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Thursday, May 14, 2020


Chinese influences in Upper Burma must also be taken into account. Burmese kings were perhaps among the many potentates who sent religious embassies to the Emperor Wu-ti about 525 A.D. and the T'ang[145] annals show an acquaintance with Burma. They describe the inhabitants as devout Buddhists, reluctant to take life or even to wear silk, since its manufacture involves the death of the silk worms. There were a hundred monasteries into which the youth entered at the age of seven, leaving at the age of twenty, if they did not intend to become monks. The Chinese writer does not seem to have regarded the religion of Burma as differing materially from Buddhism as he knew it and some similarities in ecclesiastical terminology shown by Chinese and Burmese may indicate the presence of Chinese [Pg 55]influence.[146] But this influence, though possibly strong between the sixth and tenth centuries A.D., and again about the time of the Chinese invasion of 1284,[147] cannot be held to exclude Indian influence.

Thus when Anawrata came to the throne[148] several forms of religion probably co-existed at Pagan, and probably most of them were corrupt, though it is a mistake to think of his dominions as barbarous. The reformation which followed is described by Burmese authors in considerable detail and as usual in such accounts is ascribed to the activity of one personality, the Thera Arahanta who came from Thaton and enjoyed Anawrata's confidence. The story implies that there was a party in Pagan which knew that the prevalent creed was corrupt and also looked upon Thaton and Ceylon as religious centres. As Anawrata was a man of arms rather than a theologian, we may conjecture that his motive was to concentrate in his capital the flower of learning as known in his time—a motive which has often animated successful princes in Asia and led to the unceremonious seizure of living saints. According to the story he broke up the communities of Aris at the instigation of Arahanta and then sent a mission to Manohari, king of Pegu, asking for a copy of the Tipiṭaka and for relics. He received a contemptuous reply intimating that he was not to be trusted with such sacred objects. Anawrata in indignation collected an army, marched against the Talaings and ended by carrying off to Pagan not only elephant loads of scriptures and relics, but also all the Talaing monks and nobles with the king himself.[149] The Piṭakas were stored in a splendid pagoda and Anawrata [Pg 56]sent to Ceylon[150] for others which were compared with the copies obtained from Thaton in order to settle the text.[151]

For 200 years, that is from about 1060 A.D. until the later decades of the thirteenth century, Pagan was a great centre of Buddhist culture not only for Burma but for the whole east, renowned alike for its architecture and its scholarship. The former can still be studied in the magnificent pagodas which mark its site. Towards the end of his reign Anawrata made not very successful attempts to obtain relics from China and Ceylon and commenced the construction of the Shwe Zigon pagoda. He died before it was completed but his successors, who enjoyed fairly peaceful reigns, finished the work and constructed about a thousand other buildings among which the most celebrated is the Ananda temple erected by King Kyansithâ.[152]

Pali literature in Burma begins with a little grammatical treatise known as Kârikâ and composed in 1064 A.D. by the monk Dhammasenâpati who lived in the monastery attached to this temple. A number of other works followed. Of these the most celebrated was the Saddanîti of Aggavaṃsa (1154), a treatise on the language of the Tipiṭaka which became a classic not only in Burma but in Ceylon. A singular enthusiasm for linguistic studies prevailed especially in the reign of Kyocvâ (c. 1230), when even women are said to have been distinguished for the skill and ardour which they displayed in conquering the difficulties of Pali grammar. Some treatises on the Abhidhamma were also produced.

Like Mohammedanism, Hinayanist Buddhism is too simple and definite to admit much variation in doctrine, but its clergy are prone to violent disputes about apparently trivial questions. In the thirteenth century such disputes assumed grave proportions in Burma. About 1175 A.D. a celebrated elder named [Pg 57]Uttarâjîva accompanied by his pupil Chapaṭa left for Ceylon. They spent some years in study at the Mahâvihâra and Chapaṭa received ordination there. He returned to Pagan with four other monks and maintained that valid ordination could be conferred only through the monks of the Mahâvihâra, who alone had kept the succession unbroken. He with his four companions, having received this ordination, claimed power to transmit it, but he declined to recognize Burmese orders. This pretension aroused a storm of opposition, especially from the Talaing monks. They maintained that Arahanta who had reformed Buddhism under Anawrata was spiritually descended from the missionaries sent by Asoka, who were as well qualified to administer ordination as Mahinda. But Chapaṭa was not only a man of learning and an author[153] but also a vigorous personality and in favour at Court. He had the best of the contest and succeeded in making the Talaing school appear as seceders from orthodoxy. There thus arose a distinction between the Sinhalese or later school and the old Burmese school, who regarded one another as schismatics. A scandal was caused in the Sinhalese community by Râhula, the ablest of Chapaṭa's disciples, who fell in love with an actress and wished to become a layman. His colleagues induced him to leave the country for decency's sake and peace was restored but subsequently, after Chapaṭa's death, the remaining three disciples[154] fell out on questions of discipline rather than doctrine and founded three factions, which can hardly be called schools, although they refused to keep the Uposatha days together. The light of religion shone brightest at Pagan early in the thirteenth century while these three brethren were alive and the Sâsanavaṃsa states that at least three Arhats lived in the city. But the power of Pagan collapsed under attacks from both Chinese and Shans at the end of the century [Pg 58]and the last king became a monk under the compulsion of Shan chiefs. The deserted city appears to have lost its importance as a religious centre, for the ecclesiastical chronicles shift the scene elsewhere.

The two Shan states which arose from the ruin of Pagan, namely Panya (Vijayapura) and Sagaing (Jeyyapura), encouraged religion and learning. Their existence probably explains the claim made in Siamese inscriptions of about 1300 that the territory of Siam extended to Haṃsavatî or Pegu and this contact of Burma and Siam was of great importance for it must be the origin of Pali Buddhism in Siam which otherwise remains unexplained.

After the fall of the two Shan states in 1364, Ava (or Ratnapura) which was founded in the same year gradually became the religious centre of Upper Burma and remained so during several centuries. But it did not at first supersede older towns inasmuch as the loss of political independence did not always involve the destruction of monasteries. Buddhism also flourished in Pegu and the Talaing country where the vicissitudes of the northern kingdoms did not affect its fortunes.

Anawrata had transported the most eminent Theras of Thaton to Pagan and the old Talaing school probably suffered temporarily. Somewhat later we hear that the Sinhalese school was introduced into these regions by Sâriputta[155], who had been ordained at Pagan. About the same time two Theras of Martaban, preceptors of the Queen, visited Ceylon and on returning to their own land after being ordained at the Mahâvihâra considered themselves superior to other monks. But the old Burmese school continued to exist. Not much literature was produced in the south. Sâriputta was the author of a Dhammathat or code, the first of a long series of law books based upon Manu. Somewhat later Mahâyasa of Thaton (c. 1370) wrote several grammatical works.

The most prosperous period for Buddhism in Pegu was the reign of Dhammaceti, also called Râmâdhipati (1460-1491). He was not of the royal family, but a simple monk who helped a princess of Pegu to escape from the Burmese court where she was detained. In 1453 this princess became Queen of Pegu and Dhammaceti left his monastery to become her prime minister, [Pg 59]son-in-law and ultimately her successor. But though he had returned to the world his heart was with the Church. He was renowned for his piety no less than for his magnificence and is known to modern scholars as the author of the Kalyani inscriptions[156], which assume the proportions of a treatise on ecclesiastical laws and history. Their chief purpose is to settle an intricate and highly technical question, namely the proper method of defining and consecrating a sîmâ. This word, which means literally boundary, signifies a plot of ground within which Uposatha meetings, ordinations and other ceremonies can take place. The expression occurs in the Vinaya Piṭaka[157], but the area there contemplated seems to be an ecclesiastical district within which the Bhikkhus were obliged to meet for Uposatha. The modern sîmâ is much smaller[158], but more important since it is maintained that valid ordination can be conferred only within its limits. To Dhammaceti the question seemed momentous, for as he explains, there were in southern Burma six schools who would not meet for Uposatha. These were, first the Camboja[159] school (identical with the Arahanta school) who claimed spiritual descent from the missionaries sent by Asoka to Suvarṇabhûmi, and then five divisions of the Sinhalese school, namely the three founded by Chapaṭa's disciples as already related and two more founded by the theras of Martaban. Dhammaceti accordingly sent a mission to Ceylon charged to obtain an authoritative ruling as to the proper method of consecrating a sîmâ and conferring ordination. On their return a locality known as the Kalyanisîmâ was consecrated in the manner prescribed by the Mahâvihâra and during three years all the Bhikkhus of Dhammaceti's kingdom were reordained there. The total number reached 15,666, and the king boasts that he had thus purified religion and made the school of the Mahâvihâra the only sect, all other distinctions being obliterated.

[Pg 60]There can be little doubt that in the fifteenth century Burmese Buddhism had assumed the form which it still has, but was this form due to indigenous tradition or to imitation of Ceylon? Five periods merit attention. (a) In the sixth century, and probably several centuries earlier, Hinayanism was known in Lower Burma. The inscriptions attesting its existence are written in Pali and in a south Indian alphabet. (b) Anawrata (1010-1052) purified the Buddhism of Upper Burma with the help of scriptures obtained from the Talaing country, which were compared with other scriptures brought from Ceylon. (c) About 1200 Chapata and his pupils who had studied in Ceylon and received ordination there refused to recognize the Talaing monks and two hostile schools were founded, predominant at first in Upper and Lower Burma respectively. (d) About 1250 the Sinhalese school, led by Sâriputta and others, began to make conquests in Lower Burma at the expense of the Talaing school. (e) Two centuries later, about 1460, Dhammaceti of Pegu boasts that he has purified religion and made the school of the Mahâvihâra, that is the most orthodox form of the Sinhalese school, the only sect.

In connection with these data must be taken the important statement that the celebrated Tantrist Atîśa studied in Lower Burma about 1000 A.D. Up to a certain point the conclusion seems clear. Pali Hinayanism in Burma was old: intercourse with southern India and Ceylon tended to keep it pure, whereas intercourse with Bengal and Orissa, which must have been equally frequent, tended to import Mahayanism. In the time of Anawrata the religion of Upper Burma probably did not deserve the name of Buddhism. He introduced in its place the Buddhism of Lower Burma, tempered by reference to Ceylon. After 1200 if not earlier the idea prevailed that the Mahâvihâra was the standard of orthodoxy and that the Talaing church (which probably retained some Mahayanist features) fell below it. In the fifteenth century this view was universally accepted, the opposition and indeed the separate existence of the Talaing church having come to an end.

But it still remains uncertain whether the earliest Burmese Buddhism came direct from Magadha or from the south. The story of Asoka's missionaries cannot be summarily rejected [Pg 61]but it also cannot be accepted without hesitation[160]. It is the Ceylon chronicle which knows of them and communication between Burma and southern India was old and persistent. It may have existed even before the Christian era.

After the fall of Pagan, Upper Burma, of which we must now speak, passed through troubled times and we hear little of religion or literature. Though Ava was founded in 1364 it did not become an intellectual centre for another century. But the reign of Narapati (1442-1468) was ornamented by several writers of eminence among whom may be mentioned the monk poet Sîlavaṃsa and Ariyavaṃsa, an exponent of the Abhidhamma. They are noticeable as being the first writers to publish religious works, either original or translated, in the vernacular and this practice steadily increased. In the early part of the sixteenth century[161] occurred the only persecution of Buddhism known in Burma. Thohanbwâ, a Shan who had become king of Ava, endeavoured to exterminate the order by deliberate massacre and delivered temples, monasteries and libraries to the flames. The persecution did not last long nor extend to other districts but it created great indignation among the Burmese and was perhaps one of the reasons why the Shan dynasty of Ava was overthrown in 1555.

Bayin (or Bureng) Naung stands out as one of the greatest personalities in Burmese history. As a Buddhist he was zealous even to intolerance, since he forced the Shans and Moslims of the northern districts, and indeed all his subjects, to make a formal profession of Buddhism. He also, as related elsewhere, made not very successful attempts to obtain the tooth relic from Ceylon. But it is probable that his active patronage of the faith, as shown in the construction and endowment of religious buildings, was exercised chiefly in Pegu and this must be the reason why the Sâsanavaṃsa (which is interested chiefly in Upper Burma) says little about him.

His successors showed little political capacity but encouraged religion and literature. The study of the Abhidhamma was [Pg 62]specially flourishing in the districts of Ava and Sagaing from about 1600 to 1650 and found many illustrious exponents. Besides works in Pali, the writers of this time produced numerous Burmese translations and paraphrases of Abhidhamma works, as well as edifying stories.

In the latter part of the seventeenth century Burma was in a disturbed condition and the Sâsanavaṃsa says that religion was dimmed as the moon by clouds. A national and religious revival came with the victories of Alompra (1752 onwards), but the eighteenth century also witnessed the rise of a curious and not very edifying controversy which divided the Sangha for about a hundred years and spread to Ceylon[162]. It concerned the manner in which the upper robe of a monk, consisting of a long piece of cloth, should be worn. The old practice in Burma was to wrap this cloth round the lower body from the loins to the ankles, and draw the end from the back over the left shoulder and thence across the breast over the right shoulder so that it finally hung loose behind. But about 1698 began the custom of walking with the right shoulder bare, that is to say letting the end of the robe fall down in front on the left side. The Sangha became divided into two factions known as Ekaṃsika (one-shouldered) and Pârupana (fully clad). The bitterness of the seemingly trivial controversy was increased by the fact that the Ekaṃsikas could produce little scriptural warrant and appealed to late authorities or the practice in Ceylon, thus neglecting sound learning. For the Vinaya frequently[163] prescribes that the robe is to be adjusted so as to fall over only one shoulder as a mark of special respect, which implies that it was usually worn over both shoulders. In 1712 and again about twenty years later arbitrators were appointed by the king to hear both sides, but they had not sufficient authority or learning [Pg 63]to give a decided opinion. The stirring political events of 1740 and the following years naturally threw ecclesiastical quarrels into the shade but when the great Alompra had disposed of his enemies he appeared as a modern Asoka. The court religiously observed Uposatha days and the king was popularly believed to be a Bodhisattva[164]. He was not however sound on the great question of ecclesiastical dress. His chaplain, Atula, belonged to the Ekaṃsika party and the king, saying that he wished to go into the whole matter himself but had not for the moment leisure, provisionally ordered the Saṇgha to obey Atula's ruling. But some champions of the other side stood firm. Alompra dealt leniently with them, but died during his Siamese campaign before he had time to unravel the intricacies of the Vinaya.

The influence of Atula, who must have been an astute if not learned man, continued after the king's death and no measures were taken against the Ekaṃsikas, although King Hsin-byu-shin (1763-1776) persecuted an heretical sect called Paramats[165]. His youthful successor, Sing-gu-sa, was induced to hold a public disputation. The Ekaṃsikas were defeated in this contest and a royal decree was issued making the Pârupana discipline obligatory. But the vexed question was not settled for it came up again in the long reign (1781-1819) of Bodôpayâ. This king has won an evil reputation for cruelty and insensate conceit[166], but he was a man of vigour and kept together his great empire. His megalomania naturally detracted from the esteem won by his piety. His benefactions to religion were lavish, the shrines and monasteries which he built innumerable. But he desired to build a pagoda larger than any in the world and during some twenty years wasted an incalculable amount of labour and money on this project, still commemorated by a gigantic but unfinished mass of brickwork now in ruins. In order to supervise its erection he left his palace and lived at Mingun, where he [Pg 64]conceived the idea that he was a Buddha, an idea which had not been entirely absent from the minds of Alompra and Hsin-byu-shin. It is to the credit of the Theras that, despite the danger of opposing an autocrat as cruel as he was crazy, they refused to countenance these pretensions and the king returned to his palace as an ordinary monarch.

If he could not make himself a Buddha, he at least disposed of the Ekaṃsika dispute, and was probably influenced in his views by Ñânâbhivaṃsa, a monk of the Pârupana school whom he made his chaplain, although Atula was still alive. At first he named a commission of enquiry, the result of which was that the Ekaṃsikas admitted that their practice could not be justified from the scriptures but only by tradition. A royal decree was issued enjoining the observance of the Pârupana discipline, but two years later Atula addressed a letter to the king in which he maintained that the Ekaṃsika costume was approved in a work called Cûlagaṇṭhipada, composed by Moggalâna, the immediate disciple of the Buddha. The king ordered representatives of both parties to examine this contention and the debate between them is dramatically described in the Sâsanavaṃsa. It was demonstrated that the text on which Atula relied was composed in Ceylon by a thera named Moggalâna who lived in the twelfth century and that it quoted mediæval Sinhalese commentaries. After this exposure the Ekaṃsika party collapsed. The king commanded (1784) the Pârupana discipline to be observed and at last the royal order received obedience.

It will be observed that throughout this controversy both sides appealed to the king, as if he had the right to decide the point in dispute, but that his decision had no compelling power as long as it was not supported by evidence. He could ensure toleration for views regarded by many as heretical, but was unable to force the views of one party on the other until the winning cause had publicly disproved the contentions of its opponents. On the other hand the king had practical control of the hierarchy, for his chaplain was de facto head of the Church and the appointment was strictly personal. It was not the practice for a king to take on his predecessor's chaplain and the latter could not, like a Lamaist or Catholic ecclesiastic, claim any permanent supernatural powers. Bodôpayâ did something towards organizing the hierarchy for he appointed four [Pg 65]elders of repute to be Saṇgharâjas or, so to speak, Bishops, with four more as assistants and over them all his chaplain Ñâṇa as Archbishop. Ñâṇa was a man of energy and lived in turn in various monasteries supervising the discipline and studies.

In spite of the extravagances of Bodôpayâ, the Church was flourishing and respected in his reign. The celebrated image called Mahâmuni was transferred from Arakan to his capital together with a Sanskrit library, and Burma sent to Ceylon not only the monks who founded the Amarapura school but also numerous Pali texts. This prosperity continued in the reigns of Bagyidaw, Tharrawadi and Pagan-min, who were of little personal account. The first ordered the compilation of the Yazawin, a chronicle which was not original but incorporated and superseded other works of the same kind. In his reign arose a question as to the validity of grants of land, etc., for religious purposes. It was decided in the sense most favourable to the order, viz. that such grants are perpetual and are not invalidated by the lapse of time. About 1845 there was a considerable output of vernacular literature. The Dîgha, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikâyas with their commentaries were translated into Burmese but no compositions in Pali are recorded.

From 1852 till 1877 Burma was ruled by Mindon-min, who if not a national hero was at least a pious, peace-loving, capable king. His chaplain, Paññâsâmi, composed the Sâsanavaṃsa, or ecclesiastical history of Burma, and the king himself was ambitious to figure as a great Buddhist monarch, though with more sanity than Bodôpayâ, for his chief desire was to be known as the Convener of the Fifth Buddhist Council. The body so styled met from 1868 to 1871 and, like the ancient Saṇgîtis, proceeded to recite the Tipiṭaka in order to establish the correct text. The result may still be seen at Mandalay in the collection of buildings commonly known as the four hundred and fifty Pagodas: a central Stupa surrounded by hundreds of small shrines each sheltering a perpendicular tablet on which a portion of this veritable bible in stone is inscribed. Mindon-min also corrected the growing laxity of the Bhikkhus, and the esteem in which the Burmese church was held at this time is shown by the fact that the monks of Ceylon sent a deputation to the Saṇgharâja of Mandalay referring to his decision a dispute about a sîmâ or ecclesiastical boundary.

[Pg 66]Mindon-min was succeeded by Thibaw, who was deposed by the British. The Saṇgharâja maintained his office until he died in 1895. An interregnum then occurred for the appointment had always been made by the king, not by the Sangha. But when Lord Curzon visited Burma in 1901 he made arrangements for the election by the monks themselves of a superior of the whole order and Taunggwin Sayâdaw was solemnly installed in this office by the British authorities in 1903 with the title of Thathanabaing[167].

We may now examine briefly some sides of popular religion and institutions which are not Buddhist. It is an interesting fact that the Burmese law books or Dhammathats[168], which are still accepted as regulating inheritance and other domestic matters, are Indian in origin and show no traces of Sinhalese influence although since 1750 there has been a decided tendency to bring them into connection with authorities accepted by Buddhism. The earliest of these codes are those of Dhammavilâsa (1174 A.D.) and of Waguru, king of Martaban in 1280. They professedly base themselves on the authority of Manu and, so far as purely legal topics are concerned, correspond pretty closely with the rules of the Mânava-dharmaśâstra. But they omit all prescriptions which involve Brahmanic religious observances such as penance and sacrifice. Also the theory of punishment is different and inspired by the doctrine of Karma, namely, that every evil deed will bring its own retribution. Hence the Burmese codes ordain for every crime not penalties to be suffered by the criminal but merely the payment of compensation to the party aggrieved, proportionate to the damage suffered[169]. It is probable that the law-books on which these codes were based were brought from the east coast of India and [Pg 67]were of the same type as the code of Nârada, which, though of unquestioned Brahmanic orthodoxy, is almost purely legal and has little to say about religion. A subsidiary literature embodying local decisions naturally grew up, and about 1640 was summarized by a Burmese nobleman called Kaing-zâ in the Mahârâja-dhammathat. He received from the king the title of Manurâja and the name of Manu became connected with his code, though it is really based on local custom. It appears to have superseded older law-books until the reign of Alompra who remodelled the administration and caused several codes to be compiled[170]. These also preserve the name of Manu, but he and Kaing-zâ are treated as the same personage. The rules of the older law-books are in the main retained but are made to depend on Buddhist texts. Later Dhammathats become more and more decidedly Buddhist. Thus the Mohavicchedanî (1832) does not mention Manu but presents the substance of the Manu Dhammathats as the law preached by the Buddha.

Direct Indian influence may be seen in another department not unimportant in an oriental country. The court astrologers, soothsayers and professors of kindred sciences were even in recent times Brahmans, known as Pônnâ and mostly from Manipur. An inscription found at Pagan and dated 1442 mentions the gift of 295 books[171] to the Sangha among which several have Sanskrit titles and about 1600 we hear of Pandits learned in the Vedaśâstras, meaning not Vedic learning in the strict sense but combinations of science and magic described as medicine, astronomy, Kâmaśâstras, etc. Hindu tradition was sufficiently strong at the Court to make the presence of experts in the Atharva Veda seem desirable and in the capital they were in request for such services as drawing up horoscopes[172] and [Pg 68]invoking good luck at weddings whereas monks will not attend social gatherings.

More important as a non-Buddhist element in Burmese religion is the worship of Nats[173] or spirits of various kinds. Of the prevalence of such worship there is no doubt, but I cannot agree with the authorities who say that it is the practical religion of the Burmese. No passing tourist can fail to see that in the literal as well as figurative sense Burma takes its colour from Buddhism, from the gilded and vermilion pagodas and the yellow robed priests. It is impossible that so much money should be given, so many lives dedicated to a religion which had not a real hold on the hearts of the people. The worship of Nats, wide-spread though it be, is humble in its outward signs and is a superstition rather than a creed. On several occasions the kings of Burma have suppressed its manifestations when they became too conspicuous. Thus Anawrata destroyed the Nat houses of Pagan and recent kings forbade the practice of firing guns at funerals to scare the evil spirits.

Nats are of at least three classes, or rather have three origins. Firstly they are nature spirits, similar to those revered in China and Tibet. They inhabit noticeable natural features of every kind, particularly trees, rivers and mountains; they may be specially connected with villages, houses or individuals. Though not essentially evil they are touchy and vindictive, punishing neglect or discourtesy with misfortune and ill-luck. No explanation is offered as to the origin of many Nats, but others, who may be regarded as forming the second category, are ghosts or ancestral spirits. In northern Burma Chinese influence encouraged ancestor worship, but apart from this there is a disposition (equally evident in India) to believe that violent and uncanny persons and those who meet with a tragic death become powerful ghosts requiring propitiation. Thirdly, there are Nats who are at least in part identified with the Indian deities recognized by early Buddhism. It would seem that the Thirty Seven Nats, described in a work called the Mahâgîtâ Medânigyân, correspond to the Thirty Three Gods of Buddhist mythology, but that the number has been raised for unknown [Pg 69]reasons to 37[174]. They are spirits of deceased heroes, and there is nothing unbuddhist in this conception, for the Piṭakas frequently represent deserving persons as being reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty Three. The chief is Thagyâ, the Śakra or Indra of Hindu mythology[175], but the others are heroes, connected with five cycles of legends based on a popular and often inaccurate version of Burmese history[176].

Besides Thagyâ Nat we find other Indian figures such as Man Nat (Mâra) and Byammâ Nat (Brahmâ). In diagrams illustrating the Buddhist cosmology of the Burmans[177] a series of heavens is depicted, ascending from those of the Four Kings and Thirty Three Gods up to the Brahmâ worlds, and each inhabited by Nats according to their degree. Here the spirits of Burma are marshalled and classified according to Buddhist system just as were the spirits of India some centuries before. But neither in ancient India nor in modern Burma have the devas or Nats anything to do with the serious business of religion. They have their place in temples as guardian genii and the whole band may be seen in a shrine adjoining the Shwe-zi-gon Pagoda at Pagan, but this interferes no more with the supremacy of the Buddha than did the deputations of spirits who according to the scriptures waited on him.

Buddhism is a real force in Burmese life and the pride of the Burmese people. Every male Burman enters a monastery when he is about 15 for a short stay. Devout parents send their sons for the four months of Was (or even for this season during three successive years), but by the majority a period of from one month to one week is considered sufficient. To omit this stay in a monastery altogether would not be respectable: it is in common esteem the only way to become a human being, for without it a boy is a mere animal. The praises of the Buddha [Pg 70]and vows to lead a good life are commonly recited by the laity[178] every morning and evening. It is the greatest ambition of most Burmans to build a pagoda and those who are able to do so (a large percentage of the population to judge from the number of buildings) are not only sure of their reward in another birth but even now enjoy respect and receive the title of pagoda-builder. Another proof of devotion is the existence of thousands of monasteries[179]—perhaps on an average more than two for each large village and town—built and supported by voluntary contributions. The provision of food and domicile for their numerous inmates is no small charge on the nation, but observers are agreed that it is cheerfully paid and that the monks are worthy of what they receive. In energy and morality they seem, as a class, superior to their brethren in Ceylon and Siam, and their services to education and learning have been considerable. Every monastery is also a school, where instruction is given to both day boys and boarders. The vast majority of Burmans enter such a school at the age of eight or nine and learn there reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also receive religious instruction and moral training. They commit to memory various works in Pali and Burmese, and are taught the duties which they owe to themselves, society and the state. Sir. J.G. Scott, who is certainly not disposed to exaggerate the influence of Buddhism in Burma, says that "the education of the monasteries far surpasses the instruction of the Anglo-vernacular schools from every point of view except that of immediate success in life and the obtaining of a post under Government[180]." The more studious monks are not merely schoolmasters but can point to a considerable body of literature which they have produced in the past and are still producing[181]. Indeed among the Hinayanist churches that of Burma has in recent centuries held the first place for learning. The age and continuity of Sinhalese traditions have given the Sangha of Ceylon a correspondingly great prestige but it has more than [Pg 71]once been recruited from Burma and in literary output it can hardly rival the Burmese clergy.

Though many disquisitions on the Vinaya have been produced in Burma, and though the Jâtakas and portions of the Sutta Piṭaka (especially those called Parittam) are known to everybody, yet the favourite study of theologians appears to be the Abhidhamma, concerning which a multitude of hand-books and commentaries have been written, but it is worth mentioning that the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, composed in Ceylon about the twelfth century A.D., is still the standard manual[182]. Yet it would be a mistake to think of the Burmese monks as absorbed in these recondite studies: they have on the contrary produced a long series of works dealing with the practical things of the world, such as chronicles, law-books, ethical and political treatises, and even poetry, for Sîlavamsa and Ratthapâla whose verses are still learned by the youth of Burma were both of them Bhikkhus. The Sangha has always shown a laudable reserve in interfering directly with politics, but in former times the king's private chaplain was a councillor of importance and occasionally matters involving both political and religious questions were submitted to a chapter of the order. In all cases the influence of the monks in secular matters made for justice and peace: they sometimes interceded on behalf of the condemned or represented that taxation was too heavy. In 1886, when the British annexed Burma, the Head of the Sangha forbade monks to take part in the political strife, a prohibition which was all the more remarkable because King Thibaw had issued proclamations saying that the object of the invasion was to destroy Buddhism.

In essentials monastic life is much the same in Burma and Ceylon but the Burmese standard is higher, and any monk known to misconduct himself would be driven out by the laity. The monasteries are numerous but not large and much space is wasted, for, though the exterior suggests that they are built in several stories the interior usually is a single hall, although it may be divided by partitions. To the eastern side is attached a chapel containing images of Gotama before which daily devotions [Pg 72]are performed. It is surmounted by a steeple culminating in a hti, a sort of baldachino or sacred umbrella placed also on the top of dagobas, and made of open metal work hung with little bells. Monasteries are always built outside towns and, though many of them become subsequently enclosed by the growth of the larger cities, they retain spacious grounds in which there may be separate buildings, such as a library, dormitories for pupils and a hall for performing the ordination service. The average number of inmates is six. A large establishment may house a superior, four monks, some novices and besides them several lay scholars. The grades are Sahin or novice, Pyit-shin or fully ordained monk and Pôngyi, literally great glory, a monk of at least ten years' standing. Rank depends on seniority—that is to say the greatest respect is shown to the monk who has observed his vows for the longest period, but there are some simple hierarchical arrangements. At the head of each monastery is a Sayâ or superior, and all the monasteries of a large town or a country district are under the supervision of a Provincial called Gaing-Ok. At the head of the whole church is the Thathanabaing, already mentioned. All these higher officials must be Pôngyîs.

Although all monks must take part in the daily round to collect alms yet in most monasteries it is the custom (as in Ceylon and Siam) not to eat the food collected, or at least not all of it, and though no solid nourishment is taken after midday, three morning meals are allowed, namely, one taken very early, the next served on the return from the begging round and a third about 11.30. Two or three services are intoned before the image of the Buddha each day. At the morning ceremony, which takes place about 5.30, all the inmates of the monastery prostrate themselves before the superior and vow to observe the precepts during the day. At the conclusion of the evening service a novice announces that a day has passed away and in a loud voice proclaims the hour, the day of the week, the day of the month and the year. The laity do not usually attend these services, but near large monasteries there are rest houses for the entertainment of visitors and Uposatha days are often celebrated by a pious picnic. A family or party of friends take a rest-house for a day, bring a goodly store of cheroots and betel nut, which are not regarded as out of place during divine [Pg 73]service[183], and listen at their ease to the exposition of the law delivered by a yellow-robed monk. When the congregation includes women he holds a large fan-leaf palm before his face lest his eyes should behold vanity. A custom which might not be to the taste of western ecclesiastics is that the congregation ask questions and, if they do not understand, request the preacher to be clearer.

There is little sectarianism in Burma proper, but the Sawtis, an anti-clerical sect, are found in some numbers in the Shan States and similar communities called Man are still met with in Pegu and Tenasserim, though said to be disappearing. Both refuse to recognize the Sangha, monasteries or temples and perform their devotions in the open fields. Otherwise their mode of thought is Buddhist, for they hold that every man can work out his own salvation by conquering Mâra[184], as the Buddha did, and they use the ordinary formulæ of worship, except that they omit all expressions of reverence to the Sangha. The orthodox Sangha is divided into two schools known as Mahâgandi and Sûlagandi. The former are the moderate easy-going majority who maintain a decent discipline but undeniably deviate somewhat from the letter of the Vinaya. The latter are a strict and somewhat militant Puritan minority who protest against such concessions to the flesh. They insist for instance that a monk should eat out of his begging bowl exactly as it is at the end of the morning round and they forbid the use of silk robes, sunshades and sandals. The Sûlagandi also believe in free will and attach more value to the intention than the action in estimating the value of good deeds, whereas the Mahâgandi accept good actions without enquiring into the motive and believe that all deeds are the result of karma.

In Burma all the higher branches of architecture are almost exclusively dedicated to religion. Except the Palace at Mandalay there is hardly a native building of note which is not connected with a shrine or monastery. Burmese architectural [Pg 74]forms show most analogy to those of Nepal and perhaps[185] both preserve what was once the common style for wooden buildings in ancient India. In recent centuries the Burmese have shown little inclination to build anything that can be called a temple, that is a chamber containing images and the paraphernalia of worship. The commonest form of religious edifice is the dagoba or zedi[186]: images are placed in niches or shrines, which shelter them, but only rarely, as on the platform of the Shwe Dagon at Rangoon, assume the proportions of rooms. This does not apply to the great temples of Pagan, built from about 1050 to 1200, but that style was not continued and except the Arakan Pagoda at Mandalay has perhaps no modern representative. Details of these buildings may be found in the works of Forchhammer, Fergusson, de Beylié and various archæological reports. Their construction is remarkably solid. They do not, like most large buildings in India or Europe, contain halls of some size but are rather pyramids traversed by passages. But this curious disinclination to build temples of the usual kind is not due to any dislike of images. In no Buddhist country are they more common and their numbers are more noticeable because there is here no pantheon as in China and Tibet, but images of Gotama are multiplied, merely in order to obtain merit. Some slight variety in these figures is produced by the fact that the Burmese venerate not only Gotama but the three Buddhas who preceded him[187]. The Shwe Dagon Pagoda is reputed to contain relics of all four; statues of them all stand in the beautiful Ananda Pagoda at Pagan and not infrequently they are represented by four sitting figures facing the four quarters. A gigantic group of this kind composed of statues nearly 90 feet high [Pg 75]stands in the outskirts of Pegu, and in the same neighbourhood is a still larger recumbent figure 180 feet long. It had been forgotten since the capture of Pegu by the Burmans in 1757 and was rediscovered by the engineers surveying the route for the railway. It lies almost in sight of the line and is surprising by its mere size, as one comes upon it suddenly in the jungle. As a work of art it can hardly be praised. It does not suggest the Buddha on his death bed, as is intended, but rather some huge spirit of the jungle waking up and watching the railway with indolent amusement.

In Upper Burma there are not so many large images but as one approaches Mandalay the pagodas add more and more to the landscape. Many are golden and the rest are mostly white and conspicuous. They crown the hills and punctuate the windings of the valleys. Perhaps Burmese art and nature are seen at their best near Sagaing on the bank of the Irrawaddy, a mighty flood of yellow water, sweeping down smooth and steady, but here and there showing whirlpools that look like molten metal. From the shore rise hills of moderate height studded with monasteries and shrines. Flights of white steps lead to the principal summits where golden spires gleam and everywhere are pagodas of all ages, shapes and sizes. Like most Asiatics the Burmese rarely repair, but build new pagodas instead of renovating the old ones. The instinct is not altogether unjust. A pagoda does not collapse like a hollow building but understands the art of growing old. Like a tree it may become cleft or overgrown with moss but it remains picturesque. In the neighbourhood of Sagaing there is a veritable forest of pagodas; humble seedlings built by widows' mites, mature golden domes reared by devout prosperity and venerable ruins decomposing as all compound things must do.

The pagoda slaves are a curious institution connected with temples. Under the Burmese kings persons could be dedicated to pagodas and by this process not only became slaves for life themselves but involved in the same servitude all their posterity, none of whom could by any method become free. They formed a low caste like the Indian Pariahs and though the British Government has abolished the legal status of slavery, the social stigma which clings to them is said to be undiminished.

Art and architecture make the picture of Burma as it [Pg 76]remains in memory and they are the faithful reflection of the character and ways of its inhabitants, their cheerful but religious temper, their love of what is fanciful and graceful, their moderate aspirations towards what is arduous and sublime. The most striking feature of this architecture is its free use of gold and colour. In no country of the world is gilding and plating with gold so lavishly employed on the exterior of buildings. The larger Pagodas such as the Shwe Dagon are veritable pyramids of gold, and the roofs of the Arakan temple as they rise above Mandalay show tier upon tier of golden beams and plates. The brilliancy is increased by the equally lavish use of vermilion, sometimes diversified by glass mosaic. I remember once in an East African jungle seeing a clump of flowers of such brilliant red and yellow that for a moment I thought it was a fire. Somewhat similar is the surprise with which one first gazes on these edifices. I do not know whether the epithet flamboyant can be correctly applied to them as architecture but both in colour and shape they imitate a pile of flame, for the outlines of monasteries and shrines are fanciful in the extreme; gabled roofs with finials like tongues of fire and panels rich with carvings and fret-work. The buildings of Hindus and Burmans are as different as their characters. When a Hindu temple is imposing it is usually because of its bulk and mystery, whereas these buildings are lighthearted and fairy-like: heaps of red and yellow fruit with twining leaves and tendrils that have grown by magic. Nor is there much resemblance to Japanese architecture. There also, lacquer and gold are employed to an unusual extent but the flourishes, horns and finials which in Burma spring from every corner and projection are wanting and both Japanese and Chinese artists are more sparing and reticent. They distribute ornament so as to emphasize and lead up to the more important parts of their buildings, whereas the open-handed, splendour-loving Burman puts on every panel and pillar as much decoration as it will hold.

The result must be looked at as a whole and not too minutely. The best work is the wood carving which has a freedom and boldness often missing in the minute and crowded designs of Indian art. Still as a rule it is at the risk of breaking the spell that you examine the details of Burmese ornamentation. Better rest content with your first amazement on beholding these [Pg 77]carved and pinnacled piles of gold and vermilion, where the fantastic animals and plants seem about to break into life.

The most celebrated shrine in Burma is the Shwe Dagon Pagoda which attracts pilgrims from all the Buddhist world. No descriptions of it gave me any idea of its real appearance nor can I hope that I shall be more successful in giving the reader my own impressions. The pagoda itself is a gilt bell-shaped mass rather higher than the Dome of St. Paul's and terminating in a spire. It is set in the centre of a raised mound or platform, approached by lofty flights of steps. The platform, which is paved and level, is of imposing dimensions, some nine hundred feet long and seven hundred wide. Round the base of the central pagoda is a row of shrines and another row runs round the edge of the platform so that one moves, as it were, in a street of these edifices, leading here and there into side squares where are quiet retreats with palm trees and gigantic images. But when after climbing the long staircase one first emerges on the platform one does not realize the topography at once and seems to have entered suddenly into Jerusalem the Golden. Right and left are rows of gorgeous, fantastic sanctuaries, all gold, vermilion and glass mosaic, and within them sit marble figures, bland, enigmatic personages who seem to invite approach but offer no explanation of the singular scene or the part they play in it. If analyzed in detail the artistic merits of these shrines might be found small but the total impression is unique. The Shwe Dagon has not the qualities which usually distinguish great religious buildings. It is not specially impressive by its majesty or holiness; it is certainly wanting in order and arrangement. But on entering the platform one feels that one has suddenly passed from this life into another and different world. It is not perhaps a very elevated world; certainly not the final repose of the just or the steps of the throne of God, but it is as if you were walking in the bazaars of Paradise—one of those Buddhist Paradises where the souls of the moderately pure find temporary rest from the whirl of transmigration, where the very lotus flowers are golden and the leaves of the trees are golden bells that tinkle in the perfumed breeze.


[124] For the Pyus see Blagden in J.R.A.S. pp. 365-388. Ibid. in Epigr. Indica, 1913, pp. 127-133. Also reports of Burma Arch. Survey, 1916, 1917.

[125] So C.C. Lowis in the Gazetteer of Burma, vol. I. p. 292, but according to others the Burmese chronicles place the event at the beginning of the Christian era.

[126] Sometimes called New Pagan to distinguish it from Old Pagan which was a name of Tagaung. Also called Pagan or Pugâma and in Pali Arimaddanapura.

[127] See the travels of Kia Tan described by Pelliot in B.E.F.E.O. 1904, pp. 131-414.

[128] More correctly Taung-ngu.

[129] For the history and present condition of Buddhism in Burma the following may be consulted besides other works referred to in the course of this chapter.

M. Bode, Edition of the Sâsanavaṃsa with valuable dissertations, 1897. This work is a modern Burmese ecclesiastical history written in 1861 by Paññâsâmi.

M. Bode, The Pali Literature of Burma, 1909.

The Gandhavaṃsa: containing accounts of many Pali works written in Burma. Edited by Minayeff in Jour. Pali Text Soc. for 1886, pp. 54 ff. and indexed by M. Bode, ibid. 1896, 53 ff.

Bigandet, Vie ou Légende de Gautama, 1878.

Yoe, The Burman, his life and notions.

J.G. Scott, Burma, a handbook of practical information, 1906.

Reports of the Superintendent, Archaeological Survey, Burma, 1916-1920.

Various articles (especially by Duroiselle, Taw-Sein-Ko and R.C. Temple) in the Indian Antiquary, Buddhism, and Bulletin de l'Ecole Française de l'Extrême Orient.

[130] So too Prome is called Śrîkshetra and the name Irrawaddy represents Irâvatî (the modern Ravi). The ancient town of Śrâvastî or Sâvatthi is said to reappear in the three forms Tharawaddy, Tharawaw and Thawutti.

[131] See Indian Antiquary, 1893, p. 6, and Forchhammer on the Mahamuni Pagoda in Burmese Archaeological Report (? 1890).

[132] Dîpav. VIII. 12, and in a more embellished form in Mahâvaṃsa XII. 44-54. See also the Kalyani Inscriptions in Indian Ant. 1893, p. 16.

[133] Through the form Saton representing Saddhan. Early European travellers called it Satan or Xatan.

[134] The Burmese identify Aparantaka and Yona to which Asoka also sent missionaries with Upper Burma and the Shan country. But this seems to be merely a misapplication of Indian names.

[135] See Forchhammer, Jardine Prize Essay, 1885, pp. 23-27. He also says that the earliest Talaing alphabet is identical with the Vengi alphabet of the fourth century A.D. Burma Archaeol. Report, 1917, p. 29.

[136] See R.C. Temple, "Notes on Antiquities of Râmaññadesa," Ind. Antiq. 1893, pp. 327 ff. Though I admit the possibility that Mahâyânism and Tantrism may have flourished in lower Burma, it does not seem to me that the few Hindu figures reproduced in this article prove very much.

[137] J.A. 1912, II. pp. 121-136.

[138] It is remarkable that Buddhaghosa commenting on Ang. Nik. 1. 14. 6 (quoted by Forchhammer) describes the merchants of Ukkala as inhabiting Asitañjana in the region of Haṃsavatî or Pegu. This identification of Ukkala with Burmese territory is a mistake but accepted in Burma and it is more likely that a Burmese would have made it than a Hindu.

[139] Chap. XXXIX.

[140] See however Epig. Indica, vol. V. part iv. Oct. 1898, pp. 101-102. For the prevalence of forms which must be derived from Sanskrit not Pali see Burma Arch. Rep. 1916, p. 14, and 1917, p. 39.

[141] Report of Supt. Arch. Survey Burma, 1909, p. 10, 1910, p. 13, and 1916, pp. 33, 38. Finot, Notes d'Epigraphie, p. 357.

[142] See especially Finot in J.A. 1912, II. p. 123, and Huber in B.E.F.E.O. 1909 P. 584.

[143] The Aris are further credited with having practised a sort of jus primæ noctis. See on this question the chapter on Camboja and alleged similar customs there.

[144] See Burma Arch. Rep. 1916, pp. 12, 13. They seem to have been similar to the Nîlapatanadarśana of Ceylon. The Prabodhacandrodaya (about 1100 A.D.) represents Buddhist monks as drunken and licentious.

[145] See Parker, Burma, 1892. The annalist says "There is a huge white elephant (or image) 100 feet high. Litigants burn incense and kneel before it, reflecting within themselves whether they are right or wrong.... When there is any disaster or plague the king also kneels in front of it and blames himself." The Chinese character means either image or elephant, but surely the former must be the meaning here.

[146] See Taw-Sein-Ko, in Ind. Antiquary, 1906, p. 211. But I must confess that I have not been able to follow or confirm all the etymologies suggested by him.

[147] See for Chinese remains at Pagan, Report of the Superintendent, Arch. Survey, Burma, for year ending 31st March, 1910, pp. 20, 21. An inscription at Pagan records that in 1285 Khubilai's troops were accompanied by monks sent to evangelize Burma. Both troops and monks halted at Tagaung and both were subsequently withdrawn. See Arch. Survey, 1917, p. 38.

[148] The date of Anawrata's conquest of Thaton seems to be now fixed by inscriptions as 1057 A.D., though formerly supposed to be earlier. See Burma Arch. Rep. 1916. For Anawrata's religious reforms see Sâsanavaṃsa, pp. 17 ff. and 57 ff.

[149] It has been noted that many of the inscriptions explanatory of the scenes depicted on the walls of the Ananda temple at Pagan are in Talaing, showing that it was some time before the Burmans were able to assimilate the culture of the conquered country.

[150] See the Sâsanavaṃsa, p. 64 and p. 20. See also Bode, Pali Literature of Burma, p. 15. But the Mahâvaṃsa, LX. 4-7, while recording the communications between Vijaya Bahu and Aniruddha ( = Anawrata) represents Ceylon as asking for monks from Râmañña, which implies that lower Burma was even then regarded as a Buddhist country with a fine tradition.

[151] The Burmese canon adds four works to the Khuddaka-Nikâya, namely: (a) Milinda Pañha, (b) Netti-Pakaraṇa, (c) Suttasaṇgaha, (d) Peṭakopadesa.

[152] Inscriptions give his reign as 1084-1112 A.D. See Burma Arch. Rep. 1916, p. 24. Among many other remarkable edifices may be mentioned the Thapinyu or Thabbannu (1100), the Gaudapalin (1160) and the Bodhi (c. 1200) which is a copy of the temple at Bodhgaya.

[153] The best known of his works are the Sutta-niddesa on grammar and the Sankhepavaṇṇanâ. The latter is a commentary on the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, but it is not certain if Chapaṭa composed it or merely translated it from the Sinhalese.

[154] Some authorities speak as if the four disciples of Chapaṭa had founded four sects, but the reprobate Râhula can hardly have done this. The above account is taken from the Kalyani inscription, Ind. Ant. 1893, pp. 30, 31. It says very distinctly "There were in Pugama (Pagan) 4 sects. 1. The successors of the priests who introduced the religion from Sudhammanâgara (i.e. the Mramma Sangha). 2. The disciples of Sîvalimahâthera. 3. The disciples of Tâmalindamahâthera. 4. The disciples of Ananda Mahâthera."

[155] Also known by the title of Dhammavitasa. He was active in 1246.

[156] Found in Zaingganaing, a suburb of Pegu. The text, translation and notes are contained in various articles by Taw-Sein-Ko in the Indian Antiquary for 1893-4.

[157] Mahâvagga, II. 11, 12, 13.

[158] According to Taw-Sein-Ko (Ind. Ant. 1893, p. 11) "about 105 or 126 feet in perimeter."

[159] No contact with Cambojan religion is implied. The sect was so called because its chief monastery was near the Camboja market and this derived its name from the fact that many Cambojan (probably meaning Shan) prisoners were confined near it.

[160] In favour of it, it may be said that the Dîpavaṃsa and the earlier traditions on which the Dîpavaṃsa is based are ancient and impartial witnesses: against it, that Asoka's attention seems to have been directed westwards, not towards Bengal and Burma, and that no very early proof of the existence of Buddhism in Burma has been found.

[161] Apparently about 1525-1530.

[162] See Sâsanavaṃsa, pp. 118 ff.

[163] E.g. Mahâvagga, I. 29, 2; IV. 3, 3. Ekaṃsam uttarâsangam karitvâ. But both arrangements of drapery are found in the oldest images of the Buddha and perhaps the Ekaṃsika fashion is the commoner. See Grünwedel, Buddhist Art in India, 1901, p. 172. Though these images are considerably later than the Mahâvagga and prove nothing as to the original practice of the Saṇgha, yet they show that the Ekaṃsika fashion prevailed at a relatively early period. It now prevails in Siam and partly in Ceylon. I-Ching (chap. XI.) has a discussion on the way robes were worn in India (c. 680 A.D.) which is very obscure but seems to say that monks may keep their shoulders covered while in a monastery but should uncover one when they go out.

[164] Sâsanav. p. 123. Sakala-Maramma-raṭṭhavâsino ca: ayaṃ amhakâṃ râjâ bodhisatto ti vohârimsu. In the Po-U-Daung inscription, Alompra's son, Hsin-byu-shin, says twice "In virtue of this my good deed, may I become a Buddha, ... an omniscient one." Indian Antiquary, 1893, pp. 2 and 5. There is something Mahâyânist in this aspiration. Cf. too the inscriptions of the Siamese King Śrî-Sûryavaṃsa Râma mentioned below.

[165] They were Puritans who objected to shrines and images and are said to be represented to-day by the Sawti sect.

[166] See The Burmese Empire by the Italian Father Sangermano, who went to Burma in 1783 and lived there about 20 years.

[167] Thathana is the Pali Sâsana. In Burmese pronunciation the s of Indian words regularly appears as th ( = θ), r as y and j as z. Thus Thagya for Sakra, Yazawin for Râjavaṃśa.

[168] See E. Forchhammer, Jardine Prize Essay (on the sources and development of Burmese Law), 1885. J. Jolly, "Recht und Sitte" in Grundriss der Ind. Ar. Phil. 1896, pp. 41-44. M.H. Bode, Pali Lit. of Burma, pp. 83 ff. Dhammathat is the Burmese pronunciation of Dhammasattha, Sanskrit Dharmaśâstra.

[169] This theory did not prevent the kings of Burma and their subordinates from inflicting atrociously cruel punishments.

[170] Forchhammer gives a list of 39 Dhammathats compiled between 1753 and 1882.

[171] They seem to have included tantric works of the Mahâkâlacakra type. See Bode, Pali Lit. of Burma, p. 108, Nos. 270, 271. But the name is given in the Pali form cakka.

[172] Among usages borrowed from Hinduism may be mentioned the daily washing in holy water of the image in the Arakan temple at Mandalay. Formerly court festivities, such as the New Year's feast and the festival of ploughing, were performed by Pônnâs and with Indian rites. On the other hand the Râmâyana does not seem to have the same influence on art and literature that it has had in Siam and Java, though scenes from it are sometimes depicted. See Report, Supt. Archaeolog. Survey, Burma, 1908, p. 22.

[173] See especially The Thirty Seven Nats by Sir. R.C. Temple, 1906, and Burma by Sir. J.G. Scott, 1906, pp. 380 ff. The best authorities seem agreed that Nat is not the Sanskrit Nâtha but an indigenous word of unknown derivation.

[174] Possibly in order to include four female spirits: or possibly because it was felt that sundry later heroes had as strong a claim to membership of this distinguished body as the original 33.

[175] It is noticeable that Thagyâ comes from the Sanskrit Śakra not the Pali Sakka. Th = Sk. s: y = Sk. r.

[176] See R.C. Temple, The Thirty Seven Nats, chaps. X.-XIII., for these cycles.

[177] E.g. R.C. Temple, l.c. p. 36.

[178] According to Sir. J.G. Scott much more commonly than prayers among Christians. Burma, p. 366.

[179] 15,371 according to the census of 1891. The figures in the last census are not conveniently arranged for Buddhist statistics.

[180] Hastings' Encycl. of Religion and Ethics, art. "Burma (Buddhism)."

[181] See Bode, Pali Literature in Burma, pp. 95 ff.

[182] No less than 22 translations of it have been made into Burmese. See S.Z. Aung in J.P.T.S. 1912, p. 129. He also mentions that night lectures on the Abhidhamma in Burmese are given in monasteries.

[183] But on such occasions the laity usually fast after midday.

[184] Man is the Burmese form of Mâra.

[185] Among the most striking characteristics of the Nepalese style are buildings of many stories each with a projecting roof. No examples of similar buildings from ancient India have survived, perhaps because they were made of wood, but representations of two-storied buildings have come down to us, for instance on the Sohgaura copper plate which dates probably from the time of Asoka (see Bühler, W.Z.K.M. 1896, p. 138). See also the figures in Foucher's Art Gréco-bouddhique du Gandhâra, on pp. 121, 122. The monuments at Mâmallapuram known as Raths (see Fergusson, Indian and Eastern Architecture, I. p. 172) appear to be representations of many storied Vihâras. There are several references to seven storied buildings in the Jâtakas.

[186] = cetiya.

[187] Occasionally groups of five Buddhas, that is, these four Buddhas together with Metteyya, are found. See Report of the Supt. Arch. Survey (Burma) for the year ending March 31st, 1910, p. 16.

[Pg 78]

The Buddhism of Siam does not differ materially from that of Burma and Ceylon but merits separate mention, since it has features of its own due in some measure to the fact that Siam is still an independent kingdom ruled by a monarch who is also head of the Church. But whereas for the last few centuries this kingdom may be regarded as a political and religious unit, its condition in earlier times was different and Siamese history tells us nothing of the introduction and first diffusion of Indian religions in the countries between India and China.

[Pg 79]The people commonly known as Siamese call themselves Thăi which (in the form Tai) appears to be the racial name of several tribes who can be traced to the southern provinces of China. They spread thence, in fanlike fashion, from Laos to Assam, and the middle section ultimately descended the Menam to the sea. The Siamese claim to have assumed the name Thăi (free) after they threw off the yoke of the Cambojans, but this derivation is more acceptable to politics than to ethnology. The territories which they inhabited were known as Siem, Syâm or Syâma, which is commonly identified with the Sanskrit Śyâma, dark or brown[189]. But the names Shan and A-hom seem to be variants of the same word and Śyâma is possibly not its origin but a learned and artificial distortion[190]. The Lao were another division of the same race who occupied the country now called Laos before the Tai had moved into Siam. This movement was gradual and until the beginning of the twelfth century they merely established small principalities, the principal of which was Lamphun[191], on the western arm of the Mekong. They gradually penetrated into the kingdoms of Svankalok, Sukhothai[192] and Lavo (Lophburi) which then were vassals of Camboja, and they were reinforced by another body of Tais which moved southwards early in the twelfth century. For some time the Cambojan Empire made a successful effort to control these immigrants but in the latter part of the thirteenth century the Siamese definitely shook off its yoke and founded an independent state with its capital at Sukhothai. There was probably some connection between these events and the southern expeditions of Khubilai Khan who in 1254 conquered Talifu and set the Tai tribes in motion.

The history of their rule in Siam may be briefly described as a succession of three kingdoms with capitals at Sukhothai, Ayuthia and Bangkok respectively. Like the Burmese, the Siamese have annals or chronicles. They fall into two divisions, [Pg 80]the chronicles[193] of the northern kingdom in three volumes which go down to the foundation of Ayuthia and are admitted even by the Siamese to be mostly fabulous, and the later annals in 40 volumes which were rearranged after the sack of Ayuthia in 1767 but claim to begin with the foundation of the city. Various opinions have been expressed as to their trustworthiness[194], but it is allowed by all that they must be used with caution. More authoritative but not very early are the inscriptions set up by various kings, of which a considerable number have been published and translated[195].

The early history of Sukhothai and its kings is not yet beyond dispute but a monarch called Râmarâja or Râma Khomhëng played a considerable part in it. His identity with Phăya Rùang, who is said to have founded the dynasty and city, has been both affirmed and denied. Sukhothai, at least as the designation of a kingdom, seems to be much older than his reign[196]. It was undoubtedly understood as the equivalent of the Sanskrit Sukhodaya, but like Śyâma it may be an adaptation of some native word. In an important inscription found at Sukhothai and now preserved at Bangkok[197], which was probably composed about 1300 A.D., Râma Khomhëng gives an account of his kingdom. On the east it extended to the banks of the Mekhong and beyond it to Chavâ (perhaps a name of Luang-Prabang): on the south to the sea, as far as Śrî Dharmarâja or Ligor: on the west to Haṃsavatî or Pegu. This last statement is important for it enables us to understand how at this period, and no doubt considerably earlier, the Siamese were acquainted with Pali Buddhism. The king states that hitherto his people had no alphabet but that he invented one[198]. This script subsequently [Pg 81]developed into the modern Siamese writing which, though it presents many difficulties, is an ingenious attempt to express a language with tones in an alphabet. The vocabulary of Siamese is not homogeneous: it comprises (a) a foundation of Thai, (b) a considerable admixture of Khmer words, (c) an element borrowed from Malay and other languages, (d) numerous ecclesiastical and learned terms taken from Pali and Sanskrit. There are five tones which must be distinguished, if either written or spoken speech is to be intelligible. This is done partly by accents and partly by dividing the forty-four consonants (many of which are superfluous for other purposes) into three groups, the high, middle and deep.

The king also speaks of religion. The court and the inhabitants of Sukhothai were devout Buddhists: they observed the season of Vassa and celebrated the festival of Kaṭhina with processions, concerts and reading of the scriptures. In the city were to be seen statues of the Buddha and scenes carved in relief, as well as large monasteries. To the west of the city was the Forest Monastery, presented to a distinguished elder who came from Śri Dharmarâja and had studied the whole Tripitaka. The mention of this official and others suggests that there was a regular hierarchy and the king relates how he exhumed certain sacred relics and built a pagoda over them. Though there is no direct allusion to Brahmanism, stress is laid on the worship of spirits and devas on which the prosperity of the kingdom depends.

The form of Buddhism described seems to have differed little from the Hinayanism found in Siam to-day. Whence did the Siamese obtain it? For some centuries before they were known as a nation, they probably professed some form of Indian religion. They came from the border lands, if not from the actual territory of China, and must have been acquainted with Chinese Buddhism. Also Burmese influence probably reached Yünnan in the eighth century[199], but it is not easy to say what form of religion it brought with it. Still when the Thai entered what is now Siam, it is likely that their religion was some form of Buddhism. While they were subject to Camboja they must have felt the influence of Śivaism and possibly [Pg 82]of Mahayanist Sanskrit Buddhism but no Pali Buddhism can have come from this quarter[200].

Southern Siam was however to some extent affected by another wave of Buddhism. From early times the eastern coast of India (and perhaps Ceylon) had intercourse not only with Burma but with the Malay Peninsula. It is proved by inscriptions that the region of Ligor, formerly known as Śrî Dharmarâja, was occupied by Hindus (who were probably Buddhists) at least as early as the fourth century A.D.[201], and Buddhist inscriptions have been found on the mainland opposite Penang. The Chinese annals allude to a change in the customs of Camboja and I-Ching says plainly that Buddhism once nourished there but was exterminated by a wicked king, which may mean that Hinayanist Buddhism had spread thither from Ligor but was suppressed by a dynasty of Śivaites. He also says that at the end of the seventh century Hinayanism was prevalent in the islands of the Southern Sea. An inscription of about the fourth century found in Kedah and another of the seventh or eighth from Phra Pathom both contain the formula Ye dharmâ, etc. The latter inscription and also one from Mergui ascribed to the eleventh century seem to be in mixed Sanskrit and Pali. The Sukhothai inscription summarized above tells how a learned monk was brought thither from Ligor and clearly the Pali Buddhism of northern Siam may have followed the same route. But it probably had also another more important if not exclusive source, namely Burma. After the reign of Anawrata Pali Buddhism was accepted in Burma and in what we now call the Shan States as the religion of civilized mankind and this conviction found its way to the not very distant kingdom of Sukhothai. Subsequently the Siamese recognized the seniority and authority of the Sinhalese Church by inviting an instructor to come from Ceylon, but in earlier times they can hardly have had direct relation with the island.

[Pg 83]We have another picture of religious life in a Khmer inscription[202] of Lidaiya or Śrî Sûryavaṃsa Râma composed in 1361 or a little later. This monarch, who is also known by many lengthy titles, appears to have been a man of learning who had studied the Tipiṭaka, the Vedas, the Śâstrâgama and Dharmañâya and erected images of Maheśvara and Vishnu as well as of the Buddha. In 1361 he sent a messenger to Ceylon charged with the task of bringing back a Metropolitan or head of the Saṇgha learned in the Pitakas. This ecclesiastic, who is known only by his title, was duly sent and on arriving in Siam was received with the greatest honour and made a triumphal progress to Sukhothai. He is not represented as introducing a new religion: the impression left by the inscription is rather that the king and his people being already well-instructed in Buddhism desired ampler edification from an authentic source. The arrival of the Saṇgharâja coincided with the beginning of Vassa and at the end of the sacred season the king dedicated a golden image of the Buddha, which stood in the midst of the city, and then entered the order. In doing so he solemnly declared his hope that the merit thus acquired might make him in future lives not an Emperor, an Indra or a Brahmâ but a Buddha able to save mankind. He pursued his religious career with a gratifying accompaniment of miracles and many of the nobility and learned professions followed his example. But after a while a deputation waited on his Majesty begging him to return to the business of his kingdom[203]. An edifying contest ensued. The monks besought him to stay as their preceptor and guide: the laity pointed out that government was at an end and claimed his attention. The matter was referred to the Saṇgharâja who decided that the king ought to return to his secular duties. He appears to have found little difficulty in resuming lay habits for he proceeded to chastise the people of Luang-Prabang.

Two other inscriptions[204], apparently dating from this epoch, [Pg 84]relate that a cutting of the Bo-tree was brought from Ceylon and that certain relics (perhaps from Patna) were also installed with great solemnity. To the same time are referred a series of engravings on stone (not reliefs) found in the Vat-si-jum at Sukhothai. They illustrate about 100 Jatakas, arranged for the most part according to the order followed in the Pali Canon.

The facts that King Śrî Sûryavaṃsa sent to Ceylon for his Metropolitan and that some of the inscriptions which extol his merits are in Pali[205] make it probable that the religion which he professed differed little from the Pali Buddhism which flourishes in Siam to-day and this supposition is confirmed by the general tone of his inscriptions. But still several phrases in them have a Mahayanist flavour. He takes as his model the conduct of the Bodhisattvas, described as ten headed by Metteyya, and his vow to become a Buddha and save all creatures is at least twice mentioned. The Buddhas are said to be innumerable and the feet of Bhikkhus are called Buddha feet[206]. There is no difficulty in accounting for the presence of such ideas: the only question is from what quarter this Mahayanist influence came. The king is said to have been a student of Indian literature: his country, like Burma, was in touch with China and his use of the Khmer language indicates contact with Camboja.

Another inscription engraved by order of Dharmâsokarâja[207] and apparently dating from the fourteenth century is remarkable for its clear statement of the doctrine (generally considered as Mahayanist) that merit acquired by devotion to the Buddha can be transferred. The king states that a woman called Bunrak has transferred all her merit to the Queen and that he himself makes over all his merit to his teacher, to his relations and to all beings in unhappy states of existence.

At some time in this period the centre of the Thai empire [Pg 85]changed but divergent views have been held as to the date[208] and character of this event. It would appear that in 1350 a Siamese subsequently known as King Râmâdhipati, a descendant of an ancient line of Thai princes, founded Ayuthia as a rival to Sukhothai. The site was not new, for it had long been known as Dvâravatî and seems to be mentioned under that name by I-Ching (c. 680), but a new city was apparently constructed. The evidence of inscriptions indicates that Sukhothai was not immediately subdued by the new kingdom and did not cease to be a royal residence for some time. But still Ayuthia gradually became predominant and in the fifteenth century merited the title of capital of Siam.

Its rise did not affect the esteem in which Buddhism was held, and it must have contained many great religious monuments. The jungles which now cover the site of the city surround the remnants of the Wăt Somarokot, in which is a gigantic bronze Buddha facing with scornful calm the ruin which threatens him. The Wăt Chern, which lies at some distance, contains another gigantic image. A curious inscription[209] engraved on an image of Śiva found at Sukhothai and dated 1510 A.D. asserts the identity of Buddhism and Brahmanism, but the popular feeling was in favour of the former. At Ayuthia the temples appear to be exclusively Buddhist and at Lophburi ancient buildings originally constructed for the Brahmanic cult have been adapted to Buddhist uses. It was in 1602 that the mark known as the footprint of Buddha was discovered at the place now called Phra-bat.

Ayuthia was captured by the Burmese in 1568 and the king was carried into captivity but the disaster was not permanent, for at the end of the century the power of the Siamese reached its highest point and their foreign relations were extensive. We hear that five hundred Japanese assisted them to repulse a Burmese attack and that there was a large Japanese colony in Ayuthia. On the other hand when Hideyoshi invaded Korea in 1592, the Siamese offered to assist the Chinese. Europeans appeared first in 1511 when the Portuguese took Malacca. But on the whole [Pg 86]the dealings of Siam with Europe were peaceful and both traders and missionaries were welcomed. The most singular episode in this international intercourse was the career of the Greek adventurer Constantine Phaulcon who in the reign of King Nărai was practically Foreign Minister. In concert with the French missionaries he arranged an exchange of embassies (1682 and 1685) between Nărai and Louis XIV, the latter having been led to suppose that the king and people of Siam were ready to embrace Christianity. But when the French envoys broached the subject of conversion, the king replied that he saw no reason to change the religion which his countrymen had professed for two thousand years, a chronological statement which it might be hard to substantiate. Still, great facilities were given to missionaries and further negotiations ensued, in the course of which the French received almost a monopoly of foreign trade and the right to maintain garrisons. But the death of Nărai was followed by a reaction. Phaulcon died in prison and the French garrisons were expelled. Buddhism probably flourished at this period for the Mahâvaṃsa tells us that the king of Ceylon sent to Ayuthia for monks in 1750 because religion there was pure and undefiled.

Ayuthia continued to be the capital until 1767 when it was laid in ruins by the Burmese who, though Buddhists, did not scruple to destroy or deface the temples and statues with which it was ornamented. But the collapse of the Siamese was only local and temporary. A leader of Chinese origin named Phăya Täk Sin rallied their forces, cleared the Burmese out of the country and made Bangkok, officially described as the Capital of the Angels, the seat of Government. But he was deposed in 1782 and one of the reasons for his fall seems to have been a too zealous reformation of Buddhism. In the troublous times following the collapse of Ayuthia the Church had become disorganized and corrupt, but even those who desired improvement would not assent to the powers which the king claimed over monks. A new dynasty (of which the sixth monarch is now on the throne) was founded in 1782 by Chao Phăya Chakkri. One of his first acts was to convoke a council for the revision of the Tipiṭaka and to build a special hall in which the text thus agreed on was preserved. His successor Phra: Buddha Löt La is considered the best poet that Siam has produced and it is [Pg 87]probably the only country in the world where this distinction has fallen to the lot of a sovereign. The poet king had two sons, Phra: Nang: Klao, who ascended the throne after his death, and Mongkut, who during his brother's reign remained in a monastery strictly observing the duties of a monk. He then became king and during his reign (1851-1868) Siam "may be said to have passed from the middle ages to modern times[210]." It is a tribute to the excellence of Buddhist discipline that a prince who spent twenty-six years as a monk should have emerged as neither a bigot nor an impractical mystic but as an active, enlightened and progressive monarch. The equality and simplicity of monastic life disposed him to come into direct touch with his subjects and to adopt straightforward measures which might not have occurred to one who had always been surrounded by a wall of ministers. While still a monk he founded a stricter sect which aimed at reviving the practice of the Buddha, but at the same time he studied foreign creeds and took pleasure in conversing with missionaries. He wrote several historical pamphlets and an English Grammar, and was so good a mathematician that he could calculate the occurrence of an eclipse. When he became king he regulated the international position of Siam by concluding treaties of friendship and commerce with the principal European powers, thus showing the broad and liberal spirit in which he regarded politics, though a better acquaintance with the ways of Europeans might have made him refuse them extraterritorial privileges. He abolished the custom which obliged everyone to keep indoors when the king went out and he publicly received petitions on every Uposatha day. He legislated against slavery[211], gambling, drinking spirits and smoking opium and considerably improved the status of women. He also published edicts ordering the laity to inform the ecclesiastical authorities if they noticed any abuses in the monasteries. He caused the annals of Siam to be edited and issued numerous orders on archaeological and literary questions, in which, though a good Pali scholar, he deprecated the affected use of Pali words and enjoined the use of a terse and simple Siamese style, which he certainly wrote himself. He appears to [Pg 88]have died of scientific zeal for he caught a fatal fever on a trip which he took to witness a total eclipse of the sun.

He was succeeded by his son Chulalongkorn[212] (1868-1911), a liberal and enlightened ruler, who had the misfortune to lose much territory to the French on one side and the English on the other. For religion, his chief interest is that he published an edition of the Tipiṭaka. The volumes are of European style and printed in Siamese type, whereas Cambojan characters were previously employed for religious works.

As I have already observed, there is not much difference between Buddhism in Burma and Siam. In mediæval times a mixed form of religion prevailed in both countries and Siam was influenced by the Brahmanism and Mahayanism of Camboja. Both seem to have derived a purer form of the faith from Pegu, which was conquered by Anawrata in the eleventh century and was the neighbour of Sukhothai so long as that kingdom lasted. Both had relations with Ceylon and while venerating her as the metropolis of the faith also sent monks to her in the days of her spiritual decadence. But even in externals some differences are visible. The gold and vermilion of Burma are replaced in Siam by more sober but artistic tints—olive, dull purple and dark orange—and the change in the colour scheme is accompanied by other changes in the buildings.

A religious establishment in Siam consists of several edifices and is generally known as Wăt[213], followed by some special designation such as Wăt Chang. Bangkok is full of such establishments mostly constructed on the banks of the river or canals. The entrance is usually guarded by gigantic and grotesque figures which are often lions, but at the Wăt Phô in Bangkok the tutelary demons are represented by curious caricatures of Europeans wearing tall hats. The gate leads into several courts opening out of one another and not arranged on any fixed plan. The first is sometimes surrounded by a colonnade in which are set a long line of the Buddha's eighty disciples. The most [Pg 89]important building in a Wăt is known as Bỗt[214]. It has a colonnade of pillars outside and is surmounted by three or four roofs, not much raised one above the other, and bearing finials of a curious shape, said to represent a snake's head[215]. It is also marked off by a circuit of eight stones, cut in the shape of Bo-tree leaves, which constitute a sîmâ or boundary. It is in the Bỗt that ordinations and other acts of the Sangha are performed. Internally it is a hall: the walls are often covered with paintings and at the end there is always a sitting figure of the Buddha[216] forming the apex of a pyramid, the lower steps of which are decorated with smaller images and curious ornaments, such as clocks under glass cases.

Siamese images of the Buddha generally represent him as crowned by a long flame-like ornament called Sĩrô rồt[217], probably representing the light supposed to issue from the prominence on his head. But the ornament sometimes becomes a veritable crown terminating in a spire, as do those worn by the kings of Camboja and Siam. On the left and right of the Buddha often stand figures of Phra: Môkha: la (Moggalâna) and Phra: Sárĩbŭt (Sâriputta). It is stated that the Siamese pray to them as saints and that the former is invoked to heal broken limbs[218]. The Buddha when represented in frescoes is robed in red but his face and hands are of gold. Besides the Bỗt a Wăt contains one or more wĩháns. The word is derived from Vihâra but has come to mean an image-house. The wĩháns are halls not unlike the Bỗts but smaller. In a large Wăt there is usually one containing a gigantic recumbent image of the Buddha and they sometimes shelter Indian deities such as Yama.

In most if not in all Wăt there are structures known as Phra: chedi and Phra: prang. The former are simply the ancient cetiyas, called dagobas in Ceylon and zedis in Burma. They do not depart materially from the shape usual in other countries [Pg 90]and sometimes, for instance in the gigantic chedi at Pra Pratom, the part below the spire is a solid bell-shaped dome. But Siamese taste tends to make such buildings slender and elongate and they generally consist of stone discs of decreasing size, set one on the other in a pile, which assumes in its upper parts the proportions of a flagstaff rather than of a stone building. The Phra: prangs though often larger than the Phra: chedis are proportionally thicker and less elongate. They appear to be derived from the Brahmanic temple towers of Camboja which consist of a shrine crowned by a dome. But in Siam the shrine is often at some height above the ground and is reduced to small dimensions, sometimes becoming a mere niche. In large Phra: prangs it is approached by a flight of steps outside and above it rises the tower, terminating in a metal spire. But whereas in the Phra: chedis these spires are simple, in the Phra: prangs they bear three crescents representing the trident of Śiva and appear like barbed arrows. A large Wat is sure to contain a number of these structures and may also comprise halls for preaching, a pavilion covering a model of Buddha's foot print, tanks for ablution and a bell tower. It is said that only royal Wats contain libraries and buildings called chẵtta mŭkh, which shelter a four-faced image of Brahmâ[219].

The monks are often housed in single chambers arranged round the courts of a Wat but sometimes in larger buildings outside it. The number of monks and novices living in one monastery is larger than in Burma, and according to the Bangkok Directory (1907) works out at an average of about 12. In the larger Wats this figure is considerably exceeded. Altogether there were 50,764 monks and 10,411 novices in 1907[220], the province of Ayuthia being decidedly the best provided with clergy. As in Burma, it is customary for every male to spend some time in a monastery, usually at the age of about 20, and two months is considered the minimum which is respectable. It is also common to enter a monastery for a short stay on the day when a parent is cremated. During the season of Vassa all [Pg 91]monks go out to collect alms but at other seasons only a few make the daily round and the food collected, as in Burma and Ceylon, is generally not eaten. But during the dry season it is considered meritorious for monks to make a pilgrimage to Phra Bât and while on the way to live on charity. They engage to some extent in manual work and occupy themselves with carpentering[221]. As in Burma, education is in their hands, and they also act as doctors, though their treatment has more to do with charms and faith cures than with medicine.

As in Burma there are two sects, the ordinary unreformed body, and the rigorous and select communion founded by Mongkut and called Dhammayut. It aims at a more austere and useful life but in outward observances the only distinction seems to be that the Dhammayuts hold the alms-bowl in front of them in both hands, whereas the others hold it against the left hip with the left hand only. The hierarchy is well developed but somewhat secularized, though probably not more so than it was in India under Asoka. In the official directory where the departments of the Ministry of Public Instruction are enumerated, the Ecclesiastical Department comes immediately after the Bacteriological, the two being clearly regarded as different methods of expelling evil spirits. The higher clerical appointments are made by the king. He names four Primates[222], one of whom is selected as chief. The Primates with nineteen superior monks form the highest governing body of the Church. Below them are twelve dignitaries called Gurus, who are often heads of large Wats. There are also prelates who bear the Cambojan title of Burien equivalent to Mahâcârya. They must have passed an examination in Pali and are chiefly consulted on matters of ceremonial.

It will thus be seen that the differences between the churches of Burma, Ceylon and Siam are slight; hardly more than the local peculiarities which mark the Roman church in Italy, Spain, and England. Different opinions have been expressed as to the moral tone and conduct of Siamese monks and most critics state that they are somewhat inferior to their Burmese [Pg 92]brethren. The system by which a village undertakes to support a monk, provided that he is a reasonably competent school-master and of good character, works well. But in the larger monasteries it is admitted that there are inmates who have entered in the hope of leading a lazy life and even fugitives from justice. Still the penalty for any grave offence is immediate expulsion by the ecclesiastical authorities and the offender is treated with extreme severity by the civil courts to which he then becomes amenable.

The religious festivals of Siam are numerous and characteristic. Many are Buddhist, some are Brahmanic, and some are royal. Uposatha days (wăn phra:) are observed much as in Burma. The birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha (which are all supposed to have taken place on the 15th day of the 6th waxing moon) are celebrated during a three days festival. These three days are of peculiar solemnity and are spent in the discharge of religious duties, such as hearing sermons and giving alms. But at most festivals religious observances are mingled with much picturesque but secular gaiety. In the morning the monks do not go their usual round[223] and the alms-bowls are arranged in a line within the temple grounds. The laity (mostly women) arrive bearing wicker trays on which are vessels containing rice and delicacies. They place a selection of these in each bowl and then proceed to the Bỗt where they hear the commandments recited and often vow to observe for that day some which are usually binding only on monks. While the monks are eating their meal the people repair to a river, which is rarely far distant in Siam, and pour water drop by drop saying "May the food which we have given for the use of the holy ones be of benefit to our fathers and mothers and to all of our relatives who have passed away." This rite is curiously in harmony with the injunctions of the Tirokuḍḍasuttam in the Khuddakapâtha, which is probably an ancient work[224]. The rest of the day is usually devoted to pious merrymaking, such as processions by day and illuminations by night. On some feasts [Pg 93]the laws against gambling are suspended and various games of chance are freely indulged in. Thus the New Year festival called Trŭ̃t (or Krŭ̃t) Thăi lasts three days. On the first two days, especially the second, crowds fill the temples to offer flowers before the statues of Buddha and more substantial presents of food, clothes, etc., to the clergy. Well-to-do families invite monks to their houses and pass the day in listening to their sermons and recitations. Companies of priests are posted round the city walls to scare away evil spirits and with the same object guns are fired throughout the night. But the third day is devoted to gambling by almost the whole population except the monks. Not dissimilar is the celebration of the Só̆ngkran holidays, at the beginning of the official year. The special religious observance at this feast consists in bathing the images of Buddha and in theory the same form of watery respect is extended to aged relatives and monks. In practice its place is taken by gifts of perfumes and other presents.

The rainy season is preceded and ended by holidays. During this period both monks and pious laymen observe their religious duties more strictly. Thus monks eat only once a day and then only what is put into their bowls and laymen observe some of the minor vows. At the end of the rains come the important holidays known as Thòt Kăthí̆n[225], when robes are presented to monks. This festival has long had a special importance in Siam. Thus Râma Khomhëng in his inscription of A.D. 1292[226] describes the feast of Kaṭhina which lasts a month. At the present day many thousands of robes are prepared in the capital alone so as to be ready for distribution in October and November, when the king or some deputy of high rank visits every temple and makes the offering in person. During this season Bangkok witnesses a series of brilliant processions.

These festivals mentioned may be called Buddhist though their light-hearted and splendour-loving gaiety, their processions and gambling are far removed from the spirit of Gotama. Others however are definitely Brahmanic and in Bangkok are superintended by the Brahmans attached to the Court. Since the time of Mongkut Buddhist priests are also present as a sign that the rites, if not ordered by Buddhism, at least have its [Pg 94]countenance. Such is the R`ëk Na[227], or ploughing festival. The king is represented by the Minister of Agriculture who formerly had the right to exact from all shops found open such taxes as he might claim for his temporary sovereignty. At present he is escorted in procession to Dusit[228], a royal park outside Bangkok, where he breaks ground with a plough drawn by two white oxen.

Somewhat similar is the Thĩb-Chĩng-Cha, or Swinging holidays, a two days' festival which seems to be a harvest thanksgiving. Under the supervision of a high official, four Brahmans wearing tall conical hats swing on a board suspended from a huge frame about 100 ft high. Their object is to catch with their teeth a bag of money hanging at a little distance from the swing. When three or four sets of swingers have obtained a prize in this way, they conclude the ceremony by sprinkling the ground with holy water contained in bullock horns. Swinging is one of the earliest Indian rites[229] and as part of the worship of Krishna it has lasted to the present day. Yet another Brahmanic festival is the Loi Kăthŏng[230], when miniature rafts and ships bearing lights and offerings are sent down the Menam to the sea.

Another class of ceremonies may be described as royal, inasmuch as they are religious only in so far as they invoke religion to protect royalty. Such are the anniversaries of the birth and coronation of the king and the Thú̓ Năm or drinking of the water of allegiance which takes place twice a year. At Bangkok all officials assemble at the Palace and there drink and sprinkle on their heads water in which swords and other weapons have been dipped thus invoking vengeance on themselves should they prove disloyal. Jars of this water are despatched to Governors who superintend the performance of the same ceremony in the [Pg 95]provincial capitals. It is only after the water has been drunk that officials receive their half yearly salary. Monks are excused from drinking it but the chief ecclesiastics of Bangkok meet in the Palace temple and perform a service in honour of the occasion.

Besides these public solemnities there are a number of domestic festivals derived from the twelve Saṃskâras of the Hindus. Of these only three or four are kept up by the nations of Indo-China, namely the shaving of the first hair of a child a month after birth, the giving of a name, and the piercing of the ears for earrings. This last is observed in Burma and Laos, but not in Siam and Camboja where is substituted for it the Kôn Chũ̆k or shaving of the topknot, which is allowed to grow until the eleventh or thirteenth year. This ceremony, which is performed on boys and girls alike, is the most important event in the life of a young Siamese and is celebrated by well-to-do parents with lavish expenditure. Those who are indigent often avail themselves of the royal bounty, for each year a public ceremony is performed in one of the temples of Bangkok at which poor children receive the tonsure gratis. An elaborate description of the tonsure rites has been published by Gerini[231]. They are of considerable interest as showing how closely Buddhist and Brahmanic rites are intertwined in Siamese family life.

Marriages are celebrated with a feast to which monks are invited but are not regarded as religious ceremonies. The dead are usually disposed of by cremation, but are often kept some time, being either embalmed or simply buried and exhumed subsequently. Before cremation the coffin is usually placed within the grounds of a temple. The monks read Suttas over it and it is said[232] that they hold ribbons which enter into the coffin and are supposed to communicate to the corpse the merit acquired by the recitations and prayers.

In the preceding pages mention has often been made not only of Brahmanic rites but of Brahman priests[233]. These are [Pg 96]still to be found in Bangkok attached to the Court and possibly in other cities. They dress in white and have preserved many Hindu usages but are said to be poor Sanskrit scholars. Indeed Gerini[234] seems to say that they use Pali in some of their recitations. Their principal duty is to officiate at Court functions, but wealthy families invite them to take part in domestic rites, and also to cast horoscopes and fix lucky days. It is clear that the presence of these Brahmans is no innovation. Brahmanism must have been strong in Siam when it was a province of Camboja, but in both countries gave way before Buddhism. Many rites, however, connected with securing luck or predicting the future were too firmly established to be abolished, and, as Buddhist monks were unwilling to perform them[235] or not thought very competent, the Brahmans remained and were perhaps reinforced from time to time by new importations, for there are still Brahman colonies in Ligor and other Malay towns. Siamese lawbooks, like those of Burma, seem to be mainly adaptations of Indian Dharmaśâstras.

On a cursory inspection, Siamese Buddhism, especially as seen in villages, seems remarkably free from alien additions. But an examination of ancient buildings, of royal temples in Bangkok and royal ceremonial, suggests on the contrary that it is a mixed faith in which the Brahmanic element is strong. Yet though this element appeals to the superstition of the Siamese and their love of pageantry, I think that as in Burma it has not invaded the sphere of religion and ethics more than the Piṭakas themselves allow. In art and literature its influence has been considerable. The story of the Ramayana is illustrated on the cloister walls of the royal temple at Bangkok and Indian mythology has supplied a multitude of types to the painter and sculptor; such as Yŏmma: ràt (Yâma), Phăya Man (Mâra), Phra: In (Indra). These are all deities known to the Piṭakas but the sculptures or images[236] in Siamese temples also [Pg 97]include Ganeśa, Phra: Nărai (Nârâyana or Vishṇu) riding on the Garuda and Phra: Isuén (Śiva) riding on a bull. There is a legend that the Buddha and Śiva tried which could make himself invisible to the other. At last the Buddha sat on Śiva's head and the god being unable to see him acknowledged his defeat. This story is told to explain a small figure which Śiva bears on his head and recalls the legend found in the Piṭakas[237] that the Buddha made himself invisible to Brahmâ but that Brahmâ had not the corresponding power. Lingas are still venerated in a few temples, for instance at Wăt Phô in Bangkok, but it would appear that the majority (e.g. those found at Pra Pratom and Lophburi) are survivals of ancient Brahmanic worship and have a purely antiquarian importance. The Brahmanic cosmology which makes Mt. Meru the centre of this Universe is generally accepted in ecclesiastical treatises and paintings, though the educated Siamese may smile at it, and when the topknot of a Siamese prince is cut off, part of the ceremony consists in his being received by the king dressed as Śiva on the summit of a mound cut in the traditional shape of Mt. Kailâśa.

Like the Nâts of Burma, Siam has a spirit population known as Phís[238]. The name is occasionally applied to Indian deities, but the great majority of Phís fall into two classes, namely, ghosts of the dead and nature spirits which, though dangerous, do not rise above the position of good or bad fairies. In the first class are included the Phí Prẽt, who have the characteristics as well as the name of the Indian Pretas, and also a multitude of beings who like European ghosts, haunt houses and behave in a mysterious but generally disagreeable manner. The Phíăm is apparently our nightmare. The ghosts of children dying soon after birth are apt to kill their mothers and in general women are liable to be possessed by Phís. The ghosts of those who have died a violent death are dangerous but it would seem that Siamese magicians know how to utilize them as familiar spirits. The better sort of ghosts are known as Chào Phí and shrines called San Chào are set up in their honour. It does not however appear that there is any hierarchy of Phís like the thirty-seven Náts of Burma.

[Pg 98]Among those Phís who are not ghosts of the dead the most important is the Phí ru̓en or guardian spirit of each house. Frequently a little shrine is erected for him at the top of a pole. There are also innumerable Phís in the jungle mostly malevolent and capable of appearing either in human form or as a dangerous animal. But the tree spirits are generally benevolent and when their trees are cut down they protect the houses that are made of them.

Thus the Buddhism of Siam, like that of Burma, has a certain admixture of Brahmanism and animism. The Brahmanism is perhaps more striking than in Burma on account of the Court ceremonies: the belief in spirits, though almost universal, seems to be more retiring and less conspicuous. Yet the inscription of Râma Komhëng mentioned above asserts emphatically that the prosperity of the Empire depends on due honour being shown to a certain mountain spirit[239].

It is pretty clear that the first introduction of Hinayanist Buddhism into Siam was from Southern Burma and Pegu, but that somewhat later Ceylon was accepted as the standard of orthodoxy. A learned thera who knew the Sinhalese Tipitaka was imported thence, as well as a branch of the Bo-tree. But Siamese patriotism flattered itself by imagining that the national religion was due to personal contact with the Buddha, although not even early legends can be cited in support of such traditions. In 1602 a mark in the rocks, now known as the Phra: Bãt, was discovered in the hills north of Ayuthia and identified as a footprint of the Buddha similar to that found on Adam's Peak and in other places. Burma and Ceylon both claim the honour of a visit from the Buddha but the Siamese go further, for it is popularly believed that he died at Praten, a little to the north of Phra Pathom, on a spot marked by a slab of rock under great trees[240]. For this reason when the Government of India presented [Pg 99]the king of Siam with the relics found in the Piprava vase, the gift though received with honour, aroused little enthusiasm and was placed in a somewhat secluded shrine[241].


[188] The principal sources for information about Siamese Buddhism are: Journal of Siam Society, 1904, and onwards.

L. Fournereau, Le Siam Ancien, 2 vols. 1895 and 1908 in Annales du Musée Guimet. Cited here as Fournereau.

Mission Pavie II, Histoire du Laos, du Cambodge et du Siam, 1898.

Gerini, Researches on Ptolemy's Geography of Eastern Asia, 1909. Cited here as Gerini, Ptolemy.

Gerini, Chŭlăkantamangala or Tonsure Ceremony, 1893.

H. Alabaster, The Wheel of the Law, 1871.

P.A. Thompson, Lotus Land, 1906.

W.A. Graham, Siam, 1912.

Petithuguenin, "Notes critiques pour servir à l'histoire du Siam," B.E.F.E.O. 1916, No. 3.

Coedès, "Documents sur la Dynastie de Sukhodaya," ib. 1917, No. 2.

Much curious information may be found in the Directory for Bangkok and Siam, a most interesting book. I have only the issue for 1907.

I have adopted the conventional European spelling for such words as may be said to have one. For other words I have followed Pallegoix's dictionary (1896) for rendering the vowels and tones in Roman characters, but have departed in some respects from his system of transliterating consonants as I think it unnecessary and misleading to write j and x for sounds which apparently correspond to y and ch as pronounced in English.

The King of Siam has published a work on the spelling of His Majesty's own language in Latin letters which ought to be authoritative, but it came into my hands too late for me to modify the orthography here adopted.

As Pallegoix's spelling involves the use of a great many accents I have sometimes begun by using the strictly correct orthography and afterwards a simpler but intelligible form. It should be noted that in this orthography ":" is not a colon but a sign that the vowel before it is very short.

[189] The name is found on Champan inscriptions of 1050 A.D. and according to Gerini appears in Ptolemy's Samarade = Sâmaraṭṭha. See Gerini, Ptolemy, p. 170. But Samarade is located near Bangkok and there can hardly have been Tais there in Ptolemy's time.

[190] So too in Central Asia Kustana appears to be a learned distortion of the name Khotan, made to give it a meaning in Sanskrit.

[191] Gerini states (Ptolemy, p. 107) that there are Pali manuscript chronicles of Lamphun apparently going back to 924 A.D.

[192] Strictly Sŭkhồthăi.

[193] Phongsá va: dan or Vaṃsavâda. See for Siamese chronicles, B.E.F.E.O. 1914, No. 3, "Recension palie des annales d'Ayuthia," and ibid. 1916, pp. 5-7.

[194] E.g. Aymonier in J.A. 1903, p. 186, and Gerini in Journal of Siam Society, vol. II. part 1, 1905.

[195] See especially Fournereau and the publications of the Mission Pavie and B.E.F.E.O.

[196] Gerini, Ptolemy, p. 176.

[197] See Fournereau, I. p. 225. B.E.F.E.O. 1916, III. pp. 8-13, and especially Bradley in J. Siam Society, 1909, pp. 1-68.

[198] This alphabet appears to be borrowed from Cambojan but some of the letters particularly in their later shapes show the influence of the Môn or Talaing script. The modern Cambojan alphabet, which is commonly used for ecclesiastical purposes in Siam, is little more than an elaborate form of Siamese.

[199] See B.E.F.E.O. 1904, p. 161.

[200] Bradley, J. Siam Society, 1913, p. 10, seems to think that Pali Buddhism may have come thence but the objection is that we know a good deal about the religion of Camboja and that there is no trace of Pali Buddhism there until it was imported from Siam. The fact that the Siamese alphabet was borrowed from Camboja does not prove that religion was borrowed in the same way. The Mongol alphabet can be traced to a Nestorian source.

[201] See for these inscriptions papers on the Malay Peninsula and Siam by Finot and Lajonquière in Bull. de la Comm. Archéol. de l'Indo-Chine, 1909, 1910 and 1912.

[202] Fournereau, pp. 157 ff. and Coedès in B.E.F.E.O. 1917, No. 2. Besides the inscription itself, which is badly defaced in parts, we have (1) a similar inscription in Thai, which is not however a translation, (2) a modern Siamese translation, used by Schmitt but severely criticized by Coedès and Petithuguenin.

[203] This portion of the narrative is found only in Schmitt's version of the Siamese translation. The part of the stone where it would have occurred is defaced.

[204] See Fournereau, vol. II. inscriptions xv and xvi and the account of the Jâtakas, p. 43.

[205] Fournereau, I. pp. 247, 273. B.E.F.E.O. 1917, No. 2, p. 29.

[206] See the texts in B.E.F.E.O. l.c. The Bodhisattvas are described as Ariyametteyâdînam dasannam Bodhisattânam. The vow to become a Buddha should it seems be placed in the mouth of the King, not of the Metropolitan as in Schmitt's translation.

[207] See Fournereau, pp. 209 ff. Dharmâsokarâja may perhaps be the same as Mahâdharmarâja who reigned 1388-1415. But the word may also be a mere title applied to all kings of this dynasty, so that this may be another inscription of Śrî Sûryavaṃsa Râma.

[208] 1350 is the accepted date but M. Aymonier, J.A. 1903, pp. 185 ff. argues in favour of about 1460. See Fournereau, Ancien Siam, p. 242, inscription of 1426 A.D. and p. 186, inscription of 1510 described as Groupe de Sajjanalaya et Sukhodaya.

[209] Fournereau, vol. I. pp. 186 ff.

[210] O. Frankfürter, "King Mongkut," Journal of Siam Society, vol. I. 1904.

[211] But it was his son who first decreed in 1868 that no Siamese could be born a slave. Slavery for debt, though illegal, is said not to be practically extinct.

[212] = Cûlâlaṇkâra.

[213] The word has been derived from Vâta, a grove, but may it not be the Pali Vatthu, Sanskrit Vâstu, a site or building?

[214] = Uposatha.

[215] These finials are very common on the roof ends of Siamese temples and palaces. It is strange that they also are found in conjunction with multiple roofs in Norwegian Churches of eleventh century. See de Beylié, Architecture hindoue dans l'extrême Orient, pp. 47, 48.

[216] The Buddha is generally known as Phra: Khodom ( = Gotama).

[217] In an old Siamese bronze from Kampeng Pet, figured in Grünwedel's Buddhist Art in India, p. 179, fig. 127, the Sirô rồt seems to be in process of evolution.

[218] P.A. Thompson, Lotus Land, 1906, p. 100.

[219] Four images facing the four quarters are considered in Burma to represent the last four Buddhas and among the Jains some of the Tirthankaras are so represented, the legend being that whenever they preached they seemed to face their hearers on every side.

[220] These figures only take account of twelve out of the seventeen provinces.

[221] Thompson, Lotus Land, p. 120.

[222] They bear the title of Só̆mdĕ̃t Phra: Chào Ràjagama and have authority respectively over (a) ordinary Buddhists in northern Siam, (b) ordinary Buddhists in the south, (c) hermits, (d) the Dhammayut sect.

[223] For this and many other details I am indebted to P.A. Thompson, Lotus Land, p. 123.

[224] When gifts of food are made to monks on ceremonial occasions, they usually acknowledge the receipt by reciting verses 7 and 8 of this Sutta, commonly known as Yathâ from the first word.

[225] Kathina in Pali. See Mahâvag. cap. VII.

[226] Fournereau, p. 225.

[227] The ploughing festival is a recognized imperial ceremony in China. In India ceremonies for private landowners are prescribed in the Gṛihya Sûtras but I do not know if their performance by kings is anywhere definitely ordered. However in the Nidâna Kathâ 270 the Buddha's father celebrates an imposing ploughing ceremony.

[228] I.e. Tusita. Compare such English names descriptive of beautiful scenery as Heaven's Gate.

[229] See Keith, Aitereya Aranyaka, pp. 174-178. The ceremony there described undoubtedly originated in a very ancient popular festival.

[230] I.e. float-raft. Most authors give the word as Krathong, but Pallegoix prefers Kathong.

[231] Chulakantamangalam, Bangkok, 1893.

[232] P.A. Thompson, Lotus Land, p. 134.

[233] For the Brahmans of Siam see Frankfürter, Oriental. Archiv. 1913, pp. 196-7.

[234] Chulakantamangala, p. 56.

[235] They are mostly observances such as Gotama would have classed among "low arts" (tîracchânavijjâ). At present the monks of Siam deal freely in charms and exorcisms but on important occasions public opinion seems to have greater confidence in the skill and power of Brahmans.

[236] King Śrî Sûryavaṃsa Râma relates in an inscription of about 1365 how he set up statues of Parameśvara and Vishṇukarma (?) and appointed Brahmans to serve them.

[237] Maj. Nik. 47.

[238] Siam Society, vol. IV. part ii. 1907. Some Siamese ghost-lore by A.J. Irwin.

[239] Jour. Siam Soc. 1909, p. 28. "In yonder mountain is a demon spirit Phră Khăphŭng that is greater than every other spirit in this realm. If any Prince ruling this realm reverences him well with proper offerings, this realm stands firm, this realm prospers. If the spirit be not reverenced well, if the offerings be not right, the spirit in the mountain does not protect, does not regard:—this realm perishes."

[240] The most popular life of the Buddha in Siamese is called Pa:thó̆mma Só̆mphôthĩyan, translated by Alabaster in The Wheel of the Law. But like the Lalita vistara and other Indian lives on which it is modelled it stops short at the enlightenment. Another well-known religious book is the Traiphûm ( = Tribhûmi), an account of the universe according to Hindu principles, compiled in 1776 from various ancient works.

The Pali literature of Siam is not very large. Some account of it is given by Coedès in B.E.F.E.O. 1915, III. pp. 39-46.

[241] When in Bangkok in 1907 I saw in a photographer's shop a photograph of the procession which escorted these relics to their destination. It was inscribed "Arrival of Buddha's tooth from Kandy." This shows how deceptive historical evidence may be. The inscription was the testimony of an eye-witness and yet it was entirely wrong.

[Pg 100]

The French Protectorate of Camboja corresponds roughly to the nucleus, though by no means to the whole extent of the former Empire of the Khmers. The affinities of this race have given rise to considerable discussion and it has been proposed to connect them with the Muṇḍa tribes of India on one side and with the Malays and Polynesians on the other[243]. They are allied linguistically to the Mons or Talaings of Lower Burma and to the Khasias of Assam, but it is not proved that they are similarly related to the Annamites, and recent investigators are not disposed to maintain the Mon-Annam family of languages [Pg 101]proposed by Logan and others. But the undoubted similarity of the Mon and Khmer languages suggests that the ancestors of those who now speak them were at one time spread over the central and western parts of Indo-China but were subsequently divided and deprived of much territory by the southward invasions of the Thais in the middle ages.

The Khmers also called themselves Kambuja or Kamvuja and their name for the country is still either Srŏk Kâmpûchéa or Srŏk Khmer[244]. Attempts have been made to find a Malay origin for this name Kambuja but native tradition regards it as a link with India and affirms that the race is descended from Kambu Svayambhuva and Merâ or Perâ who was given to him by Śiva as wife[245]. This legend hardly proves that the Khmer people came from India but they undoubtedly received thence their civilization, their royal family and a considerable number of Hindu immigrants, so that the mythical ancestor of their kings naturally came to be regarded as the progenitor of the race. The Chinese traveller Chou Ta-kuan (1296 A.D.) says that the country known to the Chinese as Chên-la is called by the natives Kan-po-chih but that the present dynasty call it Kan-p'u-chih on the authority of Sanskrit (Hsi-fan) works. The origin of the name Chên-la is unknown.

There has been much discussion respecting the relation of Chên-la to the older kingdom of Fu-nan which is the name given by Chinese historians until the early part of the seventh century to a state occupying the south-eastern and perhaps central portions of Indo-China. It has been argued that Chên-la is simply the older name of Fu-nan and on the other hand that Fu-nan is a wider designation including several states, one of which, Chên-la or Camboja, became paramount at the expense of the others[246]. But the point seems unimportant for their [Pg 102]religious history with which we have to deal. In religion and general civilization both were subject to Indian influence and it is not recorded that the political circumstances which turned Fu-nan into Chên-la were attended by any religious revolution.

The most important fact in the history of these countries, as in Champa and Java, is the presence from early times of Indian influence as a result of commerce, colonization, or conquest. Orientalists have only recently freed themselves from the idea that the ancient Hindus, and especially their religion, were restricted to the limits of India. In mediæval times this was true. Emigration was rare and it was only in the nineteenth century that the travelling Hindu became a familiar and in some British colonies not very welcome visitor. Even now Hindus of the higher caste evade rather than deny the rule which forbids them to cross the ocean[247]. But for a long while Hindus have frequented the coast of East Africa[248] and in earlier [Pg 103]centuries their traders, soldiers and missionaries covered considerable distances by sea. The Jâtakas[249] mention voyages to Babylon: Vijaya and Mahinda reached Ceylon in the fifth and third centuries B.C. respectively. There is no certain evidence as to the epoch when Hindus first penetrated beyond the Malay peninsula, but Java is mentioned in the Ramayana[250]: the earliest Sanskrit inscriptions of Champa date from our third or perhaps second century, and the Chinese Annals of the Tsin indicate that at a period considerably anterior to that dynasty there were Hindus in Fu-nan[251]. It is therefore safe to conclude that they must have reached these regions about the beginning of the Christian era and, should any evidence be forthcoming, there is no reason why this date should not be put further back. At present we can only say that the establishment of Hindu kingdoms probably implies earlier visits of Hindu traders and that voyages to the south coast of Indo-China and the Archipelago were probably preceded by settlements on the Isthmus of Kra, for instance at Ligor.

The motives which prompted this eastward movement have been variously connected with religious persecution in India, missionary enterprise, commerce and political adventure. The first is the least probable. There is little evidence for the systematic persecution of Buddhists in India and still less for the persecution of Brahmans by Buddhists. Nor can these Indian settlements be regarded as primarily religious missions. The Brahmans have always been willing to follow and supervise the progress of Hindu civilization, but they have never shown any disposition to evangelize foreign countries apart from Hindu settlements in them. The Buddhists had this evangelistic temper and the journeys of their missionaries doubtless stimulated other classes to go abroad, but still no inscriptions or annals suggest that the Hindu migrations to Java and Camboja were parallel to Mahinda's mission to Ceylon. Nor is there any reason to think that they were commanded or encouraged by [Pg 104]Indian Rajas, for no mention of their despatch has been found in India, and no Indian state is recorded to have claimed suzerainty over these colonies. It therefore seems likely that they were founded by traders and also by adventurers who followed existing trade routes and had their own reasons for leaving India. In a country where dynastic quarrels were frequent and the younger sons of Rajas had a precarious tenure of life, such reasons can be easily imagined. In Camboja we find an Indian dynasty established after a short struggle, but in other countries, such as Java and Sumatra, Indian civilization endured because it was freely adopted by native chiefs and not because it was forced on them as a result of conquest.

The inscriptions discovered in Camboja and deciphered by the labours of French savants offer with one lacuna (about 650-800 A.D.) a fairly continuous history of the country from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. For earlier periods we depend almost entirely on Chinese accounts which are fragmentary and not interested in anything but the occasional relations of China with Fu-nan. The annals of the Tsin dynasty[252] already cited say that from 265 A.D. onwards the kings of Fu-nan sent several embassies to the Chinese Court, adding that the people have books and that their writing resembles that of the Hu. The Hu are properly speaking a tribe of Central Asia, but the expression doubtless means no more than alphabetic writing as opposed to Chinese characters and such an alphabet can hardly have had other than an Indian origin. Originally, adds the Annalist, the sovereign was a woman, but there came a stranger called Hun-Hui who worshipped the Devas and had had a dream in which one of them gave him a bow[253] and ordered him to sail for Fu-nan. He conquered the country and married the Queen but his descendants deteriorated and one Fan-Hsün founded another dynasty. The annals of the Ch'i dynasty (479-501) give substantially the same story but say that the stranger was called Hun-T'ien (which is probably the correct form of the name) and that he came from Chi or Chiao, an unknown locality. The same annals state that towards the end [Pg 105]of the fifth century the king of Fu-nan who bore the family name of Ch'iao-ch'ên-ju[254] or Kauṇḍinya and the personal name of Shê-yeh-po-mo (Jayavarman) traded with Canton. A Buddhist monk named Nâgasena returned thence with some Cambojan merchants and so impressed this king with his account of China that he was sent back in 484 to beg for the protection of the Emperor. The king's petition and a supplementary paper by Nâgasena are preserved in the annals. They seem to be an attempt to represent the country as Buddhist, while explaining that Maheśvara is its tutelary deity.

The Liang annals also state that during the Wu dynasty (222-280) Fan Chan, then king of Fu-nan, sent a relative named Su-Wu on an embassy to India, to a king called Mao-lun, which probably represents Muruṇḍa, a people of the Ganges valley mentioned by the Purâṇas and by Ptolemy. This king despatched a return embassy to Fu-nan and his ambassadors met there an official sent by the Emperor of China[255]. The early date ascribed to these events is noticeable.

The Liang annals contain also the following statements. Between the years 357 and 424 A.D. named as the dates of embassies sent to China, an Indian Brahman called Ch'iao-ch'ên-ju (Kauṇḍinya) heard a supernatural voice bidding him go and reign in Fu-nan. He met with a good reception and was elected king. He changed the customs of the country and made them conform to those of India. One of his successors, Jayavarman, sent a coral image of Buddha in 503 to the Emperor Wu-ti (502-550). The inhabitants of Fu-nan are said to make bronze images of the heavenly genii with two or four heads and four or eight arms. Jayavarman was succeeded by a usurper named Liu-t'o-pa-mo (Rudravarman) who sent an image made of sandal wood to the Emperor in 519 and in 539 offered him a hair of the Buddha twelve feet long. The Sui annals (589-618) state that Citrasena, king of Chên-la, conquered Fu-nan and was succeeded by his son Iśânasena.

Two monks of Fu-nan are mentioned among the translators of the Chinese scriptures[256], namely, Saṇghapâla and Mandra. [Pg 106]Both arrived in China during the first years of the sixth century and their works are extant. The pilgrim I-Ching who returned from India in 695 says[257] that to the S.W. of Champa lies the country Po-nan, formerly called Fu-nan, which is the southern corner of Jambudvîpa. He says that "of old it was a country the inhabitants of which lived naked; the people were mostly worshippers of devas and later on Buddhism flourished there, but a wicked king has now expelled and exterminated them all and there are no members of the Buddhist brotherhood at all."

These data from Chinese authorities are on the whole confirmed by the Cambojan inscriptions. Rudravarman is mentioned[258] and the kings claim to belong to the race of Kauṇḍinya[259]. This is the name of a Brahman gotra, but such designations were often borne by Kshatriyas and the conqueror of Camboja probably belonged to that caste. It may be affirmed with some certainty that he started from south-eastern India and possibly he sailed from Mahâbalipûr (also called the Seven Pagodas). Masulipatam was also a port of embarcation for the East and was connected with Broach by a trade route running through Tagara, now Têr in the Nizam's dominions. By using this road, it was possible to avoid the west coast, which was infested by pirates.

The earliest Cambojan inscriptions date from the beginning of the seventh century and are written in an alphabet closely resembling that of the inscriptions in the temple of Pâpanâtha at Paṭṭadkal in the Bîjapur district[260]. They are composed in[Pg 107] Sanskrit verse of a somewhat exuberant style, which revels in the commonplaces of Indian poetry. The deities most frequently mentioned are Śiva by himself and Śiva united with Vishṇu in the form Hari-Hara. The names of the kings end in Varman and this termination is also specially frequent in names of the Pallava dynasty[261]. The magnificent monuments still extant attest a taste for architecture on a large scale similar to that found among the Dravidians. These and many other indications justify the conclusion that the Indian civilization and religion which became predominant in Camboja were imported from the Deccan.

The Chinese accounts distinctly mention two invasions, one under Ch'iao-ch'ên-ju (Kaundinya) about 400 A.D. and one considerably anterior to 265 under Hun-T'ien. It might be supposed that this name also represents Kauṇḍinya and that there is a confusion of dates. But the available evidence is certainly in favour of the establishment of Hindu civilization in Fu-nan long before 400 A.D. and there is nothing improbable in the story of the two invasions and even of two Kauṇḍinyas. Maspéro suggests that the first invasion came from Java and formed part of the same movement which founded the kingdom of Champa. It is remarkable that an inscription in Sanskrit found on the east coast of Borneo and apparently dating from the fifth century mentions Kuṇḍagga as the grandfather of the reigning king, and the Liang annals say that the king of Poli (probably in Borneo but according to some in Sumatra) was called Ch'iao-ch'ên-ju. It seems likely that the Indian family of Kauṇḍinya was established somewhere in the South Seas (perhaps in Java) at an early period and thence invaded various countries at various times. But Fu-nan is a vague geographical term and it may be that Hun-T'ien founded a Hindu dynasty in Champa.

[Pg 108]It is clear that during the period of the inscriptions the religion of Camboja was a mixture of Brahmanism and Buddhism, the only change noticeable being the preponderance of one or other element in different centuries. But it would be interesting to know the value of I-Ching's statement that Buddhism flourished in Fu-nan in early times and was then subverted by a wicked king, by whom Bhavavarman[262] may be meant. Primâ facie the statement is not improbable, for there is no reason why the first immigrants should not have been Buddhists, but the traditions connecting these countries with early Hinayanist missionaries are vague. Târanâtha[263] states that the disciples of Vasubandhu introduced Buddhism into the country of Koki (Indo-China) but his authority does not count for much in such a matter. The statement of I-Ching however has considerable weight, especially as the earliest inscription found in Champa (that of Vocan) appears to be inspired by Buddhism.

It may be well to state briefly the chief facts of Cambojan history[264] before considering the phases through which religion passed. Until the thirteenth century our chief authorities are the Sanskrit and Khmer inscriptions, supplemented by notices in the Chinese annals. The Khmer inscriptions are often only a translation or paraphrase of Sanskrit texts found in the same locality and, as a rule, are more popular, having little literary pretension. They frequently contain lists of donations or of articles to be supplied by the population for the upkeep of pious foundations. After the fourteenth century we have Cambojan annals of dubious value and we also find inscriptions in Pali or in modern Cambojan. The earliest Sanskrit inscriptions date from the beginning of the seventh century and mention works undertaken in 604 and 624.

The first important king is Bhavavarman (c. 500 A.D.), a [Pg 109]conqueror and probably a usurper, who extended his kingdom considerably towards the west. His career of conquest was continued by Mahâvarman (also called Citrasena), by Iśânavarman and by Jayavarman[265]. This last prince was on the throne in 667, but his reign is followed by a lacuna of more than a century. Notices in the Chinese annals, confirmed by the double genealogies given for this period in later inscriptions, indicate that Camboja was divided for some time into two states, one littoral and the other inland.

Clear history begins again with the reign of Jayavarman II (802-869). Later sovereigns evidently regard him as the great national hero and he lives in popular legend as the builder of a magnificent palace, Beng Mealea, whose ruins still exist[266] and as the recipient of the sacred sword of Indra which is preserved at Phnom-penh to this day. We are told that he "came from Javâ," which is more likely to be some locality in the Malay Peninsula or Laos than the island of that name. It is possible that Jayavarman was carried away captive to this region but returned to found a dynasty independent of it[267].

The ancient city of Angkor has probably done more to make Camboja known in Europe than any recent achievements of the Khmer race. In the centre of it stands the temple now called Bayon and outside its walls are many other edifices of which the majestic Angkor Wat is the largest and best preserved. [Pg 110]King Indravarman (877-899) seems responsible for the selection of the site but he merely commenced the construction of the Bayon. The edifice was completed by his son Yaśovarman (889-908) who also built a town round it, called Yaśod harapura, Kambupuri or Mahânagara. Angkor Thom is the Cambojan translation of this last name, Angkor being a corruption of Nokor ( = Nagara). Yaśovarman's empire comprised nearly all Indo-China between Burma and Champa and he has been identified with the Leper king of Cambojan legend. His successors continued to embellish Angkor Thom, but Jayavarman IV abandoned it and it was deserted for several years until Rajendravarman II (944-968) made it the capital again. The Chinese Annals, supported by allusions in the inscriptions, state that this prince conquered Champa. The long reigns of Jayavarman V, Suryavarman I, and Udayâdityavarman, which cover more than a century (968-1079) seem to mark a prosperous period when architecture flourished, although Udayâdityavarman had to contend with two rebellions. Another great king, Sûryavarman II (1112-1162) followed shortly after them, and for a time succeeded in uniting Camboja and Champa under his sway. Some authorities credit him with a successful expedition to Ceylon. There is not sufficient evidence for this, but he was a great prince and, in spite of his foreign wars, maintained peace and order at home.

Jayavarman VII, who appears to have reigned from 1162 to 1201, reduced to obedience his unruly vassals of the north and successfully invaded Champa which remained for thirty years, though not without rebellion, the vassal of Camboja. It was evacuated by his successor Indravarman in 1220.

After this date there is again a gap of more than a century in Cambojan history, and when the sequence of events becomes clear again, we find that Siam has grown to be a dangerous and aggressive enemy. But though the vigour of the kingdom may have declined, the account of the Chinese traveller Chou Ta-kuan who visited Angkor Thom in 1296 shows that it was not in a state of anarchy nor conquered by Siam. There had however been a recent war with Siam and he mentions that the country was devastated. He unfortunately does not tell us the name of the reigning king and the list of sovereigns begins again only in 1340 when the Annals of Camboja take up the history.[Pg 111] They are not of great value. The custom of recording all events of importance prevailed at the Cambojan Court in earlier times but these chronicles were lost in the eighteenth century. King Ang Chan (1796-1834) ordered that they should be re-written with the aid of the Siamese chronicles and such other materials as were available and fixed 1340 as the point of departure, apparently because the Siamese chronicles start from that date[268]. Although the period of the annals offers little but a narrative of dissensions at home and abroad, of the interference of Annam on one side and of Siam on the other, yet it does not seem that the sudden cessation of inscriptions and of the ancient style of architecture in the thirteenth century was due to the collapse of Camboja, for even in the sixteenth century it offered a valiant, and often successful, resistance to aggressions from the west. But Angkor Thom and the principal monuments were situated near the Siamese frontier and felt the shock of every collision. The sense of security, essential for the construction of great architectural works, had disappeared and the population became less submissive and less willing to supply forced labour without which such monuments could not be erected.

The Siamese captured Angkor Thom in 1313, 1351 and 1420 but did not on any occasion hold it for long. Again in 1473 they occupied Chantaboun, Korat and Angkor but had to retire and conclude peace. King Ang Chan I successfully disputed the right of Siam to treat him as a vassal and established his capital at Lovek, which he fortified and ornamented. He reigned from 1505 to 1555 and both he and his son, Barom Racha, seem entitled to rank among the great kings of Camboja. But the situation was clearly precarious and when a minor succeeded to the throne in 1574 the Siamese seized the opportunity and recaptured Lovek and Chantaboun. Though this capture was the death blow to the power of the Khmers, the kingdom of Camboja did not cease to exist but for nearly three centuries continued to have an eventful but uninteresting history as the [Pg 112]vassal of Siam or Annam or even of both[269], until in the middle of the nineteenth century the intervention of France substituted a European Protectorate for these Asiatic rivalries.

The provinces of Siem-reap and Battambang, in which Angkor Thom and the principal ancient monuments are situated, were annexed by Siam at the end of the eighteenth century, but in virtue of an arrangement negotiated by the French Government they were restored to Camboja in 1907, Krat and certain territories being at the same time ceded to Siam[270].

The religious history of Camboja may be divided into two periods, exclusive of the possible existence there of Hinayanist Buddhism in the early centuries of our era. In the first period, which witnessed the construction of the great monuments and the reigns of the great kings, both Brahmanism and Mahayanist Buddhism nourished, but as in Java and Champa without mutual hostility. This period extends certainly from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries and perhaps its limits should be stretched to 400-1400 A.D. In any case it passed without abrupt transition into the second period in which, under Siamese influence, Hinayanist Buddhism supplanted the older faiths, although the ceremonies of the Cambojan court still preserve a good deal of Brahmanic ritual.

During the first period, Brahmanism and Mahayanism were professed by the Court and nobility. The multitude of great temples and opulent endowments, the knowledge of Sanskrit literature and the use of Indian names, leave no doubt about this, but it is highly probable that the mass of the people had their own humbler forms of worship. Still there is no record of anything that can be called Khmer—as opposed to Indian—religion. As in Siam, the veneration of nature spirits is universal in Camboja and little shrines elevated on poles are erected in their honour in the neighbourhood of almost every house. [Pg 113]Possibly the more important of these spirits were identified in early times with Indian deities or received Sanskrit names. Thus we hear of a pious foundation in honour of Brahmarakshas[271], perhaps a local mountain spirit. Śiva is adored under the name of Śrî Śikhareśvara, the Lord of the Peak and Krishṇa appears to be identified with a local god called Śrî Champeśvara who was worshipped by Jayavarman VI[272].


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