Webinar on “Archaeological Evidence of Bagan and Arakan in Early 2nd Millennium AD”

(The Mog Nation Wiki, an archive)

In this webinar, Mr Ye Myat Lwin explores the different types of architectural remains and Buddhist iconography through the age in Bagan and introduce the archaeological evidence of trade, communities, landscape, religious and urban architecture of early modern Mrauk U.


Wednesday, 18 August 2021 – The Temasek History Research Centre’s Archaeology and Art History Programme of Southeast Asia focused on Myanmar in this webinar presented by Mr Ye Myat Lwin, an Erasmus scholar in Archaeological Material Science at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Sapienza University of Rome. Mr Ye was formerly of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum in Myanmar, and worked in the Bagan Archaeological Museum. The webinar was moderated by programme co-convener Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan.

Mr Ye Myat Lwin noted that certain aspects of Mrauk-U including stupa construction style and the use of Mahanayanist iconography. Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Ye Myat Lwin introduced two major kingdoms that existed in Myanmar during the second millennium CE: Bagan (9-13th c) and Mrauk U (15-18th c), both distinct in character with influence reaching through Mainland Southeast Asia and the Bay of Bengal respectively.

As a Unesco World Heritage site built in the dry zone of central Myanmar, Bagan is the better-known of the kingdoms with over 3,000 monuments dotting the landscape. The kingdom reached its peak between the 11-13th centuries before falling to the Mongols, and most of the temple-building activity was concentrated during the 12th and 13th centuries. As there are very few absolute dates for the temples, most of the monuments in Bagan are dated by style, and Mr Ye showed how stupa styles and temple construction evolved over time.

Another interesting feature of the temples in Bagan are the wall murals depicting scenes from the life of Buddha or the Jataka tales (stories from the previous lives of the Buddha). Over 400 temples in Bagan contain mural paintings that have been likened to Himalayan art, but unlike Himalayan art do not depict the more frightening form of deities.

Shifting the focus to Western Myanmar, Mr Ye drew attention to the kingdom of Arakan, and its capital Mrauk-U which was established in the 15th century in present-day Rakhine state. At its peak, the Arakan Kingdom controlled the eastern coastline of the Bay of Bengal, including parts of Bangladesh. The name Arakan can be traced to Roman records from the 2nd century CE.

Mr Ye noted that certain aspects of Mrauk-U including stupa construction style and the use of Mahanayanist iconography (particularly the figure of Amitayus) set the kingdom apart from other parts of Myanmar. Mr Ye suggests that these features were attempts to replicate styles found at Weithali, a former Arakanese capital that existed in the later part of the first millennium.

Mrauk-U’s location in the Bay of Bengal made it an influential trading partner, with evidence of trade with the Persians, Portuguese and the Dutch. Both Islamic and Pali names can be found in Mrauk-U inscriptions and coins, in Persian, Bengali and Arakanese scripts. In its heyday, the city contained architectural features including a palace, numerous city gates, moats, and hydrological features. Noting the complexity of Arakan’s landscape, an account from a 17th century Jesuit priest said that Venice should actually be called a second Mrauk-U.

These two kingdoms highlight how ancient Myanmar interacted with the wider world, as centres of Buddhism and, in the case of Mrauk-U, as a part of the widening global trade network. In the Question and Answer session, Mr Ye fielded a range of questions about architectural and art styles in Bagan and Arakan, networks of exchange between Arakan and the Persian and Indian world, and the etymology of Arakan as a source of silver in the ancient world. The webinar attracted 169 participants, mostly from Singapore and Southeast Asia. 

This webinar series is supported by Temasek Foundation.

About 170 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The Mog Nation Wiki

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