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Author: Laxman Burdak IFS (R)
Pagan Empire circa 1210. Pagan Empire during Sithu II's reign.

Pagan (पागन) is a city in Burma, known for a Kingdom of Burma also commonly known as the Pagan Dynasty and the Pagan Empire which was the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern-day Burma (Myanmar).

Variants of name

  • Tamradvipa (ताम्रद्वीप) (AS, p.394): Tamradvipa was the Indian name of Pagan Empire. Pagan city, founded in 849 AD, was also called Arimardanapura (अरिमर्दनपुर ) and was capital of the Pagan Empire. The Kingdom was part of Tattadesha (तत्तदेश). [1]



History of Pagan Kingdom

Pagan's 250-year rule over the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery laid the foundation for the ascent of Burmese language and culture, the spread of Burman ethnicity in Upper Burma, and the growth of Theravada Buddhism in Burma and in mainland Southeast Asia.[4]

The Pagan kingdom grew out of a small 9th-century settlement at Pagan (Bagan) by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Kingdom of Nanzhao. Over the next two hundred years, the small principality gradually grew to absorb its surrounding regions until the 1050s and 1060s when King Anawrahta founded the Pagan Kingdom, for the first time unifying under one polity the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery. By the late 12th century Anawrahta's successors had extended their influence farther to the south into the upper Malay peninsula, to the east at least to the Salween river, in the farther north to below the current China border, and to the west, in northern Arakan and the Chin Hills.[5][6] In the 12th and 13th centuries, Pagan, alongside the Khmer Empire, was one of two main empires in mainland Southeast Asia.[7]

The Burmese language and culture gradually became dominant in the upper Irrawaddy valley, eclipsing the Pyu, Mon and Pali norms by the late 12th century. Theravada Buddhism slowly began to spread to the village level although Tantric, Mahayana, Brahmanic, and animist practices remained heavily entrenched at all social strata. Pagan's rulers built over 10,000 Buddhist temples in the Pagan capital zone of which over 2000 remain. The wealthy donated tax-free land to religious authorities.[8]

The kingdom went into decline in the mid-13th century as the continuous growth of tax-free religious wealth by the 1280s had severely affected the crown's ability to retain the loyalty of courtiers and military servicemen. This ushered in a vicious circle of internal disorders and external challenges by the Arakanese, Mons, Mongols and Shans. Repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301) toppled the four-century-old kingdom in 1287. The collapse was followed by 250 years of political fragmentation that lasted well into the 16th century.[9][10]

Burmese chronicles do not agree on the origins of the Pagan kingdom. Chronicles down to the 18th century trace its origins to 167 CE, when Pyusawhti, a descendant of a solar spirit and a dragon princess, founded the dynasty at Pagan. But the 19th-century Glass Palace Chronicle (Hmannan Yazawin) connects the dynasty's origins to the clan of the Buddha and the first Buddhist king Maha Sammata.[11]

The Glass Palace Chronicle traces the origins of the Pagan kingdom to India during the 9th century BCE, more than three centuries before the Buddha was born. Prince Abhiraja of Kosala of the Sakya clan — the clan of the Buddha — left his homeland with followers in 850 BCE after military defeat by the neighbouring kingdom of Panchala. They settled at Tagaung in present-day northern Burma and founded a kingdom. The Chronicle does not claim that he had arrived in an empty land, only that he was the first king.[12]

Abhiraja had two sons. The elder son Kanyaza Gyi ventured south, and in 825 BCE founded his own kingdom in what is today Arakan. The younger son Kanyaza Nge succeeded his father, and was followed by a dynasty of 31 kings, and then another dynasty of 17 kings. Some three and a half centuries later, in 483 BCE, scions of Tagaung founded yet another kingdom much farther down the Irrawaddy at Sri Ksetra, near modern Pyay (Prome). Sri Ksetra lasted nearly six centuries, and was succeeded in turn by the kingdom of Pagan.[13] The Glass Palace Chronicle goes on to relate that around 107 CE, Thamoddarit, nephew of the last king of Sri Ksetra, founded the city of Pagan (formally, Arimaddana-pura, lit. "the City that Tramples on Enemies").[14] The site reportedly was visited by the Buddha himself during his lifetime, and it was where he allegedly pronounced that a great kingdom would arise at this very location 651 years after his death.[15] Thamoddarit was followed by a caretaker, and then Pyusawhti in 167 CE.

The chronicle narratives then merge, and agree that a dynasty of kings followed Pyusawhti. King Pyinbya fortified the city in 849 CE.[16]

Modern scholarship holds that the Pagan dynasty was founded by the Mranma (Burmans) of the Nanzhao Kingdom in the mid-to-late 9th century CE; that the earlier parts of the chronicle are the histories and legends of the Pyu people, the earliest inhabitants of Burma of whom records are extant; and that Pagan kings had adopted the Pyu histories and legends as their own. Indeed, European scholars of the British colonial period were even more skeptical, dismissing outright the chronicle tradition of early Burmese history as "copies of Indian legends taken from Sanskrit or Pali originals",[17] and the Abhiraja story as a vain attempt by Burmese chroniclers to link their kings to the Buddha. They doubted the antiquity of the chronicle tradition, and dismissed the possibility that any sort of civilisation in Burma could be much older than 500 CE. [18][19][20]

The Abhiraja myth notwithstanding, more recent research does indicate that many of the places mentioned in the royal records have indeed been inhabited continuously for at least 3500 years.[21] The earliest evidence of civilisation thus far dates to 11,000 BCE.[22] Archaeological evidence shows that as early as the 2nd century BCE the Pyu had built water-management systems along secondary streams in central and northern parts of the Irrawaddy basin and had founded one of Southeast Asia's earliest urban centres. By the early centuries CE, several walled cities and towns, including Tagaung, the birthplace of the first Burman kingdom according to the chronicles, had emerged. The architectural and artistic evidence indicates the Pyu realm's contact with Indian culture by the 4th century CE. The city-states boasted kings and palaces, moats and massive wooden gates, and always 12 gates for each of the signs of the zodiac, one of the many enduring patterns that would continue until the British occupation. Sri Ksetra emerged as the premier Pyu city-state in the 7th century CE. Although the size of the city-states and the scale of political organisation grew during the 7th to early 9th centuries, no sizeable kingdom had yet emerged by the 9th century.[23][24]

According to a reconstruction by G.H. Luce, the millennium-old Pyu realm came crashing down under repeated attacks by the Nanzhao Kingdom of Yunnan between the 750s and 830s CE. Like that of the Pyu, the original home of Burmans prior to Yunnan is believed to be in present-day Qinghai and Gansu provinces.[25] After the Nanzhao attacks had greatly weakened the Pyu city-states, large numbers of Burman warriors and their families first entered the Pyu realm in the 830s and 840s, and settled at the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers,[26] perhaps to help the Nanzhao pacify the surrounding countryside.[27] Indeed, the naming system of the early Pagan kings—Pyusawhti and his descendants for six generations—was identical to that of the Nanzhao kings where the last name of the father became the first name of the son. The chronicles date these early kings to between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE, scholars to between the 8th and 10th centuries CE.[28] (A minority view led by Htin Aung contends that the arrival of Burmans may have been a few centuries earlier, perhaps the early 7th century.[29] The earliest human settlement at Pagan is radiocarbon dated to c. 650 CE. But evidence is inconclusive to prove that it was specifically a Burman (and not just another Pyu) settlement.)[30]

Thant Myint-U summarises that "the Nanzhao Empire had washed up on the banks of the Irrawaddy, and would find a new life, fused with an existing and ancient culture, to produce one of the most impressive little kingdoms of the medieval world. From this fusion would result the Burmese people, and the foundations of modern Burmese culture."[31]

Indian Origin Places in Burma

Dineschandra Sircar[32] writes.... Among Sanskrit-Pali names in Burma, mention may be made of Golanagara or Golamrittikanagara (modern Ayetthema, 20 miles north of Thaton, Gola being supposed to stand for Gauda[33] Kalasapura (to the south eat of Prome near the mouth of Sittang,[34] Ramapura (Moulmein), Ramanyadesh (Lowe Burma)[35] and Shri (Bhamo or Tagaung).[36]. The principalities of Pushkaravati, Trihakumbha, Asitanjana and Ramyanagara were situated in the region of Rangoon, Ramavati and Dhanyavati (modern Rakhaingmyu]] being situated in Arakan[37] The city of Shrikshetra has been located at Hmawza near Prome. Sudharmapura is modern Thaton and the city of Arimardanapura is Pagan situated in the land of Tattadesha and the kingdom of Tamradvipa [38]


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[39] ने लेख किया है ...2. ताम्रद्वीप (AS, p.394) (वर्मा) प्राचीन पागन राज्य का भारतीय नाम. पागन नामक नगर का प्राचीन नाम अरिमर्दनपुर था जहां इस राज्य की राजधानी थी. इस नगर की स्थापना 849 ई. में हुई थी. यह राज्य जिस प्रदेश में था उसका प्राचीन नाम तत्तदेश था. इस प्रदेश में तांबे की खाने स्थित थी.


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[40] ने लेख किया है ... तत्तदेश (बर्मा) (AS, p.389) प्राचीन भारतीय उपनिवेश था, जिसमें अरिमर्दनपुर या वर्तमान पागन नगर स्थित था। यह नगर 849 ई. में स्थापित हुआ था। ताम्रद्वीप या पागन नामक रियासत भी तत्त (तत्व?) देश में सम्मिलित थी।


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[41] ने लेख किया है ... अरिमर्दनपुर (AS, p.38) वर्तमान पगन नगर का प्राचीन भारतीय नाम था। अरिमर्दनपुर की स्थापना 849 ई. में हुई थी। अरिमर्दनपुर नगर ताम्रद्वीप की राजधानी था। अरिमर्दनपुर का सबसे अधिक प्रसिद्ध राजा अनिरुद्ध महान् था जिसने पगन के छोटे-से राज्य को बढ़ाकर एक महान् साम्राज्य में परिवर्तित कर दिया था। अरिमर्दनपुर साम्राज्य में ब्रह्मदेश का अधिकांश भाग सम्मिलित था। अनिरुद्ध कट्टर बौद्ध था और उसने सिंहल नरेश से बुद्ध का एक धातुचिह्न मंगवा कर श्वेजिगोन पेगोडा में संरक्षित किया था। अनिरुद्ध की मृत्यु 1077 ई. में हुई थी।


विजयेन्द्र कुमार माथुर[42] ने लेख किया है ...कशेरु (AS, p.152) 'इंद्रद्वीपं कशेरुं च ताम्रद्वीपं गभस्तिमत् गांधर्ववारुणं द्वीपं सौम्याक्षमिति च प्रभु': महाभारत सभापर्वा 38, दक्षिणात्य पाठ . अर्थात शक्तिशाली सहस्रबाहु ने इंद्रद्वीप, कशेरु, ताम्रद्वीप, गभस्तिमत्, गंधर्व, वारुण और सौम्याक्ष द्वीप को जीत लिया था. प्रसंग से यह इंडोनेशिया का कोई द्वीप जान पड़ता है. क्योंकि इंद्रद्वीप = सुमात्रा का एक भाग, ताम्रद्वीप = लंका, वारुण = बोर्नियो

Early Pagan

Evidence shows that the actual pace of Burman migration into the Pyu realm was gradual. Indeed, no firm indications have been found at Sri Ksetra or at any other Pyu site to suggest a violent overthrow. Radiocarbon dating shows that human activity existed until c. 870 at Halin, the Pyu city reportedly destroyed by an 832 Nanzhao raid.[43] The region of Pagan received waves of Burman settlements in the mid-to-late 9th century, and perhaps well into the 10th century. Though Hmannan states that Pagan was fortified in 849—or more accurately, 876 after the Hmannan dates are adjusted to King Anawrahta's inscriptionally verified accession date of 1044—the chronicle reported date is likely the date of foundation, not fortification. Radiocarbon dating of Pagan's walls points to c. 980 at the earliest.[44] (If an earlier fortification did exist, it must have been constructed using less durable materials such as mud.) Likewise, inscriptional evidence of the earliest Pagan kings points to 956. The earliest mention of Pagan in external sources occurs in Song Chinese records, which report that envoys from Pagan visited the Song capital Bianjing in 1004. Cham and Mon inscriptions first mentioned Pagan in 1050 and 1093, respectively.[45]

Pagan Empire

In December 1044, a Pagan prince named Anawrahta (=Aniruddha of Indian sources) came to power. Over the next three decades, he turned this small principality into the First Burmese Empire—the "charter polity" that formed the basis of modern-day Burma/Myanmar.[46] Historically verifiable Burmese history begins with his accession.[47]

Anawrahta proved an energetic king. His acts as king were to strengthen his kingdom's economic base. In the first decade of his reign, he invested much effort into turning the arid parched lands of central Burma into a rice granary, successfully building/enlarging weirs and canals, mainly around the Kyaukse district,[48] east of Pagan. The newly irrigated regions attracted people, giving him with an increased manpower base. He graded every town and village according to the levy it could raise. The region, known as Ledwin (lit. "rice country"), became the granary, the economic key of the north country. History shows that one who gained control of Kyaukse became kingmaker in Upper Burma.[49]

By the mid-1050s, Anawrahta's reforms had turned Pagan into a regional power, and he looked to expand. Over the next ten years, he founded the Pagan Empire, the Irrawaddy valley at the core, surrounded by tributary states.[50] Anawrahta began his campaigns in the nearer Shan Hills, and extended conquests to Lower Burma down to the Tenasserim coast to Phuket and North Arakan.[51] Estimates of the extent of his empire vary greatly. The Burmese and Siamese chronicles report an empire which covered the present-day Burma and northern Thailand. The Siamese chronicles assert that Anawrahta conquered the entire Menam valley, and received tribute from the Khmer king. One Siamese chronicle states that Anawrahta's armies invaded the Khmer kingdom and sacked the city of Angkor, and another one goes so far as to say that Anawrahta even visited Javadvipa to receive his tribute.[52]

The Nehru Brigade held Irrawaddy

Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon[53] writes....Towards end of 1944, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose gave Dhillon the command of 4th Guerrilla Regiment also called the Nehru Brigade. His regiment distinguished itself in the battlefield. The Nehru Brigade was to hold the Irrawaddy River from Nyaungu in north to Pagan in south, both towns inclusive, and to hold the enemy crossing the Irrawaddy at those places. (p.268)

Dhillon formed an advance party from 9th Battalion and left for Pagan on January 29, 1945. (p.265)

Dhillon ordered the move of battalions to leave Myingyan by February 4, 1945 so as to be in their respective positions by February 8, 1945.(p.268)

Dhillon ensured all the arrangements. The Nehru Brigade held the Irrawaddy as planned. Dhillon kept his Headquarters at Tetthe during this operation. (p.269)

On February 12, 1945 the enemy planes carried out saturation bombing on INA defences. (p.286)

On 13/14 February night enemy launched an assault in front of the 8th battalion deployed at Pagan. (p.288)

These assaults were failed and the enemy had to withdraw. The Nehru Brigade kept on holding the Irrawaddy and this was the first victory of INA. (p.289)

After the failure at Pagan the enemy tried another assault crossing opposite Nyaungu by using outboard motors and rubber boats. This assault was also failed and hundreds of enemies were killed or drowned. Having failed the enemy had no other choice but to retreat. This was another victory of INA. (p.289)

This could not sustain and INA had to withdraw and Dhillon had to proceed to Pagan.(p.296)

Dhillon reached Popa on February 17, 1945. on the following day, 18.2.1945, sahgal arrived. (p.301)

On February 23, 1945, General Shah Nawaz visited the Commander of Khanjo Butai and discussed co-ordination of Indo-Japanese operations in the Popa and Kyauk Padaung area. Col. Sahgal was given the task to prepare Popa as a strong base with the view to take up an offensive role. Dhillon’s Regiment, the 4th Guerrilla, was assigned the duty to check the enemy advance on to Kyauk Padaung from the west, where the British had established a strong bridgehead at Nyaungu. This was to be achieved by carrying out an extensive and persistent guerrilla warfare in the area between Popa, Kyauk Padaung (p.302) line in the east and as far forward towards the Irrawaddy as possible as to deny the enemy the use of Nyaungu-Kyauk-Padaullg-Meiktila metalled road for supplying reinforcements and supplies to his forces fighting in the battle of Meiktila. (p.303)

Shah Nawaz arrived Popa on 12 March 1945 and relieved Dhillon forthwith to join his regiment.(p.305)

On April 4, 1945 his Division Commander, Colonel Shah Nawaz Khan, ordered Dhillon to return from Khabok to Popa. By then 4th Guerrilla regiment had been in that area waging guerrilla warfare for over five weeks. (p.318)

Mount Popa and Kyaukpadaung was one pocket of resistance, which had so far defied all British attacks. Under constant raids by INA the British forces were forced to use longer routes that caused the British loss of time, greater consumption of petroleum products and frequent breakdowns of vehicles.(p.319)

From the beginning of April 1945 the strategic situation began to change rapidly. The enemy launched a three-pronged attack on Mount Popa and Kyaukpadaung area. On 5 April 1945 Dhillon was allotted the defence of Kyaukpadaung, south of Popa. In the second week of April there was daily bombing from air. (p.321)

Under the cover of this barrage the British forces advanced in their heavy tanks and armoured vehicles. There were very heavy casualties. The INA could not organize any defence. 2nd Division of the INA was to withdraw to Magwe, 100 miles (160 km) south on Irrawaddy. (p.322)

After completing the task of withdrawing from Magwe, they came to a village called Kanni. (p.327)

In the meantime, the Burmese army has declared war against Japan, and as such, the villagers did not co-operate with INA. Their retreat was fully under the control of General Aung San’s Army under the new name of People’s National Army, after having established a parallel government extending their hold over about 50 villages. They crossed Irrawaddy at Kama to reach Prome on May 1, 1945. Most of INA officers and men could not cross the river and they were stranded on the east bank of Irrawaddy. It was apparent by then, that they had lost the war. Rangoon had already been vacated. (p.333)

From Prome they took southeasterly direction to retreat through the jungles of the Pegu Yomas. Eleven days after leaving Prome, they reached at village called Wata about 20 miles (32 km) west of Pegu. There they learnt that Germany had surrendered. Japan was being heavily bombed daily. The British forces had occupied Pegu. Rangoon fell during the last week of April. Herein they decided that the surviving forces of INA should surrender to the British.(p.337)

In Mahabharata

Sandhya Jain[54] mentions Tamradvipa - A southern people vanquished by Sahdeva in Mahabharata (II.28.46).

Sabha Parva, Mahabharata/Book II Chapter 28 mentions Sahadeva's march towards south: kings and tribes defeated. Tamradvipa is listed in verse Mahabharata (II.28.46). [55]


  1. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.394
  2. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.38-39
  3. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.389
  4. Lieberman, Victor B. (2003). Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830, volume 1, Integration on the Mainland. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80496-7. p.88–123
  5. Lieberman 2003: 90–91, 94
  6. Aung-Thwin, Michael (1985). Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-0960-2. p. 197
  7. Lieberman 2003: 24
  8. Lieberman 2003: 92–97
  9. Lieberman 2003: 119–120
  10. Htin Aung, Maung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press.,p.63–65
  11. Than Tun 1964: ix–x; Lieberman 2003: 196
  12. Myint-U, Thant (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps—Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6. p.44–45
  13. Myint-U 2006: 44–45
  14. Lieberman 2003: 91
  15. Hmannan Vol. 1 2003: 188
  16. Harvey, G. E. (1925). History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.p.349
  17. Hall, D.G.E. (1960). Burma (3rd ed.). Hutchinson University Library. ISBN 978-1-4067-3503-1.p.7
  18. Myint-U 2006: 44–45
  19. Hall 1960: 7
  20. Harvey 1925: 307–309
  21. Myint-U 2006: 44–45
  22. Cooler, Richard M. (2002). "The Art and Culture of Burma". Northern Illinois University. Chapter I
  23. Myint-U 2006: 44–45
  24. Lieberman 2003: 89
  25. Moore 2007: 236; Harvey 1925: 3; Hall 1960: 11
  26. Coedès, George (1968). Walter F. Vella, ed. The Indianized States of Southeast Asia. trans.Susan Brown Cowing. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-0368-1. p: 105–106
  27. Lieberman 2003: 90
  28. Harvey 1925: p.308; Myint-U 2006: p.56–57; Aung-Thwin 1985: p.205
  29. Htin Aung 1967: 367
  30. Aung-Thwin 2005: 185
  31. Myint-U 2006: 56–57
  32. Studies in the Geography of Ancient and Medieval India, By Dineschandra Sircar, p.319
  33. ibid.,p.195
  34. ibid.,p.197
  35. ibid.,p.196
  36. ibid.,p.200
  37. Coedes, The Indianised States in South-East Asia,p.329,cf p.156, RC Majumdar,opcit,p.202
  38. RC Majumdar,opcit,p.207
  39. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.394
  40. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.389
  41. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.38-39
  42. Aitihasik Sthanavali by Vijayendra Kumar Mathur, p.152
  43. Aung-Thwin 2005: 36–37
  44. Aung-Thwin 2005: 38
  45. Aung-Thwin 1985: 21
  46. Harvey 1925: 23–34
  47. Harvey 1925: 23–34
  48. Coedès 1968: 149
  49. Harvey 1925: 24–25
  50. Htin Aung 1967: 34
  51. Myint-U 2006: 56–57
  52. Htin Aung 1967: 34
  53. Dhillon, Gurbaksh Singh (1998): From My Bones, New Delhi: Aryan Books International. ISBN 81-7305-148-8. ,pp.265-337
  54. Sandhya Jain: Adi Deo Arya Devata - A Panoramic View of Tribal-Hindu Cultural Interface, Rupa & Co, 7/16, Ansari Road Daryaganj, New Delhi, 2004, p.134, S.N. 95.
  55. द्वीपं ताम्राह्वयं चैव पर्वतं रामकं तदा, तिमिङ्गिलं च नृपतिं वशे चक्रे महामतिः (II.28.46)