Taw Sein Ko
(First published in Burma between 1883-1913)

         " FROM Buddhist writings preserved at Ceylon and else where there can be no doubt that the Talaings* first obtained their knowledge of the Buddhist religion through the two missionaries as above described; and owing to their being on the sea·board, received it at a much earlier period than the Burmese. But as to when, and by what means, the Burmese first obtained their knowledge of it, no authentic record exists. Sir Arthur Phayre is of opinion that they were converted by Buddhist missionaries from Gangetic India who reached Upper Burma through Bengal and Manipur. Others, amongst whom is Rhys Davids, supposed that Buddhism was introduced from China. It is not unlikely, however, that the Burmese obtained both their religion and their alphabet through the Talaings. The Burmese alphabet is almost the same as the Talaing, and the circular form of both strongly indicates the influence of the Singalese, or the Tamulic type of letter."— Fytche's Burma Past and Present, Vol. II, page 171.

        The history of the Buddhist Church in Ramanna or the country of the Talaings begins with the third Buddhist Council convened by Asoka in 309 B.C (According to Burmese Chronology, the Buddha's Nirvana took place in 544 B.C., and the Third Buddhist Council was held 235 years after that event, i.e., in 309 B.C). At the conclusion of this Council, missionaries were sent forth to various countries to propagate the Religion. Mahinda was despatched to Ceylon, and Sona and Uttara were sent to Suvannabhumi, which land both Talaing and Burmese writers agree in identifying with Thaton, the Talaing kingdom conquered by Anawrata in 1057 A.D. An account of the despatch of these missionaries, and of the miraculous conversion of the countries visited by them is given in Chapter XII of the Mahavamsa (Turnour's Mahavamsa, edited by Wijesinha, pages 46-49) a history compiled in Ceylon by Mahanama, a Buddhist Monk, in the fifth century A.D. Doubts have been expressed by European scholars as to the authenticity of this account, and there is an inclination to treat the whole tale as a monkish legend. In the inscriptions of Asoka, Ceylon is referred to only twice and no mention is made either of Suvannabhumi, or of the mission of Asoka's son Mahinda, or of his daughter Sanghamitta (Colquhoun's Across Chryse, Preface, pages vi and vii). Nor have any inscriptions in the Asoka character been found at Thaton or Pagan, whither it is supposed the Burmese conquerors removed their spoils of war.

          As regards Suvannabhumi, Yule and Subhuti ( Vide S. V. Suvanna at page 492, Childers' Pali Dictionary) agree in identifying it with the Indo-Chinese Peninsula while Alberuni, who wrote his work on India about 1030 A.D., mentions Suvannabhumi as one of the countries situated to the north-east of India. (Sachau's Alberuni's India, Vol. 1, page 303) He also mentions that the Islands between China and India are the Islands of the Zabaj, called by the Hindus, Suvarnadvipa, "because you obtained much gold as deposit if you wash only a little of the earth of that country." (Sachau's Alberuni's India, Vol. II, page 106)

          The conversion of a country to a foreign religion is necessarily the result of a long and continued intercourse, and of sustained and strenuous missionary effort; and the statement in the Mahavamsa that, on the arrival of Sona and Uttara in Suvannabhumi, 6o,ooo people suddenly embraced the new faith, that 2,500 men and 1,500 women were admitted into the Order (Turnour's Mahavamsa, edited by Wijesinha, page 49) may be summarily dismissed as beyond the range of credibility. Judging, however, by the splendid ruins of Cambodia, and the numerous Sanskrit Inscriptions found there it seems to be highly probable that that Kingdom was the chief radiating centre of Buddhism in Indo-China, and that the expansion of its power to Thaton and Malaya was accompanied by the spread of Buddhist influences. Cambodian supremacy in the Salween valley lasted till the eleventh century and Cambodian influences in the valleys of the Salween and Irrawaddy ceased with the foundation of the kingdom of Siam in 1350 A. D. It may, therefore, be safely assumed that the religious traditions of the Cambodians, regarding especially the introduction of Buddhism, were inherited by the Siamese as well as the Talaings, by whom they were passed on to the Burmese.

          At the same time, Burmese writers are not willing to acknowledge their indebtedness to the Talaings, whom they had conquered, for their knowledge of Buddhism. They say that Sunaparanta, the classic name of their country, should be identified with Aparantaka; that the Buddha himself visited Sunaparanta during his life-time, and there established his Religion; and that, at the end of the Third Council, missionaries were sent to Aparantaka to propagate the Faith. They add that, as early as 443 B.C., Buddhism was established at Prome as attested by the ancient Pagodas still in existence, and that, if they are at all beholden to the Talaings, the revival of the faith is certainly due to the Buddhist scriptures brought from Thaton to Pagan in the 11th century A. D. The establishment of Buddhism at Prome in the 5th century B. C., cannot as yet be proved or disproved, because the ruins of that ancient capital have not been systematically explored; nor can Burma's claim to be identified with Aparantaka be admitted. Fergusson and Burgess in the Cave Temples of India (page 17), say that Aparantaka is the konkan of the present day. "Aparantaka" means the " Western Country" and cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be identified with Burma, whose relative position towards India prima facie vitiates the identification.

         If, before the foundation of Pagan in the second century A. D., Buddhism prevailed at Prome, it appears to have been of the Southern School, which was probably corrupted, later on, by the tenets of the Northern School as well as by Saivaism and Vaishnavaism. Burmese history relates that,. on the accession of Thaiktaing, the 13th King of Pagan, who began his reign in 513 A.D., the Naga-worship, with the Aris as its priests, arose at Pagan. It lasted for over five centuries, till it was finally suppressed by Anawrata. There is not much information available about the Aris or the system of faith taught by them. About the same period, i.e., 6th century A. D., in Northern India, Buddhism had lost its vigour of expansion,** and Indian Buddhists had migrated to China and neighbouring countries. Buddhism itself had been corrupted by the Tantric system, which is a mixture of magic, witchcraft and Siva-worship; and this Tantric Buddhism apparently percolated into Burma through Bengal, Assam and Manipur, and allied itself with the Northern School prevailing at Pagan. Indeed, Wilson observes in the preface to his Vishnu Purana: "it is a singular and as yet, uninvestigated, circumstance that Assam, or at least the north·east of Bengal (i.e., Kamrup) seems to have been, in a great degree, the source from which the Tantrika and Sakta corruptions of the religion of the Vedas and Puranas proceeded." All that we know about these priests is that they called themselves 'Aris' or 'Ariya,'— the 'Noble' that their robes were dyed with indigo, like those of the Lamas of Tibet and China; that they wore their hair at least two inches long; that they were not strict observers of their vow of celibacy; that the Jus primae noctis prevailed among them; and that the basis of their doctrines was that sin could be expiated by the recitation of certain hymns.

          The immorality of the Aris finds a parallel among the Lamas of Tibet and the Nairs of the Malabar Coast in Southern India. In Tibet, where the limited food-supply necessitates the practice of polyandry, Buddhist monks may beget children, and their sons are known as nephews. On the Malabar Coast, a communistic form of marriage prevails so far as the Brahmans are concerned; and a number of brothers may marry a single wife.

          The priests of the Bhutias and Lepchas of the present day also appear to reflect the 'Aris' of Pagan in some degree and the following is Dalton's account of them ;—

         "The Ghylongs, Lamas or priests, form a very large proportion of the Bhutia population. Admission to the priest hood is obtained by permission of the Deb (King), on payment of a fee. In addition to the religious duties, the Lamas are charged with the medical care of the people; but, as exorcism is the only system of treatment attempted, assurance in the practitioner, and faith in the patient, are all that is needed. The Lamas have been estimated at 1,500 to 2,000. They live in monasteries, the chief of which is the headquarters of the Government. In knowledge of the mysteries of the Buddhist religion, and in the literature of their country, they are very inferior to the Kampti Bapus or Phungis."***

         * ('Mon' is the preferred word, nowadays, Editor,

         ** At page 437 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth edition, Vol. 4, Professor Rhys Davids says: "Buddhism began to decay soon after the commencement of the Christian Era. In 400 A. D., when Fa Hian visited India, he found Buddhism still flourishing, though scarcely maintaining its ground. Hiouen Thsang. who visited India two centuries later, found Buddhism at a very low ebb. In the 8th and 9th centuries, a great persecution arose, and Buddhism, was expelled from India." At page 438, ibid, he again says : The Buddhism introduced into Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries of our era was a form of the great vehicle, already much corrupted by Sivaism, a mixture of witchcraft and Hindu philosophy."

         *** Dalton's Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, page 97. The large proportion of monks to the lay population in Buddhist countries has been noticed. "Thus in Tibet, where children are relatively few, it is believed that one out of every six or eight of the population is a priest. In Sikkhim the proportion is one to ten. In Ladak one-sixth, In Bhotan one to about ten." (Waddel's Buddhism of Tibet, page 171). "Under Burmese Rule, three percent of the population of Upper Burma, including the Cis-Salween Shan States, were pongyis (monks) and in Mandalay itself there were 13,227 members of the Order or about eight percent, of the total population." Scott's Gazetteer of Upper Burma Part 1, Vol. II, page 3.)

         "Dr. Campbell says, the Lepchas are Buddhists and have priests, some of their own tribe being educated at home; a few of the same race go for their education to the great monastic establishment beyond the snow; and some Tibetan priests. The latter two classes adhere to the monastic discipline, and are supposed to be devoted to celibacy. The country-born and country-educated priest is permitted to marry.' (Dalton's Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, page 101)

         "Dr. Latham tells us that the Lepcha is no Buddhist and that the priests, though they carry about the Buddhist prayer machines, wear Buddhist rosaries, and profess monkish mendicancy, are also the medicine men, the exorcists, and the directors of the feasts, ceremonies and sacrifices in honour of evil spirits; but notwithstanding all this, they may be just as good Buddhists as the Bhutias, who, whilst flirting with the mysteries of that religion, retain much of their original Paganism or Shamanism." (Dalton's Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, pages 101-102)

         In India, the Tantric doctrine lapsed, in some cases, into a degrading system of impurity and licentiousness, as the form of worship required the use of some one of the five Ma-karas, or words beginning with the letter M' vis., : (1) madya, wine; (2) mamsa, flesh; (3) matsya, fish; (4) mudra, mystical gestures; (5) maithuna, sexual intercourse (Monier William's Indian Wisdom, page 523, footnote). Burmese records relate that, prior to the 11th century, offerings of wine and meat were made to images of the Buddha; and that it was only in 1555 A. D., that the Hanthawadi Sinbyuyin, the Branginoco of the early European writers, ordered the cessation of the practice of offering to the nats or deified spirits intoxicants and sacrifices of white buffaloes, white oxen, and white goats. That the Tantric doctrines became part and parcel of the prevailing system of faith in Burma is further shewn by the fact that, even at the present day, Nat-worship is not wholly free from licentiousness.

         The sacred language of Buddhism, whether of the Northern or Tantric school, was Sanskrit, and not Pali. Inscriptions of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have been found at Pagan, whose paleographical development is clearly traceable to the Indo-Pali alphabet of Kanishka (vide Cunningham's Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Plate XXVII). This Scythian king, who convened the Fourth Buddhist Council in Kashmir in the first century of the Christian era, had the Tripitaka arranged in Sanskrit, and did for the Northern School what Asoka had done for the Southern. Further, terra-cotta tablets bearing Sanskrit legends have been found at Pagan and Tagaung; and Professors Fawsboll and Trenckner have noticed the marked preference shewn for the Sanskritic form of certain words in the Buddhist books of Burma. The most remarkable fact, however, is the existence in the Burmese language of words importing terms in religion, mythology, science and social life, which are derived directly from Sanskrit. In the domain of religion, the Burmese always employ partially Sanskrit forms like Dhammacakra, Sariputtara, Kramma, Sakra, and Samuddara, instead of the Pali forms, Dhammacakka, the wheel of Law; Sariputta, the right-hand disciple of Buddha; Kamma, the principle of Karma; Sakka, the Recording Angel of Buddhism; and Samudda, the ocean. This fact and the internal evidence afforded by the Inscriptions of Pagan appear to indicate:-

         (i) that the form of Buddhism first introduced into Burma · proper was that of the Mahayana or Northern School

         (ii) that the Buddhist Scriptures when first introduced were written in Sanskrit, which is the language of the Northern School;

          (iii) that the Southern school or Hinayana, the language of whose Scriptures is Pali, subsequently absorbed and assimilated, by its stronger vitality, the Northern School, which, through intermingling with the Tantric doctrine of Assam and with the Bon religion (Jaschke's Tibetan-English Dictionary, page 372, Waddell's Buddhism of Tibet, pages, 19, 41, 55) or Shamanism of Tibet, had fallen into corruption and decay.

         There are two words in the Burmese language, which, above, all, seem to point to religious intercourse both with Tibet and Nipal. The Pali word ' bhikkhu,' a monk, always appears in Burmese as 'pongyi' or 'rahan '. Now the word 'pongyi' is evidently connected with 'bonze', a priest of the Bon religion of Shamanism, which still prevails in Eastern and Southern Tibet, with which Burma must have had frequent intercourse in prehistoric times, and the Burmese word must be referred to the Tibetan compound made up of 'Bon', the Bon religion and 'gyepa' (Jaschke's Tibetan-English Dictionary, page 109 {vide under the word rgyas-pa ) to be great, 'pa' being an expletive suffix. Again, the word 'rahan' can only be referred to Arhana or 'Arhanta' under which designation monks are known in Nipal. These two words, 'pongyi' and 'rahan' must have already been in the Burmese language before the word 'bhikkhu' was introduced together with the Pali Tripitaka in the eleventh century A.D. Further, the Aris of Pagan appear to correspond to the Vajra-Acarya of Nipal. The latter may be a Bhikshu, Sravaka, Chailak or Sakyavamsika (Sakya-puttiya); he is bound for only ten days by the primitive rules of the Order, is then released from them, and marries though tonsured. Ostensibly he is a monk, but really he is a layman (Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. V, 183).

          At Pagan, the primitive system of faith was the Bon religion with its animistic worship and devil-dancing. The Burmese Pantheon of the 37 Nats, whose images are in the Shwezigon Pagoda at Pagan, only dates from the reign of Thinligyaung (344-387 A.D.) The Bon religion was superseded by the Mahayana School with its Sanskrit Scriptures, which, in its turn, had to give way, in the sixth century A. D. to the Tantric system with its immoral professors, the Aris and the form of Naga-worship. It was not till the 11th century A.D., that the Hinayana doctrine of the Southern School was introduced from Thaton. Possibly, there was also an admixture. of Jainism, Saivaism and Vaishnavaism. Vaishnava temples have been discovered at Pagan, and traces of the Siva cult have been found at Prome and in Arakan.

          The stratification of these various systems of faith can only be elucidated by the exploration of ancient ruins in Assam and Manipur, the excavation of ancient sites in Burma, and a close study of the architecture, sculpture, and frescoes at Pagan. The frequent political upheavals and the exterminating wars between Burma and the adjacent countries have, in a great measure, obliterated the chief landmarks of religious and ecclesiastical history, and no satisfactory account can be obtained from native records alone.

          In studying the Burmese form of Buddhism, we have hither to been accumstomed to look only to India for prototypes and influences. The possible influence of China as a factor in the religious development of the Burmese has been overlooked. The Northern form of Buddhism, which was crystallized by the fourth Buddhist Council held under Kanishka, the Scythian King in Kashmir, was, together with its Scriptures in Sanskrit, introduced into China in 61 A.D., under the Emperor Ming Ti (Edkin's Chinese Buddhism, Pages 87-88), who reigned at Loyang in Honan. Ball says: "The first centuries of its arrival were marked by the translation into Chinese of numerous Buddhistic works; and there was considerable progress in making proselytes, for in the fourth century, nine-tenths of the inhabitants of China were Buddhists." (Ball's Things Chinese, page 51)

          Later on, Indian missionaries passed into China through Nipal and Tibet, and Chinese monks visited India and Ceylon by way of Central Asia and Afghanistan, with the object of studying Buddhism in the land of its birth and of making a collection of religious books for translation into Chinese. Buddhism was at the zenith of its power in, China, in the tenth and twelfth centuries, not only being popular but also exerting great literary influence (Ball's Things Chinese, page 53).

          Burma received her Buddhist impulse, not from the adjacent province of Kuangtung, where Buddha is called 'Fat', nor from the maritime Province, where the Amoy dialect is spoken, in which the Sage is called 'Put', but from some Province, most probably, Yunnan, Ssuch'uan or Central China, where the Mandarin dialect was spoken, the evolution of this last dialect being ascribed to the period 300-900 A.D., when old Chinese intermingled with the languages of the Tartar tribes (Parker's China, her History, Diplomacy and Commerce, pages 25-32). In Mandarin, Buddha is called 'Fo-yeh', but the older pronunciation is 'Fu-ya' which, in Burmese, assumes the form 'Phu-ya,' now pronounced 'Pha-ya'. The Shan and Siamese form is Phra,' the Cambodian form being 'Vra'. The earliest Burmese inscripton, where the word 'Phu-ya' occurs, is dated about 1139 A.D., but according to Edkins, 'Fu-ya' came into use about 561 A.D (Edkin's Introduction to the Study of the Chinese Character, page 202). In Burmese 'Pu-t'o' means an image of Buddha or a religious building commonly known as a Pagoda; and the corresponding Chinese word is 'Fu-t'u' (Watters' Essays on the Chinese Language, pages 387-388, 411-412). A monastery is called a 'Vihara' in Pali, and 'Kyaung' in Burmese, the form used in Tavoy being 'Klong'. In Mandarin, the corresponding word is 'Kung', the form used in Amoy being 'Kiong'. The leaves of the Talipot palm, on which the Buddhist Scriptures are written, are called 'Talapatra' in Sanskrit, and 'Tala-patta' in Pali; but the Burmese form is 'Pei' or 'Pei ywet' which corresponds to the Chinese wood 'Pei' or 'Pei yeh '. The transformation of this word is thus explained :—" This Sanskrit word Patra became 'Pei-to-lo' in Chinese, and hence the Buddhist books were called 'Pei-to-lo Ching'. But the full transcription is not much used, and we find it shortened to 'To-lo' and even to 'Pei'. Then the history of the term was lost, and 'pei-to-lo' and its abbreviation came to be regarded as the name of the tree, whose leaves were used for writing purposes. We find, accordingly, such expressions as Pei-yeh ' that is, patra leaves used to designate the sacred books of the Buddhist" (Watters' Essays on the Chinese Language, pages 42-429). A most interesting history is attached to 'Pu-ti-si,' the Burmese word for rosary, which is not, at all, mentioned in the whole range of Indian Buddhist literature, whether of the Northern or Southern School. Jaina works make mention of the rosary under the designation ' Ganettiya' or 'Kancaniya'; and Brahmanical books under 'Mala', 'Sutra', 'Akshamala', 'Akshamalika', 'Akshasutra', 'Rudrakshamala', Carcaka mala or 'Japamala' (Transaction of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists, Vol. II, pages 883-889). It is thus evident that the Burmese term is not derived from any Indian word, but that it can only be referred to the Chinese word 'P'u-t'i-tzu' (Watters' Essays on the Chinese Language, page 377).

         It is extremely remarkable that terms intimately connected with Buddhism should have been borrowed by Burma from China and her translations from Sanskrit, rather than from Ceylon and her Pali literature and this circumstance alone is convincing proof that the Burmese are indebted to the Chinese for a good portion of their knowledge of Buddhism (For intercourse between Burma and China in the sixth century A.D., see pages 10-105, Edkin's Chinese Buddhism).

         Reference has been made above to the division of Buddhism into two great branches: the Northern and Southern Schools. China, Nipal, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, Corea, Japan, and Cochin China belong to the Northern, while Ceylon, Burma, and Siam belong to the Southern. There are several points of difference between the two Schools. Sanskrit is the sacred language of the Northern Buddhists, as Pali is of the Southern. In the Northern School, the doctrine of the " Western paradise ", where one may live for Aeons in a state of absolute bliss, exempt from suffering, death, and sexual distinction, is superadded to that of Nirvana or absorption into a passionless state. The Northern cosmogony is more extensive than the Southern, which is based on the Brahmanical system. The Northern Buddhists acknowledge the existence of a supreme Being, the Creator of the Universe, called Adi-Buddha; while in the Southern School, the central tenet is that man, without any extraneous aid from any Superior Being, is capable of attaining salvation, and that the Buddha is the highest type of humanity. The Southern School favoured the purely human and psychological ethics, while into the Northern was introduced animistic and transcendental views tinged with Tantric doctrines together with beliefs in the supernatural. The greatest distinction between the two systems is, however, that the Northern prides itself on its designation "Maha Yana" or the "Great Vehicles' because its ideal is Bodhisatship, which involves a series of re-births for Aeons, and a desire to save all living creatures in the ages to come. The Southern is taunted as the "Hina Yana" or the "Lesser Vehicle," because its ideal is Arhatship, or the attainment of Nirvana in this life by self-culture and self-control. When Hiuen Tsiang visited India in the 6th century A.D., two-thirds of the members of the Buddhist Order still adhered to the older doctrine of the Southern School; but the great Chinese Pilgrim regarded himself as a Mahayanist, took away many books of the Great Vehicle back to China and became a founder of a long line of translators into Chinese. In the new Encyclopaedia Britannica, Professor Rhys Davids objects to the use of the terms " Northern and Southern " Schools of Buddhism as inaccurate and misleading. He says " We have learnt that the division of Buddhism, originating with Burnouf, into Northern and Southern, is misleading. He found that the Buddhism in his Pali MSS which came from Ceylon, differed from that in his Sanskrit MSS which came from Nipal. Now that the works he used have been made accessible in printed editions, we find that wherever the existing MSS came from, the original works themselves were all composed in the same stretch of country, that is in the valley of the Ganges. The difference of the opinions expressed in the MSS is due, not to the place where they are found, but to the difference of time at which they were originally composed. Not one of the books mentioned above (i.e., the publicaton of the Pali's Text Society) is either Northern or Southern. They all claim, and rightly claim to belong, so far as their place of origin is concerned, to the Majjhima Desa, the Middle Country. It is undesirable to base the main division of our subject on an adventitious circumstance, and specially so, when the nomenclature thus introduced (it is not found in the books themselves), cuts right across the true line of division. The use of the terms Northern and Southern as applied, not to these existing MSS, but to the original books, or to the Buddhism they teach, not only does not help us, it is the source of serious misunderstanding. It inevitably leads careless writers to take for granted that we have, historically, two Buddhisms; one manufactured in Ceylon, the other in Nipal. Now this is admittedly wrong. What we have to consider is, Buddhism varying through slight degrees, as the centuries pass by in almost every book. We may call it one, or we may call it many. What is quite certain is that it is not two. And the most useful distinction to emphasise is, not the ambiguous and misleading geographical one—derived from the places where the modern copies of the MSS are found; nor even though that would be better, the linguistic one—but the chronological one. The use, therefore, of the inaccurate and misleading terms Northern or Southern ought no longer to be followed in scholarly works on Buddhism." (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Vol. 26, page 433)

         With all deference to the scholarly opinion of the learned. Professor, I must say that the terms invented by Burnout are not only convenient and based on the geographical distribution of Buddhism with essentially distinctive features, but have also attained a popular fixity. The terms may not imply that " we have, historically, two Buddhisms—one manufactured in Ceylon, the other in Nipal" but they do imply that we have two different kinds of Buddhism, one fostered by Asoka and the other by Kaniska. Burnouf, no doubt, first used the terms owing to the difference of the Buddhism as expounded in his Pali manuscripts, which came from Ceylon, from that reflected in his Sanskrit manuscripts, which came from Nipal; but since his time, they have been extended to apply to the wider divergences of doctrine, belief, and usage. In his " Chinese Buddhism" (Page 100) Edkins rightly says: " The native annotator says that Tach'eng is the highest of three states of intelligence to which a disciple of Buddha can attain, and that the corresponding Sanskrit word, Mahayana, means 'Boundless revolution and unsurpassed knowledge.' It is here that the resemblance is most striking between the Buddhism of China and that of other countries, where it is professed in the north. These countries having the same additions to the creed of Shakya, the division of Buddhism by Burnouf into a Northern and Southern School has been rightly made. The superadded mythology and claim to magical powers of the Buddhists, who revere the Sanskrit as their sacred language, distinguish them from their co-religionists, who preserve their traditions in the Pali tongue.

         The introduction of the eras, now in use among the Burmans, constitutes one of the principal landmarks in the history of Buddhism in Burma; but native records are silent as to the reasons for their introduction. There are two eras in use, and are both of exotic origin: the Era of Religion or Anno Buddhae, reckoned by the Burmans from 544 B.C., and the Vulgar Era or Sakkaraj. The earlier era used in Burma seems to have been the Era of Religion. It was abolished by Samundari, King of Prome, in Anno Buddhae 624, and a new Era was established in its own second year, thus wiping out 622 years of the Era of Religion. Hence the Era established by King Samundari had the name of the Dodorasa era—the mnemonic words in Pali for the figure 622—applied to it. The new Era is, in fact, the Saka Era of India, and is reckoned from 78 A.D. The introduction of this Era is thus explained by Alberuni: (Sachau's Alberuni's India, Vol. II, page 6) "The epoch era of Saka or Sakakala falls 135years later than that of Vikramaditya. The here-mentioned Saka tyrannised over their country between the river Sindh and the ocean, after he had made Aryavarta in the midst of his realm his dwelling place. He interdicted the Hindus from considering and representing themselves as anything but Sakas. Some maintain that he was a Sudra from the city of Almanansura; others maintain that he was not a Hindu at all, and that he had come to India from the west. The Hindus had much to suffer from him, till at last they received help from the east, when Vikra maditya marched against him in the region of Karur between Multan and the castle of Loni. No this date became famous, as people rejoiced in the news of the death of the tyrant, and was used as the epoch of an era, especially by the astronomers."

        In 638 A. D., a new era called the Khachapanca—the mnemonic words in Pali for the figure 560 - was introduced. It was inaugurated by Popa Saw Rahan, a usurper of Pagan, who had been Buddhist Archbishop and Preceptor of the Queen of his predecessor. The unfrocked monk was reputed for his learning, but no reasons are assigned, in the Burmese records, for his action. His name indicates that he was of Shan or Cambodian origin. There is, however, evidence to shew that the Burmese derived their Khachapanca era from the Chinese. Forbes in his 'Languages of Further India,' (page 26), speaks of the " singular fact that all the nations of ultra-India, although deriving their religion, their civilization and their literature from India, have not adopted any of the Indian Eras, but have borrowed from China."

        The Dodorasa or Saka era demonstrates that there was frequent intercourse between India and Prome in the first century after Christ, and that Indian influence was predominant in the Irrawaddy valley. As to the extension of the Chinese era of the T'ang dynasty to Burma it can be accounted for thus: The Annamese, who became subject to China as long ago as the year 221 B.C., passed it on to their neighbours, the Cambodians, whose empire extended in the early centuries of the Christian era, prior to their conquest by the Siamese (1351-1374 A.D.), as far as the shores of the Gulf of Martaban. Traces of Cambodian influence and civilization are still to be found in the painting, sculpture, and architecture of Burma. The Cambodians then passed it on to the Talaings and the Burmese. Or it is possible that the Burmese received it direct from the Chinese, their northern neighbours. But whatever the course of the migration of the era may have been, nearly two years elapsed before its adoption, and its computation began with the second year of the new reckoning.

         The introduction of the Chinese calendar was apparently effected during the reign of T'ai Tsung of the T'ang dynasty, who ruled from 627-650 A.D. During this reign, flourished the great pilgrim and traveller, Hiuen Tsang. In the introduction to Hiuen Tsang's Travels, the Emperor is thus described in Beal's Buddhist Records of the Western World, Vol. I, page 9: -

         "With respect to the Emperor, who transcends the five and surpasses the three, we read how all creatures enjoy his benefit and all who can declare it utter his praises. From the royal city throughout the (five) Indies, men who inhabit the savage wilds, those whose customs are diverse from ours, through the most remote lands all have received the royal calendar, all have accepted the imperial instructions; alike they praise his war-like merit and sing of his exalted virtues and his true grace of utterance." The modern royal calendar is a work containing useful information about the seasons, etc. It is annually issued by the Astronomical Board at Peking, and is distributed throughout the Chinese Empire and its dependencies.

         In this sketch of Buddhism we must not omit a reference to Buddhaghosa, the great scholar and divine, who was the reputed apostle of Buddhism to Burma. Talaing historians claim him to be their fellow-countryman and state that he crossed over to Ceylon in 402 A. D., and thence brought back to Thaton a complete set of the Tripitaka together with its commentaries. This claim is vitiated by the Mahavamsa and other Sinhalese records, which say that he visited Ceylon during the reign of Mahanama (412-434 A. D.) and that he returned, not to Thaton, but to 'Jambudipa, to worship at the Bo-tree at Uruvela in Magadha" (Compare with the accounts given at pages 2-927, Copleaton's Buddhism). Further, the Kalyani Inscription erected by Dhammaceti, King of Pegu, in 1476 A. D., is absolutely silent regarding the celebrated Buddhist divine. If the story about Buddhaghosa's advent to Thaton be historically true, the event would have been considered to be an important epoch and would certainly have been mentioned in this inscription, which gives a resume of the vicissitudes of Buddhism in Burma and Ceylon, and which was erected by a king, who was called from the cloister to the throne, and to whom every kind of information was accessible. Considering that the identification with the Suvannabhumi of the ancients has been urged in favour of three countries, namely, Ramannadesa, the Malay Peninsula, and Cambodia, in all of which gold is found, one cannot help being sceptical as to the historical accuracy of the account relating to the mission of Buddhaghosa to Thaton. Such scepticism becomes somewhat confirmed, when it is borne in mind that there is no paleographical affinity between the Talaing and Sinhalese alphabets and that Cambodian writers affirm that the great divine came to their country (Bowring' Kingdom and People of Siam, Vol. I, page 36). In this connexion, the conclusions of Mr. Foulkes in his careful researches into the legends of Buddhaghosa are extremely interesting (Indian Antiquary for April 1890)

         A history of Buddhism in Burma still remains to be written. The influences exerted by China, Tibet, Nipal, Magadha, Assam, Manipur and Cambodia on the one hand, have to be distinguished from those exerted by Southern India and Ceylon on the other. The intermixture of the Bon religion with the Tantric doctrine and Naga-worship, the evolution of Shamanism or Nat-worship and the part played by Brahmanism, Saivaism, Vaishnavaism and Jainaism in the religious development of Burma have still to be described. Above all, the Talaing literature, which forms the connecting link between Southern India and Burma proper still remains to be explored.

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9th March 2000


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