Rakhine people

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Rakhine people
Rakhine drummers at Thingyan, New York City.jpg
Total population
(Total: 3,361,000 (2010 est.))
Regions with significant populations
 Myanmar 2,346,000
 Bangladesh 207,000
 India 50,000
Arakanese, Burmese
Theravada Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Bamar, Chakma

The Rakhine (Burmese: ရခိုင်လူမျိုး, Rakhine pronunciation [ɹəkʰàiɴ lùmjó]; Burmese pronunciation: [jəkʰàiɴ lùmjó]; formerly Arakanese), are an ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma) forming the majority along the coastal region of present-day Rakhine State (formerly officially called Arakan). They possibly constitute 5.53% or more of Myanmar's total population, but no accurate census figures exist. Arakanese people also live in the southeastern parts of Bangladesh, especially in Chittagong and Barisal Divisions. A group of Arakanese descendants, living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh at least since the 16th century, are known as the Marma people or Mog people. These Arakanese descendants have been living in that area since the Arakanese kingdom's control of the Chittagong region.[citation needed]

Arakanese descendants spread as far north as Tripura state in India, where their presence dates back to the ascent of the Arakanese kingdom when Tripura was ruled by Arakanese kings. In northeast India, these Arakanese people are referred to as the Mog, while in Indian history, the Marma (the ethnic Arakanese descendants in Bangladesh) and other Arakanese people are referred to as the Magh people.[citation needed]


The Arakanese are predominantly Theravada Buddhists and are one of the four main Buddhist ethnic groups of Burma (the others being the Bamar, Shan and Mon people). They claim to be one of the first groups to become followers of Gautama Buddha in Southeast Asia. The Arakanese 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 Arakan Mountains and its closer proximity to South Asia subcontinent. Traces of Indian influence remain in many aspects of Arakanese culture, including its literature, music, and cuisine.


The Arakanese language is closely related to and generally mutually intelligible with Burmese. Arakanese notably retains an /r/ sound that has become /j/ in Burmese. The modern Arakanese script is essentially the same as standard Burmese. Formerly, the Rakhawunna script, found in stone inscriptions in the Vesali (Wethali) era, was used to write in Arakan.[1]



Ancient Dhanyawadi 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 Dhanyawad I's irrigation channels and storage tanks, centred at the palace site.[citation needed]

Historical periods
Macroperiod Period Start year End year Ruler Notes
Dhanyavadi The First Dhanyawadi BC 3525 BC 1489 King Marayu
The Second Dhanyawadi BC 2483 BC 580 King Kanrazagree
The Third Dhanyawadi BC 580 AD 326 King Chandra Suriya Gautama Buddha, Himself, visited Dhanyawadi and the Great Image of Mahamuni was cast, and Buddhism began professing in Rakhine. Currency system by coinage is said to have been introduced in Rakhine economy.
Vesali – Lemro Vesali Kyauk Hlayga AD 327 AD 794 King Dvan Chandra
Sambawak AD 794 AD 818 Prince Nga Tong Mong (Saw Shwe Lu)
Lemro AD 818 AD 1430 King Nga Tone Mun This period was the highest civilisation in the Bay and highly prosperous with busy international trade with the West. Pyinsa, Purain, Taung Ngu and Narinsara, Laungkrat cities flourished. Gold and silver coinage was used in trade relation in Rakhine in this period.
First Golden Mrauk-U AD 1430 AD 1530 King Mun Saw Mwan
Second Golden Mrauk-U AD 1530 AD 1638 Solidified by King Mun Bun (Mun Ba Gri) Rakhine reached at the zenith of the national unity and of the time of most powerful in the Bay in this period.
Third Golden Mrauk-U Period AD 1668 AD 1784 King Mahathamada Raza


Mrauk-U pagodas are famous for their mystical and magical looks.

Mrauk-U, the last kingdom of independent Arakan founded by King Mong Saw Mon in 1430, has become the principal 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, thereby exerting a great influence on spiritual life of the people.[citation needed]

Historical artefacts[edit]

Silver coin of king Nitichandra of Arakan in 8th century (British Museum). Most Arakan coins had the name of the ruling king on one side and the logo of the sun and moon and srivatsa on the other side.

The 243 Rakhine kings ruled Arakan for a long period of 5108 years. The oldest artefact, stone image of Fat Monk inscribed "Saccakaparibajaka Jina" in Brahmi script 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 Hindu Bengali 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 lifetime 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

ye dhamma hetuppabuava / Tathagato aha / tesan ca yo niyodho / evamvadi Mahasamano.

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

The meaning of Ye Dhamma Hetu 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 in Brahma script, Pali, Rakhine, Pyu 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 favoured by Buddhism.

The cubic stone inscriptions record the peace making between the governor of Thandaway (Sandoway) 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 Hindu Bengali King Chandra Suriya bore testimony to the Salagiri tradition, depicting of the advent of the Teacher to Dyanyawaddy.

Convention of the Buddhist Council in Rakhine[edit]

The crowning 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 been 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.


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 neighbouring 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.

Foreign invasion[edit]

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. 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.

Independence movement[edit]

Rakhine was the centre 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 of Burma and was even granted its own army known as the Arakan Defense Force. The Arakan Defense Force went over to the allies and turned against the Japanese in early 1945.

After the Union of Burma independence[edit]

In 1948, Rakhine became a division within the Union of Burma. 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. Present-day Rakhine are mainly living in Rakhine State, some parts of Ayeyarwady Division and Yangon Division of Burma. And also few amount of Rakhine are living in southern part of Bangladesh and India.

Suspected Genocide[edit]

In 2012, violence between Rohingya and the Buddhist community killed hundreds and forced about 140,000 people to flee their homes to camps for the internally displaced.[2] As of 2016, Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi[3] has been accused of persecuting, committing genocide and raping[4] of Muslim Rohingya communities, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A refugee crisis of around 15,000 Rohingya people has since emerged.[5] More than 56,000 Rohingya have since been registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malaysia after fleeing violence in Rahkine.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vesali Coins in Sittwe and Mrauk-U Archaeological Museum; The Ananda Chandra inscriptions (729 A.D), at Shit Thaung Temple-Mrauk U; Some Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan, by E. H. Johnston; Pamela Gutman (2001) Burma's Lost Kingdoms: splendours of Arakan. Bangkok: Orchid Press; Ancient Arakan, by Pamela Gutman; Arakan Coins, by U San Tha Aung; The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan, by U San Tha Aung.
  2. ^ "What's behind the persecution of Myanmar's Rohingya?". CCTV America. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  3. ^ "UN urges Suu Kyi to intervene in military crackdown on Rohingya". The New Paper. 10 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  4. ^ (www.dw.com), Deutsche Welle. "Rohingya recount murder and rape in Myanmar | All media content | DW.COM | 9 December 2016". DW.COM. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  5. ^ Rahman, Shaikh Azizur; Safi, Michael (10 December 2016). "Burmese military killed seven of my children, says Rohingya refugee". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 
  6. ^ "Rohingya in Malaysia seek rights to work and education". Channel NewsAsia. CNA. Retrieved 10 December 2016. 


  • Charney, Michael W. (1999). 'Where Jambudipa and Islamdom Converged: Religious Change and the Emergence of Buddhist Communalism in Early Modern Arakan, 15th–19th Centuries.' PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan. 
  • Charney, Michael (2005). "Buddhism in Arakan:Theories and Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms". "Arakan History Conference" [Bangkok]. Chulalongkorn University. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 
  • Leider, Jacques P. (2004). 'Le Royaume d'Arakan, Birmanie. Son histoire politique entre le début du XVe et la fin du XVIIe siècle,' Paris, EFEO. 
  • Loeffner, L. G. (1976). "Historical Phonology of Burmese and Arakanese Finals." Ninth International Conference on Sino-Tibetan Languages and Linguistics, Copenhagen. 22–24 Oct. 1976.