Bagan covers 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 Turintaung mountain range where six successive kings ruled.
In the archaeological zone of Bagan there are four sites with the remains of palace’s, 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, from there the name evolved into Pyu gama, Pyu gam then to Pugam and is now known as Bagan.
In 2015 remains of an old Palace built by King Thamudarit was 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 was also found.
The Bagan dynasty (107AD-1369AD)
The second capital Thiri Pyitsaya was founded by King Thiligyaung the 7th king of this dynasty in 344AD. In 516AD King Thaik Taing the 12th in line founded the third Capital Tampawaddy, also referred to as Pwa Saw. Bagan, also known as Arimaddana was the fourth Capital, founded in 874AD by King Pyinbya, he was the 34th King in this royal lineage. In total there were 55 kings who ruled over Bagan from the 1st – 10th century AD.
Some scholars, especially so those from Burma are of the view that these kings were devout Buddhists and promoted 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 century. It is highly unlikely that all of the earlier kings were practicing Theravada Buddhism.
The first sculpted image of the Buddha is from Afghanistan and was crafted around the 1AD. No known Buddha images have been found in Myanmar that are earlier than the small bronze and terracotta images excavated at the Pyu sites of 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 era’s.
.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 Burmese Era (1426 CE) lists over 4000 surviving pagodas. The Department of Archeology in 1968 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 suggest another count.
A majority of monuments in Bagan and Mrauk-U have suffered through time with natural disasters such as earthquakes and internal conflicts. Many monuments that remain standing are in ruins and hardly recognizable as the once beautiful pagoda, temple or stupa they once were.
The latest of these earthquakes occurred in Bagan on 24th August, 2016, three hundred and eighty nine monuments were affected. Efforts have been taken to protect these monuments from further damage from the elements, removing debris, taken measures to prevent further erosion and scaffolding where necessary. Fortunately, help to conserve these monuments is provided through UNESCO with several countries supporting their conservation.