King Anawrahta of Ancient Burma

The name King Anawrahta may not ring a bell for most history students as studies are largely focused on European cultures and Western civilisations. For Asians and those in Indochina, King Anawrahta is synonymous to Europe’s Julius Caesar. King Anawrahta was the founder of the Pagan Empire. Anawrahta MInsaw was born in 1014 during tumultuous times. His mother was Myaunk Pyinthe and his father, Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu was once the ruler of Pagan. Betrayal and treachery troubled King Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu’s court that he was soon overthrown by his stepbrothers, Kyiso and Sokkate. Anawrahta was six years old then when his two step uncles connived to overthrow his father. Anawrahta grew up and as soon as he deemed he was ready, challenged those who had betrayed his father. He confronted them with a duel and won, bringing back the crown to their family.

Anawrhata became king in 1044. That same year, King Anawrhata not only established his kingdom in Pagan but reigned supreme in some Mon regions and the Irrawaddy (used to be called Ayeyarwady) delta. Interestingly, Irrawaddy is close to Mount Popa believed to be the most spiritual mountain in Burma, home to the nats, a religious belief that pre-dates Buddhism. To this day Irrawaddy is home to Burma’s most beautiful pagodas and temples. King Anawrhata continued to expand his supremacy by uniting the northern part of Burma with the south, this was the first time it happened in the history of Burma. He also stopped advancing Khmer Empire. King Anawrahta was a disciplinarian and established reforms on social, religious and economic levels that would have a long lasting effect into the lives of the Burmese people.

King Anawrahta made Pagan the capital city of Burma. Then he met Shin Arahan, a missionary-monk. He converted to Theravada Buddhism and immediately set to build the Shwedagon Temple. He also built Buddhist schools and helped revive Theravada Buddhism in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Being a proponent of Theravada Buddhism King Anawrahta has help spread its beliefs across northern Thailand known as Lan na, central Thailand used to be called Siam, Laos and the entire Khmer Empire during the 14th century possible.

In 1057, King Anawrahta declared war and wanted to subjugate the Mon people. He wanted to acquire the Tripitaka. These are Buddhists texts that make up the Buddhist principle. However, the ruler of the Mon, King Manuba did not want to give up the sacred texts. This prompted King Anawrahta to lay siege to Pegu, the capital of Mon, for many months until King Manuba surrendered. Anawrahta returned to pagan after buring Pegu to the ground and bringing with him the Mon royal family together with 32 white elephants and Pegu’s 30,0000 inhabitants. King Manabu was dedicated as a slave to the Shwedagon Temple. Despite the defeat, the Mon people who were more sophisticated dominated Pagan’s culture and life. This is apparent in the many pagodas at Pagan that show the distinct Mon style of architecture.

King Anawrahta died in March 1078 somewhere in the outskirts of Pagan. It was insinuated that his enemies have ambushed him and disposed of his body because it was never found again.

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