Ancient Sri Lanka-Myanmar links rediscovered
The following article by the Sri Lankan
Embassy in Myanmar traces the religious links between the two countries.
stupas in Myanmar
The 12th century painted murals from the Mahavamsa, four abodes of
Sinhalese monks and 260 large monuments influenced by Sinhalese were
some of the discoveries made by a Sri Lankan team led by scholar Dr.
Hema Goonatilake and Sri Lanka Embassy staff including Sri Lankan
Ambassador to Myanmar Newton Gunaratne on a recent study visit to the
ancient Myanmar city of Bagan.
Bagan with its roots dating back to the 11th Century was the cradle
of Myanmar culture. It is to the Burmese what Anuradhapura is to the
Sinhalese,a place of pride and past accomplishments and the soul of the
country. Bagan is a huge site with over 4,000 major monuments built over
a period of three centuries.
It is said that these monuments are a much greater building feat than
the construction for all Europe whose construction had however been
spread over nearly seven centuries. The rise of Bagan was closely tied
to Sri Lanka connections beginning in the 11th Century through religious
and political contacts. The beginning of Bagan intellectual culture was
due to the inflow of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka and the Burmese
recorded these in inscriptions and in their literature.
Dr. Hema Goonatilake who had been researching into the Sri Lanka
Southeast Asia relations for over two decades had published some of
these connections. Dr. Goonatilake guided the embassy group into some
not so well known sites in Bagan.
She showed a number of very large Buddhist temple sites which had
connections with Sri Lanka. There were numerous stupas built on the
Sinhalese bell shaped style-actually there were at least 260 such
Sinhalese style stupas. The inflow of Sri Lankan culture was facilitated
by Myanmar monks visiting Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan monks visiting Bagan.
The stupa enshrining the remains of one of the Myanmar monks Zapata who
went to Sri Lanka was there to see it built in the Sri Lanka style.
There were four monasteries to house four leading monks from Sri Lanka.
The remains of these monasteries are large in number with their own
stupa and vihara complexes. The most captivating buildings had murals
depicting scenes from the Mahavamsa. One was the Sakyamuni temple which
had murals depicting the arrival of Sanghamitta in Sri Lanka, the
daughter of Emperor Asoka.
The other was the Gubyaukgyi Temple built in 1113 by Prince Rajakumar,
son of King Kyansittha who painted a large number of episodes from the
Mahavamsa on the Gubyaukgyi temple walls. These include panels depicting
Arahant Mahinda, and King Devanmpiyatissa, the national hero Dutugamunu
and his elephant Kandula as well as Prince Gamini sending women’s attire
to his father for refusing to fight for the freedom of the country. The
invader Elara is depicted in true Mahavamsa style as a just and fair
king. His bell of justice is shown together with the calf that wore it -
a story known to every child in contemporary Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s
historical events depicted on the walls end with king Vijayabahu - the
contemporary of Rajakumar.
The Bagan site is huge and the story of Myanmar connections with Sri
Lanka has only been scratched. Much remains to be discovered and
researched. Every Sri Lankan who can afford should visit Bagan as much
as they visit Buddha Gaya. They will be amazed.