12. Buddhism in Bagan under later Kings

Theravada Buddhism continued to flourish under later kings of Bagan regardless of the fact that some successors were not noble kings but despotic or tyrant. But all aspired to be patron and promoter of Buddhism on the model of Emperor Asoka of Mauryan dynasty in India.

Among them King Alaung sithu (AD 1113 – 1167) was very prominent. He lived long and reigned longest. Many religious works at Bagan were accredited to him. The highest monument at Bagan named Sabbannu (Thatbyinnyu) Temple was built by him. It is a five storey brick and stone structure soaring 201, feet into the sky. Vihara or residing quarters for monks, meditation rooms, Pitakat taik or library shrine Hall, the stupa enshrining sacred relics are all combined in a single structure. Sabbannu (Thatbyinnyu) is one of three architectural greats of Bagan.

Thatbyinnyu Temple (1,597/ 906 A)

Thatbyinnyu Temple was built by King Alaung Sithu in A. D. 1144. It is the tallest structure in Bagan. There is a rhyme traditionally sung by the people of Bagan, which runs:

“Massiveness that is Dhammayan Gyi, Loftiness that is Thatbyinnyu, Grace that is Ananda.”

Dhammayan Gyi Temple is the largest in massive size, Thatbyinnyu Temple is the tallest in height, and Ananda Temple is the most graceful with all artistic decorations. Thatbyinnyu, from the base to the finial is 201 feet high.

The name “Thatbyinnyu ” is an original name. It is one of the attributes of the Lord Buddha., “Thatbyinnyu” means “Omniscience” which the Lord Buddha attained on becoming enlightened. In the Temple are circumambulatory vaulted corridors, four-terraced devotional stupa, vihara
(monastery) and the library. It is a big complex structure with seven terraces in all facing east.

Press here to see art and architecture of Thatbyinnyu Temple:

The death of Shin Arahan in AD 1115, in the reign of King Alaungsithu did not interrupt promotion of Theravada Buddhism. His missionary work was continued by his disciple monks.

All successor kings patronized and promoted Buddhism regardless of their political inclination and moral conduct. All kings desired to become ” Sasana Dayika “ (Inheritor of Buddha Sasana, Promoter and defender of Buddhism). Even King Narathu (AD 1167 – 70) a tyrant who committed many political crimes and misruled his kingdom, did perform religious works. The great massive Dhainmayangi Temple was his merit which he completed during his reign.

Press here to see about Dhammayangyi Temple:

Under such kings as Narapati (AD 1174 – 1210) and Kya Swa (AD 1234 – 1250) when Bagan kingdom enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity, religious learning and scholarship in Buddhism grew to a height.

The court of King Kya Swa was not merely a palace but it also became a learning centre for the royal family and all courtiers. They produced religious writings of some merit.

Among religious literature of Bagan Period, the principal works were Pali grammar of them, the Sadaniti was most famous. It was a scholarly work compiled by a learned bhikkhu named Aggavainsa in AD. 1154. when Uttarajiva, a visiting monk from Bagan presented a copy of it to bhikkhus of Mahavihara, they all studied and examined it and they declared that it was ” superior to any work of the kind written by Singhalese scholars”. This work is still used in Myanmar monasteries and it has been reprinted many times: B.C. Law regards it as one of the three main Pali grammars. The other two are grammars by Kaccāyana and Moggallana. K. M. Norman praises it thus, ” the greatest of extant Pali grammars is the Saddaniti written by Aggavamsa from Arimaddana (Bagan) in Burma”.

There emerged one learned princess named Thanbyin. She was so learned in Pariyatti and Tipitaka that she was called upon to give lecture on the subject to a class of monk students, from behind seven curtains hiding her identity.

It was in the reign of King Kya Swa that a late bloomer nick named U Kyi Pwey (Mr. Pestle) appeared as the most learned monk of Bagan who was publicly acclaimed “Shin Dithapamaukha ” (Monk professor well – known in all directions) This old monk wrote Thinpongyi Tika (Commentary on Myanmar Primer).

Ashin Adiccavamsa gives in his book in vernacular entitled History of Buddhasasana a list of 24 books in Pali with their authors’ names which he gleaned from Pitakat Tha maing. They all belong to Bagan Period.

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