A brief history of Arakan (Rakhine) State

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There have been four dynastic eras in the history of Arakan: Dhanyawaddy, Vesali, Laymro and Mrauk-U. The four dynastic eras spanned over 5,000 years and Arakan existed as an independent state until it was conquered by the Burmans in 1784. Forty years later, in 1824, it was annexed by the British and administered as a state of British India by the East India Trading Company.

Following a three year occupation by a Japanese fascist regime (1942-45), the region of Arakan State became a part of the Union of Burma (Myanmar) by the post-World War II British government. Since Burma was granted independence in 1948, Arakan has been under the central rule of successive Burmese regimes, all of which have ignored and actively suppressed Arakanese calls for meaningful political participation in the spirit of self-determination.


According to ancient Arakanese chronicles, the first Arakanese kings were Indo-Aryans from the Ganges Valley. The first of these kings is believed to have been King Marayu, who founded the first Dhanyawaddy City in 3325 BC. In 1483 BC, King Kan Raza Gree founded the second Dhanyawaddy City, which served as the royal capital until 580 BC. The third Dhanyawaddy City, located about 80 km north of Arakan State's current capital, Sitetway (Sittwe), dates to the period between 580 BC- 326 AD, making it one of the centres of Southeast Asia's earliest civilizations.

It is believed that Gautama Buddha visited the Dhanyawaddy kingdom himself and initiated the practice of Buddhism in Arakan State; it remains the region's main religion today. It was also during this period (around 150 AD) that the famous Maha Muni Buddha image was cast.


Vesali is one of the oldest ancient cities in all of Burma, dating from AD 327 to AD 1018. It was founded by Dvan Chandra who, according to an Anandacandra Inscription from 729 AD, was believed to have been a descendant of the Hindu god Shiva.

Vesali is noted for being the first Arakanese kingdom to use currency, almost a millennium before it was introduced by other civilizations in Burma. Gold and silver coins, inscribed with the Chandra dynasty emblem and the word "king" in Sanskrit have been found and dated back to the Vesali era. The Vesali kingdom had a far-reaching trade network, exporting goods to the Arab and Persian kingdoms and beyond.

Laymro Era

From 794 AD – 1413 AD several Arakanese capitals were founded along the Laymro River. The first, Sambuwauk, was founded by King Nga Tone Marm, who was the son of the last king of Vesali, Sula Chandra. In 818 AD his second cousin Khattathun seized the throne and moved the capital to Pyinsa, where it stayed for 285 years.

Over the next 148 years, the capital was re-located five times to different spots along the Laymro River. In 1406 the second Laungkrauk city, the capital at the time, was invaded by the Burmans and King Marm Saw Mon reportedly fled to Bengal, where he was given refuge. In 1429, with the Sultan of Bengal's assistance, Marm Saw Mon led an army back into Arakan and restored its independence. This version of events has been disputed due to the lack of evidence of a strong link between the Arakan and Bengal kingdoms of the time. What is certain is that shortly after Marm Saw Mon returned to Arakan, the capital was moved to Mrauk- U and arguably the most prosperous era in Arakanese history followed.


Mrauk- U

The period 1430–1530 AD is known as the first golden Mrauk- U era. Marm Saw Mon's brother, Naranu, came to power in 1433 and shortly thereafter concluded a bilateral agreement with the King of Burman, Min Khaung, which recognized the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both nations as independent states. The treaty established a border that lasted even through the British colonial era, separating the countries along the crest line of the Arakan Roma mountain range, down to the Ngawan River, the Bassein River and to the Martaban Sea. Haigree Island, Pagoda Point and Cape Nagris were also recognized as Arakanese territory.

Mrauk-U Arakan from Schouten Voyages 1967The second golden Mrauk- U era lasted from 1530 to 1620 AD. In the early 16th Century, around the time of King Henry VIII's coronation in England, King Marm Bun of Arakan ruled a thriving empire. Arakan was renowned for its modern army and advanced trade network, which covered the known world and extended as far as Portugal and the Netherlands. Mrauk- U during this period enjoyed similarly far-reaching diplomatic relations, notably with India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the Burman, the Mon, Siam (Thailand), Indonesia, Java, Japan and several western countries. Much closer links with the Muslim states and peoples to the west appear to have been made during this period, although it is unclear exactly why this occurred. Some historians have suggested that a debt was owed to the Sultan of Bengal for supporting Marm Saw Mon's return to power. At this time, many Arakanese kings adopted Islamic names, coins were inscribed with Parsi as well as Arakanese, and hundreds of Muslims from Bengal migrated to the area in and around Mrauk-U.

During this era, many areas of modern Bangladesh and West Bengal were fought over by the kings of Arakan, Mughal emperors, Afghan kings and various Bengali Sultans. A city of particular importance was the booming commercial centre of Chittagong. Few details of these conflicts have survived, but it is known that during the reign of Marm Bun (1531 – 1553) Arakan forged close ties with the Portuguese, whose presence (and influence) in the region was quickly expanding. These ties helped the Arakanese to develop a superior military and navy, which helped them defeat several rival kingdoms in the region, and capture Chittagong.

According to various Arakanese scholars, by 1532 the Arakanese frontier extended up to Calcutta in West Bengal, India, encompassing the whole of modern day Bangladesh. By the 17th century, the Arakanese kingdom was struggling to preserve its vast empire. During the early part of the century, border tensions between the Arakan and Mughal empires escalated and developed into full-blown conflict. Most of East Bengal came firmly under the authority of the Mughal king; around the same time the Kingdom of Ava rose to power and Arakan lost its grip on Pegu and much of lower Burma.

Its huge, modern navy helped Arakan hold power in Eastern Bengal throughout the first half of the 17th century; during this period thousands of Bengali slaves were taken by the Arakanese and many were sold to the Dutch to work on nearby plantations. In the late 17th century, the Mughal Empire forged closer relations with the Dutch and was able to significantly modernize its military. In 1660, the Mughals took Dhaka and then in 1666 they annexed Chittagong after almost a century-long struggle, depriving the Arakanese Kingdom of a key source of income. The Mughal Emperor subsequently allowed the expanding British East India Company to establish a diwan, or de facto governmental body, in the area; in 1772, the Company established a capital at Calcutta and took control of the majority of what had been Western Arakan.

In the 1730's a number of internal disputes in the Mrauk-U administration led to a breakdown of national unity and significant political instability. Then, in mid-November 1784 a Burman army led by King U Wine invaded Mrauk- U without declaring war. By the end of that year, the Burman had occupied the whole country.
In 1824, Arakan was taken by the British and administered as an annexed state of India by the East India Trading Company. In 1826, the first official order was drawn up stretching from the mountainous region of Paletwa down to Cape Nagris in the Irrawaddy Delta, giving Arakan a total area of over 20,000 square miles. This was later decreased when the British separated the southern Bessein region.
Following a three year period under the rule of the Japanese fascist regime (1942-45), Arakan became a part of the Union of Burma, largely by default, and has since been under the rule of successive Burmese regimes, none of which have granted the Arakanese even the slightest autonomy. During the first democratic government of Burma in 1952, Paletwa Township became part of Chin State, decreasing Arakan to its current size of 14,200 square miles. However, the majority of Paletwa's population are still Arakanese.

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