The earliest phase of Arakan history, between about the fifth and the tenth centuries, has to be written on the basis of inscriptions and related material such as coins bearing Sanskrit texts, as well as sculpture and architecture. These show Arakan to have had strong ties to Southeastern Bengal (the Samataṭa and Harikela regions) and beyond this with the Buddhist communities of Northeastern India using Sanskrit as preferential medium of expression. A first batch of Arakan Sanskrit inscriptions was studied by E.H. Johnston and published posthumously in 1943. Since then, this field has moved forward thanks mainly to three articles by D. C. Sircar that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, no further epigraphic material of early Arakan has been published. The Sanskrit inscriptions of Arakan are often in deplorable state of preservation. But even fragmentary material can throw new light on the past, especially when studied in combination with epigraphical and numismatic discoveries made in Southeast Bengal over the past half-century. This article deals with three such fragmentary inscriptions, all previously unpublished. It presents the discovery that the ancient name of Arakan was Kāmaraṅga, discusses aspects of the history of Buddhism in Arakan during the first millennium, and discusses the problem of the chronology of early Arakan based on a detailed palaeographic analysis of the inscriptions published here.
With this article, I propose to revisit a corpus of multilingual inscriptions on coins, as well as one Persian stone inscription, whose dates range from the fifteenth to the first half of the seventeenth centuries of the Mrauk U period of Arakan (ca. 1430−1784). My primary aim is to revise the readings of some of those inscriptions and, with these revisions in mind, to reassess the significance of such texts in light of recent scholarship on the Mrauk U period. Rather than derive conclusions based on anecdotal evidence of the existence of an Islamicate idiom in Arakan during this period, I observe the internal features of those inscriptions and possible readings that could be made of the message they contain. I also extend my analysis beyond coin inscriptions and trace the various forms of the Arakanese royal title “Lord of the Elephant” and its use as a generic epithet associated with political power in later (ca. 17th−18th CE) Bengali Muslim literature.
Jacques Leider and Kyaw Minn Htin
Maṅḥ Co Mvan is the name of an Arakanese king known as the founder, in 1430, of the city of Mrauk U (Mrok Ūḥ). Mrauk U was the capital of Arakan until 1785, when the kingdom was conquered by the Burmese. It became the seat of a Burmese governor, but lost its status after 1825 following the occupation of Arakan by troops of the East India Company. Accounts about and stories related to this important king, his biography and his rule vary in the sources. Still, some stories have been more successful than others. Since the colonial period they have been considered as historical or at least partly historical facts. This article reviews one of these stories in particular, namely the king’s alleged stay in exile for an extended period of time. As far as our knowledge about the troubled political context of the early fifteenth century goes, the king might indeed have left his country for some time looking for support to regain his throne. Nonetheless, there are no sources to prove this point. We deconstruct the master narrative that has been built on the exile story by investigating the historical context and the literary devices used to embed the story in a traditional framework, which show that beyond the issue of historical facticity, there is a compelling interest to study the way the story has been both rationalized and mythologized to satisfy different audiences.
This article comprises a study of a manuscript of an Arakanese-language Buddhist legal text (dhammasattha) currently held under shelfmark Or Add 12254 at the British Library, where it is part of an important, though hitherto unstudied, collection of Arakanese manuscripts assembled in Chittagong by John Murray (1745–1822 C.E.). It discusses the history, contents, scribes, and textual and material features of the manuscripts in the Murray Collection, demonstrating that paleographic considerations and Bengali script and Persian paratexts found therein reflect the multilingual and multireligious context in which these manuscripts circulated, as well as a degree of influence from Chittagonian scribal culture. It then compares the text of Or Add 12254 with that of a later Arakanese dhammasattha manuscript that has likely provenance from Sittwe, and also with the contents of 18th and 19th century manuscripts of the central Burmese Dhammavilāsa dhammasat. It argues that despite a range of suggestive parallels between these Arakanese and central Burmese legal texts, the two manuscripts from Arakan should be regarded as witnesses to a distinctive Arakanese tradition of written law.
The legal history of Arakan has not yet been written. We have a few surviving dhammathat texts, but no reliable information as to when they were first written or last copied. Were the surviving texts written before the conquest of Arakan? Can we treat them as evidence for tradition as it was under the Arakanese kings? The two 1870s lists discussed herein bring us closer to answering these questions.