Ancient Capitals of Pagan
The Ancient Capitals of Pagan cover an area of around 45 square kilometres, the first capital was called Paukkhan, founded in 107 or 108 AD by King Thamudarit at Yone Hlut Kyun, at that time an island surrounded by a creek with water flowing in from the Ayeyarwaddy river with its source originating from Mt. Popa. King Thamudarit built a second palace named Thiripyitsaya to the east of the Turintaung mountain range where six successive kings ruled.
In the archaeological zone of Bagan, there are four sites with the remains of palaces, this would indicate that the capital of Bagan had moved four times to different locations. Throughout the first millennium, Pagan was first known as Paukkan, and from this evolved into Pyu gama, Pyu gam then to Pugam, and is now better known as Bagan.
In 2015 remains of an old Palace built by King Thamudarit were found inside Taungnyo dam at the foot of Bago Yoma. Within the vicinity of this palace, the ruins of a Pagoda of the Pyu era were also found.
The Bagan dynasty (107AD-1369AD)
The second ancient capital of Pagan Thiri Pyitsaya was founded by King Thiligyaung the 7th king of this dynasty in 344 AD. In 516 AD King Thaik Taing the 12th in line to the throne founded the third Capital Tampawaddy, also referred to as Pwa Saw. Bagan, also known as Arimaddana Pura, meaning ‘City that Tramples on Enemies‘ was the fourth Capital, founded in 874 AD by King Pyinbya, he was the thirty-fourth King in this royal lineage. In total, there were fifty-five kings who ruled over Bagan from the 1st – 10th century AD.
Some scholars, especially those from Burma are of the view that these kings were devout Buddhists, promoting Theravada Buddhism. Other scholars are of the view according to scant historical records that have survived the ravages of time that Buddhism found its way into Myanmar between the 3rd and 5th centuries and highly unlikely that all of the earlier kings were practising Theravada Buddhism.
The first known sculpted image of the Buddha is from Afghanistan and was crafted around 1AD. No known Buddha images have been found in Myanmar that are earlier than the small bronze and terracotta Buddha images excavated at the Pyu sites in central Burma. This paper written by Elizabeth Moore “Place and Space in Early Burma: a New Look at ‘Pyu Culture‘” gives an excellent and deeper insight into the Mon and Pyu eras.
According to the book titled “Information Found in the Inventory of Ancient Monuments in Bagan” published by the Department of Archaeology in Burma, they state that an inventory of monuments compiled during the reign of King Mo Hnyin Mintaya in 792 AD Burmese Era (1426 CE) lists over 4000 surviving pagodas.
In 1968 the Department of Archeology conducted another survey on the monuments of Bagan and counted 2230, although this varies with different scholars on the subject. A more recent study on monuments by the Association of Myanmar Architects suggests another count. A majority of monuments in Bagan and Mrauk-U have suffered since, with natural disasters such as earthquakes and conflicts between rival states. A majority of monuments, pagodas and temples that are still standing are in ruins and hardly recognizable as they were when they were first built. these earthquakes also took their toll on Buddhist iconography.
The latest of these earthquakes occurred in Bagan on 24th August 2016, three hundred and eighty-nine monuments were affected, and no doubt many Pagan Buddha statues and relics have been lost. Efforts have been taken to protect these monuments from further damage from the elements, removing debris, and taking measures to prevent further erosion, with scaffolding where necessary. Fortunately, help to conserve these monuments is provided through UNESCO with several countries supporting their conservation.