Anawrahta: King among men

anawrahta

The book is a narrative about King Anawrahta, the first to unite Myanmar into one kingdom.  It  is a collection of stories about the king, how he established his kingdom and his quest for the Buddhist faith.  The book started with the dramatic duel between Anawrahta and King Sokkadae, his half-brother. Anawrahta emerged victorious and was crowned  king.  He immediately went around the kingdom looking for people who became his trusted aides and advisers. The stories included also the adventures of his selected men who helped him consolidate his power and strengthen the kingdom.

In our present time, the king can be considered as an avid social researcher. He  had a habit of going incognito listening to what people in the marketplace talk about, in the process getting the pulse of ordinary people. This is one of his qualities that endeared him to his subjects.

Another highlight in the book was his trip to the south, an expression of his passion to know more about Buddhism.  With an army of highly trained soldiers and war elephants, he travelled both by land by the river. He befriended the king of Bago whom he helped to fight against the Khmers who were making trouble in the border and poised on attacking the kingdom.  However, King Manuha of Thaton, who at that time was the champion of the Buddhist faith,  rejected his peaceful overture. He made war and defeated King Manuha, but they did not plunder the city. Instead, after conquering Thaton, he went back to his capital in the north bringing along King Manuha, several elephants of manuscripts on Buddhism and monks that helped him propagated the religion in the whole kingdom.

The later part of the book focused on the conflict between his son and heir Prince Saw Lu and his most trusted and efficient lieutenant, Kyansitta. The kingdom was threatened by invaders who have to pass through the territories of the  Shan princes.  Prince Saw Lu was given the mandate of  going to the Shan frontiers and protect the kingdom. Kyansitta was sent by King Anawrahta to assist Prince Saw Lu.  Jealous of Kyansitta’s closeness with the king, Prince Saw Lu listened to his advisers to discredit Kyansitta until he was banished from the palace.  In the end, it was Prince Saw Lu who perished from the hands of his advisers who rebelled against the king. Kyansitta later on became king who ably governed the kingdom.

A Camelot-parallel story was the basis for the banishment of Kyansitta in the palace. During the march to the south, Kyansitta led the expedition that successfully repelled the Khmers from the borders of Bago. There, he fell in love with the princess of Bago, but the princess was promised by the King of Bago to King Anawrahta.  As a faithful and dedicated aide of the king, Kyansitta stopped seeing the princess. Their reunion happened after the death of King Anawrahta and Kyansitta was crowned king.

khin myo chit

The author Khin Myo Chit was a great storyteller. The book was originally written in English for foreign readers. She was successful in sharing the life of Myanmar’s first king to non-Myanmar audience complete with all the intrigues, romances, and duplicity and power struggle among the king’s men. King Anawrahta is remembered at present with a street in the downtown named after him.

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