Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Maungdaw townships from the west of Kaladan River upto the eastern part of the Naf River that will remain under the Union of Burma.”

For this reason they joined hands with Arakanese Communist Party led by U Tun Aung Pru to fight together until the fall of the AFPFL’s government with the understanding that Muslims would take the western side of Kaladan whereas the rest of Arakan would be under the control of Arakan Communist Party. 

For this reason they took arms and demanded that all the injustices against the Muslims of Arakan be corrected and that they be allowed to live as Burmese citizens, according to the law, and not be subject to arbitrariness and tyranny.

For this reason the Muslims objected to the demand of the Arakan Party for the status of a state for Arakan within the framework of the Union of Burma. The large majority of the Muslim organizations of the Rohinga of Maungdaw and Buthidaung demanded autonomy for the region, to be directly governed by the central government in Rangoon without any Arakanese officials or any Arakanese influence whatsoever. Their minimal demand was the creation of a separate district without autonomy but governed from the center. The Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, and later the Muslim M.P’s from Arakan raised this demand also during the debates in Parliament and in the press.

In the years 1960 to 1962, the Rohinga organizations and the respective Arakanese Muslim organizations initiated frantic activities with reference to the Muslim status in Arakan, and especially in the regions of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. This was in response to the promise made by U Nu on the eve of the general elections of 1960, that if his party won, he would confer the status of a “State” upon Arakan, within the framework of the Union of Burma, on a par with the “statehood” of the other integral states of the Union. After winning the elections, U Nu appointed an enquiry commission to study all the problems involved in the question of Arakan. 

The Rohinga Jamiyyat al-'Ulama’ submitted to this enquiry commission a long and explanatory memorandum on the position of the Muslims of northern Arakan. The memorandum stated that the Muslims of this region constitute a separate racial group which is in absolute majority there; it called for the creation of a special district to be directly subject to the central government in Rangoon. The memorandum also demanded that the district have a “district council” of its own which shall be vested with local autonomy. As a compromise solution, the authors of the memorandum agreed to the district being a part of the Arakan “State”; however, they insisted that the Head of “State” was to be “counseled” by the Council in the appointment of officials and in all matters concerning the district and its problems. The appointed officials would also be briefed and advised by the Council. The district would also receive direct allocations for its needs and would enjoy particular attention in matters of culture, economies, and education.

The Rohinga Youth Association held a meeting in Rangoon on July 31, 1961, where the call was issued not to grant the status of “State” to Arakan because of the community tensions still existing between Muslims and Buddhists since the 1942 riots. A similar resolution was taken by the Rohinga Students Association, with the additional warning that if it is decided, despite all protest, to set up the “State”, this would require the partition of Arakan and the awarding of separate autonomy to the Muslims.

Muslim Members of Parliament from Maungdaw and Buthidaung likewise petitioned the government and the enquiry commission not to include their regions in the planned Arakan “State”. They had no objection to the creation of such a state, but only without the districts of Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and part of Rathedaung, where the Muslims were in the majority. These districts must be formed into a separate unit in order to ensure the existence of the Rohinga. Forcing the creation of a single state upon all of Arakan would be likely to lead to the renewed spilling of blood.

The problem of the Muslims of Akyab and the other regions of Arakan, where the Muslims were in the minority, were more complicated and their position led to tensions among the Rohinga organizations. There were those who deemed it pointless to object to U Nu’s plan of “Statehood” and therefore supported the granting of the status of “State” to the whole of Arakan, including the Muslim regions. They feared that separation of these regions would redound to the detriment of the Muslims in the rest of Arakan. They of course demanded guarantees and assurances for the protection of the Muslims; to this end they insisted that Muslims be co-opted to serve as members of the preparatory committee which would deal with the creation of the “State”. In the memorandum submitted to the enquiry commission by the organization of Arakanese Muslims (of Sultan Mahmud), it was explained that they would support the “State” only on two conditions: if the Arakanese Buddhists would support their demands; and if the constitutions of the “State” would include, specifically, religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative, and educational guarantees for Muslims. The Head of State of the new “State” of Arakan would alternate: once a Muslim and once a non-Muslim. When the Head of State was a Muslim, the Speaker of the State Council would be a non-Muslim, but his deputy, a Muslim; and vice versa. The same arrangement would also be in effect in the appointments, committees and other bodies. No less than one-third of the “State’s” ministers were to be Muslims. No law affecting Muslims would be passed unless and until the majority of the Muslim Members of the Council voted for it. In the matter of appointments to jobs in Muslim areas, the Chief of State would act on the advice of the Muslim Members of his Cabinet. In all appointments to government posts, to public services, to municipal positions and the like, Muslims would enjoy a just proportion in accordance with their percentage in the population. In filling the appointments allotted to Muslims, the Muslim candidates would compete among themselves. The government would attentatively meet the educational and economic needs of the Muslims. No pupil would be forced to participate in religious classes not of his own religion. Every religious sect would be allowed training in his own religion in all institutions of learning. Every and any religious sect would be permitted to set up its own educational institutions that would be recognized by the government. Muslims would be completely free to develop their own special Rohinga language and culture, and to spread their religion. A special officer for Muslim Affairs would be appointed whose job it would be to investigate complaints and obstructions, and to report on them to the Chief of State. For a period of ten years from the date of the establishment of the “State”, the right would be reserved to every district - and especially to those of northern Arakan - to secede from the “State” and transfer itself to the direct jurisdiction of the central government in Rangoon. Those supporting these demands suggested bearing in mind the examples offered by the viable arrangements existing between the Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, between the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, and among the Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Pakistanis in Singapore; only such just arrangements between Muslims and Buddhists could vouch for the success of the State of Arakan. 

At long last, it was on the first of May, 1961, in the provinces of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and the western portion of Rathedaung the government set up the Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA). It was not an autonomy, for the region was administered by Army officers; since it was not placed under the jurisdiction of Arakan, however, the new arrangement earned the agreement of the Rohinga leaders, especially as the new military administration succeeded in putting down the rebellion and in bringing order and security to the region.

At the beginning of 1962 the government prepared a draft law for the establishment of the “State” of Arakan and, in accordance with Muslim demand, excluded the Mayu District1. The military revolution took place in March, 1962. The new government cancelled the plan to grant Arakan the status of a “State”, but the Mayu District remained subject to the special Administration that had been set up for it.

Aman Ullah
RB History
June 13, 2016

[Dr Pamela Gutman was the first Australian to complete a doctorate in Asian Art, specializing in Burma. Her scholarship did much to contribute to Australian-Burmese government relations from the 1970s onwards, painting a picture of the art and cultural life of a hidden land.

Her book Burma's Lost Kingdoms – Splendours of Arakan (2001), brought together her many years of research to reveal the secrets and treasures hidden in Arakan, now known as Rakhine State.

Pamela Gutman was born in Adelaide, South Australia. Her tertiary education was at the University of Vienna, where she studied German, Philosophy, and Art History, and then at The Australian National University, where she studied Bahasa Indonesia, Old Javanese, and Sanskrit. She was first sent to Arakan in 1972 by G.H. Luce, the foremost historian of Burma. She wrote her doctoral thesis on Arakan and took her Ph.D from Australian National University on the cultural history before the 11th century. She is the author of many publications including a forthcoming book on Arakan.]

For more a millennium the policy we know as Arakan existed as a culturally strategic border state, the only state in Southeast Asia to be connected to India by both land and sea routes. The study of its culture is of particular interest as it reveals which elements of Indian cultural were adopted in Arakan and in the land to its east. We can then ask why some elements and not others were adopted, and attempted to relate this to the political, social and religious developments of the wider region.

In the periods when Arakan was at its most powerful the most important cultural influences came from the west, most immediately from the area today known as Bangladesh. When the Burmese and Mon kingdoms to the east prospered, and from time to time gained sovereignty over Arakan, the major influences came from there. Positioned as it was on the sea route around the Bay of Bengal, Arakan was also subjected to the influence of the cultures of southern and western India, and in particular to Sri Lanka, which as the most important Buddhist polity in the region has a significant impact on the religious development of the state. From the earliest urban sites we have the seal of the south Indian merchant dating to around the third century AD and an intaglio which appears to have originated in the middle east of the same period.

The archaeological remains are limited in what they can tell us, but the art and architecture which survives today suggests that the impetus for the adaptation of Indian and other influences was power. As contact with the wider region increased in the early centuries of the first millennium AD the economy diversified, urban centres developed and a more complex social structure developed. The ruler was invested, through Indian Brahmanic ritual, with superhuman qualities through which the fertility and therefore the prosperity of the state were not introduced, the caste system, for instance, although a fluid sort of class system. Not as dependent on birth as in India, did evolve.

The earliest site known to us is the walled and moated city of Dinnyawadi, "Grain-blessed". This is possibly the site of a pre-Indian cult of the earth goddess, and lying on the route from the hills to the sea would have been a trading centre. It is also the site of one of the most famous Buddhist shrines in Southeast Asia, the Mahamuni. It is here, legend has it, that the Buddha himself came and allowed a statue to be made in his own image. The object of veneration for centuries, the image was seen as the palladium of the state and coveted by the kings of neighbouring countries. While the legend as we know it probably dates from a time later than the building of the shrine, the images which survive suggest that the earliest form of Buddhism was Mahayanist, for we can identify bodhisattvas, guardians of the directions and other images which relate, surprisingly, to the Buddhism practised in China at the time. The style, however, is closely connected with the Gupta, although there are no direct connections with any Indian schools. It is possible that the sculptors used Indian texts, from which they made their own interpretation of the iconography.

Sometime around the sixth century the centre of power moved to Vesali, where we find evidence of a Brahmanised royal cult, in the form of a massive recumbent bull discovered in the centre of a brick structure used for royal ritual. The bull also appears on the obverse of a series of coins, together with the name of the king in Sankrit. On the reverse of the coins is a motif known as the srivatsa, symbolising the king's function to guarantee the prosperity of the land. This symbol is also found on coins from the same period elsewhere in Burma and in Thailand and South Vietnam, indicating a shared culture which, as Robert Brown indicates in his paper, must have existed in mainland Southeast Asia until the seventh century. The architecture of this period also has strong links with the countries further east. Two lintels in the style known as Sambor Prei Kuk, from the seventh century site in Cambodia, architecture fragments indicate contact with central and southern India.

Also found at Vesali are a great number of Vishnu images, indicating that his worship was widespread from perhaps the sixth to at least the ninth centuries. Vishnu was known too at the Pyu sites in central Burma. The iconography of the Arakanese examples is closely related to that of east Bengal at the time. There is evidence, too, of a popular form of Buddhism, with images inscribed in Sanskrit. 

After a period of turmoil, probably the result of the coming of Tibeto-Burmans to Arakan from the north, Vesali was succeeded by a serious of smaller cities which came under the sovereignty of Pagan. The Buddhist art of the 11th and 12th centuries is strongly influenced by pagan, as can be seen by Buddha image in stucco and a rare Vishnu and Laksmi from this period follows the heavy physiognomy of the late Pagan period. As the power of Pagan waned, however, Arakan was able to expand its authority to Bengal in the west and to Cape Nagrais in the south. By the beginning of the 15th century the Burmese invaded and the Arakanese king fled to the Sultanate of Gaur in east Bengal. He returned, with the assistance of the Sultan, to found the last of the great cities, Mrauk-U.

Mrauk-U at the height of its power controlled Bengal up to Dacca and Pegu in the Mon country to the south. The great originality of its art was in its architecture. Its builders used a technique of facing a brick core with stone slabs bound by mortar, and made extensive use of dark gray sandstone brought upriver from the coast. This use of stone was the great difference between the architecture of Arakan and that of Pagan and Bengal, where stone was scarcer. The architects combined the lessons of Pagan with the Muslim experience in building arches, domes and vaults, in which mortar played the dominant part of keeping the masonry together. They were thus able to conceive massive hollow pagodas, whose central shrines were entered through long vaulted passages.

The Shitthaung shrine, built be King Mong Ben after he conquered Bengal in 1536, was the magnificent statement of a cakravartin Buddhist king who had conquered Islam. An arched screen on the western side and the arrangement of stupas on the roof recall the mosque architecture of 16th century Gaur in east Bengal. Surrounding the central image are circumambulatory passages, on the outer of which the king is depicted as a god with the attributes of a cakravatin king, some derived from the iconography of Vishnu the Preserver. He is flanked by his Bengali and Arakanese wives, distinguished by their dress, and by depictions of his power and the prosperity he has brought to his country.

Other Mrauk-U shrines are decorated with glazed tiles, some decorated with Middle Eastern motifs, others have reliefs depicting the three worlds of Buddhism, and some are guarded by figures reminiscent of the 5th-6th century images founded at the Mahamuni shrine. The sculpture of the period is similarly diverse. Crowned Buddha images are derived from the style of the late Ming seated Buddhas from the art of northern Thailand. Some extraordinary Sri Lankan bronzes have been discovered, recalling the time when the Dutch rulers of Sri Lanka, wanting to overcome the influence of Catholicism brought there by the Portuguese, sent to Arakan for monks to perform the Buddhist ordination ceremony to purify the religion.

Gradually, however, the power of Mrauk-U waned. In its last century Arakan survived only because it had no aggressive neighbour. In 1784 it was conquered by the Burmese ruler Bodawpaya and the revered Mahamuni image was taken to Mandalay. With its loss, the Arakanese people seemed to lose heart, and its shrines and images were largely neglected for the next 200 years.

Aman Ullah
RB History
April 26, 2016

Mohan Ghosh wrote in his book ‘Magh Raiders of Bengal’ that, “In 8th century under the Hindu revivalist leader, Sankaracharijya, Buddhists in India were persecuted in large-scale. In Magadah, old Bihar of India, Buddhists were so ruthlessly oppressed by chauvinist Hindus and rival Mahayana sect of Buddhists that large numbers of Hinayana Buddhists had been compelled to flee eastward who ultimately found shelter in Arakan under the Chandra kings.” These Buddhist immigrants assumed the name Magh as they have migrated from Magadah. 

The term Magh suggests that the word is derived from Maghada, the country where the Buddha lived. That country is mentioned in the Arakanese Chronicles as the original residing place of the ancestors of the Arakanese kings who were the relatives of the Buddha.

At the time of the Buddha, Magadha formed one of the sixteen Mahajanapads, which was an important political and commercial centre, where peoples from all parts of Northern India used to visit in search of commerce and of learning.

The Language that was spoken in Magadha was called Magahi Language or Magadhi language. The ancestor of Magadhi, from which its name derives, Magadhi Prakrit, was created in the Indian subcontinent, in a region spanning what is now India and Nepal. These regions were part of the ancient kingdom of Magadha, the core of which was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges. It is believed to be the language spoken by Gautama Buddha. It was the official language of the Mauryan court, and the edicts of Ashoka were composed in it. [1] Cardona George Dhanesh in his book ‘The Indo-Aryan Languages’ wrote that, “The name Magahi is directly derived from the name Magadhi Prakrit, and the educated speakers of Magahi prefer to call it Magadhi rather than Magahi.” [2] Magahi is closely related to Bhojpuri and Maithili, and these languages are sometimes referred to as a single language, Bihari. These languages, together with several other related languages, are known as the Bihari languages, which form a sub-group of the Eastern Zone of Indo-Aryan languages.

Magh for Arakanese is commonly applied to the inhabitants of Arakan particularly those living near the Bengal district of Chittagong. There seems to some truth in the word being derived from "Maghad" of India. According to A. Phayre, the name Magh originated from the ruling race of Magadha (Bihar) and relying on a Burmese oral tradition, he says that they were originally a Kshartiya tribe of the north India and migrated from Magadha to Burma through eastern Bengal. Subsequently they spread over Arakan from Burma. [3] The derivation would probably be Magadhi, the adjective form of the proper name, Maghi-Magai-Magi-Mog or Magh. The New English Dictionary states that the word Mag, Mogen, Mogue appear as names of Arakan and the people in 15-16th centuries.[4]33 Among the old testimonies regarding Arakan association with Magadha is that of Daulat Kazi (1622-38), a well-known poet of Arakan, according to him, the rulers of Rosango (Arakan) belong to the Magadha dynasty and were Buddhists by faith. The poet in his Sati Mayna frequently uses the term Magadher pati and Magadha Raja to signify the kings and the Kingdom of Arakan respectively. [5] 

Mugh is a referent for the Rakhaing with very early roots. In 1585, Fitch referred to “the Kingdom of Recon and Mogen."[6] On the basis of this reference, one must reject Sukomal Chaudhuri's assertion that the Rakhaing came to be known as Mugh from the start of the seventeenth century. [7] In the seventeenth century, references to Mugh do increase rapidly. Portuguese accounts, for example, used Mogo to refer to the population of Rakhaing (1605, c. 1638), the King of Rakhaing (c. 1620, c. 1 638), and to Rakhaing language. In 1798, Buchanan referred to the Marma in Southeastern Bengal as Joomea Mugs. In 1835, Foley referred to the Rakhaing people within Rakhaing as Mughs or Magas. Persian accounts also used Mugh to refer to the Rakhaing in the early modern period, as in "the tribe of the Magh" (1590, c. 1641) and the 'Magh Raja' (1604, 1638, c. 1641). From the seventeenth century, Bengali sources also used Maghi to refer to the Rakhaing era. [8]

Westerners remained inconsistent in their references into the nineteenth century, using Rakhaing (and its versions) as a political term while also using Mugh as interchangeable with Rakhaing in both usages. Thus, Bernier (1665) referred to the 'Kingdom of Rakan, or Mog.” [9] Heath refers to "Muggs or Arrackanners" (1689), Ovington refers to "this Kingdom of Arracan, or Empire of Mogo."(1696), [10] and one anonymous account of Rakhaing refer to the "Mugs or Aracaners" (1777). [11] 

There was a simultaneous trend for using Mugh together with Rakhaing as a political or geographic term, as indicated in Fitch (1585). This occurred as well in some Persian accounts, as in the Tuzuk-I-Jahagiri (c. 1620) which referred to the Maghs, as opposed to state of Arracan. [12] Likewise, the Baharistan-I-Ghaybi (c.1641) applied "Mag” to the king and the people of Rakhaing, but "Achrang" and "Rakhang" to the country. [13] This usage as also adopted by British officials in the early part of the nineteenth century, for as Bayfield uses the terms, "Mugs, or native inhabitants of Arracan" (1834). [14] The last case can be explained, however, according to the annexation of Rakhaing and its establishment as a British province, which left Rakhaing on both sides of the provincial borders; hence, Rakhaing was used after the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) in its strictest geographical and political sense.

The origins of 'Mugh' are murky at best and have led to confusion at least since the eighteenth century. In 1696, John Ovington complained that he could not ascertain from “whence they [the kings] derive that Appellation of Moghi.”[15] There are perhaps as many, mutually irreconcilable, theories to explain the origins of Mugh as there are for Rakhaing. Nevertheless, Mugh appears to have been entirely an external ethnonym, applied to the Rakhaing, rather than accepted by them. [16] Hamilton (Buchanan) explained in the late eighteenth century that while the Rakhaing at Calcutta were called 'Muggs,' they "are scarcely known by that name in their native country" [17] AS Buchanan further explained in 1799:
Arakan, or the kingdom of the Mugs, as we often call it. Whence this name of Mug given by Europeans to the natives of Arakan, has been derived, I know not, but, as far as I could learn, it is totally unknown to the natives and their neighbours, except such of them as, by their intercourse with us, have learned its use. [18] 

Another theory that emerged among Bengali scholars was that Magh came from the Sanskrit word Magdu "meaning a sea-bird and therefore a pirate."[19] Ahmed Sharif’s recent explanation of this theory, however, suffers from a misunderstanding of the origins and nature of Rakhaing seafaring. Sharif argues that before the seventeenth cenury, Maghs did not practice piracy. They adopted piracy as a profession...when they came in close contact with the Portuguese who allured them to piratical; activities, With Portuguese assistant the Maghs became adept in sea-faring. [20]

After they did so, from the seventeenth century, Magh became associated with raiders and the terms "Magh and Magher Muluk stood for tyrant and tyranny respectively."[21]

Willem van Schendel explains that Mugh is a "general term for people living to the east of the Bengal" and includes Rakhaing, Borua, Burman, Kuki, Manna,Mnr, etc..[22] Ahmed Sharif specifies that Mugh is applied as a blanket term, but specifically for Buddhists: "'Magh' is used by the Chittagong people to mean the follower of Buddha in general, and all Buddhists whether living in Chittagong or Arakan or in other parts of the world are termed 'Magh."'[23] This does not appear to be correct, at least not until after the late eighteenth century. A Buchanan found in his travels in Bengal, the Manipuris, known to the Bunnans as Kathee (Kathi), were known as 'Muggaloos' by the Bengalis. Again, this led, as Buchanan complained, to the creation by Rennel of a country that really was not there. As Buchanan explained:

Notes of References: -

1. Bashan A.L., The Wonder that was India, Picador, 2004, pp.394 
2. Jain Dhanesh, Cardona George, The Indo-Aryan Languages, pp449
3. Phayre, "Note on the Name Mag or Maga.” 47
4. Shamsuddin Ahmed, Glimpses into History of the Burmese and Chinese Muslims, Chittagong 1978, p.72; 
5. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 354 
6. Ralph Fitch, "An Account of Pegu in 1586-1 587," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 2.2 (Autumn 2004). 168. 11
7. Sukomal Chaudhuri, Contemporary Buddhism in Bangladesh (Calcutta: Atisha Memorial Pulishing Society, 1982). 21.
8. Fernao Guerreiro, Relacao Annual das Coisas que Fizeram os Padres da Companhia de Jesus nas suas Missoes ... nos Anos de 1600 a 1609, ed. Artur Viegas (Coimbra: University of Coimbra. 1 930). 3.286; Boccarro, 1.122; Sebastlo Manrique, Itinerario de Sebastiao Manrique, Luis Silveira, ed. (Lisboa: Agencia Geral das Colonias, Divisao de Publicações e Biblioteca, 1946). 1.89; 1.116, 1.119, 2.9; Francis Buchanan, Francis Buchanan in Southeast Bengal (1798): His Journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla, edited by Willem van Schendel (Dhaka: University Press Limited. 1992). 32; William Foley "Joumal of a Tour Through the Isiand of Rambree, with a Geological Sketch of the Country and Brief Account of the Customs. &c. of Its Inhabitants," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 5 (1835): 82, 201; Yule & Bumell, Hobson Jobson, 594; Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-I-Ghaybi, translated from the Persian by M. I. Borah (Gauhati: Government of Assam, 1936). 2.629, 2.710; Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 360.
9. François Bemier, Travels in the Mogul Empire AD 1665-1668 (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1992). 174.
10. John Ovington, A Voyage to Suratt, in the Year 1689 (n.p.: for Jacob Tonson, 1696). 568.
11. William Heath [1689], "The Adventure of Captain William Heath" Bengal: Past and Present 29.198, Ovington, A Voyage to Surart, 1696, 568; Anonymous, "History of the Mugs, 1777," SOAS Bulletin of Bunna Research 1.1 (Spring, 2003). 316.
12. Jahangir, Tuzuk-I-Jahagari' (or Memoirs of Jahangir), translated by Alexander Rogers & edited by Henry Beveridge (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1909). 1.236.
13. Nathan, Baharistan-l-Ghaybi, 1.419, 2.629, 2.632, 2.710,
14. G. T. Bayfield, "Historical Review of the Political Relations Between the British Government in India and the Empires of Ava," in R Boileau Pemberton (ed.) Report on the Eastern Frontier of British India (Gauhati: Government of Assam, 1966). xvi.
15. Ovington, A Voyage to Suratt, 582.
16. H. H. Risley, the Tribes and Castes of Bengal. Ethnographic Glossary, vol. II. (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press, 1891). 28.
17. Francis Hamilton, "An Account of the Frontier Between Ava and the Part of Bengal Adjacent to the Kanlaphuli River (1 825)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 1. 2 (Autmun 2003), 14.
18. Francis Buchanan, "A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 1.1 (Spnng 2003). 43.
19. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358.
20. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358, 360.
21. Ibid, 360.
22. Sharif "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 358, citing Haq & Sahityavisarad, Arakan Rajasabhay Bamta Sahitya, 1.
23. Phayre, "Note on the Name Mag or Maga Applied to the Arakanese by the People of Bengal," 47-48; See also Tha Hla, "The Rakhaing," 2
24. Sharif, "On Arakan and the Arakanese," 359.

Aman Ullah
RB History
April 19, 2016

[Maurice Stewart Collis (1889 –1973) was an administrator in Burma (Myanmar) when it was part of the British Empire, and afterwards a writer on Southeast Asia, China and other historical subjects. MS Collis was born in 1889, the son of an Irish solicitor, and went to Rugby School in 1903 and then in 1907 to the University of Oxford, where he studied history. He entered the Indian Civil Service in 1911 and was posted to Burma in 1912. He had postings at Sagaing and elsewhere. In 1917, the British army raised a Burmese brigade with which Collis went to Palestine, but he saw no action. In 1919, he went on leave and travelled in Europe. In the 1920s he was district commissioner in Arakan. He returned to England in 1934. He wrote over twenty books, including The Land of the Great Image, Last and First in Burma and other volumes of autobiography, travel writing, novels, histories and three plays. He died in 1973.]

When the life went out of the Roman Empire, clan vital drove the followers of Mahomet to create a polity in its stead. 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. 

Since 1450, India was again playing its part in the making of Arakan and Arakan turned towards India. 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. 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. 

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.

When the Moslems entered Bengal in 1203, they introduced the inscriptional type of coinage and Nasir-ud-din's coin is in that tradition. By following that the coinage Mrauk-U also subsequently modeled its own coin. 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.

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. 

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 aggrandisement. 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 and struck coins also. With him the Arakanese graduated in their Moslem studies and the empire was founded.

The Minbin's coins 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. 

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 worshipped. Moreover Minbin embellished Mrauk-U with its greatest temples and pagodas. But the architecture of the former is neither Mohamedan nor Buddhist 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. 

If Minbin founded the prosperity of Mrauk-U, Razagri, his successor of forty years later, may be said to have consolidated it. 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.

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 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.

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 mercenaries. 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.

After the loss of Chittagong in 1666, 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 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 year.

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, 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 kings 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 in serving. It remains in the Mohamedan tradition of 1450 A. D.

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 merely 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. 

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. 

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 crossed the mountains and the formula were detected. 

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 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.

[This article is based on MS Collis ‘ Arakan’s place in the civilization of the Bay’, which was published in Journal of Burma Research Society (JBRS) ‘ Fiftieth Anniversary Publication]

Aman Ullah
RB History
April 17, 2016

Before 10th century, Arakan was inhabited by Hindus. At that time Arakan was the gate of Hindu India to contact with the countries of the east. Morris Collis writes in his book "Burma under the iron heels of British" that the Hindu ruled Arakan from first century to 10th century. Hindu civilization and literature spread all over Arakan du'ring this long thousand years. After the vanishing of the Hindu civilization there still remain the names, Danyawadi, Ramawadi, Maygawadi and Dwarawadi, the four-Wadis given by Hindus. Temples built by Hindus, coins melted by Hindus and the stone inscriptions written by Hindus were still to be found in Arakan.

According to A.P. Phayre and G, E, Harvey, History of Burma state that: "The capital of Arakan Shiri Gupta hill is 20 miles north of Mrohaumg. Mahamatmuni Image (the Great Image of Lord Buddha) is on that hill. This place is older than Vesali. The place was established by Hindus. Mahamatmuni image was built by the king Sandathuriya (146-198 A. D.).There were Hindu gods around the image of Mahamatmuni. These images of gods indicated that Arakan was a Hindu land until 10th century. Those Hindus might be Bengalis.

The Arrival of Buddhism into Arakan began around first century Christian Era. Mohan Ghosh wrote in his book ‘Magh Raiders of Bengal’ that, “In 8th century under the Hindu revivalist leader, Sankaracharijya, Buddhists in India were persecuted in large-scale. In Magadah, old Bihar of India, Buddhists were so ruthlessly oppressed by chauvinist Hindus and rival Mahayana sect of Buddhists that large numbers of Hinayana Buddhists had been compelled to flee eastward who ultimately found shelter in Arakan under the Chandra kings. There were also Buddhist refugees from Bengal, during the Tibeten conquest in the eighth and ninth centuries, crossed over to the nearest place viz. Arakan where they could preserve their religion.”

It is to be noticed that Magadah in its pristine days included Bengal. These Buddhist immigrants assumed the name Magh as they have migrated from Magadah. By this time, in Arakan, all the three religions -- Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam -- flourished side by side, but there had been large-scale conversion to Islam. 

While the three great religions were flourishing side by side, a Mongolian invasion from the north swept over Arakan which ended the Chandra dynasty in 957 C.E. Hinduism in the easterly Hindu State of Vesali thus vanished forever. This invasion not only closed the epoch of the Chandras but also carried away the Pala kings of Bengal at the same time. Vesali could never reemerge but in Bengal the Hindus regained their supremacy in a few years by pushing back the barbaric Mongolians into deeper mountainous areas. 

MS Collis, in collaboration with San Shwe Bu, wrote in his article ‘Arakan place in the civilization of the Bay’ that, “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.” In the record of the MS, ‘the true chronicle of Great Image’ which was given to Collis by San Shwe Bu, “the date 957 A.D. may be said to mark the appearance of the Arakanese, and the beginning of a fresh period.”

In the year 976 AD Shan invaders entered Arakan and held the country for eighteen years, during which period they robbed the inhabitants and carried off from the temples everything of value. Anawrahta, who came to the throne of Burma soon after the retirement of the Shans from Arakan, next invaded the country, compelled the Arakanese to acknowledge his supremacy, and exacted tribute. During the reign of Kyansittha, son of Anawrahta, in Pagan, Min Bilu of Arakan was deposed by a usurper, and his son took refuge in Burma This prince's son, Letyaminnan, was restored by Alaungsithu, grandson and successor of Kyansittha, and Arakan was again subordinate to Burma for some years from 1103 onwards.

Arakan became subordinate to the Pagan monarchy in AD 1102-3, from the time when Letyamengnan was placed on the throne of his ancestors. He fixed his capital at Parin. The country enjoyed rest for a long period, and there is nothing in the annals worthy of remark until after the capture of Pagan by the Mongols. In the early part of the fourteenth century mention is made of invasion by the Shans, which apparently refers the attacks by the kings of Myinsaing and Panya. 

According to Collis, 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. 

Before 12th century, there was no Burmese literature in Arakan, Burmese literature arrived in Arakan during 12th century. Phonetically Rakhines have 42 syllables; that is eight syllables less than Burmese. Their language is Burmese with some dialectical difference and an older form of pronunciation, especially noticeable in their retention of the "r" sound, which the Burmese have changed to y'. In regard to Rakhine Maghs language, Sir Arthur Phayer wrote that, Rakhine Maghs are the descendants of Tobeto-Burman. There is no difference between Rakhine Maghs and Burmans except a little in their languages.

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 endeavors. But the Arakanese had an old belief that if it left their country, it would synchronize 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 inlanders or spoilers by enveloping it in a magical net.

In the middle of 12th century even the famous Mahamuni Image could not be found for it had been overgrown with jungle in the prevailing anarchy. According to Pamela Gutman, “the king Dasaraza 1135-1165 AD had repaired Mahamuni Temple which was partially destroyed by the Pyu army of Letyaminnan and was remained neglected. The king had to seek the help of the Mrus to find out the Mahamuni, which was then covered by dense forest.”

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. According to San Shwe Bu’s MS, 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 the two countries were drawn closely together; the road over the mountains became a trade route; great fairs held on it at a point between the two States; and there was no need of coinage.

The cardinal characteristic of the new period is, as Mr. Collis mentioned, 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. Wilhem Klein, in his book ‘Burma the Golden’, termed it as, "The Mongolians were a savage people and the five centuries which followed the arrival of Tibeto-Burmans in Arakan were an age of darkness".

But the invaders became educated in the mixed culture of the country they have conquered and were ultimately assimilated with its inhabitants during those long five centuries. After the disappearance of Hinduism and the assimilation of Mongolians and Tibeto-Burmans there remained only two distinctive races -- the rohingyas and the Maghs -- who lived together in Arakan centuries after centuries. 

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. 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.

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 characteristics which mark it still.

Aman Ullah
RB History
April 10, 2016

The earliest name of Arakan was ‘Kala Mukha’ (Land of the) Black Faces writes Noel Francis Singer in his book ‘Vaishali and the Indianization of Arakan’. It was inhabited by these dark brown-colored Indians who had much in common with the people (today’s Bangladeshis, or more particularly Chittagonians) living on the north-western side of the Naaf River, along the adjoining coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal. The resemblance was not limited to physical features like skin color, shape of head and nose alone, but also in shared culture and beliefs. 

It had been a Hindu land since time immemorial. As evidenced by numerous archeological finds, it is obvious that the Hindu colonists, fuelled by their need for trade and commerce, gold and silver, first colonized the region in the early 1st century CE. By the 3rd century, the coastal regions of Kala Mukha had been settled, with the colonists dominating and coexisting warily with the aboriginal tribes. The Lords of the Solar and Lunar dynasties from far off Bharatavarsha had indeed arrived. In the major habitation sites, Sanskrit was the written language for the ruling classes, and religious beliefs were those current at the time on the subcontinent. 

Dr. Emil Forchhammer, a Swiss Professor of Pali at Rangoon College, and Superintendent of the newly founded Archaeological Survey [1881] described this fertile region that, "The earliest dawn of the history of Arakan reveals the base of the hills, which divide the lower course of the Kaladan and Lemro rivers, inhabited by sojourners from India, governed by chiefs who claim relationship with the rulers of Kapilavastu. Their subjects are divided into the four castes of the older Hindu communities; the kings and priests study the three Vedas; the rivers, hills, and cities bear names of Aryan origin; and the titles assumed by the king and queen regent suggest connection with the Solar and Lunar dynasties of India.”

The second phase of Indianization of Arakan occurred between the 4th and the 6th century CE, by which time the colonists had established their kingdom, and named their capital Vaishali. As a port city, Vaishali was in contact with Samatat (the planes of lower Bangladesh) and other parts of India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Historically, these early rulers came to be known as the Chandras and controlled the territories as far north as Chittagong. 

Dr Johnston, an epigraphist of Balliol College, Oxford, who translated the Sanskrit inscription (circa 729) of Ananda Chandra felt that the region had come under the control of the descendents of the [Licchavi] ruling family from Vaishali, Bihar, when they fled from the ascendancy of the Imperial Guptas (circa 300-467). According to him, as the time scale corresponds with the second surge of Hindu migration into Southeast Asia, and the creation of the new Vaishali, when the Licchavi, under Dven Chandra (circa 370-425) established a Chandra vamsa (Lunar dynasty); previously the Licchavi claimed to be of the Surya vamsa (Solar dynasty). 

The Anand Chandra Inscription, which contains 65 verses (71 and a half lines) and now sited at the Shitthaung pagoda, provides some information about these early rulers. Interestingly, neither the name of the kingdom or the two premier cities – Dhanyavati and Vaishali – is mentioned. This 11-foot high monolith, unique in entire Burma, has three of its four faces inscribed in a Nagari script, which is closely allied to those of Bengali and north-eastern India. 

The script on the panel on the east face is believed by Johnston to be the oldest. According to Pamela Gutman it was similar to the type of script used in Bengal (Bangladesh) during the early 6th century CE. As to the panel on the north face, Johnston mentioned that several smaller inscriptions in Bengali characters had been added in the 10th century. Gutman however felt that the principal text in this section is of the mid-11th century CE. The panel on the west face, which is reasonably preserved, is believed by Gutman to be of the earlier part of the 8th century. This priceless document not only lists the personalities of each monarch but also some of the major events of every reign.

So who is this Ananda Chandra? In verse 64, it clearly says that he was a descendant of the Saiva-Andhra monarch whose kingdom was located between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers of Bengal, and close to the Bay of Bengal. The founder of this new dynasty was Vajra Sakti who reigned circa 649-665 CE. His successor was Sri Dharma Vijaya, who reigned from circa 665-701. As noted by Singer, and much in contrast to Rakhine claims, Dharma Vijaya was not a Theravada Buddhist, but probably a Mahayanist. The next in line was Narendra Vijaya who reigned from circa 701 to 704 CE. The next to rule was Sri Dharma Chandra, who reigned from 704 to 720 CE. He was the father of Ananda Chandra who was a munificent patron of Mahayana Buddhism and Hindu institutions.

Archaeological remains, many historical and numismatics evidence confirms that it was a Hindu Indian state in the style of that period. According to MS Collis, “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.”

History does not help us in forming an idea of Burmese infiltration into Arakan before 11th century. Hall and others described the Araknese (Rakhines) of today as “basically Burmese with an unmistakable Indian admixture …It is only about the 11th century that we can speak of a people of Indo-Mongoloid stock, from an ethnic group in the intermixture of tribes of various ethnic origins, such as, Australoid, Mongoloid and other elements now known as Arakanese Buddhist. 

The Rakhines were the last significant group to come to Arakan. They appear to have been an advance guard of Burmans who began to cross the Arakan Yoma in ninth century. And they “could not be genealogically the same as to the people of Dannya Waddy and Wethali dynasties.” In old Burmese the name Rakhine first appeared in slave names in the inscriptions of 12th century. Dr. S.B. Kanango, said the name Rakhine was given by Burman and it was found in 12th to 15th century stone inscriptions of Tuparon, Sagaing. In early days not a single inscription was found in present day speaking Rakhine language. “The scripture of those early days found in Arakan indicate that they were in early Bengali script and thence the culture there also was Bengali.” Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indians, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal”

But in medieval times there was a reorientation eastward; the area fell under Pagan’s dominance, and Arakanese people began to speak a dialect of Burmese, something that continues to this day. With Burmese influence came ties to Ceylon and the gradual prominence of Theravada Buddhism.

Arabs were the earliest people to travel to the east by sea. They were in contact with Arakan even during the pre-Islamic days. The Arakanese first received the message of Islam from the ship wracked Arabs in 788 A.D. Such ship-wrecks were occurred over and over in the coasts of Arakan and Chittagong.

This Arab presence, with the message of Islam, made up the nucleus of Muslim society in Arakan. Thus in Wesali the Arakanese practiced Hinduism, Mahayanist form of Buddhism and Islam. The Burmese military regime affirmed in its official book Sasana Ronwas Htunzepho, published in 1997, “Islam spread and deeply rooted in Arakan since 8th century from where it further spread into interior Burma”.

MS Collis, in collaboration with San Shwe Bu, wrote in his article ‘Arakan place in the civilization of the Bay’ that, “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.”

Wilhelm Klein, in his book ‘Burma the Golden’ wrote that, ‘all sudden, Arakan changed. The invading tribes made the country face east, away from India. As Burma began to flex its muscles, the profound changes born at Pagan started to transform Arakan... over the centuries the physiognomy of the Arakanese people changed. The racial admixture of Indo-European with only recently arrived Central Asians became predominantly Mongoloid, an ethnic mixture which still characterizes today’s Arakanese.’

Aman Ullah
RB History
March 13, 2016

Edward Hamilton Johnston (1885 –1942) was a British oriental scholar who was Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1937 until his death.

Edward Hamilton Johnston was born in 1885 and was educated at New College, Oxford where he obtained a first-class degree in 1907. He joined the Indian Civil Service, winning the Boden Sanskrit Scholarship during his probation, and worked in India from 1909 onwards in various capacities. He took the opportunity to retire in 1924 after working in India for 15 years, and returned to England. Thereafter he spent his time on the study of Sanskrit, later learning sufficient Tibetan and Chinese to make use of material available in those languages. 

In 1937, he was elected Boden Professor of Sanskrit and Keeper of the Indian Institute at the University of Oxford, also becoming a Professorial Fellow of Balliol College. He published several articles on a variety of topics. He died on 24 October 1942 at the age of 57. His obituary in The Times described his death as "a heavy loss not only to his friends and to Oxford but to Sanskrit studies everywhere.

Anandacandra Stone Inscription is a stone inscription which was erected by King Anandacandra and is a prasati of king Anandacandra who ruled Arakan about 720 CE. That’s why it is called Anandacandra Stone inscription. Since it is now sited at the Shitthaung, it is also called the Shitthaung Pillar.The Anandacandra inscription is a priceless document, which not only has lists of the personalities of each monarch, but also some of the major events of every reign. It is not only an important epigraphic record but also it was part of a ceremonial tarana (portal) bristling with mystical connotations. The components forming this doorway were the pillar itself, a lintel, an octagonal column and a swinging gate. Pamela Gutman’s has suggested that as the material used was red sandstone, she proposed a date anterior to the middle of the seventh century.

The early history of this inscription pillar is a blank. It was first mentioned in the Rakhaing chronicles when it was conveyed from Vaishali on the orders of King Mong Ba Gree (reigned 1531-1553) to his Shitthaung pagoda at Mrauk U, nine miles to the south. Ten various dates are given for this event, such as 1534, 1535 and 1536. The north entrance of the pagoda then became the Inscription's new home. On the death of Mong Ba Gree in 1553, the pillar was neglected, and thereafter for over four centuries abandoned and finally used as a gatepost. 

As noted rightly by Noel Singer, “if Johnston had not been translated the contents of the Inscription, it may be remained inaccessible for well over a thousand years, would never have been known. Although the Rakhaihg chroniclers, monks and laymen alike, were incapable of deciphering the Sanskrit text, they were not above providing fictitious names and accounts of the rulers of this and other ancient sites.” (Noel F. Singer, ‘Vaisali and the Indianization’pp.39-40) 

While the Inscription, which consists of sixty-five verses [seventy-one and a half lines], has provided important material regarding dates and locations, its compiler could also be infuriatingly terse at times. Neither the name of the kingdom or the two premier city sites of Dhanyavati and Vaishali are mentioned; it simply states that a nagaram (royal city) had been established. (Singer pp. 39-40)

This 11-foot high monolith, unique in entire Burma, have three of its four faces inscribed in a Nagari script, which is closely allied to those of Bengali and north-eastern India and Bengal.

As the monolith is cemented to the floor, each of the four panels has been designated according to the cardinal direction in which it faces; this is for easy reference. The script on the panel on the east face is believed by Johnston to be the oldest. According to Pamela Gutman it was similar to the type of script used in Bengal (Bangladesh) during the early 6th century CE. As to the panel on the north face, Johnston mentioned that several smaller inscriptions in Bengali characters had been added in the 10th century. Gutman however felt that the principal text in this section is of the mid-11th century CE. The panel on the west face, which is reasonably preserved, is believed by Gutman to be of the earlier part of the 8th century. This priceless document not only lists the personalities of each monarch but also some of the major events of every reign.

This inscription was first read by Dr. Johnston of Oxford University in 1935-1942. Later it was studied by Dr. D. C Sircir. Dr. Johnston's transliteration was later copied by U San Tha Aung and Dr. Pamela Gutman. . Dr. Johnston was the first to read the inscription fully. His readings reveal a list of kings which he considered to be reliable from the beginning of the Candra dynasty. Most of the pronunciations of the words used in it are pronounced as the Rohingyas of today use in their language. 

Singer remarked that, “Regrettably, the contents of the eastern and northern faces have not yet been fully investigated, and the situation has reached a critical point as the surfaces are fast deteriorating. Half-hearted plans to have the texts studied and translated have not materialized.” As to him, “The profound apathy which appears to grip most civil servants in the relevant departments may be one of the reasons. One must also assume that there are no competent epigraphists available to attempt unraveling the inscriptions. By all accounts, resources are now focused on the archaeology in Myanmar proper, with early Arakan and old Mon thrust to one side.” (Singer pp. 39-55)

The Shitthaung pillar was first notice by Dr E. Forchhammer. According to him, “about half a mile north of the palace, is the Shiithaung pagoda erected by King Minbin, the 12th of the Mrauk-U dynasty who reigned over Arakan from A. D. 1531 to 1553. The shrine is the work of Hindu architects and Hindu workmen; the skill and art displayed in its construction and ornamentation are far beyond to what the Arakanese themselves have ever attained to; the entire structure is alien in its main features to the native architectural the left hand of the entrance (north side) of the shrine a square stone pillar rises to the height of 3.3m from the socket ; each side is 2 4"(.7m) broad ; three sides are covered with inscriptions in Nagari characters; that facing the east is almost entirely defaced and the text cannot be recovered ; the inscription on the north side is also much damaged; the lines are very irregular and the letters badly engraved ; that on the west side is best preserved; the south side of the pillar has not been inscribed; the stone exhibits no ornamental designs.”(Arakan..Forchhammer p.20) 

Although Forchhammer first brought this inscription to the notice of scholars, it was not until 1929, when Duroiselle sent an apparently inferior set of rubbings to the Government Epigraphist in India, that preliminary account was published ASI 1929-26 pp.146-148 and ASB 1929-26, pp. 27-30 and 59-60. A number of misconception found in this reading have been perpetuated by some Indian scholars. Under the instigation of Professor Luce, a new set of rubbings, prepared by his able assistant U Sein was sent to Professor E. H. Johnston at Oxford. With the aid of an unpublished reading of the last fifty lines prepared by Dr N. P. Cakravarti, one-time Government Epigraphist for India, Johnston made an almost complete annotated transliteration of the inscription intended for Epigraphia Birmanica. The break in publication due to the war, and Johnston’s sudden death in 1942 led to his posthumous article “Some Sanskrit Inscription in BSOAS XI (1944) prepared by Prof. Luce “from old notes on the backs of envelopes” and with an excellent translation and further annotation of the transcription by Professor L. D. Barnett. (Gutman’s Ancient Arakan p.35) 

Professor Johnston's article, besides its paleographic interest-his remarks on this subject have not been omitted-is of historical importance, as giving the first solid foundation for the study of ancient Arakan, and as indicating the valuable results likely to be achieved by full-scale archaeological excavation at Vesali, Mrohaung, and other sites.

It is an invaluable heritage of Arakan, which Arakanese people regard to be very authentic and they are proud of it. So mentioning it here under the headline of culture of Rohingya may monument is their historical heritage, but the language that used in that inscription was different from Rakhine people but similar to Rohingya language.

Some of the usage of Inscription which are current or near to current in Rohingya language are: -

Aman Ullah
RB Histrory
March 2, 2016

One of the prominent features of socio-cultural history of Arakan in the 17th century was the extensive Muslim influence on the Arakan society, which was not an outcome of some sudden occurrences. It was a result of an age-long intercourse between Arakan and Muslim countries that dated back to the period of Arab contacts with Arakan during the reign of Maha-Taing Tsandaya (788-810 AD).

Various historians and scholars have recorded that Islam began to spread from the eastern bank of Meghna to Arakan since eighth and ninth centuries, long before the establishment of a Muslim kingdom in the frontier region. Since then, the influence grew fast and was consolidated fully by the 17th century.

From the writings of Verthema, Caesar Frederick, Ralph Fitch and also Portuguese it appears that in the sea ports of Bengal coast there was important community of Muslim merchants and residents who were mostly Arabs. A fairly large numbers of Muslims had entered Chittagong and had gone to Arakan considerably before Chittagong came under the independent Sultanate of Bengal in 1338. The tempo of Muslims immigrations to Chittagong and Arakan increased after the Pathan occupations of Chittagong in the middle of 14th century.

A close cultural contact between Arakan and Bengal was first made in early in the 15th century when Naremekhla (Sulaiman Shah), the king of Arakan, dispossessed by the king of Burma, came to Bengal and took refuge in the court of Gour (1404). After a sojourn of 24 years he was helped by Jalal Uddin Mohammed Shah, the Bengal Sultan, to regain his throne (1430). During his stay in Bengal the Arakanese king had opportunity to learn and experience many things. Among other things, he has acquainted with Bengali songs, music, language and literature, and introduced them in his own country after he had returned home and to power. Since then the Bengali culture was enduring for many years in the court of Arakan.

The cultivation of Bengali literature attained further development when Arakan power annexed Chittagong. Politically Chittagong was subjugated by Arakan, but culturally it was Arakan, which was greatly influenced by a strong culture and powerful language. A number of competent Bengalis were appointed to high government posts. People of all ranks enjoyed the literary beauty of Bengali works.

One of the foremost factors for the phenomenal growth of Bengali influence, in view of Dr. Enamul Huq of Dhaka University, was the superiority of Bengali Language over the Magh Language. [1] Dr. Sukumar Sen rightly says; ‘from this time Bengali was accepted at the Arakan court as the chief cultural language, mainly because many of high officials of Arakan came from Chittagong and other neighboring territories whose mother tongue was Bengali. [2] The glorious Husian Shahi tradition of cultivation of Bengali literature was not only kept alive but also given an encouraging support by the Arakanese rulers and their influential courtiers. Thus, the Arakanese kings of the 17th century were enthusiastic patrons of Bengali language and literature. Some of them adopted also Bengali names of themselves, such as, Thiri Thu Dhamma (Arakanese pronunciation of Shirisudhrma), Sanda Thu Dhamma (Arakanese pronunciation of Chandra Sudharma). The Bengali immigrations or sojourners in Arakan were almost all Muslims, and the official and ministers too were mostly Bengali Muslims. Muslim influence in the Arakan court was therefore potent, and as happened quite often in the 17th century the kings took Muslim names as well. [3]

Thus the Bengali literature was cultivated extensively in Arakan under the patronage of Arakan rulers who encouraged the growth of Islamic culture and civilization while giving substantial support and privileges to the Muslims and Muslim poets in the field of literary pursuits. Most of the Muslim poets of Arakan were holding high civil and military posts. The most notables were Daulat Qazi, Aloal, Qurashi Magan Thakur, Mardan and AbdulKarim Khondkar.


The earliest known Bengali poet in Arakan was Qazi Daulat or Daulat Qazi. His patron Ashraf Khan was a Laskhar Wazir (Defence Minister) and adviser of Shirisudarma (1622-1638). To popularize the romantic tales then current in West Indian poetry (Rajasthani, Gujrati, Hindi, Avadhi and Bhojpuri), Ashraf had asked to Daulat to render the stories of Lor, Chandrani and Mai-na into Bengali narrative verse (Panchali). His book was entitled Satimaina Lor Chandrani. The poet says as follows about how he was influenced to write the book:

“Sriyut Ashraf Khan was a great minister, he was like a full moon…….Sitting in the assembly, and he expressed his willingness to hear tales. There were many stories in Arabic and Persian, Gujarati, Gohari and Teth (Gohari and Teth were local languages used in Gohar area bordering West Bengal). He was willing to hear the story of Lorak and Mai-nar Bharati (Satimaina Lor Chandrani) …… The poet Sadhan told the story in Teth Gohari, but these languages are not understood by many people. So wanted that the book should be composed in Panchali, Qazi Daulat felt the intention of the minister and composed Mainar Bharati in Bengali.” [4]

Satimaina was a ballad composed and sung by local bards in Bhojpur area bordering ancient and medieval Bengal. There were such other ballads, which were very popular and entered into East Bengal including Chittagong, and crossed over to Arakan. Two famous compositions were Mulla Daud’s Chandain and Sadhan’s Mainasat. When these ballads were sung in the court of Lashkar Wazir Ashraf Khan, he took interest in the poem and asked Qazi Daulat to write the book in Bengali. So Qazi Daulat’s work was a translation but it was a free translation and thus the poetic talent of the poet was maintained. 

The story in brief was as follows: Lor, the king of Gohari married a beautiful princess name Maina or Mainabati. They were living a happy life, when once a yogi showed Lor a picture of another very beautiful lady Chandrani, the princess of Mohari. Chandrani was also married, but her husband was a short fellow and an impotent person, Lor went to Mohari, and began meeting Chandrani in private, but when their illicit connection was known, Chandrani’s husband fought against Lor but was killed. Lor then married Chandrani. In the meantime, in his own kingdom at Gohari, his first wife Maina was living in anguish and sorrow due to his separation, and another person named Saton tried to win over Maina, but failed. Maina remained faithful to her husband Lor. Later Lor came back with Chandrani to his kingdom and joined Maina, thereafter all lived in happiness.

Daulat Qazi took it from the old Rajasthani poem of Sadhan, manuscripts of which have come to light recently. It is divided into three parts. After completing half of the second party the poet died and poet Alaol wrote the remaining one and half part. Daulat Qazi was not only the best among the Muslim poets but also one of the greatest poets among the ancient Bengali poets. His poetic power was extra-ordinary; his sense of art and beauty were sharp and impressive. His power was unparalleled both in Bengali and ‘Brajabuli’. He was the poet who proved that even without the Love-lore of Radha and Khrishna, Brajabuli could be effectively employed in to Bengali. [5] 

Brajabuli is an artificial literary language developed in the 16th century. It was created primarily due to the influence of Vidyapati's lyrics on the love of Radha and Krishna on the Bengali poets of the medieval period. Brajabuli is basically Maithili but its forms are modified to look like Bengali.


The poet Alaol was the most prominent of all the poets of Roshang, in fact he was one of the greatest Bengali poets of the 17th century, and some scholars say that he was Rabindranath Thakur of the 17th century. From his own testimony, it is known that he was the son of a minister of Majlis Qutb of Fathabad in Bengal. He along with his father was going by boat, on the way they were met by Firingi pirates. The parties fought for some time, the father died a martyr, but the son, i.e. Alaol was made a captive and was taken to Roshang. Probably he was sold to the king of Arakan. First he was appointed a horseman in the army. While he was passing his days like this, he chanced to come across the Muslim ministers and high officials of the kingdom. Alaol was a learned man, he knew various languages, Bengali, Arabic, Persian, Hindi and Sanskrit and he was acquainted with famous literary works of those languages. He was also well-versed in vocal and instrumental music. When the ministers and other high officers came to know of his various qualities, they appointed him to teach their children and in this way he became well known to the learned and court circle. He was invited to attend the assemblies in the houses of ministers including the Prime Ministers. Magan Thakur, a leading Muslim of Roshang, who was minister and later Prime Minister under several kings took interest in him and patronised him in various ways. After Magan’s death, other ministers and Prime Ministers also patronised him. In this way, Alaol was in the limelight of Arakan social and literary circle for thirty years as a leading figure in the kingdom of Arakan. 

With the patronage received from the ministers, Alaol wrote six books 

(1) Padmavati 
(2) Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal 
(3) Haft Paikar (or Sapta Paikar) 
(4) Thufa 
(5) Sikandarnama, and 
(6) Last part of Satimaina Lor Chandrani

It may be mentioned that all these were poetical Bengali translations of books of the same name in other languages and written by great and renowned poets. But the translation was not literal but free, and Alaol maintained his poetical talents in all these books throughout. At times he became free from the text and his knowledge in various subjects has been very appropriately exposed. Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah writes in his praise as follows:

“Alaol’s name stands very high among Bengali poets in the medieval period. He was a good scholar in Sanskrit, Bengali, Arabic, Persian and Hindi languages. In fact it may be said in great confidence that there was no poet in those days who was equal to this Muslim poet.”[6]

Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen also praises him in the following words:

“In the Padmavati, there is mark of profound scholarship of Alaol. The poet examined the nature of ‘magan’ragan’ etc. eight ‘mahaganas’. He discussed in details the quarrels and separation of ten conditions of eight heroines like Khandita, Bashakshajja and Kalhantarita; he discussed the truths about Ayurvedic medical science; he discussed the good and evil of timing of journeys like ‘Lagnacharya’ of astronomical science; he explained ‘Yoginitantra’; he explained the abstruse rites followed in the Hindu marriages like an old Hindu married woman (whose husband is alive); he has supplied a correct list of praises and hymns uttered by Purohits. Besides he inserted Sanskrit and verses at the head of chapters like the Pandits of tools (Sanskrit and vernacular schools).”[7]

Abdul Karim Sahitya Visharad discovered his manuscripts, brought the poet and his books from oblivion into the limelight of history by writing more than fifty articles in various Bengali journals. Before him some of Alaol’s books were published from Battala in Calcutta but these were not scientifically edited and so are not dependable for scholarly discussion. Abdul Karim Sahitya Visharad also edited the famous Padmavati of Alaol and Alaol was his most favourite poet. So his evaluation of Alaol is worth quoting:

“The great poet Alaol was genius in the Muslim society of Bengal. Apart from Daulat Qazi, the author of Satimaina, no second man like him in scholarship was born in this society. The statement is not an exaggeration. He is shining as the mid-day sun in Medieval Bengali literature. The whole Bengali literature has been illuminated by the light of his genius. On the one hand, he is seated on the golden throne of the great poets among the Muslims; on the other hand, among the contemporary Hindu poets also his position is very high. As he was well versed in Bengali and Sanskrit languages, so he was well-versed in Arabic and Persian languages. As he was a versatile genius in Hindu religion and literature so he was a great scholar in Muslim religion and Persian literature. Such erudition is not found in other Muslim poets. He was born with poetic genius of very high standard.”[8]


The first book written by Alaol was the Padmavati. It was originally written by Malik Muhammad Jaisi in Hindi, he started writing the book in 923 A.H./ 1520 A.D and he completed it in 1540 A.D in the reign of Sher Shah. Jaisi probably died in 1542 A.D. i.e. two years after completing the book. The story centred round Raja Ratna Sen of Chitore, the famous beautiful lady Padmini, the princess of Ceylon and King Alauddin Khalji of Delhi. Raja Ratna Sen was leading a happy life with his queen Nagmati, but one day he heard about the beauty of Padmini. The king went to Ceylon with his retinue in the guise of a Yogi, on the way he underwent inhuman sufferings, but at the end he was able to marry Padmini and lived there happily. Nagmati, on the other hand, was passing her days in grief at Chitore in the absence of the King Ratna Sen. Ratna Sen later came back to his capital and lived with the two queens, Nagmati and Padmini. Ratna Sen once turned out one of his courtiers Raghav Cehtan from his Court, the later went to Dehli, met Sultan Alauddin Khalji, and related to him the story of the beauty of Padmini. The Sultan attacked Chitore to Padmini, but in the meantime King Ratna Sen had died and the two queens, Nagmati and Padmini gave their life in the pyre of their husband. Alauddin came back without achieving anything. This is in short the story of Padmavati. We have said above that Alaol composed the poem Padmavati by order of Magan Thakur in 1651 A.D.


After completing the composition of Padmavati, Magan Thakur ordered Alaol to write Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal. Alaol began writing this book, before completing it Magan Thakur died and so the composition of the book was left incomplete. After about a decade Sayyid Musa, another Prime Minister of Roshang requested Alaol to complete the book and the poet did so. This is a legendary tale in which there is love story of man and fairy. The story is found in the Arabic Nights, Alaol probably got the story from a Persian book.

Saiful Mulk was the son of King Sifuan of Egypt and Badiujjamal was the princess of Shapal, king of the fairy land Iran-Bostan. The prince along with his friend Sayyid, the son of Wazir, went to the fairyland and after great hardship met the lady of his love and ultimately married. His friend Sayyid also married the princess of Sarandeep. Alaol completed composing Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal during 1669 – 70 A.D.


This is the third book written by Alaol. The book was originally written in Persian by the great Persian poet Nizami Ganjabi. There are seven stories, which have found place in this book. King Numan of Ajam had a son named Bahram, according to the advice of the astrologers, the king sent his son to live in Yemen. An artist named Samna built for the prince seven towers in the palace; each tower was of different type and colour. In his absence the king died and the Wazir occupied the throne. The prince however returned and defeating the Wazir got back his throne. Thereafter he conquered seven neighbouring kingdoms and married seven princesses of those kingdoms. He allowed each of the princesses to live in each of the seven towers he had built earlier. When Bahram went to live with the princesses in the tower, he asked each of them to tell a story to please him. In this way seven princesses related seven stories which pleased the king, the seven stories from the subject matter of the book Haft Paikar. The story began on Saturday and ended on Friday, the first story that of Saturday is the longest. The stories are all interesting and pleasing. Needless to say, the stories were all educative and full of moral principles. The chief aim of the stories was to please the people. The book was written in 1660 A.D. 


The book was originally written in Persian by Shaikh Yusuf Gada in 795 A.H. / 1392-93 A.D. It is a book on religious principles, and contains also advice and admonition that are helpful to lead a religious life of the Muslims. In those days books were not easily available, printing was not known; learners and teachers had to copy books for them. Shaikh Yusuf Gada had a son named Abul Fath. Shaikh Yusuf wrote this book to serve as a guide to his son. So the book is not properly a Fiqh. It contains religious principles on the basic of Fiqh and general moral principles that help regulating an honest and religious life. Alaol, in the preface, gives the subject matter of the book in the following words: 

“(Yusuf Gada) had a son named Abul Fath, the book Thufa was written for him, whoever reads the book will be benefited. There is forty-five Bab (chapters) written on Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat, Tauhid, and Iman according to Islamic religion. In Arabic door is called Bab, and without door one cannot enter the house. The book Thufa is the house of Shariat, which has forty-five doors. The book deals with religious and worldly matters like eating, drinking, cohabiting, and washing, auspicious matters on houses, works by which to go to heaven or hell etc. It also deals with Namaz, Roza, Zakat, Faraz (obligaory), Nafal (optional), Wazu (ablution), Tayammum (purification by dust), and all kinds of bath. It also deals with questions to be asked in the grave, acts for removing the Sin, and moral principles. These are not told out of imagination, they are found in the Furqan (Quran) and traditions of the Prophet, in books on Fiqh like Hidaya, Kafiya etc. Yusuf Gada composed the book in Persian verse on the basis of Arabic books.”

The life of Muslim from birth to grave is regulated by Shariah or Islamic law and the sources of Islamic law are the Quran, the Hadis and Sunnah of the Prophet, Irma and Quays. Muslims jurists have explained these sources from time to time for the benefit of the Muslims. Apart from obligatory baths etc. matters like passing urine and going to the privy, purification thereof, greetings among Muslim brethren, going to one’s house and taking proper permission from the owners before entering, all these are guided by Shariah or Islamic law. The subjects have been discussed in forty-five Bab or chapters and these chapters are as follows: 

(1) Tawhid (oneness of Allah), (2) Iman (belief in Allah and his Prophet, Angels, divine Book, life in the next world, Taqdir, and day of Judgement), (3) Question-Answer in the grave, (4) Knowledge, (5) Injunctions of Shariat about Wazu, Ghusal, going to the privy and purification thereof, (6) Ibadat, performing namaz, (7) Payment of Zakat, (8) Fasting in the month of Ramazan, Shab-I-Qadr, (9) Musafir or way farers, and how to go, when to go, the auspicious days for travelling. In this chapter Hajj and Ziarat of Madina have also been discussed. (10) Recitation of the Quran and dowa, (11) Qasr, i.e. to offer Qasr prayer, this is applied to Musafir, (12) Marriage, (13) Cohabitation of husband and wife, (14) Eating, (15) Drinking, (16) Wearing dresses, (17) Sleeping, (18) Trading, (19) Darveshi, (20) Good behaviour, (21) Debt, (22) How to sit in majlis or assembly, (23) Scandal mongering, (24) Namaz, (25) Qaza Namaz, (26) Patience, (27) Tauba or repentance, (28) Miserliness, (29) Doing good deeds, (30) Charity, (31) Order, ordering to do good and prohibiting from doing bad things, (32) Good voice, (33) Games, (34) Hunting, (35) What to do when first moon is sighted, (36) Old age, to remain engaged in prayers in old age (after forty years), (37) Morning, (38) Shahid, i.e. martyrdom, (39) Forty type of good works, (40) Acquisition of wealth, (41) Heaven, (42) Hell, (43) Sunnat, (words and deeds of the Prophet), (44) Murder, (45) Various prescriptions. 

The subject matters discussed above give an idea of the book. It is not a literary work. It does not discuss love affairs, nor does the book deal with legendary tales. Such books were rarely written in Bengali in the medieval period, in fact, this is the first book of its type. Alaol wrote this book Tuhfa in 1663-64 A.D.


Sikandarnama was originally written by Nizami Ganjabi in Persian that the book was very popular to the scholarly world. Alaol composed it in Bengali by order of Nabaraj Majlis, the Prime Minister of Sri Chandra Sudharma, Arakanese king. The book was very difficult to comprehend; it is presumed that the great Persian poet Nizami used words of five languages; Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Pahlavi (Old Persian) and Nasrani (Armenian). Alaol himself says: 

Sikandar “It is difficult to understand the difficult sentences of Nizami, but if they are explained they give pleasure. Writing book is like swimming in the sea, especially if it requires explaining Persian poems. Nizami uses similes; particularly he uses Arabic, Persian, Nasrani, Hebrew, and Pahlavi etc. five languages.”

Sikandarnama contains the heroic exploits of Sikandar or Alexander. He was the son of King Philip of Macedonia; after the father’s death ascended the throne, his tutor or friend Aristotle was made his minister. Alexander became famous by conquering various countries; he even came to India, and defeated Porus of the Panjab. But his chief opponent was Darius of the Persia, by defeating him Alexander conquered the kingdom. 

He is said to be the same as Sikandar Zulqarnain of the Holy Quran. It is a big volume and among Alaol’s books Sikandarnama was next to Padmavati in terms of popularity. Alaol completed the writing of this book in 1672 A.D. This was probably the last book written by him. The famous Alexanderia port in Egypt was founded by Sikandar and he is also said to be the inventor of looking glass. He tried to get the water of life but failed and again to be immortal he went to Amaranagar, from there also he came back disappointed. A man gave him a handful of dust and he will be merged with dust after death. 

(Concluding part)

It may be remembered that Qazi Daulat started writing this book, but before concluding it he died. Alaol completed this book by order of Sulaiman in 1658 A.D. Satimaina is a big book, consisting of three parts. Qazi Daulat wrote first two parts, Alaol added the third part. In his part Alaol wrote “Rattan Kalika O Madan Manjari Prasanga” and “Ananda Barmar Galpa”. In writing about Qazi Daulat’s part we have said that while Lor was passing his days with Chandrani, leaving Maina alone, the later was passing her days in grief due to separation. She bore her grief with extreme patience, and at last patience bore fruit. Lor could realise his mistake, he returned home with Chandrani, and all three began to live a happy life. Alaol in his part of the book showed that God rewards those who have patience, and he completed the book saying that Lor was united with Maina.


Mardan wrote his book in Kanchi a place in Roshang. Abdul Karim Sahitya-Visharad discovered a manuscript of his book of which some pages both at the beginning and end were lost. In the available pages the title of the book is not found, in one place the word Nasira is found and so Abdul Karim Sahityavisharad and Dr. Enamul Huq write that the name of the book was Nasiranama, the book deals with Nasib or luck. So it is also believed that the name of the book was Nasibnama. The poet refers to the king Thiri Thudamma, who reigned from 1622 to 1638 A.D. So the book must have been written in between these two dates. Poet Mardan was therefore a contemporary of Qazi Daulat. In the colophon the poet’s name is Mardan Nuruddin and the name of his Pir was Sayyid Ibrahim.

The poet praises the town of Kanchi saying that in that town there were living the Muslims, the Brahmins and the Kayasthas. Among the Muslims there were Alims or learned men who were busy with the Kitab and Quran, i.e. they were busy in religious pursuits. The Brahmins were also learned Pandits and they were busy with their books or Kavyas. The Kayasthas were also there busy in their respective works. Kanchi was probably the name of a township within the kingdom of Roshang.

The subject matter of the book is fate, whatever is in fate will happen, God does not help the proud people and pride hastens their fall. The story is as follows: Abdul Nabi and Abdul Karim, two friends were engaged in business. They were so friendly that they wanted to make their friendship lasting and for this reason they promised to get their children married. The agreement was that if one had a son and another had a daughter they would get them married and vice versa. Abdul Nabi had a son, while Abdul Karim had a daughter, but unfortunately Abdul Karim lost his wealth and became poor. Abdul Nabi forgot his promise and prepared to get his son married elsewhere. Abdul Karim tried to remain Abdul Nabi about his promise but the later did not pay heed to it, rather returned Abdul Karim insulted. Abdul Karim’s wife consoled her husband saying that destiny is irrefutable. Later it so happened that their promise was fulfilled and Abdul Nabi’s son married Abdul Karim’s daughter. [10]


Quraishi Magan’s forefather came from Arabia to Gaur and from there one member of the family moved towards the east, came to Chittagong and ultimately moved to Arakan. Quraishi Magan wrote a book entitled Chandravati. Dr. Enamul Huq discovered a manuscript of which pages both at the beginning and end were lost. So his antecedents and his identity cannot be ascertained. Abdul Karim Sahityavisharad and Dr. Enamul Huq thought that the poet Quraishi Magan was the same person as Magan Thakur, the Prime Minister of Arakan and the patron of the poet Alaol. [11] But nowadays scholars hold a different opinion. They say that Quraishi Magan was a different person; he had no connection with Magan Thakur, the Prime Minister. [12]

There are some families at Nawazishpur (old Fatehnagar) in Raozan P.S. of Chittagong district who claims that they belong to the family of Quraishi Magan. Late Abdul Huq Chowdhury, a famous local historian of Chittagong, belonged to the same family. He collected information about his family and he is also of opinion that Quraishi Magan was a different person from Magan Thakur, the Prime Minister of Roshang. Quraishi Magan’s manuscript was collected from his family. From the genealogical tree that Abdul Huq Chowdhury could collect from his family, it appears that from Quraishi Magan ten generations have so far passed and by this calculation. Quraishi Magan seems to have been alive in the beginning of the 18th century or in other words, Quraishi Magan flourished about 50/60 years later than Magan Thakur. According to family tradition of Abdul Huq Chowdhury, Quraishi Magan had a brother named Bhikan, on the death of both the brothers, Magan left a son named Shujaul and Bhikan a son named Mujahid. Quraishi Magan probably wrote his book while he was living in Arakan. Shujaul and Mujahid, due to some reason, killed a Magh officer and to avoid consequences fled to Chittagong. It may be remembered that Chittagong was then a part of the Mughal Empire in the Bengal subah. So by fleeing to Chittagong, they escaped and came out of the reach of the Magh government. Shujaul and Mujahid first stayed for some time at Silimpur in Sitakund P.S. but later moved to Fatehnagar (now renamed Nawazishpur) in the Raozan Police station. Here they acquired lakhiraj or rent-free land. They belonged to a family of poet, may be they were also educated persons, and one of their descendants Tita Ghazi Faqir was probably a Faqir or a man of saintly disposition. This is why probably the Mughal Government granted them rent-free lands. The family still holds the landed property and is widely known as a respectable family. 


The poet Abdul Karim Khondkar was born in Arakan, and his forefathers were engaged in state services of Roshang. The poet writes about his genealogy as follows:

“Now hear how this kitab became a puthi (i.e. rendered in to Bengali verse). I will tell you something about it. In the town of Roshang, there is a beautiful and heavenly village named Bandar. In that place many Qazis, Muftis, teachers and students, Faqir and darvesh live. Wealthy Muslims live there and talk to the king in friendly terms. If any poor man comes to a house he does not go disappointed. The people there erected mosques to say prayer and thus left their names to be remembered. Muslim learned people were brought there; some were appointed Khatib, some Imam, and some offer prayer as musulli. Some of the people were minister of the king, they all work for increasing the wealth. There was one man there who received title from the king; the title was Sadi-uk-Nana. He was the chief of the merchants, and he became in-charge of the mint …….. His name was Atibar, he was so named by his parents, but the Magh king gave him the title of ‘Nana’ …….. One day he called me and heard the book DullaMajlis, read to him. He was happy and said that many persons cannot understand Persian, some understand, other hear it from those who can read and understand. So if it is rendered into payer (or in Bengali) people will bless you. At his order I promised to write the book in Bengali…….. The name of my great grandfather was Rasul Mia, the king was kind to bestow him wealth and title. His duty was to collect dues from boats or ships and to send state dues to the king. His son was Machan Ali, he was interpreter of ships. If he came across a good thing, he used presented it to the king. His duty was to present before the king all traders who came to Roshang. His son was a good soul and character Ali Akbar. I am Abdul Karim Khondkar, his son. I hope to compose this book in Bengali verse.” [13]

In the above passage, the poet Abdul Karim Khondkar gives a good picture of Muslim Society in his area, Bandar, probably port area of Roshang, the capital city Mrohaung. There an officer established a settlement, his name was Atibar, he was given the little of Sadi-uk Nana, he was a mint officer, and probably had some control over the merchants. Atibar’s father name was Umar, it is not known whether Umar held any state service. Atibar’s Pir was Hamidullah. In the place of Bandar, where Atibar established a settlement, many rich Muslim families built their houses; Atibar built there a mosque. Alims or Muslim learned men were settled there, some were appointed as Khatib and some as Imam. The residents were busy in offering prayers and helped the poor, if any happened to come over there. Such a bright picture of the Muslim Society in Arakan is really encouraging because it shows how the Muslims lived there as an affluent people.

The poet gives the names of his ancestors. His great grandfather was Rasul Mia; he was a custom officer in the king’s service. His grandfather was an interpreter in the customs office of the same king; his duty was to present foreigners before the king and to interpret one’s views to the others. In this way he used to come in contact with all traders who came to Roshang and he must have been very trusted officer of the king. The poet’s father Ali Akbar was probably a private person, if he was in the state service, the poet would have mentioned it proudly. The poet himself was a learned man, probably he was also a private person and he adorned the court of Atibar, the Sadi-uk. It was at the requested of Atibar that the poet wrote his book Dulla Majlis.

Dulla Majlis was a book dealing with religious subjects; it was a big volume consisting of 33 chapters. The book was compose in 1200 A.H./1785 A.D. In this same year the Burmese king Bodawpaya conquered Arakan and annexed it to the kingdom of Burma. So the poet wrote this book in the last year of the independent kingdom of Arakan. Before that the poet wrote two other books Tamim Ansari and Hazar Masail. The Hajar Masail was a dialogue between an imaginary Jewish King Abdullah and Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessing of Allah SWT be upon him), who discussed important religious matters.


He was also known as Shuja Qazi, he wrote in verse from a story of Roshang known as Roshanger Panchali (History of Roshang), which is current still in Mrauk U area. He was an inhabitant of Shadarpara of Arakan and the poet was alive during the first part of the 18th century.


He was an inhabitant of Qaim of Arakan and was the author of five books: Rahatul Qulub, Abdullar Hazar Sawal, Nurnama, MadhumalatiandDarige Majlis. The first three books deal with religious matters, Madhumalati was a love story, and the subject matter of the last book cannot be ascertained.


He lived at Bandar near Mrohaung, the capital of Arakan. He wrote a book entitled Adamer Larai (Battle of Adam). The subject matter cannot be determined.


He was a man of Qaim, and wrote a book entitled Bilqisnama. It is probably a love story, in which a woman named Bilqis was the heroine.


He was a man of Bandar, a place near Mrohaung of Roshang. He wrote three books entitled Amir Hamza, Dewalmatiand Haidar Jung.

We have given above the names of poets who flourished in Arakan and the titles of their books. We find that Bengali literature produced in Arakan was very rich. Qazi Daulat and Alaol were very famous for their works; they were greatest of all Muslim poets in the whole medieval period. The presence of so many Muslim poets in Arakan and the production of so many books in Bengali, show that there was a Bengali Muslim Society there who were ready to receive and read them. This is a supporting evidence to show that there were many Muslims living in Arakan who were literate and highly cultured. This is also a strong evidence to prove that Muslims had entered into Arakan from various parts from long past. 


The influence and power of the Muslims grew in Arakan to the extent of forming their own administrative system. There were Muslim rulers, nobles, Qazis, scholars, generals and poets etc. who developed the country’s administration, shaped a healthy socio-cultural life of the people, encouraged the growth of Islamic culture and civilization and replaced Muslim heritage in Arakan.

In spite of remarkable contribution of their forefathers, today the Rohingyas have been invariably subjected to genocide and extermination at the hands of successive Burmese regimes, which aim at the total liquidation of Islam from the region so that the Muslims of Arakan would not be able to revive again. Their history has been distorted, historical documents destroyed or kept out of their hand reach. Historical evidence and relics have been marred and obliterated since the Burmese occupation of Arakan in 1974.

History cannot be falsified and replaced by concoctions, stories and fabrication. Realities cannot be tramped under-foot and a long civilization and culture cannot be simply washed away. All efforts to falsify history culture and civilization are destined to meet their natural, inevitable and inescapable doom.

Footnotes: -

1) Huq, Mohammed Enamul, Muslim Bengali Literature, Karachi (1957) P. 144
2) Sen, Sukumar, Islami Bangla Sahitya, Bradhaman (1958) P.15 
3) Dr. Kornamaya Goswami, Alaol and medieval Bengali music, The Daily Independent, Dhaka (12/03/1997) 
4) Arakan Rajsabhaya Bangla Sahitya op. cit., p. 14.
5) Supra note 1. p.146
6) Dr. Muhammad Shahidullah: Bangla Sahityer Katha, 2nd part, Dhaka 1371 B.S., p. 133.
7) D.C.Sen : Bangla Bhasha O Sahitya, 8th edition, p. 321.
8) Arakan Rajsabhaya Bangla Sahitya, p. 44.
9) Sahitya Patrika, winter, 1364, B.S., pp. 139-40.
10) Abdul Karim: “Roshang Bangla Sahitya”. Bangla Sahitya Samity, Chittagong University, 1994, pp. 22-23.
11) Arakan Rajsabhaya Bangla Sahitya, pp. 30-33.
12) Roshang Bangla Sahitya, pp. 41-45.
13) Descriptive Catalogue of Bengali Manucripts in Munshi Abdul Karim’s collection, tr. By S.S. Husain, pp. 217-18.

Rohingya Exodus