A STUDY OF ISLAMIC ARAKAN COINAGE

A STUDY OF ISLAMIC ARAKAN COINAGE  

Dr San Oo Aung_

Note: The following was extracted from the Wikipedia, TALK PAGE Burmese Indian article from my argument with other Wiki Editors_

I started doing research on our Muslim history  fifteen years ago. Therefore I have a lot of facts and although I tried my best to put in the relevant facts only in your so called ENCYCLOPEDIA, it is a little bit long.

This is not a fairy tale Mr – – – . Even 1001 Arabian nights is quite long.

If you can prove that Arakan is not related to Burma and Bangladesh is out of Indian sub continent, my facts written there could be labelled irrelevant.

After all, you all want to lump the Burmese Indian Muslims in this Burmese Indians site or section. So, all the Muslim related facts are appropriate here. Because of your decision (to put all of us under the Burmese Indians) only, Hindi and Buddhist Indians’ related facts became relevant to mention. TQ very much. However, after putting or feeding all the facts, I will stay away from further comments or trying to put back the facts, you erased. You all are free to edit, as you like. My world is much larger than to waste in this small fighting.

Ko  – – -, sorry that you misunderstood my threats as directing to you. Don’t take as an insult, what you do to my article or what happens to you is not important for me at all.

I am only warning the relevant authorities above  to stop the act of GENOCIDE on all of our Muslim-brothers in Burma/Myanmar. These atrocities are even against the Buddha’s teachings. We are trying to persuade the world Muslim countries to support the US action in UNSC. See, we had successfully persuaded Qatar and Indonesia!Please feel free to edit my articles into short and precise up to the Wiki standard. For me 15 years of my collection made me bias. ( Becoming Nga_thine_mya_taut Hin_hone.)But please understand me, I could prove that I had tried to be concise by looking at the following fact_I wrote one very short section only, Arakan Kings minted coins with Muslim names and declaration of Islamic faith. The facts behind are just the gist from the following_
“ARAKAN’S PLACE IN THE CIVILIZATION OF THE BAY”
A STUDY OF COINAGE AND FOREIGN RELATIONSM.S. COLLIS, in collaboration with San Shwe Bu. The Article below appeared in BURMA RESEARCH SOCIETY 50TH ANNIVERSARY PUBLICATION’S, NO-2, RANGOON 1960, FROM PAGE-1485-504.

Coins found in Arakan.

Mr. Htoon Aung Gyaw, Barrister-at-law and certain other private collectors of Akyab have coins found in Arakan.

Sixteen of them were confirmed to belong to the Maruk-U dynasty (1430 to 1784 AD) were distinct specimens, bearing the dates and titles of fifteen different kings of that time.

Moreover there were a few coins belonging to the Wesali dynasty (788 to 951 AD).

I propose in this paper to show the relationship of these coins to Indian coinage as a whole and to use them as a document from which to draw certain general conclusions on the history of Arakan.

As that history has never been written and as the data for the early centuries are scanty and controversial, I trust that the inevitable shortcomings of this summary will be understood and excused.

Types of Indian coinage.

Speaking generally the coins of India fall into two distinct types, the Hindu and the Mohamedan.

Specimens of Hindu coinage of as far back as 600 BC are in the British Museum, but it was not until India came into Hindu contact with Mediterranean civilization in 327 BC. that its coinage developed and became an art. This connection, beginning with the invasion of Alexander and continuing through the Satraps into Roman times resulted first in the striking of coins almost pure Greek in design and gradually in the adaptation of that design to Hindu ends.

With the Guptas (320 to 455 AD) a coinage had been evolved which while owing much to the Greek theory of form, was pure Hindu in feeling. Now all this Hindu coinage, from its highest as a work of art to its lowest as a barbarous confusion, has certain definite characteristics. It exhibits portraits of kings, figures and animals, deities and symbols of deities. Inscriptions take a very subordinate place; dates are infrequent; as it is not always possible to identify a coin with a particular king, a classification by dynasties and localities is the most that can often be attempted.

Mohamedan Types of Indian coinage:

Mahomedan coinage, which came into India in 1203 AD has opposite characteristics.

  1. It is of an inscriptional nature.

  2. Save for a few exceptions, it contains not a portrait or a figure.

  3. The King’s name, title, date and faith are carefully recorded.

  4. The coin’s artistic merit depends upon the calligraphy;

  5. and as everyone is aware who has studied the Persian script as at mural decoration this can give a remarkably balanced and vital impression of art.

Coins of Arakan.

The coins found in Arakan belong to both the groups described above;

  1. those of Wesali are Hindu and

  2. those of Mrauk-U are Mahomedan.

Wesaii, Archacological evidence.

The ruins of the city are stilI to be seen on the bank of a tidal creek, about six miles from Mrauk -U (now known as Myo Haung) and about fifty miles inland from the Bay of Bengal. The site has neither been surveyed nor excavated, but the casual observer may perceive the remains of brick walls enclosing a large area. On the south side was to be seen until lately portions of a stone pier. Within the walls are numerous mounds and lying on them are pieces of stone statuary, bas-reliefs, capitals, floral designs in stone and inscriptions in the Nagari character of the 8th century. All these remains are purely Hindu in execution and subject. The figures represent deities; on the capitals is the sacred bull of Siva; the style is rougher than the best Hindu work, but is not debased. Close by the walls is a large stone monolith of Buddha belonging to the same date. This is the image now known as the Paragri, praying at which Fra Manrique found King Thiri-thu-dhamma eight centuries later. Various Nagari inscriptions, still un deciphered, have been found in the vicinity of the city; and at Mahamuni, 15 miles N. E., are to be seen surrounding the mound on which once sat the great image of the Buddha, which is now in Mandalay, a number of statues and bas-reliefs of the Hindu Pantheon. Incomplete and insufficiently worked out as is this archaeological evidence, it suggests that in the city of Wesali were practised both the Hindu and Buddhist religions or that it was a Mahayanist city.Wesaii MSS. evidence.Mr. San Shwe Bu has placed in my hands his translation of a curious Arakanese MS. called. “The true chronicle of the Great Image.” Its caligraphy is order than that of the rest of the MSS. in my possession. – Sam Shwe Bu. The age of this MS. like that of most Arakanese MSS. is unknown, but it purports to give some account of the

Wesali dynasty. 

Its contents in this respect may be summarized as follows: –The area now 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 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 AD. 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.Hinayanism had already fled the India and that Mahayana Buddhism was really a compromise in which the Hindu gods and Buddha ranked equally.

Wesaii a Mahayanist State.

These are some of the data for forming an opinion as to the religious condition of Bengal from 400-1000 AD. As Wesali was a Hindu State adjacent there to, the presumption is that its religious history was similar. Hinayanism had vanished; Mahayanism had compromised with original Hinduism to such a point that Buddha had become one of many gods; even the sexual magic of Tantricism was no anomaly. Such, it appears, was the Chandra kingdom of Wesaii, Mahayanist in the sense that word carried in the Bengal of the 8th century. It is significant that at least one Tantric sculpture has been found in Wesaii.Wesali, as will be explained later, must be regarded not as an early Burmese but as a late Hindu State. With the whole tradition of the great Hindu past it had inherited coinage. All these data indicate that the coins of Wesali were in the pure Brahmanical tradition. But coins bearing Brahmanical symbols are not inconsistent with a Mahayanist dynasty. I am not aware of any Indian coin of a period later than the 1 st century AD., which contains a Buddhist figure, symbol or inscription. The Mahayanist kings of the periods mentioned above struck Brahmanical coins. Nothing is therefore more to be expected than that the Wesali coins should also be Brahminical. It is merely another proof of how closely the Mahayanist Buddhism of 8th century Bengal approximated to Hinduism.

The end of Wesaii & the beginning of the Arakanese. Such was the kingdom of Wesali, an Indian state in 957 AD, 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 AD., a Mongolian invasion swept over Wesali, destroyed the Chandras and placed on their throne Mongolian kings.

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.

  1. They cut Arakan away from India

  2. and mixing in sufficient number with the inhabitants of the east side of the present lndo-Burma divide,

  3. created that Indo-Mongoloid stock now known as the Arakanese.

  4. This emergence of a new race was not the work of a single invasion. The MSS record subsequent Mongolian incursions. But the date 957 AD., may be said to mark the appearance of the Arakanese, and the beginning of a fresh period.

The period 957-1430 AD, General characteristics.

The cardinal characteristic of the new period is 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.

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. In Bengal the Mohamedans were not to arrive till 1203. Over the mountains in Burma proper was the quaint kingdom of Pagan. It was with Pagan alone the Arakan had any considerable dealings and it was to learn much. Thus during these five centureis the inhabitants of Arakan became more similar to the inhabitants of Burma and less like Indians. Their religion became less Mahayanist and more Hinayanist.Particular Characteristics of the period 957-1430 A. D.

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. But India was again to play its part in the making of Arakan.

To understand the age of Mrauk-U (1430 – 1785 AD.), the profound changes which had taken place in Bengal since the time of the Palas must be called to mind.

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 l293 AD. But that was its extreme eastern limit.Why Araken turned towards India in 1450.

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 already mentioned.

As the kings of Pagan had regarded Arakan as their feudatory. The Kings of Ava, succeeded them was annoyed by the Arakanese who raided the Yaw and Laungshe. 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. (This part of the history was written in other chapter.)

The Arakanese king 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.

  • It is noteworthy that one of that Sultan’s coins was recently found near the site of that city. It is a unique document in the history of Arakan.

Origin of Arakanese coinage.

Nasir-ud-din’s coin is in the tradition and it was on that coin that the coinage of Mrauk-U was subsequently modeled.

In this way Arakan became definitely oriented towards the Moslem State.

Contact with a modern civilization resulted in a renaissance. The country’s great age began.

The Mrauk-U dynasty

l450-1786 Period 1. 1430-1530.

As feudatory to Bengal.

It was a curious fact that while the government of Further India was Mongolian-Buddhist, that of India and westwards beyond was Mongolian- Mohamedan. That basic distinction centred in the matter of war and agggrandisement.

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.

During the whole of Minbin’s (Zabauk Shah) reign the administration of Bengal was totally defenseless. Minbin occupied Eastern Bengal and remained to Arakan for the next hundred and twenty years, till 1666. Its administration was left in the hands of twelve local rajahs, who paid an annual tribute to the Arakanese king’s Viceroyat Chittagong. In Mr. Htoon Aung Gyaw’s collection is one of Minbin’s coins. It 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.

The architecture of the Period.It is Hindu, but of so unique a design. 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 theBuddhist 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 sussessor of forty years later, may be said to have consolidated it. In 1576 central and western Bengal was definitely administered by Akbar. Hence the Arakanese in eastern Bengal found themselves on the frontier of the Moghul. There was now no buffer state between.

It was known that the Moghul regarded all Bengal as rightly his and that it was entered in his records as such. Hence it behaved Mrauk-U to guard that frontier well. But it was not feasible to do so with the regular army. Arrangements were therefore made with Portuguese mariners who had been allowed to found a trade settlement and refitting base near Chittagong. It was agreed between them and the king that they would protect the frontier against the Moghul in return for all the trade openings their position at Chittagong afforded. The king had his brother or near relative as Viceroy. Portuguese, made a dash at the city of Mrauk-U itself but they were defeated. Thus at this time, the government of Mrauk-U was strong enough to keep the Portuguese in order. 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 French traveller Fyiard, who was in India at the time, sums up its position in the Bay as second only to that of the Moghul. In my studies from Fra Manrique and the Arakanese MSS. I have tried to paint a picture of Arakan at this moment of its highest destiny. 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 centers 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 1600 a change for the worse overcame the Portuguese. They became pirates.

They recruited their numbers from the halfbreeds. Yet it was on the good faith of these desperate men that the King of Mrauk-U depended for the defense of his Northwest Frontier. As the 17th century advanced, the Moghuls consolidated their administration. But Bengal remained and irritant. It was the base from which resolute pirates crossed into their domains, raiding even to Moorshedabed.

The pirate boats were manned by pure Portuguese, half-breeds and Arakanese. They seized from the riverbanks’ goods and persons. They were latter sold in Arakan, as slaves.

But it was a shortsighted policy for the kings of Arakan to annoy so strong a neighbouring State as the Moghul Empire. However, it is doubtful whether the usurping kings after Thiri-thu-dhamma attempted to control the Portuguese. They had established an independent bandit State on the Bengal border.

So intolerable a condition of affairs could not last. Moghul Sultan Aurangzebe sent to Bengal a strong Governor, Shaistah Khan with instructions to stop the piracy.

Shaistah Khan warned the Purtuguese bandits to come over to his side before he attack. They were promised the rewards greater than they had received from the king of Arakan.

In 1665 the Moghul operations took place, the huge fleet built by the Nawab, the assisted by the Dutch defeat the rest of the Portuguese fleet. When the Moghuls advanced into Arakan proper, the Arakanese army resisted them in force with success.

After the loss of Chittagong 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–ru-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. There were twenty five kings of Mrauk-U during those hundred and nineteen years. The coins themselves exhibits little variations Their design is neither more not less inserving. It remains in the Mohamedan tradition of 1450 AD.The fall of Mrauk-U.

The Moghuls had ceased to an expanding power. Burma was mearly as distracted as Arakan; the English were new comers.

In 1760 the Alaungpaya dynasty had united Burma, Mrauk-U’s fate was certain. In 1782 Thaniada became king of Maruk-U and Ngathande asked Bodawpaya, king of Burma, to invade the realm.After so long a period of looking west, Arakan turned eastward again. Ngathande’s idea was that Bodawpaya would place him on the throne as a feudatory monarch.. Bodawpaya, however 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 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. Bodawpaya’s first act was to strike a medallion in the style of the Mrauk-U coinage.The Burmese administration of Arakan. ( 1784 to 1825) Bodawpaya’s medallion.Burmese had never used coins and hence he had no model of his own. He copied therefore the Moslem design. The legend reads- “The kingdom of the Master of Amarapura and of Many White Elephants.” This is the numismatic document to the fall of Mrauk-U.It was the last coin struck in Arakan.The Burmese governor of Mrauk-U found the country in a very lawless state. One Chinbya organized a rebellion. To secure peace and maintain order the Burmese put to death some and deported others to Burma. Two hundred thousand are said to have fled to India.In her previous connections with outside states Arakan had always been the gainer. As feudatory to Pagan she had received the Little Vehicle and learnt her present alphabet. As feudatory to Bengal she had laid the foundations of her great age. But administered as a governorship by the Burmese of the 18th century, she had nothing to gain for the Burmese had nothing to teach a country which for centuries had been in touch with the world of thought and action through the Moslem Sultanates at a time when Burma herself was isolated and backward. But an extraordinary turn of events had changed the face of India since the fall of Chittagong in 1666. The Moghuls had disappeared and their place had been taken by the English. They became irritated with the Burmese in 1824 because of frontier raids. The Burmese were not aware that the English, the masters of Hindustan represented a more modern polity than their own. The Arakanese, however, were better informed. For just as Min Saw Mwan realised in 1430 that the Sultanate of Bengal was a polity in the van of the world’s thought and would be able to drive the Burmese out of Arakan and restore him, so the Arakanese of 1824 perceived that the English were moderns and that the Burmese could not resist them. Accordingly they sided enthusiastically with them and facilitated in every way the English occupation of Arakan in 1825. When the Burmese had fled and Mrauk-U was occupied by the English, the Arakanese expected that the history of 1430 would be repeated and that an Arakanese prince would be placed on the throne.The significance of the English administration of Arakan. 1825 to 1929. Conclusion.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.AUTHORITIS CONSULTED1.Mr. Tun Aung Gyaw’sArakanese coins, arranged, translated and annotated by Mr. San Shwe Bu.
2.The True Chronicle of the Great Image. An Arakanese MSS. translated by Mr. San Shwe Bu.
3.Notes from private Arakanese MSS. placed at my disposal by Mr. San Shwe Bu.
4.Lecture by Mr. Htoon Chan, Bar-at-law. Printed in “Arakan News” of May 1916.
5.The coins of India. P. Brown.
6.Coinages of Asia. S. Allan.
7.The Palas of Bengal, Banerji
8.Early History of India. V. Smith.
9.Travels of Fa-Hein. Edited by Giles.
10.Padre Maestro Fray Seb. Manrique (Translated in Bengal Past and Present).
11.Shihabuddin Talish. Persian MS. Translated by Sarkar.
12.The Glass Palace Chronicle. Tin and Luce.
13.History of Bengal, Stewari.
14.Musaimans of Bengal. Fuzli Rubbee.
15.Outline of Burmese History. Harvey.
16.Catalogue of Coins in Phayre Provincial Museum.
17.Reportof Superintendent, Archaeoligical Survey, Burma, fortheyears 1917,1921,1922 and1923.
18.From Akbar to Aurangzebe. Moreland.
History of the Portuguese in Bengal. Campos.
19.Coins of Arakan, of Pegu and of Burma. (In Numisman Orientalia) Sir Arthur Phayre.
The above Article appeared in BURMA RESEARCH SOCIETY, 50TH ANNIVERSARY PUBLICATION’S NO-2, RANGOON 1960, FROM PAGE-1485-504.

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