Exploration to ancient Suvannabhumi

Thanlwin River View, Mottama, Mawlamyine
Exploration to ancient Suvannabhumi

Exploration to the Ancient Suvannabhumi Located in Mon State, Lower Myanmar

In the early centuries of the Christian era the Mons were settled in the region between the Sittaung and Thanlwin Rivers which was known as the Mon Kingdom of Ramannadesa. Thaton (Sudhamma), the seat of this kingdom was known as Suvannabhumi or the Golden Land which also applies to the whole region of continental Southeast Asia around the Bay of Bengal. Tradition ascribes the founding of the city to King Siharaja during the life time of Buddha while the Mahavamsa, a Sinhalese chronicle, asserts that a Buddhist mission led by Sona and Uttara was dispatched to Suvannabhumi after the third Buddhist Council in the third century BC. The Kalayani inscription of Dhammazdi, however, identified Suvannabhumi, the place where the Buddhist mission arrived with Golamattika or Taikkala which is situated near Ayethama village at the fort of the Keilasa (Keilatha) hill about 30 miles north of Thaton.

Myanmar chronicles mention that Buddhagosa, a native of Thaton made a voyage to Sri Lanka about 400AD and succeeded in transcribing the Buddhist manuscripts in Mon characters and brought over them to Thaton. The historic city of this personage is doubted by some scholars but the fifth century AD is evidenced by archaeological finds. The chronicles continue that it was King Anarahta of Bagan (1044-1077) marched on Thaton, conquered King Manuha of Thaton and took away thirty-two sects of the Tripitaka. Thaton thenceforth remained under Bagan domination till the 13th century. Remains of Mon sites are clustered around the mouth of the Sittagung River, the apex of the Gulf of Mottama (Martaban). During 1970s, U Aung Myint of Forestry Department, using aerial photographs, discovered Kyaikkatha, Taikkala, Zokthok, Thaton, Sampannago (Hmawbi) and some small scale sites such as Kawhtin, Leikkahon, Muthin, Zwegal, Mayangon, Kadaik, etc. on this area.

Kyaikkatha (17.21 north x 96.51 east) is located between the Mokpalin and Kyaikto railway stations. The old city has an irregular outer wall, about 2500 metres east-west and 1000-2000 metres north-south. It is very enclosure consists of seven quadrangular walls with rounded corners (750 metres at their maximum extent) which surrounded the Kyaikkanon pagoda.

Kyaikkatha is a particularly noteworthy site, both because of its unusual shape and its location at the apex of the Gulf of Mottama. This position offered easy access to the sea and to the interior. During our preliminary survey of Kyaikkatha a large number of finger-marked bricks were recorded along the outer wall and from ruined atupas in the interior.

A stone inscription found at Kunzeik on the east of Sittaung river about 20 miles north of Kyaikkatha bears Buddhist texts in Pali, the script of which is like the Kadamba script of southern India of the 5th century AD. A similar writing of Maunggan old leaves found at Sriksetra. At Kyontu closed to Kyaikkatha on the west bank of Sittaung a contemporary culture which disclosed Indian influence on the terracotta plaques depicting bull fighting, elephants and horses in battle, musicians, dancers a lion with chain on its neck which is drawn by two men from the back. They belonged approximately to the 8th century AD.

Zokthok about 20 miles south of Kyaikkatha on the immediate south of Mt. Keilatha, there is a conical stupa called Htizaung pagoda with eight sides built on an older laterite foundation. A laterite city wall called Sin-tat-Myin-tat (elephant and horse battalion) stood on the north-west of the pagoda. It is a laterite frieze depicting a series of elephants and lions. Stranding 8 feet height, it is said to have once been about a mile long, although today 360 feet remain. On the aerial photos, U Aung Myint traced walls and motes around this pagoda and city wall enclosing two separate sites, big Zokthok and little Zokthok. Zokthok itself was a town site similar to Kyaikkatha in shape. The finger marked bricks found at Kokthok and environs are similar tp that of Kyaikkatha.

Taikkala (Golamattika) lies at Ayethama village on the north-west slope of Keilatha hills. A city wall was excavated during the 1975 excavations which might have been reinforced by the later construction of 15th century. Many finger-marked bricks were found there indicating the site had been older than that date. At Winka, adjacent to Ayethama, excavations revealed six brick structure (WK 1-6). They are a stupa and four monasteries. The excavators suggested that a rectangular structure (WK 1) might be a warehouse. The bricks used in these old building are finger-marked bricks. Terracotta votive tablets bearing old Mon scripts  which belong to 6th century AD were found at Winka. Some pottery and stone beads indicates similarity with Pyu culture of Vishnu city excavation.

At exploration team headed by U Aung Myint made a survey at Ayethama and Winka in 200-2004. By tracing of finger-marked bricks indications the team located a line of city wall about two miles in length. The walls lie on the western slope of Myathabeik hill, west of Mt. Keilatha enclosing Winka and Taungkyi village. The late government archaeologists E. Forchammer and Mr. Taw Sein Ko reported during their exploration of 1887-1892 that they found ruins of city walls and mote at Winka. Unfortunately the site has been started to wash away by the flood of Sittaung river during their exploration in the late nineteen century. Now we can only trace for the remaining part which survived on the mountain sides. A number of stone implements, stone beads, laterite lion heads and floral designs, terracotta figures, silver coins and pottery vessels are reported at Winka site.

Thaton (16.55 nx 97.22e) is surrounded by quadrangular walls. The mote between is faced with stone, laterite and burnt bricks finger-marked type. The size of the bricks was similar to those found at Pyu sites. As at Kyaikkatha, Winka and Zokthok the finger-marked pattern were of the straight and curved verities, with few examples of wavy lines. The east and west inner walls are about 7,700 feet long while those on the north and south are 4,000 feet each. In the centre is the citadel or palace site measuring from north to south 1,080 feet and east to west 1,150 feet. As the present town is developed within the old city the remains of the inner city are no more visible. The chief monuments of old Thaton stood on the Shwezayan pagoda compound which is situated between the palace site and the south wall. There are Thagyapaya or Myatheindan pagoda Pitakataik (Library) and Kalayani sima in which boundary stones are curved with scenes from the Jataka stories. The same arrangements on the second terrace of Thagyapaya are terracotta relief illustrating the Vessantar, the Vidhura, the  Maha-umanga or Mahosada, the Bhuridatta and the Temiya jatakas. They can be assigned stylistically to the 9th – 11th century AD. Some of the old Mon stone inscriptions and Buddha statues were enthused in a shed of the compound.

Thaton was at one time evidently a seaport. Neither Thaton nor other adjacent sites had been systematically excavated. In fact, scholars stated that there were no signs of any extensive monuments at Thaton and its environs. Accordingly in application of aerial photos, we have traced some more ancient sites in Thaton area. While all these are walled with finger-marked bricks and providers the documentation of the prehistoric period to proto-historic period, future research may come up with new ideas and interpretations that will lead to a better understanding of the history of Thaton.

Suvannabhumi Exploration Tour

Display the Finger Marked Brick at Bamboo Museum
Display the Finger Marked Brick at Bamboo Museum

U San Win
Assistant Director (Retd.),