Burmese Indians

  Burmese Indians

Shri Kali Temple in Yangon

The Burmese Indians (Burmese: MLCTS: ku. la: lu myui:) are a group of overseas Indians from Myanmar (formerly Burma). They form approximately 2% (about 950,000) [1] on the CIA World Factbook 2006. of the population, although exact figures do not exist due to intermarriage between Indians and other ethnic groups.





The term “Burmese Indian” refers to a broad range of ethnic groups from South Asia, most notably from present-day Bangladesh and India. The widely-accepted term ka-la, however, is considered derogatory. Its root is believed to be ku la meaning either “to cross over (the Bay of Bengal)” or “person” depending on the way it is pronounced.[2] According to the History Professor U Than Tun, the ‘Kala’ is derived from “Ku lar” meaning the people who adhere to a caste system.[3] Their association with foreign rule and repression in the form of colonial courts, police [4] and Sepoys under the command of the British has been mainly responsible for a lasting animosity compounded by the more obvious difference in their physical appearance, unlike the Chinese who also happen to be Buddhists and historically regarded by the Bamar as their cousins. White Europeans were also called kala hpyu (white kala) before British rule became established.[5]The Indian was seen to be subservient and loyal to the white man giving rise to the expression, Myin oungun, kyun kala, maya tawthu – “a chestnut for a horse, a kala for a slave and a village girl for a wife”. [citation needed]

The majority of Indians arrived in Burma whilst it was part of British India as indentured labourers, civil servants, engineers, river pilots and traders. [6] It was perhaps the Tamil-speaking Chettiars (moneylenders) who did the most damage to the Indians’ standing in Burmese eyes.[5][7] They came in when the rice trade boomed after the opening of the Suez Canal [8], but when depression hit in 1930 and the price of rice plummeted, they foreclosed on the peasants confiscating land and livestock. [9] This led to a peasant uprising that became known as The Galon Rebellion led by a former monk called Saya San and eventually subdued by bringing in more Indian Sepoys. Widespread riots also broke out in Rangoon when the port authorities tried to break an Indian dockers strike by bringing in Burmese workers.[7] [10] Many Indians in Myanmar live in large cities such as Yangon (Rangoon), and in post-British hill towns such as Pyin U Lwin (formerly Maymyo). In Pyin U Lwin, we could still find many Burmese-Indians.

British colony Burma

During the British colonial administration of Burma, Indian Immigrants were brought in to run the almost all of the Government Services and to run the British companies. They also formed the military and civilian staff of the British Army and Burma Police Force. Some of them were clerks, almost in all the fields of manpower (skilled and unskilled). Others were doctors, engineers, hospital and medical workers, teachers, Burma Railway staff, river shipping staff, Post office staff and rice mill staff. Some were staff and workers for; mines, oil fields, banks, shops, treasury and Public Administration office. As private civilians, they also came in as; traders, various type of shop owners, servants, launders (dhobi), hotel and restaurant owners, dispatch boys, watchmen etc.[11]

Origin of Burmese Indians

[edit] Tamils

Tens of thousands of Tamil people from Tamil Nadu came to work in Burma during the British colonial rule. Telugu and Hindi speaking workers also migrated at that time. Burmese Tamils (Myanmar Tamils) had their own Tamil language magazines for local and Tamil Nadu news, schools for teaching Tamil, and movie theaters for screening Tamil movies imported from India. Telugu and Hindi speakers also had similar institutions and facilities. The “immigrant population”, although many had been living there for generations and have integrated with the Burmese society, became a target for discrimination and oppression by the new government formed after the military coup in 1962. The Myanmar Military Government closed down the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi magazines, schools, except for schools that were operated from temples and houses.[12]

“A report dated March 1966 from Burma states:

  • Tamil population 200,000

  • Telegu population 50,000

  • Malayalee population 5,000

About 50 primary schools are conducted by Tamils. The Rasika Ranjani and Thondan, two Tamil dailies have been banned since January 1966. There are over 40 Hindu temples founded and administered by Tamils in Burma, and two Tamil Catholic parishes. The Nattukkotai Chettiars administer Thendayuthapani temples in 32 towns.” ” Our Tamilians along with other Indians are leaving Burma for good.”[13][14] There are many South Indian Temples all over Rangoon or Yangoon, but like all buildings, they are not well maintained. Even today South Indian restaurants in Burma are called Chetty Restaurants because Chettiar are also Tamils . Food is plentiful and very cheap. Burma is the only place in the world where Tamil writings and language is a kind of banned! The remaining Tamils, around 500,000 have adapted themselves, embraced Buddhist ways in addition to Hinduism, speak Burmese and dress in Burmese style. Indians are also needed to adopt Burmese names to avoid blatant outright discriminations.[15] Tamil muslims are called Chulias. Some of them come from Madaras and called Madarasi. They are metal-tool merchants.[16]

[edit] Chettiars

Chettiars are also known as Chetti, Chetty, Chety, Shetty or Setti. The first Chettiars arrived Burma during the British rule – in 1826 accompanying Indian troops and labourers during the British campaign in Tenasserim in the first Aglo-Burmese war.[17] Their activities, however, were petty and remained so even after the first formal Chettiar ‘office’ was established in Moulmein in 1850.[18] It was, however, the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the passing of the Burma Land Act brought about the mass entry of Chettiars into Burma. By 1880 the Chettiars had fanned out throughout Burma and by the end of the century they had become by far the ‘the most important factor in the agricultural credit structure of Lower Burma’.[19] By 1905 there were about 30 Chettiar offices in Burma. According to the Burma Provincial Banking Enquiry Report (BPBE), the most dependable source on the extent of Chettiar operations, this number had increased to 1,650 by 1930.[20] Conveying more graphically the ubiquity of Chettiar offices, the BPBE concluded (1930a:203) that in ‘nearly every well-populated part of Lower Burma there is a Chettiar within a day’s journey of every cultivator’.

A community of moneylenders indigenous to Chettinad, Tamil Nadu,the Chettiars operated throughout the Southeast Asian territories of the British Empire. They played a particularly prominent role in Burma where, they were typically demonised as rapacious usurers, responsible for all manner of vices concomitant with the colonial economy. Not least of these was the chronic land alienation of the Burmese cultivator. Their role was crucial in the dramatic growth in Burma’s agricultural output during the colonial era. Success of the Chettiars in Burma lay less in the high interest rates they charged, than it did to patterns of internal organisation that provided solutions to the inherent problems faced by financial intermediaries. A proper functioning financial system could have provided better solutions perhaps for Burma’s long-term development, but Burma did not have such a system, then. Tersely and pointedly speaking, Chettiar banks are fiery dragons that parch every land that has the misfortune of coming under their wicked creeping..[21]

Without the assistance of the Chettiar banking system Burma would never have achieved the wonderful advance of the last 25 to 30 years…The Burman today is a much wealthier man than he was 25 years ago; and for this state of affairs the Chettiar deserves his thanks.[22]

The Chettiars were the crucial providers of the capital that turned Burma into the ‘rice-bowl’ of the British Empire. But they were seen as the moneylenders, vilified as predatory usurors whose purpose was to seize the land of the Burmese cultivator. The truth was that the Chettiars were the primary providers of capital to Burmese cultivators through much of the colonial period, but the combination of the collapse of paddy prices in the Great Depression, the Chettiar insistence of land as collateral, and the imposition of British land-title laws, did bring about a substantial transfer of Burma’s cultivatable land into their hands. The Chettiars did not charge especially high interest rates and, indeed, their rates were much lower than indigenous moneylenders. In the end the Chettiars were expelled from Burma, in the process losing the land they had acquired and much of their capital.

Chettiars had the role in the reclamation of the Irrawaddy Delta for rice growing. Burma’s emergence as the ‘rice-bowl’ of the British Empire came as a result of what J S Furnivall (1956:116) memorably lauded as the ‘epic bravery and endurance’ of the country’s cultivators in reclaiming the swamps and jungles of the Irrawaddy Delta. An epic motivated by Burma’s entry into the commercial imperatives of the British Empire, the conversion of the Delta into rich paddy-producing land initially required little capital. Britain’s great ‘exchange banks’ took care of shipping, milling and other export-finance needs, and up until the middle of the nineteenth century the amount of capital required ‘on the ground’ in land preparation was slight. As Adas (1974b:389)noted,[23]in the early years of British rule in ‘Lower Burma’ the growth in rice exports was founded on cheap and surplus labour within cultivator families, and upon abundant land that required little more than clearing.[24]

[edit] Brahmans

Brahmans are known as Ponnas in Burmese. They are priests and scholars of the highest ranking group or most purified among the cast system in India. Ancient Burmese Kings up to the present Military Rulers and most of the Myanmar Citizens used to rely them for advise as they are famous in Astrology and Palmistry. Burmese Kings used the service of the “White Ponna” and “Dark Ponna” as consultants for any advise in daily events up to the administration of the country e.g. for the Royal customs, rules and regulations. Sometimes they were given the post of the Royal Ministers. In Burmese folk tales and religious stories, they were usually portrayed as villains.

The Buddhist kings of Indo-China had borrowed from Hinduism much of their court ceremonial. In Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Champa, and in a host of smaller states, Brahman astrologers and soothsayers were masters of the ceremonies. As interpreters of the omens and repositories of ancient tradition their influence was great.[25]

[edit] Hindi

The “Hindi” are the people who speak Hindi language which is an Indo-Aryan language. There are conflicts between the Urdu speakers (mostly Muslims) and the Hindi speakers (mostly Hindus). The Hindi speakers are divided into a number of ethnic and social groups. The Hindus, who constitute the largest group, are divided into four main social groups called “castes”, a hierarchical order based on the principles of “purity and pollution”,as below_

  • Brahmans, the priests and scholars

  • Kshatriyas, the rulers and warriors

  • Vaisyas, the merchants and professionals

  • Sudras, the laborers and servants

These four castes have many sub-castes, which are further divided into circles. Castes are culture groups, based not only on occupations, but also on customs, manners, and habits. The majority of the Hindi speakers are Hindus, which is considered more a lifestyle than a religion. Hindus worship a pantheon of gods. They believe that sacrifices and offerings must be made to the gods regularly to appease them and avoid calamity. Hinduism teaches that the soul never dies. When the body dies, the soul is reborn or “reincarnated.” The soul may be reborn as an animal or as a human. They worship some gods in the form of animals. Cows are considered sacred, but other animals are also revered. The law of “karma” states that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next reincarnation. If a person lives a good life, the soul will be born into a higher state. If a person leads an evil life, the soul will be born into a lower state.

The Muslim Hindi-speaking women still follow the tradition of purdah, which is the covering of their entire bodies, especially their eyes, as a sense of seclusion. However, purdah is practiced to varying degrees depending on the extent of westernization and urbanization.

[edit] Bengali

The Bengali came from Bengal region, that is Bangladesh and West Bengal, a state in India. Their native language is Bengali. Their culture remains diversified e.g. from various castes, such as the Brahman, Kayastha, Vaidya, Namasudra, Gandha Banik, Saadgop, Napit, Mahisya, Kanaani, and Subarnabanik. Their occupations and religions had created other cultural distinctions as well. The majority of Bengalis are Muslims (60%), while the rest are Hindu or Hinduized animists. The Bengali of Bangladesh are the largest group and are 99.9% Mulsims.

Bengali Hindu worship many gods. Cows, monkeys, snakes, and many other animals are sacred. They teach and practice yoga and believed in reincarnation (a continual cycle of death and rebirth). The law of karma states that every action influences how the soul will be born in the next life. The cycle continues until spiritual perfection is achieved. Then the soul enters moksha, a new level of existence, from which it never returns.

Some of them are staying near the Myanmar- Bangladesh border and Mawlamyaing City, Mon State.

Bengalis from Chittagong are famous as sailors and took over river shipping in Burma. [26]

[edit] Gujarati and Soorti

The Gujarati came from the state of Gujarat, western India. Their language is Gujarati. They are a complex group, speaking various dialects and having many cultural distinctions. Some of these differences are based on region, while others are based on their “caste”. They are often involved in trade or in operating small businesses.

The Hindus, who make up the largest group, are divided into a number of castes or jatis. They practice purdah i.e. the women are required to wear veils and remain isolated.

Approximately 30% of them are Muslims and those Gujarati Muslims are called Soorti. There are a lot of Soorti in Burma/Myanmar. Most of them are well to do merchants [27] and entrepreneurs and industrialists.

[edit] Orisi or Oriya

While there are 25 million Orisi in India, some of them migrated to Bangladesh and Burma. The Orisi speak an Indo-Aryan language called Oriya and also known as Oriya. United Nations ex-Secretary General U Thant’s father is an Oriya.

Almost all the Oriya are Hindu. They used to pray to the deities, the “disease spirits,” and the village gods. Gunias (magicians) practice witchcraft and sorcery. Extensive rituals and festivals are celebrated throughout the land. The Orisi believe that sickness is placed on people by evil spirits and witches. They also sustain the belief that planets and stars in the zodiac are responsible for an individual’s physical and mental condition. They look to herbal folk medicines, exorcisms, and the gunias for cures from these and other illnesses. The Orisi believe that death is simply a passing from one life into the next. They believe that this cycle of death and rebirth will continue until the spirit merges with the person’s “absolute soul.” They believe that Yama, the god of justice, sends the soul to heaven or hell.

[edit] Gurkhas

Gurkha, also spelt as Gorkha, are people from Nepal who take their name from the eighth century Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath. His disciple Bappa Rawal later moved further east to found the house of Gorkha, which in turn founded the Kingdom of Nepal.Many Gurkhas or Nepalese migrated out of Nepal and settled in various parts of northern India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. They speak Khas Kura language. Like other Hindu, the Nepalese belong to a “caste” structure which has only two categories: upper class landowners and lower class servants. Most of the Nepalese in Myanmar are farmers and most of them own the lands. They grew wet rice, dry rice, maize, millet, wheat and vegetable. Most of the farmers raise buffalo and goats for meat and cows for milk. Nepalese villages consist of loosely grouped homes surrounded by farm land. Some of them are staying in larger towns where the temples or monasteries are located.

Almost all of the Nepalese in Myanmar are Hindus, worshipping many gods. They believe in ghosts and demons. Many Gurkha or Nepalese arrived Burma with the British India Army. Gurkhas are best known for their history of bravery and strength in the British Army Brigade of Gurkhas and the Indian Army. They were designated by the British as a Martial Race. Martial Race is a designation created by officials of British India to describe “races” (peoples) that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle, and to possess qualities like courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, hard working, fighting tenacity and military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the colonial army.

Gurkhas Regiments served in the Second World War, most notably in Malaya and Burma where the Allies suffered the intense attacks from the Japanese. They had a heavy fighting in 1944 in the Arakan and during the Japanese offensive from March to June 1944 against north-east India at Kohima and Imphal. Imphal was besieged by the Japanese until the Allies achieved a decisive victory at Kohima in June and the Japanese fled back into Burma. The Regiment continued with the successful Allied offensive into Burma and on the 3 May the Burmese capital Rangoon was liberated. Gurkha soldiers have won 13 Victoria Crosses. Ethnically, Gurkhas who are presently serving in the British armed forces are Indo-Tibeto-Mongolians. Gurkhas serving in the Indian Armed Forces are of both groups, Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian and ethnic Rajput. Gurkhas of Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian origin mostly belong to the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Khasa and Kiranti origin, many of whom are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism. [28]

All Gurkhas, regardless of ethnic origin, speak Nepali, an Indo-Aryan language. They are also famous for their large knife called the khukuri.

[edit] Punjabis

The majority of the Punjabi live in India and Pakistan; but they can also be found in nearly thirty other countries. Punjabi is an Indo-European language that is divided into six main dialects. It is primarily spoken in the major regions of India and Pakistan. Those who speak Punjabi language or those who inhabit the Punjab region are called Punjabi.

It is commonly said among the Punjabi that “land, women, and water are the sources of all conflicts.” This simply means that they deem it necessary to control the means by which one perpetuates his family and property. The Diaspora Punjabi reflect the three major religions of their homeland: Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism. Most of the Diaspora Punjabi speakers are Sikhs, except for those in Myanmar, who are mostly atheists. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that was founded in northern India during the sixteenth century. Its teachings have combined the elements of both Hinduism and Islam in an attempt to find one god who transcends all religious distinctions.[29]

In March 1944, the Japanese 31st Division moved northwestward in Burma’s Naga hills and invaded Imphal and Kohima in India. Finally, after 64 days, amid terrible losses on both sides, the Japanese were beaten back. The determination and gallantry shown by allied troops in the Kohima siege was quick to become the subject of poem, song, and legend.Today in the Kohima cemetery, among the 1,378 grave markers, is the famous Kohima Memorial with its historic inscription:

“When you go home
Tell them of us, and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today”

The Burma Star Association was founded in 1951 by Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshal the Viscount Slim and other British Veterans of the Burma Campaigns. Admiral Mountbatten had been CinC of the Allied Southeast Asia Command (SEAC) with the late General Joseph C. “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell as Deputy CinC. Stillwell was also the Commander of the U.S. China-Burma-India Theater of Operations and Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-sheck for all Chinese forces in the CBI. Then General William Slim Commanded the British XIV Army in India and Burma. Following the total defeat of Japanese Imperial forces in Southeast Asia General Slim is said to have told his troops: “When you go home don’t worry about what to tell your loved ones and friends about service in Asia. No one will know where you were, or where it is if you do. You are, and will remain ‘The Forgotten Army.’”

Reunions were held by various units (UK) in England and the China-Burma-India Veterans Association was formed in the U.S. In 1950 only, Admiral Montbatten started the Burma Star Organization. Admiral Mountbatten became the first patron, an honor held until his death by assassination in 1979. Current Royal Patron is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The first president was Field Marshal the Viscount Slim upon whose death was succeeded by his son, Colonel the Viscount Slim.

“I have never met a despondent Sikh in the front line. In a hospital in the rear he will moan dreadfully over a small wound, but in a fight he will go on to his last breath, and die laughing at the thought of Paradise, with the battle-cry of Khalsa ji ki jai as he falls.

“This very cry, a friend told me, came over a field telephone in the Arakan when a Sikh signal-havildar had been cut off beyond hope of rescue. The line remained alive. The havildar described to my friend how the Japanese were creeping up. A pause, then he came back to say that he had killed a skirmisher, but that now his ammunition was exhausted. “There’s not much time, Sahib. I’ll break the telephone before they get me. Victory to the Holy Brotherhood!” They found him dead beside an enemy he had brained with the butt of his Sten.

“A remarkable people, the Sikhs, with their Ten Prophets, five distinguishing marks, and their baptismal rite of water stirred with steel; a people who have made history, and will make it again.”

“Every man in this magnificent battalion of the Indian State Forces [1st Patiala Regiment] stands 5 foot 11 inches, or over: they are the finest lot of Sikhs I have ever seen, and that is saying much. Every officer in the Lieutenant-Colonel Balwant Singh’s battalion is a Sikh. In discipline, turn-out, and fighting efficiency the 1st Patialas have earned the unstinting admiration of all their comrades in the division.”[30][31]

“Finally, we that live on can never forget those comrades who in giving their lives gave so much that is good to the story of the Sikh Regiment. No living glory can transcend that of their supreme sacrifice, may they rest in peace. In the last two world wars 83,005 turban wearing Sikh soldiers were killed and 109,045 were wounded. They all died or were wounded for the freedom of Britain and the world and during shell fire, with no other protection but the turban, the symbol of their faith.”

[edit] Pathans

Pathans or Pashtuns[32] (also Pathans[33] or ethnic Afghans[34][35]) are an ethno-linguistic group with populations primarily in eastern and southern Afghanistan and in the North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan. The Pashtuns are typically characterized by their Pashto language, adherence to Pashtunwali (a pre-Islamic indigenous religious code of honor and culture)[36] and Islam. Pashtun martial prowess has been renowned since Alexander the Great‘s invasion in the third century BCE.[37] Their modern past began with the rise of the Durrani Empire in 1747. The Pashtuns were also one of the few groups that managed to impede British imperialism during the 19th century.[38] The Pashtuns are the world’s largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage tribal group.[39] The total population of the group is estimated to be at least 40 million. Pashtun regions have seen invasions and migrations including Aryan tribes (Iranian peoples, Indo-Aryans, Medes, and Persians), Scythians, Kushans, Hephthalites, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols.

The patrilineal definition is based on an important orthodox law of Pashtunwali. Its main requirement is that anyone claiming to be a Pashtun must have a Pashtun father. Under this definition, in order to be an ethnic Pashtun, there is less regard as to what language one speaks (Pashto, Persian, Urdu, English, etc.), while more emphasis is placed upon one’s father. Thus, the Pathans in Myanmar, for example, who have lost both the language and presumably many of the ways of their putative ancestors, can, by being able to trace their fathers’ ethnic heritage back to the Pashtun tribes. Recently some research persons found out that about three thousand Afghanis were settled around Mandalay, during the Burmese kings. They served in various places in Burmese kings’ army and were brought back to the capital from Arakan. And some of the Afghanis helped the Kamans in Arakan State of Burma to rebel against Arakan Myauk U and cause the end of that era.[40]

[edit] Indians in Burmese History

The highway between India and China [41][42]

India and China are the world’s biggest and ancient cradle of civilizations. High, snow peaked, rough and steep Himalaya mountain ranges block the direct interaction or travelling between the two of them except for the virtual highway through Myanmar/Burma. So there were a lot of travelers, migrants, victims of disasters and famine, war refugees and etc moving along this Burma Highway and some of them settled in Burma.

In the official Thailand History books, they even claim that all of the Tibeto-Burman groups including Tibet came down from Yunnan stressing that Tibet had made an almost U turn and climbed beck onto the Tibet Highlands.[43]

There was the Burma Road which linked Burma and China. Its terminals are Kunming in China and Lashio in Burma. The road is about 1,130 kilometres long and runs through rough mountain country. General Merrill and General Stillwell built during the colonial times under British. When the Japanese overran sections of the Burma Road the Allies built the Ledo Road, also later known as the Stillwell Road. Ledo Road was built from Ledo in Assam into the Hukawng Valley as an alternative to the Burma Road. It was completed in January 1945 and was renamed Stilwell Road by Chiang Kai-shek. Now China and India are negotiating with Myanmar to build a modern high way liking their countries through Burma including to lay natural gas pipe line from Rakhine to India, Yunnan, China.

Since it was the colonialists who invented the idea of the Mongolian origins of the Burmese peoples in the first place, contradicting the Burmese belief of having originated from Northern India and Nepal, this merely confirms the strength of colonialist discourse in penetrating Burmese self-perception fifty years later. In spite of asserting commonality Minye Kaungbon[44]cannot resist the temptation to provide the Bamars with a special historical mention that lifts them high above the Mongoloid race and raises their pride as a superior race, namely that ‘Bamars are descendants of Sakyans who are of the Aryan Race or of some other descendants of Aryans’. Though there is ‘scarcely any race that can claim descent from exclusively one original race’, nevertheless, Burma’s proximity to India permits the claim that the Burmans have ‘an ornamental Aryan superstructure on the existing Mongoloid foundation’, resulting in some historians proclaiming that ‘Myanmars were descendants of Aryans’.[45]

[edit] Pyu and India

[46] Pyu, one of the three founding father of Bamar or Myanmar race was believed to be the mixture of three groups; (i) Few insignificant local inhabitants since Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, (ii) many migrants came from India bringing in Hinduism and Buddhism along with their cultures and literatures successively (iii) and the last group believed to came down from north, Tibeto-Burman group.[47]

Pyu settlement

Pyu arrived in future Burma area in the 1st century BC or earlier and established village kingdoms at: Hanlin, Kutkhaing in the north, Thanlwin coastal line in the east, Gulf of Mataban and its coast in the south, Thandwe in the southern west and Yoma in the west.[48]

Pyu had built towns in: Sri Ksetra (Pyeh) 4-8AD, Maingmaw, Beikthano. (Actually VISHNU from Hindi god) (Khmer troops occupied 210-225 AD), Taung Dwin Gyi 1-4 AD,, Hanlin (Wet Let) 2-9AD, (Halingyi), Tagaung (Thabeikkyin), Waddi (Nga Htwoe Gyi), Maingmaw (Pinlay)(Myittha), Beinnaka (Pyaw Bwe), and Bilin township (Mon state)[49]

Pyu variant of the Gupta script

Pyu established ancient kingdom (and its language) found in the central and northern regions of what is now Burma. The history of the Pyu is known to us from two main historical sources: the remnants of their civilization found in stone inscriptions (some in Pali, but rendered in the Pyu script, or a Pyu variant of the Gupta script) and the brief accounts of some travellers and traders from China, preserved in the Chinese imperial history.[50]

Pyu chronicles speak of a dynastic change in A.D. 94. Sri Ksetra village was apparently abandoned around A.D. 656 it was sacked by the Nan Cho Chinese Shan in the mid-9th century, ending the Pyu’s period of dominance.

Pyu language started in 5AD in Southern Rakhine. At famous Mya Zedi Pagoda stone inscriptions were written in Pyu, Mon, Bama, and Pali in 1113AD. Pyu had written records, dated from 1st century A.D. and Mon from 5th century A.D. and Bama had its own written records only in 11th century A.D.[51][52]

Beikthano (Vishnu)

Beikthano (Vishnu) at the end of 4th. AD (9Khmer troops occupied 210-225 AD.(Taung Dwin Gyi) after which the Mons moved in, giving the cities names Panthwa and Ramanna pura. Religious remains show both forms of Buddhism, Mahayanism and Hinayanism, together with Vishnu worship. There are large stone Buddhist sculptures in relief in the Gupta style, bronze statuettes of Avalokitesvara, one of the three chief Mahayanist Bodhisattvas, and so many stone sculptures of Vishnu that the city was sometimes referred to as ‘Vishnu City’.[53]

Pyu Kings are Maharajas

In Chinese Chronicles they recorded Pyu as ‘P’aio’. But Pyu Called themselves Tircul.[54]. There are records of Nan Cho and Tibet alliance in 755 AD to defeat Chinese. Nan Cho king Ko-lo-fen communicate with Pyu. Pyu Kings were called Maharajas and Chief ministers were called Mahasinas.

Nan Cho conscripted Pyu soldiers to attack of Hanoi in 863 AD. In 832 AD Nan Cho looted Han Lin village from Pyu.[55]

Pyu kings named Vishnu as in Gupta, India

Inscriptions in Pyu language using a South Indian script, showed a Vikrama dynasty ruling there at least from AD 673 to 718.[56]On Pyu’s stone inscriptions, kings names with Vikrama were suffix with Vishnu. The same tradition was noticed in Gupta era India 100 BC.and in Sri Kestia, Mon in south, Thai and Cambodia. Statue of Vishnu standing on Garuda with Lakshmi standing on the lotus on left. And Brahma, Siva and Vishnu thrones were also found. Name, Varman indicated that there was influence of Pallava of India.[57] The mentioning of Varman dynasty, an Indian name, indicated there was a neighbouring and rival city, but Old Prome is the only Pyu site so‘ far to be excavated in that area.[58]

Indian Dravidian tribe in Panthwa

In Chinese Chronicles Chen Yi-Sein instead gives an Indian derivation for Panthwa village, as the name of a Dravidian tribe settled in Mon’s areas around the Gulf of Martaban. This group was later one of the pioneers in a ‘Monized’ occupation of Beikthano village, which also led to the village/city being called Ramanna-pura, linked to Mon areas of southern Myanmar (1999:77).[59]

The Tagaung dynasty is explicitly incorporated into the story of Duttabaung’s mother and father; the lineage of the Queen of Beikthano is less consistent, but always intertwined with that of the Sri Kestra village rulers. In all of these, links are made between territorial control, royal patronage of Hindu or Buddhist sects and supernatural events. [60]

[edit] Orissa

Orissa, Indian Buddhist colonists, arrived lower Burma, settled and built pagodas since 500 BC.[61]

Thamala and Wimala

Two princes named Thamala and Wimala (Myanmar version of Indian names-Thalma and Vimala.) established the town Bago in 573AD. Tabinshwehti (Taungoo Dynasty) conquered it in 1539 AD.[62]

[edit] Andhra Dynasty

Hindu colonists, of Andhra Dynasty, from middle India (180 BC) established Hanthawaddy (Mon town) and Syriam (Ta Nyin or Than Lyin) in Burma.[63]

[edit] Indian Royal family

Abi Raja

Some believed that Burma started from Tagaung, built by Abi Raja, a Sakian (Tha Ki Win min), Indian Royal family member, migrated from Kapilavatthu (India) after defeated by the king of Panchala (India), Vitatupa. He left the Middle Country (India) and established the Tagaung country, known at that time as Sangassarattha or Sangassanagara. On the death of Abi Raja, younger son Kan Raja Nge (younger King Kan) got the throne. Thirty-three kings reigned there.[64]

Kan Raja Gyi ruled Arakan

Elder brother Kan Raja Gyi (elder King Kan) went down the Ayeyarwaddy River, ascended the Thallawadi River, arrived Kelataungnyo and ruled there as Rajagaha. He ruled the ancient Arakan.[65]

Kan Raja Gyi’s son Muducitta

His son Muducitta became king of the Pyus (ancestors of modern Myanmar). He founded the city of Kyauppadaung. He conquered the Dhannavati (built by king Marayu).[66]

Bhinnaka Raja

The invading Chinese from the north destroyed Tagaung. The last king of Tagaung, Bhinnaka Raja run away and died later. His followers split in to three divisions.[67]

One division founded the nineteen Shan States at the eastern part.

Muducitta, grand son of Abi Raja

Another division moved down Ayeyarwady River and combined with Muducitta (second generation migrant, grand son of Indian Abi Raja) and other Sakiyan (Indian) princes, among the Pyus, Kanyans and Theks.[68]

Naga Hsein, a Sakiyan Indian

The third group stayed in Mali with the chief queen Naga Hsein, a Sakiyan.(Indian) She was the queen of the Sakyiyan king Dhaja Raja migrated from India. On the way he founded Thintwe’. Then they founded the upper Bagan(Pagan).[69]

Dahnnavata captured Thambula, queen of Pyus. But Nanhkan (China) queen of Pyus had driven out the Kanyans, who lived in seven hill-tracks beginning Thantwe’.[70]

King Dwattabaung from Indian Royal Family

King Dwattabaung, direct descendent of Abi Raja (Indian Migrant) founded Thare Khit Taya in 443 BC. It was said to be self-destroyed in 94 AD. The history is half -mystical at that time.[71]

[edit] Talaings

Mons or Talaings, an Ethnic Minority Group of Myanmar, migrated from the Talingana State, Madras coast of Southern India. They mixed with the new migrants of Mongol from China and driven out the above Andhra and Orissa colonists.[72]

Those Mon (Talaings) brought with them the culture, arts, literature, religion and all the skills of civilisation of present Myanmar. They founded the Thaton and Bago (Pegu) Kingdoms. King Anawrahta of Bagan (Pagan) conquered that Mon Kingdom of King Manuha, named Suvannabumi (The Land of Golden Hues).[73]

The conquest of Thaton in 1057 was a decisive event in Burmese history. It brought the Burman into direct contact with the Indian civilizing influences in the south and opened the way for intercourse with Buddhist centres overseas, especially Ceylon.[74]

The evidence of the inscriptions, Luce[75] warns us, shows that the Buddhism of Pagan ‘was mixed up with Hindu Brahmanic cults, Vaisnavism in particular.[76]

[edit] Ah Yee Gyis

Ah Yee Gyis or Aries, notoriously powerful in Pagan or Bagan, before the Buddhist Religion arrived. Ah Yee Gyis or Aries were related to one Indian sect or religion. The Indian Aris or Ah Yees were also known for, swimming, martial arts, traditional medicine practice and the custom of sleeping with the brides on the first night of weddings. They are the last to eliminate just after formation of first Bama Empire.

[edit] Bengal prince Pateik Kara

Pateikkara was an Indian (Kala) prince from ancient Bengal who fall in love with Burma Bagan’s 3rd Great King Kyansittha’s daughter. King Kyansittha indirectly cause the death of his daughter, Shwe Ein Si’s lover, Prince of Pateik Kara. He used to bribe the royal guards with ten baskets of silver to see the princess. When the king heard of the secret lovers’ tryst, he forced his daughter to marry Sawyun, the son of late King Sawlu, although Sawyun was a handicapped person walking with a limp. Kyansittha preferred him rather than a Kala (Indian). [77]

[edit] India and Arakan

The Arakanese chronicles claim that the Kingdom was founded in the year 2666 BC.[78]

Wesali founded by Hindu Chandras

“The area known as North Arakan had been for many years before the 8th century the seat of Hindu dynasties. In 788 AD a new dynasty, known as the Chandras, 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, … their territory extended as far north as Chittagong;—- Wesali was an easterly Hindu kingdom of Bengal — Both government and people were Indian.[79] So far as Arakan is concerned, the inscriptions show traces of two early dynasties holding sway in the north. The earlier one, a Candra dynasty, seems to have been founded in the middle of the fourth century A.D. Its capital was known by the Indian name of Vaisali and it maintained close connections THE PRE-PAGAN PERIOD 9 with India. Thirteen kings of this dynasty are said to have reigned for a total period of 230 years. The second dynasty was founded in the eighth century by a ruler referred to as Sri Dharmavijaya, who was of pure Ksatriya descent. His grandson married a daughter of the Pyu king of Sri Ksetra.[80]

Hindu statues and inscriptions in Wesali

The ruins of old capital of Arakan – Wesali show Hindu statues and inscriptions of the 8th century AD. Although the Chandras usually held Buddhistic doctrines, there is reason to believe that Brahmanism and Buddhism flourished side by side in the capital.

Chittagong is from Tsit-ta-gung

The Arab chief was the Thuratan, in the Arakanese utterance whom the king of Arakan Tsula-Taing Tsandra (951-957 AD.), claimed to have defeated in his invasion of Chittagong in 953 AD. In memory of his victory the Arakanese king set up a stone trophy, in the conquered land. And inscribed on it the Burmese word, “Tsit-ta-gung” meaning “there shall be no war”. And from this remark of the monument, according to Burmese tradition, the district took its name, Chittagong.[81]

Chittagong under Arakanese rule

Nearly a century, from about 1580 till 1666 AD Chittagong was under almost uninterrupted Arakanese rule. Arakanese captured and sent numbers of the inhabitants of Bengal into Arakan as agricultural and slave labours.

Arakanese known in Bengal as Maghs

The Buddhists Arakanese, known as Magh or Rakhine are descended from Aryans of Maghada, India Mongolians mixed with the Tibeto-Burmans.[82]

During the 16th and 17th centuries the Arakanese (known in Bengal as Maghs) in alliance with the Portuguese constituted a plundering party. By dominating the riverine tracts they plundered and devastated large parts of southern and eastern Bengal.[83]

They carried a large number of men, women and children from the coastal districts of Bengal,[84] as captives and the Maghs (Arakanese) employed them as agricultural labour. It is well known that the Kingdom of Arakan was a sparsely populated area, which required huge amount of human labour for agriculture. With this intention the Arakanese employed a large number of captives in the villages of land on the bank of the Kuladan river to the Naf. This Kula population of the country form about 15 percent of the whole population. A.P.Phayre mentions, “the Kolas or Mossalmans, are of an entirely different race. They being of Bengalee descent.[85]

Burmese settlement in Arakan

“The Burmese do not seem to have settled in Arakan until possibly as late as the tenth century AD. Hence earlier dynasties are thought to have been Indian, ruling over a population similar to that of Bengal. All the capitals known to history have been in the north near modern Akyab”.[86]

Arrival of Arab Muslims

The Arab Muslims first came into contact with Arakan through trade and commerce during the 8th century AD and since then Islam started spreading in the region. In those days the Arabs were very much active in sea-trade, they even monopolized trade and commerce in the East.[87]

Dr. Mohammad Enamul Haque introduces another Arakanese chronicle, which informs us of an Arab settlement, in the tenth century AD. extending from the mouth of the Meghna to the North of the Naf riverin the East.[88]

With the passing of time, the number of Muslims in Arakan began to increase. Gradually these Muslims have established very good and cordial relations with the local people and intermixed by marrying local women.

“They differ but little from the Arakanese except in their religion and in the social customs which their religion directs; in writing they use Burmese, but amongst themselves employ colloquially the language of their ancestors”.[89]

Even, a Russian merchant, Athanasius Nitikin, who travelled in the East (1470) mentions regarding activities of some Muslim sufis of Pegu (Bago). The Merchant pictured Pegu as “no inconsiderable port, inhabited by Indian dervishes.[90]

Ships wrecked at Ramree Island

In the history of the Arakanese kings, it is recorded that during the reign, of Arakanese king Mahat-y-ing Chandayat (780-810 AD.) several Kula or foreign ships were wrecked upon the island of Ramree, and the people who boarded on them were said to be Muslims. The Arakanese king ordered them to be settled in the villages of Arakan.[91]

Narameikhla alias Solaiman Shah

However, Islam made its first major political and cultural impact during the early 15th century through Narameikhla, king of Arakan. He lost the war,run to India Mogul Empire for help. With the help of Muslim soldiers he was restored as a king and Narameikhla, took the title Solaiman Shah.[92] and established a new dynasty, known as Maruk-u-dynasty, with its capital at Mrohaung.[93]

Arakan coins with Islamic features

With effect from the year 1430 the kingdom of Arakan became tributary to Bengal and the kings assume a Muslim name and struck coins with Kalima (The declarition of Islamic faith of the single God, Allah and believef of His messenger Mohammad- Peace be upon him.)[94]

“It is common for the kings, though Buddhist, to use Mohamedan designations in addition to their own names, and even to issue medallions bearing the Kalima, the Mohammedan confession of faith, in Persian script”.[95]

This practice was prevalent among the Arakanese kings till the first half of the seventeenth century. This was because they not only wished to be thought of as sultans in their own rights, but also because there were Muslims in ever larger numbers among their subjects. A.P.Phayre observes that the practice of assuming Muslim name and inscribing Kalima in their coins was probably first introduced in fulfilment of the promise made by Mung-Somwun but was continued in later time as a token of sovereignty in Chittagong.[96]

He also mentions that “these they assumed as being successors of Mussalman kings, or as being anxious to imitate the prevailing fashion of lndia.[97]

Muslim influence in Arakan since 1430

So the Muslim influence in Arakan may be said to date from 1430, the year of Narameikhla’s restoration.During his reign an unexpected development took place, which paved the way for a period of Muslim domination in the land of Arakan. From this time onwards the relation of Muslims with the Arakanese became more intimate and for about two centuries Arakan was united in a bond of friendship with Islamic lands. As a result of the impact of the civilization of the Muslims, Arakanese culture also progressed and thus began the ‘Golden Age’ in the history of Arakan.[98]

Muslims Massacred in Arakan

The next and last event was the flight of Shah Shuja, the brother of Aurangzeb, to Arakan in 1660, which brought a new wave of Muslim immigrants to the kingdom of Arakan and also caused political changes. Later on the prince and some of his soldiers were murdered on Feb., 1661.[99]

Kaman or Kamanci

But “who escaped the massacre were later admitted into the king’s bodyguard as a special archers unit called Kamans or Kamanci”.[100]

From 1666 to 1710 the political rule of Arakan was completely in their hands, during which the Muslim Kaman units played a decisive role of king makers and king breakers. Their numbers were increased from time to time by fresh arrivals from upper India.[101]

Buddhist Arakan Kings with Islamic names

All the kings of Arakan were said to be Buddhist. However to rule the 12 towns in the Bangal smoothly seven kings decided to have Arakanese and Mogul Islamic names. The interference of Ava and Pegu in the affairs of Arakan had important consequences for that country. The Ava king placed his son-in-law on the throne of Arakan. The Mons in return invaded the country, killed the Burmese nominee and replaced him with a ruler chosen by Razadarit. In 1430, however, with the assistance of Bengal, the exiled king, Narameikhla,returned and was reinstated as the vassal of the Mohammedan king of Gaur. He founded Mrohaung as his capital, and his, Mohammedan followers built a mosque there. From this time onwards the Arakanese kings, although Buddhists, used Mohammedan titles in addition to their own names, They even issued medallions bearing the Kalima, the Mohammedan confession of faith. The connection between Arakan and India became even more pronounced when in 1459 an Arakanese king occupied Chittagong.[102]

The Islamic-names of Arakan Kings

No- – -Name- – – – – – – – – – – year

1 Min-kha-ri (Ali Khan)- – – 1433
2 Ba-saw-phru (Kalama Shah)- -1459
3 Dolay (Mokhu Shah)- – 1482
4 Ba-saw-min-nyo (Maha Moshah)- -1492
5 Min-raza-kri (Ili Shah)- – – 1501
6 Saw-min-o (Jal Shah)- – – 1515
7 Thazata (Itsli Shah)- –1515

Summarized History of ArakanIndependent Kingdom — 266 BC- 1782 AD.
Burmese ruled ———-1783 – 1815 AD.
British ruled ———-1815 – 1942 AD.
Japanese ruled ———-1942 – 1945 AD.
British ruled ———-1945 – 1947 AD.
Burmese rule ———–1948 till present.


Shri Kali Temple in Yangon

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