Friday, August 04, 2006

Wikipedia entry for Baña Thau

Just about finished with a wikipedia entry for the famous Mon queen Baña Thau. I used every source that I know of and backed up every piece of information with citations. Yet, there's still the possibility that a scholar of Mon history will take exception with this Wikipedia article.

The beauty of Wikipedia is that other people can change the article, adding and revising information, if they want. I'm trying to make this entry better than anything in print, yet it isn't the original research that Wikipedia forbids because it only pieces together information from published sources and refrains from interpreting this information. Singer's article on Baña Thau adds a lot of his own interpretations, which is fine, but what I'm seeking here is to get the known facts straight.

Of course, there are probably incommensurable differences between the strictly historical and some interpretations that border on religious beliefs about Baña Thau. Some interpretations seem to go beyond reasonable historical evidence, a sort of folk history that has to be accepted on faith.

In Maesai, Chiang Rai, where I live, there's a similar situation nowadays with a Shan monk on the Burma side who is said to have the power of levitation and flight. Everyone is free to believe or not believe in his powers, I don't think I do, but it seems to fall outside the realm of objective history acceptable to a wide cross-section of people outside the culture. Hope I'm not being insensitive. I believe in the etic as well as emic.

Baña Thau

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Baña Thau is the Mon name for the queen who ruled for around seventeen peaceful years (1453-1470 or 72) over a Mon kingdom in Lower Burma [1]. In the Burmese language, she is famous as Queen Shin Sawbu.

Queen Baña Thau and Queen Camadevi of Haripunjaya were the only two queens to have ruled in mainland Southeast Asia [2] Baña Thau's reign began a 50 year period of peace between Burman Ava in Upper Burma and Mon Pegu in Lower Burma.

Baña Thau was the only daughter of the Mon King Rajadhirat who had two sons as well. At birth she was given the name Viharadevi which means "Divinity of the monastery" in Pali. She married and had children in her early life at the capital of the Mon kingdom at Pegu.

1 Residence at Ava (1423-30)
2 Reign at Pegu (1453-60)
3 Reign at Dagon (1460-1470 or 72)
4 Stone Inscriptions
5 Mon folk traditions
6 Dispute over how many years Banya Thau reigned
7 Palace and burial locations
8 References
9 Notes
10 External Links

Residence at Ava (1423-30)

Baña Thau was sent north and resided at the court of Ava for many years. This state of affairs came about in the following manner. At the time, Shin Sawbu's brother ruled over Pegu as King Banya Ram I [Burmese: Binnyaran]. Initially, Toungoo and Pegu entered a marriage alliance with the ruler of Toungoo who gave the king of Pegu his daughter in exchange for Pegu's help in winning the throne of Ava.

Toungoo and Pegu laid siege to Prome. Pegu finally made a truce with Ava in which Shin Sawbu was given to the king of Ava and Mohnginthade, a princess of Ava, was sent south to marry Banya Ram I at Pegu. [3] When Banya Thau was sent to Ava she was 29 years old, a widow and a mother with a son and two daughters. During the time she resided at Ava, Baña Thau did not have any additional children. [4]

In 1430, after seven years of living at Ava, at the age of 36, Baña Thau escaped with the help of her Mon monk preceptors Dhammanyana and Pitakahara and returned to Pegu accompanied by them . [5]

Reign at Pegu (1453-60)

All members of Pegu's male line to the throne having been exhausted, Baña Thau ascended the throne as queen in 1453. Two of her brothers, Binnyadammayaza and Banya Ram I, and one of her sons, Binnyawaru, had already ruled as kings of Pegu. [6].

In 1457, shortly after ascending the throne, the Buddhist world celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the Buddha's Paranirvana which in Southeast Asia is dated to the year 543 B.C.

After ruling Pegu for around seven years, in 1460 Baña Thau decided to abdicate and move from Pegu to Dagon where she could lead a life of religious devotion next to the Shwedagon pagoda [7].

Baña Thau chose a monk to succeed her on the throne of Pegu. The monk Pitakahara, who had helped her escape from Ava, left the sangha, was given the titles Punnaraja and Dhammaceti, and became Baña Thau's son-in-law and a suitable heir to the throne by marrying her younger daughter Mipakathin. [8]

Reign at Dagon (1460-1470 or 72)

Baña Thau lived in Dagon next to the Shwedagon pagoda until the end of her life in 1470 or 1472. [9] Even after she moved to Dagon she is said to have still worn a crown. [10]

The actually handing over of power from Queen Baña Thau to Dhammaceti, who became king under the title Ramadhipati in the year 1457, is commemorated in an inscription written in the Mon language. [11]

In Dagon, Baña Thau devoted her time and attention to the Shwedagon pagoda, enlarging the platform around the pagoda, paving it with stones and placing stone posts and lamps around the outside of the pagoda. She extended the glebe lands supporting the pagoda to Danok. [12] Almost everything that Baña Thau did, she did in multiples of four:

"There were four white umbrellas, four golden alms-bowls, four earthenware vessels, and four offerings were made each day. There were twenty-seven men who prepared the lamps each day. There were twenty men as guardians of the pagoda treasury. There were four goldsmith's shops, four orchestras, four drums, four sheds, eight doorkeepers, four sweepers, and twenty lamp lighters. She built round and strengthened the sevenfold wall. Between the walls Her Majesty Banya Thau had them plant palmyra and coconut trees." [13]

She also had her own weight in gold (25 viss) beaten out into gold leaf and covered the Shwedagon pagoda with this gold leaf. The inhabitants of Dagon donated 5,000 viss of bronze to the pagoda. [14]

Stone Inscriptions

Three inscriptions in stone have been found from Baña Thau's reign.

The first inscription known as Kyaikmaraw I commemorates a land dedication. On 25 September 1455 the queen dedicated land to the Kyaikmaraw pagoda that she had built. The inscription records that jewels, precious objects, and the revenues of a place named "Tko' Mbon" were given to the Moh Smin [Royal Promontory] pagoda at Myatheindan near Martaban. The second part of the inscription provides benedictions for those coming to pay their respects to the pagoda and makes many references to Buddhist scripture. The third part of the inscription outlines the torments of hell. The inscription is rich in linguistic, religious, and historical information with Burmese linguistic influences and the word "caw" or "chao" meaning "lord" from a Tai language used supposedly because "this title had been given to the Wareru dynasty by the Thai king." [15]

Mon folk traditions

At the end of the nineteenth century, some Mons are said to have regarded the British Queen Victoria as the reincarnation of Baña Thau. [16]

The story of how Baña Thau chose a successor runs as follows. After ruling for only seven years, Baña Thau decided to abdicate [17]. She devised a method to choose which one of the two monks had accompanied her during her residence in Ava should succeed her as ruler:

"One morning when they came to receive the royal rice, she secreted in one of their bowls a pahso (layman’s dress) [male sarong, skirt-like dress] together with little models of the five regalia; then having prayed that the lot might fall on the worthier, she returned the bowls. [18] Dammazedi. To whom the fateful bowl fell, left the sacred order, received her daughter in marriage, and assumed the government. The other monk in his disappointment aroused suspicion and was executed in Paunglin, north of Rangoon. The lords also resented the choice at first but became reconciled owing to Dammazedi’s high character; when some of them continued murmuring that he was not of royal race, Shinsawbu had a beam taken out of the and carved into a Buddha image, and showed it to them saying 'Ye say he is of common blood, he cannot be your King. See here this common wood – yesterday it was trodden in the dust of your feet, but to-day, is it not the Lord and do we not bow before it?'." [19]

Singer provides an alternative story with the governor of Bassein, Baña Ain, married to Baña Thau's elder daughter Mipakahtau, rebelling because he was not appointed king ahead of Dhammacedi. This rebellion ends when he is poisoned [20].

Baña Thau means "Old Queen" in the Mon language. Harvey relates the story of how this name originated taken from the "Thatonhnwemun Yazawin" chronicle:

"Once while being carried around the city in her gorgeous palanquin, sword in hand and crown on head, she heard an old man exclaim, as her retinue pushed him aside "I must get out of the way, must I? I am an old fool, am I? I am not so old that I could not get a child, which is more than your old queen could do!" Thunderstruck at such irreverence, she meekly accepted it as a sign from heaven, and thereafter styled herself 'The Old Queen'." [21]

The Mon history Nidana Ramadhipati Katha provides an alternative story of how Baña Thau ended up living in Ava claiming that she was already ruling at Pegu as queen when she was abducted and brought to Ava and made chief queen. [22]

Dispute over how many years Banya Thau reigned

Some hold that Baña Thau ruled for seven years [23], others seventeen years [24]. Shorto first hypothesized that Banya Thaw might have ruled jointly with Dhammazedi. [25] Guillon holds that Baña Thau and Dhammazedi ruled jointly with Dhammazedi ruling over Pegu and Shinsawbu ruling over Dagon. [26] Dagon had long been the traditional appanage of Mon queens [27].

Palace and burial locations

Furnival claimed that "the ramparts of Baña Thau's residence at Dagon" were the colonial era "bunkers of the golf course near the Prome Road," but others claim these ruins are, in fact, a wall built in 1841. [28]

The stupa that contained her remains is said to be at a monastery in Sanchaung district of modern-day Yangon near the Shwedagon pagoda on the grounds of a monastery once named the Shinsawbu Tomb Monastery, west of the Prome Road (Pyi Lan) on Windsor Road. [29]


Forchammer, Notes on the Early History and Geography of British Burma – I. The Shwedagon Pagoda, II. The First Buddhist Mission to Suvannabhumi, publ. Superintendent Government Printing, Rangoon 1884.

Fraser (1920) "Old Rangoon" Journal of the Burma Research Society.

Furnivall, Syriam Gazetteer.

Guillon, Emmanuel (tr. ed. James V. Di Crocco) (1999) The Mons: A civilization of Southeast Asia, Bangkok: The Siam Society.

Halliday, Robert (2000) (Christian Bauer ed.) The Mons of Burma and Thailand, Volume 2. Selected Articles, Bangkok: White Lotus.

Harvey, G.E. (1925) History of Burma: From the earliest times to 10 March 1824 the beginning of the English conquest, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Sayadaw Athwa [The Monk of Athwa], Burmese translation of his Talaing History of Pegu used by Phayre, now in the British Museum, being manuscripts OR 3462-4.

Saya Thein (1912) "Rangoon in 1852" Journal of the Burma Research Society.

Schmidt, P.W. (1906) Slapat ragawan datow smim ron. Buch des Ragawan, der Konigsgeschichte, publ. for Kais. Akademie der Wissenschaften by Holder, Vienna, pp. 133-135

Shorto, Harry Leonard (1958) "The Kyaikmaraw inscriptions," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (BSOAS), 21(2): 361-367.

Shorto (1971) A dictionary of Mon inscriptions from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. London: Oxford University Press.

Shorto (tr.) (no date) Unpublished typescript translation of pp. 34-44, 61-264 of

Phra Candakanto (ed.) Nidana Ramadhipati-katha (or as on binding Rajawamsa Dhammaceti Mahapitakadhara), authorship attributed to Bannyadala (c. 1518-1572), Pak
Lat, Siam, 1912.

Singer, Noel F. (1992) "The Golden Relics of Bana Thau," Arts of Asia, September-October, 1992. [Contains many interesting and original historical interpretations]
Thaton-hnwe-mun Yazawin, unpublished manuscript cited in Harvey, p. 117.

^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 173)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 169)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 166)
^ (Harvey, 1925, p. 116)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 166; Singer, 1992, p. 80, says 1429)
^ (Harvey, 1925, 368)
^ (Singer, 1992, p. 81)
^ (Singer, 1992, p. 81)
^ (Halliday, 2000, p. 101; Guillon, 1999, p. 173)
^ (Halliday, 2000, 101)
^ (Shorto, Mon Inscriptions, II, p. 61)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 169)
^ (Halliday, 2000, p. 102)
^ (Halliday, 2000, p. 101)
^ (Guillon, p. 171-2; most of this information comes from Guillon, pp. 171-172; also see Shorto, 1958; Than Tun, 1985, Royal Orders of Burma, Part Two, p. x, also describes this inscription)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 169)
^ (Halliday, 2000, 101)
^ (Sayadaw Athwa II. 131)
^ (Harvey, 117-8)
^ (Singer, 1992, p. 81)
^ (Harvey, p. 117)
^ (Shorto, no date, pp. 1-7)
^ (Halliday, 2000, p. 101)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 169)
^ (Shorto, Dictionary of Mon Inscriptions, 317, Ramadhipati)
^ (Guillon, 1999, 172)
^ (Guillon, 1999, p. 170)
^ (Harvey, 118 citing Furnivall, Syriam Gazetteer; Fraser "Old Rangoon" JBRS 1920)
^ (JBRS 1912 Saya Thein "Rangoon in 1852"; Harvey, p. 118; also see Singer, 1992 for details)

External Links
Photo of the gold crown of Baña Thau
Color imaginative recreation of Baña Thau's picture
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