Rakhine people

Rakhine people

Infobox Ethnic group
group=Rakhine (Arakanese)

poptime=3.5 - 4 million (est.)
popplace=Myanmar, Eastern Bangladesh
rels=Theravada Buddhism

The Rakhine people (MYname|MY=ရခိုင္လူမ်ဳိး၊MLCTS=ra. khuing lu myo:; IPA2|ja̰kʰàin lùmjóʊ; formerly Arakanese), are an ethnic group of Myanmar, and form the majority along Rakhine State's coastal regions. They possibly constitute 4% or more of Burma's population but no accurate census figures exist.


According to the Rakhine Chronicles, the name "Rakhine" or "Rakhaing" was originated from Pali word "Rakhapura" meaning the land of the people of Rakhasa (Rakhasa > Rakkha > Rakhine) who were titled this name in honour of preservation on their national heritage ("a myo") and ethics or morality ("sila"). The word Rakhine means, "one who keeps his own race."


The Rakhine are predominantly Theravadan Buddhists. They claim to be one of the first groups to become followers of the Buddha in Southeast Asia. The Rakhine culture is similar to the dominant Burmese culture but with more Indian influence, likely due to its geographical isolation from the Burmese mainland divided by the Rakhine Roma and closer proximity to South Asia. Traces of Indian influence remain in many aspects of Rakhine culture, including its literature, music, and cuisine.

The Rakhine speak Arakanese, a language closely related to Burmese. Still generally mutually intelligible with standard Burmese, Arakanese retains the /r/ sound, which is now a /j/ sound in Burmese. Modern Arakanese script, aside from few vocabulary differences, is essentially the same as standard Burmese script. (The northern Brahmi-based Rakkhawunna script found in stone inscriptions in the Vesali (Wethali) era is no longer in use.) [Vesali Coins in Sittwe and Mrauk-U Archeological Museum,The Ananda Chandra inscriptions (729 A.D), at Shit Thaung Temple-MRAUK U,Some Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan by E. H. Johnston,Burma's Lost Kingdoms - Splendours of Arakan by Pamela Gutman,Ancient Arakan by Pamela Gutman,Arakan Coins by U San Tha Aung,The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan by U San Tha Aung.]


The people of Rakhine claim a history that began in 3325 BC and archaeological evidence has been found to support this claim. The first "independent Rakhine kingdom" was established in 3325 BC by King Marayu. The name of the kingdom “Dhannyawadi” means the land "blessed with abundant grain". Buddhism was introduced into Rakhine during the lifetime of Buddha himself. According to Rakhine Chronicles, Buddha in his lifetime visited the city of Dhannyawadi (Grain Blessed) in 554 BC The Rakhine king Sandar Suriya (Sun Moon) requested Buddha to leave the image of Himself. After casting the Great Image Maha Muni, (Great Sage) Buddha breathed upon it which resembled the exact likeness of the Blessed One.

Ancient Dhannyawadi, lies west of the mountain ridge between the Kaladan and Le-mro riv­ers. Its city walls were made of brick, and form an irregular circle with a perimeter of about 9.6 km, enclosing an area of about 4.42 square km. Beyond the walls, the remains of a wide moat, now silted over and covered by paddy fields, are still visible in places. The re­mains of brick fortifications can be seen along the hilly ridge which provided protection from the west. Within the city, a similar wall and moat enclose the palace site, which has an area of 0.26 square km, and another wall surrounds the palace itself. From aerial photographs we can discern Dhannyawadi's irri­gation channels and storage tanks, centered at the palace site.

Historical periods

The 243 Arakannese kings ruled Arakan for a long period of 5108 years. The oldest artefact, stone image of Fat Monk inscribed "Saccakaparibajaka Jina" in Brahmi inscription comes to the date of first century AD.

An ancient stone inscription in Nagari character was discovered by renowned Archaeologist Dr. Forchhammer. Known as Salagiri, this hill was where the great teacher came to Rakhine some two thousand five hundred years ago. Somewhere from eastern part of this hill, a stone image in Dhamma-cakra-mudra now kept in Mrauk-U museum, was found earlier in 1923. This relief sculpture found on the Salagiri Hill represents Buddha preaching King Chandra Suriya belongs to 4th century AD; five more red sandstone slabs with the carving were found close by the south of this Salagiri Hill in 1986. They are the same type as the single slab found earlier in 1923. These carving slabs of Bhumispara-mudra, Kararuna-mudra, Dhammacakra-mudara, and Mmahaparinibbana-mudra represent the life of Buddha.

These sculptures provide earliest evident about the advent of Buddhism into Rakhine; during the life time of the Buddha and these discoveries were therefore assumed as the figures of King Chandra Suriya of Dyanawadi, who dedicated the Great Maha Muni Image. These archaeological findings have been studied by eminent scholars and conclusion is that the Maha Muni was made during the king Sanda Suriya era.

The founder of Vesali city, King Dvan Chandra carved Vesali Paragri Buddha-image in 327 A.D and set a dedicatory inscription in Pali verse

That Buddha-image is carved out by a single block and the earliest image of Vesali.

The meaning of Ye Dhamma verse is as follow.

Of these dhammas which arise from causes / The Tathagata has declared causes / Lord Buddha preached about the causes / And the effects gained by the causes / And that which is the ceasing of them, Nirawda Thitesa / This the great ascetic declares.

The verse, which is considered as the essence of Theravada spirit, bears testimony to the fact that Buddhism flourished to an utmost degree in Vesali. The relationship of Vesali with foreign countries especially Ceylon would be established for Buddhism.

The stone inscriptions are of Sanskrit, Pali, Rakhine, Pru and Arabic languages. Anandachandra Inscriptions date back to 729 AD originally from Vesali now preserved at Shitethaung indicates adequate evidence for the earliest foundation of Buddhism. Dr. E. H. Johnston's analysis reveals a list of kings which he considered reliable beginning from Chandra dynasty. The western face inscription has 72 lines of text recorded in 51 verses describing the Anandachandra's ancestral rulers. Each face recorded the name and ruling period of each king who were believed to have ruled over the land before Anandachandra. Archaeology has shown that the establishment of so many stone pagodas and inscriptions which have been totally neglected for centuries in different part of Rakhine speak of popular favored by Buddhism.

The cubic stone inscriptions record the peace making between the governor of Thandaway Mong Khari (1433-1459) and Razadhiraj the Mon Emperor in Rakhine inscription. This was found from a garrison hill at the oldest site of Parein. A stone slab with the alleged figure of the Buddha preaching, King Chandra Suriya bore testimony to the Salagiri tradition, depicting of the advent of the Teacher to Dyanyawaddy.

The crowing event in the history of Rakhine was the Convention of the Buddhist Council at the top of golden hill of Vesali under the royal patronage of King Dhammawizaya in 638 AD through joint effort of two countries, Rakhine and Ceylon. This momentous triumph of the great council was participated by one thousand monks from Ceylon and one thousand monks from Rakhine kingdom. As a fitting celebration of the occasion, the lavish construction of pagodas, statues and monasteries were undertaken for the purpose of inscribing the Tripitaka. After Vesali, Pyinsa was found by Lemro dynasty in 818 AD; the great king of dynasty (AD 818-1430) was King Mim-Yin-Phru, who turned his attention towards the development of Buddhism, and in 847 AD he convened the second Buddhist council in Rakhine attended by 800 Arahants. Rakhine chronicles report that therein the Tripitaka and Atthakatha were inscribed on the golden plate and enshrined. Never has there been impediment in the practice of Theravada Buddhist faith since it has introduced in Rakhine. The copious findings of inscription Ye Dhamma verse were practical evidence that Theravada was dominant faith if epigraphic and archaeological sources were to be believed. The Royal patronage has always been significant factor contribution to stability and progress of the religion in Rakhine.

Mrauk-U, the last kingdom of independent Arakan founded by King Mong Saw Mon in 1430, has become the principle seat of Buddhism, has reaching at zenith of the golden age. Mrauk-U was divided into three periods: the earliest period (1430-1530), the middle period (1531-1638), and the last period (1638-1784). In Arakan antiquities at the Mrauk-U seems to give rational evidence as to where Buddhism was settled down. The golden days of Mrauk U city, those of 16th and 17th centuries, were contemporary to the days of Tudor kings, the Moghuls, the Ayuthiya kings and Ava (Inwa), Taungoo and Hanthawaddy kings of Myanmar. Mrauk U was cosmopolitan city, fortified by a 30-kilometer long fortification and an intricate net of moats and canals. At the centre of the city was the Royal Place, looming high over the surrounding area like an Asian Acropolis. Waterways formed by canals and creeks earned the fame of distinct resemblance to Venice. Mrauk U offers some of the richest archaeological sites in South-East Asia.These include stone inscriptions, Buddha images, the Buddha's foot-prints and the great pagoda itself which, stripped its later-constructed top, would be of the same design as the Gupta style of ancient India. In the city of golden Mrauk-U there are scattering innumerable temples and pagodas which preserved as places, there by exerting a great influence on spiritual life of the people.

Arakanese chronicle records that more than six million shrines and pagodas flourished in Mrauk-U. In fact, they formed the pride of golden Mrauk-U. Dr. Forchhammer in his book entitled "Arakan", "in durability, architectural skill, and ornamentation the Mrauk-U temples far surpass those on the banks of Arrawaddy". Buddhist arts both in the field of architecture and Buddha-image constructions are on the same line of flourishing. An illustrative example of this fact can be seen in the temple of Chitthaung pagoda and colossal Dukekanthein temple. Gold and silver coins serve as the priceless heritage of the Mrauk-U period. The tradition of coin-making was handed down from the Vesali kings who started minting coins around the fifth century. The coins so far found are of one denomination only. Inscribed on the coins are the title of the ruling king and his year of coronation; coins before 1638 had Rakhine inscriptions on one side and Persian and Nagari inscriptions on the other. The inclusion of the foreign inscriptions was meant for the easy acceptance by the neighboring countries and the Arab traders. Twenty-three types of silver coins and three types of gold coins have so far been found. All the kings who ascended the throne issued coins. City walls, gates, settlements, monastery sites, fortresses, garrisons and moats are the other priceless heritages left to the safe keeping of today's Rakhine people. Stone rubbles of proud mansions of that period are also priceless reminders of Rakhine glory. It is no wonder that Mrauk U is properly known as the "Land of Pagodas" and Europeans remarked Mrauk U as "The Golden City". The Rakhine of those days were proud of Mrauk U. They were entirely satisfied to be the inhabitants of Mrauk U. The history shows what happened in the city in early times.

The country had been invaded several times, by the Mongols, Mon, Bamar and Portuguese and finally the Bamar in 1784 when the armies led by the Crown Prince, son of King Bodawpaya, of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma marched across the western Yoma and annexed Rakhine. The religious relics of the kingdom were stolen from Rakhine, most notably the Mahamuni Buddha image, and taken into central Burma where they remain today. Moreover, the Burman invaders destroyed many valuable creations of Arakan including royal palace, city gates, the clock-tower, the booming drum that was believed to have a mystical effect on the Burman dynasties and many other edifices of splendour. The industries and business centres were also destroyed by them. The Ancient Chronicles, the Tripitaka and books were carried away by them with an intention of eradicating of national feeling of the Arakanese people, and many others were destroyed. The Arakanese books on literature, arts, traditional medicines, warfare, metallurgy, architecture , ship-building , which were carried away by the Burman invaders, are estimated to be about the height of two toddy palms. During their invasion, the Burman invaders’ forces committed a crime against humanity with a genocide killing about 236,000 Arakanese civilians including 10,000 infants of cradle age. They killed the infants mercilessly with the slogan of “while cutting down the stalk of a reed, its stump should not be left out”. A mass of 100,000 skilled workers, artisans, intellectuals and Buddhist monks were arrested and taken across the Arakan mountain ranges, and they all were initiated into slavery and servitude at pagodas and temples of pagan, Sagaing and Mandalay. The people of Rakhine resisted the conquest of the kingdom for decades after. Fighting with the Rakhine resistance, initially led by Nga Than Dè and finally by Chin Byan in border areas, created problems between British India and Burma. The year 1826 saw the defeat of the Bamar in the First Anglo-Burmese War and Rakhine was ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Yandabo. Sittwe (Akyab) was then designated the new capital of Rakhine. In 1852, Rakhine was merged into Lower Burma as a territorial division.

Rakhine was the center of multiple insurgencies which fought against British rule, notably led by the monks U Ottama and U Seinda.

During the Second World War, Rakhine was given autonomy under the Japanese occupation and was even granted its own army known as the Arakan Defence Force. The Arakan Defence Force went over to the allies and turned against the Japanese in early 1945.

In 1948, Rakhine became independent as a division within the Union of Burma. Shortly after, violence broke out along religious lines between Buddhists and Muslims. Later there were calls for secession by the Rakhine, but such attempts were subdued. In 1974, the Ne Win government's new constitution granted Rakhine Division "state" status but the gesture was largely seen as meaningless since the military junta held all power in the country and in Rakhine. In 1989, the name of Arakan State was changed to "Rakhine" by the military junta.

ee also

* List of Rakhine kings

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