Thursday, March 28, 2013

History Mystery: The Pagan City Of Temples! part-2

But the Burmese warlord was no magnanimous conqueror, despite his conversion. When he turned his victorious troops north again for the 650 Km journey back to Pagan, he took with him the labour force that was to rebuild his capital; an army of slaves. Atleast thirty thousand Mon villagers made the long march north. So did hundreds of monks and thousands of skilled artisans including stonemasons, potters and architects. As soon as he reached home, Anawrahta put his slaves to work in the rice fields of Kyaukse and on the building sites of Pagan. As the months of captivity stretched into years, a subtle alchemy took place between the two peoples. The slaves began to civilize their masters. The first inscription in Burmese written in Mon characters because the northerners had no alphabet of their won appeared at Pagan in 1058, a year after the fall of Thaton. Later inscriptions on Pagan’s temples, detailing the costs of construction and the builders of each shrine make it clear that some of the skilled Mon workers were being treated as free artisans. Many of the workers chose to stay on in the north after they were freed. Buddhist monks who had been forcibly imported seem to have chosen likewise- attracted, possibly, by the king’s support of their faith, and by the challenge of missionary work among the largely spirit worshipping Burmese.

Shin Arahan, now a close adviser to Anawrahat, travelled the growing kingdom, preaching, converting, planning new temples and setting up Buddhist monasteries and schools. Anawrahta remainded., for the most part at Pagan, directing the construction of its pagodas, monasteries, and the cone topped shrines know as Stupas. As the city grew in prestige, Buddhists scholars, and artisans flocked to it from India, Thailand, and even Sri Lanka. Merchants followed the flow of people up the wide Irrawaddy river, bringing trade and wealth. By 1073 Pagan was so respected as a Buddhist centre that when Sri Lankan king Vijaya Bahu, chose to revive Buddhism he turned to Anawrahta for help. The Burmese king sent monks and in return, Vijaya Bahu gave him a replica of Sri Lanka’s holiest relic: a tooth reputed to be one of the Buddha’s own. After Anawrahta died in 1077, the building continued under his son, Sawlu and Sawlu’s successor Kyanzittha. Kyanittha was responsible for what is still one the wonders of Pagans: The Ananda Temple, a gian building detailed with gold and silver, decorated with statues and glazed terracotta plaques depicting Buddhist parabales.

As Buddhism took hold in the Pagan Empire, it became the dream of thousands of Burmese to build their own shrine. Women took part in these religious and building activities on the same terms as men. Tribal customs and Buddhist doctrine guaranteed their freedom and equality. A while mantle of painted bricks Stupas and temples spread across the country. But behind the devotion to Buddhism, echoes of barbarism remained in the Burmese court, at least. Anawrahata himself had worshiped not only at the shrine of Buddha’s tooth, but also at other altars built to appease the nats. At the start of work on the Ananda, Kyanzittha had a child buried alive to provide the building with a guardian spirit; this was not a Buddhist custom. He dedicated the temple in 1090 by ceremonially executing the architect who had designed it, so that the creator could not repeat or better the design elsewhere.

In the 13the century, the Pagan Empire ended as it had begun – in violence. Three main factors had pushed it to the brink of collapse. First, incessant border wars against outlaying tribes drained the villages of men. Secondly, the obsession with building, and the granting of the best lands to monasteries and temples for their upkeep, deprived peasants of the space to grow crops. Thirdly, the land itself was becoming poorer with every building that went up. The bricks were made of fired clay, and over the years almost every tree in the region was felled to feed the kilns. The result was catastrophic erosion. In the face of growing poverty and anarchy, traders began moving away from Pagan, taking with them the revenue that had been a vital source of the city’s wealth. The end came during the reign of Narathaihapate. Ambassadors from the Mongol Chinese Empire of Kublai Khan visited Pagan to demand tribute. Narathihapate, outraged at being given orders, had the envoys executed.

It was an absurd gesture. The death and the subsequent Burmese raid on a frontier state that had submitted to China provoked a punitive expedition by the Mongols. The Burmese chronicles proudly record that, in 1277, Narathihapate held back the invaders at Ngasaunggyan, about 560 Km north east of Pagan. But they also admit that the Burmese war elephants eventually retreated before mounted Mongol archers. Six years later, in 1283, the Mongol hordes attacked in earnest and defeated the Burmese at Kaungsin, about 440Km north east of the capital. The king and his court fled down the Irrawaddy, abandoning Pagan to the invaders. Kublai Khan’s officers were staggered by Pagan’s magnificence. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo talked to the soldiers when they returned to China. He described the city they had seen.’ It was full of stone towers covered in gold and silver, with bells at the top, so that the wind made them ring,’ he wrote. ‘And truly these towers made one the most beautiful landscapes in the world, for they were finished exquisitely, splendidly and at great expenses. The beauty was not to last, Narathihapate tried to reclaim the throne of Pagan, but in 1287 the Mongols again invaded, and put the city to the torch. Looters stripped the temple of their gold and silver. But the building themselves survived and have been tended by generations of devoted Buddhists ever since.

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