restricted access 9. Positioning Bagan in the Buddhist Ecumene: Myanmar's Trans-Polity Connections
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9 Positioning Bagan in the Buddhist Ecumene: Myanmar’s Trans-Polity Connections Goh Geok Yian This chapter starts with the assumption that Bagan of the 11th through the 14th centuries was a religious hub for monks and pilgrims and constituted one of three important nodes in a Buddhist common world or commonwealth, or what I have elected to call “Buddhist ecumene”. The Buddhist ecumene demarks a common world within which exchanges and interactions between the different nodes shared a religion: Buddhism. Buddhism represents an overarching principle for all the polities which belonged to the same ecumene, but it is by no means the only linking principle. Within this ecumene, ideas, texts and items travelled and were exchanged among the different nodes of the same network that were also connected via commercial trade. Polities waged wars, sometimes on the pretext of religion, but in other times to obtain more people, more resources and to assert supremacy over another. The ecumene refers to a network of centres which is marked by a common shared religion under the “one house” (oikos) of Buddhism. 17-J02381 09 Bagan and the World.indd 179 9/10/17 8:47 AM 180 Goh Geok Yian Bagan represents one of the three key nodes of this Buddhist ecumene. The Buddhist ecumene begins with the reign of Anawrahta, an 11th-century king of Bagan whose exploits are recorded in the Burmese chronicles of the 18th and 19th centuries, the northern Thai chronicle(s) of the 15th century and the Sri Lankan chronicle, Cūlavaṁsa. The Cūlavaṁsa dates from the 13th century but contains updates through the 19th century. The chronicles present the view that Bagan, northern Thailand and Sri Lanka had close interactions with one another, which began as early as the 11th century. These accounts emphasize the king’s importance and the position of the kingdom’s capital, Bagan, within the context of a regional Buddhist commonwealth or network, characterized by the idea of a Buddhist ecumene (for detailed discussions, see Goh 2007 and 2014). Chronicle Accounts Textual accounts of Anawrahta and Bagan characterize the king making great efforts to obtain Buddhist texts and relics. His endeavours to take religious texts and relics to Bagan resulted in the sending of a number of expeditions to foreign countries such as Tarup-China,1 Sri Lanka and India. According to the textual accounts, most of these missions were carried out without the outbreak of wars. Textual accounts such as U Kala’s Mahayazawingyi (ca. 1720s), Twinthin Taikwun Mahasitthu’s Yazawinthit (ca. 1798), and the Hmannan Yazawindawgyi (1829) provide detailed descriptions of King Anawrahta’s exploits, but when it comes to the description of Bagan itself, information is lacking. The descriptions pertain mainly to the enshrining of Buddha’s relics in several locations, where stupas were erected; the most significant being the four shrines or zedis associated with the Buddha’s tooth relic that came from Sri Lanka (Theingho). These four shrines are the stupas at Shwezigon, Tangyidaung, Lokananda and Tuywindaung. The account of how the single tooth relic grew to five can be found in Burmese chronicles (see, for example, U Kala 1960, pp. 195–96). According to the chronicle tradition, a fifth tooth grew from the fourth, and this was borne by a white elephant to a place on the eastern slope of the mountain ranges to the southeast of Bagan; at the top of Thalyaung peak, the elephant stopped and prostrated for a brief moment, before it climbed Khaywe peak, and eventually took the relic to Pyek peak, where the king ordered the establishment of a zedi. Anawrahta also ordered the building of zedis on the other two peaks that the elephant 17-J02381 09 Bagan and the World.indd 180 9/10/17 8:47 AM Positioning Bagan in the Buddhist Ecumene 181 journeyed to (U Kala 1960, p. 195). This would account for the number of monuments found at the summits of the mountains to the southeast of Bagan, with Tuywindaung being the highest peak. The Mahayazawingyi, for instance, states that Anawrahta ordered the building of numerous hpaya (temples which comprise stupas and pagodas), gu (cave-like single-storied temples), kyaung (monasteries) and irrigation canals throughout the nainngan (country/kingdom) (U Kala 1960, p. 201); one of these was in Taungbyon village, which was named Hsutaungpyi. The latter description comes under the section which describes what the king did for the people he conquered and captured (U Kala 1960, p. 189). The...