4.Geographical setting of Bagan

Bagan is situated in the heart of dry zone (arid region), in central Myanmar. Bagan proper covers an area of over 25 square miles but its periphery and influence reached out to further a field. Rain fall in Bagan area does not exceed 40 inches annually. The entire terrain is arid, sandy and sparsely forested. There is no fertile soil to grow paddy, no minerals to mine and no timber forest to extract. Shrubs, cactus, palm, thorny and hardy trees grow. You find pebbles, fossils, ravines and dry streams.

Bagan was called in those days Tatta-desa meaning a parched land and Tampadipa which means the place where the earth look like copper. There are hill and mountain ranges around Bagan. They lie at some distances from Bagan. Across the Ayeyarwaddy River, just facing ancient Bagan city is a range of hills with Thant Kyi hill prominent. Tu-yin hill range of 1,000 feet high lies about 7miles to the south of Bagan. At a distance of 30miles south-east of Bagan is the Mount Popa nearly 5,000 feet high. There is an outcrop hill nearly known as Taung Kalat (hill in the shape of a stemed tray), on which area Buddhist monuments and spirit shrines. The river Ayeyarwaddy flows to the west of Bagan, Shan plateau are lies to the Far East and a vast plain in between them. On the whole Bagan area is not hospitable for human settlement. Yet Bagan Empire grew here. Why?

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Historical background

In spite of above mentioned unfavorable geographical and climate conditions, Bagan commands strategic position economically and administratively. It lies at the centre of the kingdom. It could reach out to the far-flung areas by natural communication by land and water. It is within 150miles, of irrigated paddy fields in Kyaukse district. Bagan stone inscriptions and archaeological evidences prove that there were eleven economic zones in Kyaukse district which provided food and revenue to Bagan. They were (are still);

1.      Pinle

2.      Myitmana

3.      Myit Tha

4.      Myingontaing

5.      Yamon

6.      Panan

7.      Mekkhaya

8.      Ta-pyet-tha

9.      Thin-daung

10.  Ta-mok-so and

11.  Khan lu

These eleven economic zones were referred to as Lei-dwin meaning granaries. They produced paddy and 76varieties of crops, fruits and vegetables. Scholars opine that Bagan’s irrigation works are one of the best and oldest in south-east Asia. There were six other economic zones in Minbu district.

  1. Saku
  2. Salin
  3. Phaung lin
  4. Mapinsaya
  5.  Kyapin and
  6.  Lei-Kaing.

They also produced crops fruits and vegetables.

Political growth of Bagan

When Pyu city kingdoms declined, people left their places and migrated north. They formed 19 villages at Yone Hlut Kyun not very far from present Bagan. There 19 villages were collectively called Pyu-gama later Pyu-gama corrupted to Pyu-gam, Phu-gams and Bagan. One Cambodian stone inscription mentions it as Hpu-gam. The 19 villages grew into a city kingdom-which again developed into an empire the first Myanmar Union lasting over three centuries. Capital Bagan moved to four different places with different names;

  • The first was “Pauk-kan (Yonhlut-kyun)” built by king Thamudarit who founded the Bagan dynasty in AD 108.
  • The second was “Thiripyitsaya” built by Thiligyaung the 7th
  • The third was “Tampawadi” (now Pwasaw) built by king Thaiktaing the 12th king and
  • The fourth was “Arimaddana pura” Pali name meaning “the city which crushes its enemies” which was built by king Pyinbya the 34th king in AD 874. It is now called Bagan.
Click here to see 55 Rulers of Bagan Dynasty

But the authentic history of the dynasty as supported by epigraphical evidence begins only with the reign of Anawrahta (1044-77 AD). A dynasty of 55 kings ruled Bagan the three stages of its political administrative development are Kharium, Taik and Nainggan.

Bagan the royal city

Under king Anawrahta (1044-1077 AD), Bagan grew into a peaceful and prosperous city. He was the 42nd ruler in the dynasty of 55kings. Strong armed forces (infantry, cavalry, elephant and chariot), were formed under the command of brave and loyal military chiefs. They were his might and main. There was an outer defense of outposts of 43 along the eastern front from where foreign invaders used to come. Organized and efficient administration was controlled centrally; to maintain law and order, to manage irrigation, to collect tax, revenue and to promote trade and commerce. Anawrahta built four weirs kinda, Nganaing-thin, Pyaung pya, Kume and many canals to supply water to fields.

Introduction of Theravada Buddhism

In 1053 AD, there arrived in Bagan Maha Thera Shin Arahan. He resided in the ravines near Bagan forest monk’s recluse. There were two types of monks Gamawathi monks who live in towns and village. Arinnawathi monks who lived in forest recluses. Arinnawathi monks were prevalent and dominated in religion. Some were corrupt. They practiced debased Buddhism. Debased Buddhism was a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, animism and local superstitions. Most forest monks became lax in Vinaya. They owned land, solid business, lending money, did trading and performing social and religious rites such as nuptial and fraternal ceremonies, charging fees for their services. Many broke the row of chastity, married and raised family.

Meditation derogated to training for gaining supernatural power, longevity of life, immunity from all weapons, invincibility from all dangers and gaming favor with owners. Occult sciences, Black magic and worship of Hindu devas were prevalent. These corrupt Buddhist monks were called Aris. Rather than practicing Dhamma to attain Nivarna, Aris promoted mundane life by superstitious rites, rituals and application of occult sciences.


  1. G.H. Luce and Pc Maung Tin, (translated) The Glass Puluce Chronicle
  2. E. Harvey, History of Burma, 1925.
  3. Anlhru Phayre, History of Burma, 1883
  4. Khin Maung Nyunt, Dr, Historical and cultural development of Bagan, Nanyang, University, Singapore
  5. Than Tun Dr, History of Buddhism in Bagan, PhD (Thesis), London University
  6. Harvey, G.E, History of Burma
  7. Glass Palace Chronicle

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