A SHORT PERIOD OF HISTORY
By Yin Wyn
Photos: Sonny Nyein
The temple on the South.
A stone inscription
The glory of 11th century Bagan which was the First Myanmar Empire still has a
great influence on the culture, religion and traditions of the country, so that
to the people it feels as if the heroes of Bagan lived recently and not a
thousand years ago. But by the late 13th century, when Mongolian armies under
Kublai Khan were sweeping across Asia making war on various countries, Bagan
under the rule of a weak king fell to its forces. The Mongols did not stay to
rule, but from then on the dynasty founded by Anawrahta declined in power not so
much due to the invasion but to disloyalty of heirs and dissolute life-styles of
the later kings.
Bagan was not won easily, however.
The temple in the middle.
Marco Polo in his "Travels" described, "How Kublai Khan effected the conquest of
the Kingdom of Mien" (which is the name known to foreigners since the country
came into being, a distortion of "Myanmar". The people of China still call
Myanmar "Mien-tien") It did not seem to be an eyewitness account, but by the
details and passion with which it was written, Marco Polo probably talked to a
few veterans of this invasion. The account, however, did not portray the king of
'Mien' as weak; in fact it was noted that "he fought most valiantly and that the
losses were severely felt on both sides."
The temple in the North.
Marco Polo wrote that the "Mien" soldiers lost because they did not have the
experience of war on the scale that the Mongols had. However, the Myanmar used
elephants in battle, which the Khan had never before seen used in such a way. He
wrote that the Mongol horses were terrified of the elephants and could not be
restrained so the riders had to dismount and tie the horses to trees to continue
fighting on foot. Arrows from both sides fell like rain as the elephants took
cover in the forest. The Mongols took back with them over two hundred elephants
which they too began to use in warfare.
A military song called a 'Kar-jin' sang during the Pinya period that followed
gave much the same descriptions that Marco Polo did, even as to the movements of
Narathihapate was the ruler when Bagan fell. He was a king who had such a
fondness for food that as he fled downriver for sanctuary to Pyay where his son
Thiha Thu governed. Legend goes that he wept that the usual three hundred dishes
were not on the table during this flight. This son treacherously forced him to
take poison. However, it was the younger son, Kyaw Swa, who became king in Bagan.
Three brothers Athin Garaza, Raza Thingyan and Thiha Thu, of Shan descent,
served under Kyaw Swa and became governors of some provinces. They were not keen
to keep Kyaw Swa on the throne as they felt he was too much under the control of
the Mongols, so they replaced him with his younger brother Saw Hnit. The Mongols
came again in 1301A.D to remove Saw Hnit but the youngest of the brothers Thiha
Thu repelled them in a place called Myin Saing. The Mongols never bothered
This Thiha Thu became king in 1303A.D and moved the capital to Pinya not far
from Mandalay, which only came into existence almost 600 years later. As was
usual with all Royal capitals, Pinya had an official title of Wizara Pura. The
town area was nearly one square half-mile.
The Pinya period was a short one, incomparable to the greatness of Anawrahta's
First Myanmar Empire, Bayintnaung's Second Myanmar Empire or Alaungpaya's Third
Myanmar Empire, but with its own niche in history as the transition period
between eras of greater glory.
The kingdom of Pinya was not a large one by any means, but was ruled with the
system of governance that was practiced in Bagan; the period was a peaceful one.
Agriculture was the main industry, and with fertile Kyaukse region within the
country’s boundaries, the people had plenty. With believers of Buddhism becoming
more devoted to its compassionate philosophy, slave ownership declined, as many
slaves were set free. Even then, as was in Bagan, slaves were not ill-treated as
can be seen from stone inscriptions where dire curses were set out for "those
who would do injury to the slaves" who had been donated to pagodas.
The Pinya kings continued to delegate governors to rule at various towns and
regions. Learning from experience from the Mongol invasion, the Pinya period was
known for a strong military, much supported by the kings. The generals also had
administrative powers beyond control of their troops. Where villages were few
and far between, to ensure better communications and security of the population,
the military built new settlements, which later grew into towns and villages.
During Thiha Thu's reign, his son Athin Garaza Saw Yun set up another small
kingdom with Sagaing as the capital. Thus Pinya and Sagaing Kingdoms existed
side by side. The Pinya Kingdom lasted over fifty years with six rulers: Thiha
Thu of Myin Saing fame, Uzana, Sithu, Nga Hsee Shin Thiha Thu (owner of Five
White Elep hants), Kyaw Swa and another Thiha Thu. The names are similar to the
kings of the Bagan period and hence somewhat confusing. The Sagaing Kingdom
lasted nearly forty years with seven rulers.
Sagaing later became a religious centre and existed as such all through the
times, but Pinya, after it faded in glory, was abandonned. Only ruins of old
pagodas were left, covered with earth and grass so that they looked like round
hills. You can see them as you drive out of Mandalay International Airport,
called the Three Caves by the locals.
They are three huge cave temples of the Bagan style, about 80 ft by 80 ft
square, with four porches at each point of the compass. The fine stucco
decorations are in the same patterns that one sees on Bagan temples.
Archeologists noted that some fragments of wall paintings could be seen inside
two of the temples. Some glazed plaques showing scenes in relief of the Jataka
stories decorate the exterior of the temple walls of the middle and the
There is, unfortunately, no record on the history of the temples, nor of who
exactly erected them. However, Myanmar history stated that in 1312 A.D King
Thiha Thu had built a great temple in Pinya. A stone inscription found near the
temples said that King Uzana dedicated the completion of a temple in 1340 A.D,
but it could not be deuced from this inscription exactly which temple it
indicated. Nor is there any such evidence of which one King Thiha Thu built.
When Pinya's and Sagaing's powers finally declined, a descendent of both the
founder of Sagaing and the Bagan King Kyaw Swa, named Thado Min Pya, integrated
the two kingdoms into one. Thado Min Pya in 1363 founded Inwa as the capital,
which was to be abandoned and reclaimed as the Royal seat of some future kings.
The periods just before Pinya and after were turbulent times, but in its
duration there was peace. Its presence is now noted only in history books, a
small village and the three great ruined temples in the midst of wide