5. Introduction of Theravada Buddhism

A Mon-Srilanka Maha Thera Shin Arahan from Suvanna Bhumi (Thaton), arrived in Bagan to propagate Theravada Buddhiam there. Through the good office of a hunter (who became Buddhist after hearing Dhamma from Shin Arahan), Shin Arahan was introduced to king Anawrahta. Shin Arahan’s teaching of Dhamma gave pure form of Buddhism to the king his court and his people. At the request of Shin Arahan, king Anawrahta sent envoys with gifts to king of Suvanna Bhumi to ask for a set of Tripitaka.

King of Suvanna Bhumi had 30 sets of Tripitaka. But his envoys received nothing. Anawrahta marched to Survanna Bhumi with armed forces conquered Suvanna Bhumi and returned to Bagan in triumph. He brought all sets of Tripitaka and all religious literature and sacred relies on 33white elephants captured king and his family artists and artisans and all missionary monks to Bagan.

On the way back home, he brought sacred relics of Buddha’s frontal and collar bones he found in a ruined Stupa in Pyu city Srikestra. They were enshrined in Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan. Bagan was now enriched materially and spiritually with the war booties brought by king Anawrahta and his victorious armies. Artists and artisans of Suvanna Bhumi, now settled in Bagan helped develop art architecture and sculpture of Bagan. Missionary monks of Suvanna Bhumi, under the guidance of Shin Arahan began propagation of Theravada Buddhism which gradually reached out to the four corners of the kingdom. Co-operation between king Anawrahta and Maha Thera Shin Arahan firmly established Theravada Buddhism in Bagan and beyond.

King Anawrahta carried out religious reforms by taking strong measures to stamp out superstitions and debased Buddhism. Aries (corrupt forest monks), were either exiled or disrobed and employed in king’s services. Animal sacrifices with intoxicant drinks at Nat spirit festivals were strictly banned.

Nat spirits idols were replaced by Buddha statues in households. Five moral precepts (Pancha Sila), as preached by Theravada Buddhist monks were imposed on the people. 33 sets of Tipitaka were kept in a brick library for reference in the Dhamma teaching copies of them were sent out to monasteries in other places. Pariyatti monasteries were built with schools for literacy and in numeracy for public education. Thus monastic schools educations originated providing free education for all with free boarding and free messing for pupils. These schools also gave moral instruction and training in Buddhist culture.


  1. Khin Maung Nyunt, Dr., Hagiography of Maha Thera Shin Arahan, 1977, Ministry of Culture
  2. Khin Maung Nyunt, Dr., Buddhist and social welfare, May 2004, Chularlonkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

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