Relief plaques from Thagyar Pagoda

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Kalyani Ordination Hall. Photo: Maung Tha

By Maung Tha (Archaeology)

The statistics collected by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2017 showed 442 stupas and temples in Thaton Township of Mon State comprised the most eminent Shwesayan Pagoda, Myathabeik Pagoda, Bronze Buddha image, Nemindara Pagoda, lacquerware Buddha image and Shwehsandaw Pagoda in Pawdawmu Village. Likewise, Kalyani ordination and Pitakat treatise chamber are historic buildings. The stone inscription chamber in the precinct of Shwesayan Pagoda is being maintained by the Department of Archaeology and National Museum.
Ancient Thaton City
Thaton, 42.6 kilometres south of Bilin on Yangon-Mawlamyine motor road, is an ancient city. Thaton, the name derived from Gohzwegaton in Mon language, which means the cave under banyan tree with thick foliage. The book with the title of Yamanya, the residences of Mon ethnics, mentioned a spirit chamber was built under a large banyan tree by villagers in the place of current Thaton. It was named Gohzwegaton. In the long time, it was renamed Gaton, and then, changed to Thaton.
According to the data released in October 2017, Thaton Township was home to 233,867 people, 74,296 people of whom resided in eight wards. Thaton Township, the residences of Bamar, Kayin, Mon and Shan ethnics, is on seven square miles of area. 93.56 per cent of township’s total population believe in Buddhism. Development of Thaton was undertaken by Thaton town municipal committee formed in 1887 and its district administrative council constituted in 1923.
Ancient Thaton city was found by Sir Saint Andrew Johnson, the assistant commissioner of Thaton District, in 1865. He wrote a report on finding of the ancient city in volume II of British Burma Gazette. According to the findings of Sir Saint Andrew Johnson, the ancient city was on 700 acres of land, and its stakes of the walls were in square shape to rectangular shape but it was not accurate corner of rectangular. Moreover, the second wall, 150 feet from the first wall, was 7,700 feet long from the east to the west and 4,000 feet wide from the north to the south rounded by a moat. One each of gate was built at the southern and northern walls. But, anyone could not guess the eastern and western walls might be built with gates. All the walls were of earthen works. According to the Thaton history, the ancient city was built with six walls in the northern side. But, the satellite photos showed the city was rounded by five walls only, mentioned in the book on Suvannabhumi research. The satellite photos clearly depicted the eastern and northern walls of the city but unclearly showed the western and southern walls included in the public residences.
Sir Saint Andrew Johnson wrote that a mound of royal palace with 1,150 feet in length from the east to the west and 1,000 feet in width from the south to the north was located in the centre of the city and that there was no building on the venue. Myanmar encyclopaedia mentioned the mound of royal palace was located in the centre of the city with 1,122 feet by 1,122 feet. At present, the Department of Agriculture, Sasana Yeiktha and Nandawya Monastery take positions on the mound. It was also mentioned that Thaton was an infamous fishery village in the past resided by Wa ethnics and then Mon and Pa-O ethnics.

Shwesayan Pagoda
The findings proved stupas and temples in ancient Thaton city were built between Nandawya mound and southern wall. There were three pagodas based on square shape foundations were located near the most eminent Shwesayan Pagoda. These pagodas were Pitakat Pagoda, Thagyar Pagoda in the southeast and Shwechaykhan Pagoda. Currently, Shwesayan Pagoda was renovated in present era. In its history, the pagoda was 240 feet high and from the foot to the diamond orb 360 feet high, flanked by 37 encircled Cetis. Objects of Buddhism were found in Thaton Township. The walls of the pagoda were built of laterite. The pagoda takes a position in Theingon Ward, southern part of Thaton.
Thagyar Pagoda
Located in southeast of Shwesayan Pagoda, Thagyar Pagoda was built of laterite with 104 square feet of circumference based on three terraces.
Circumference of the pagoda to the first terrace was 18 feet high, from the first terrace to the second 34 feet high and from the second to the third 46 feet high, totalling 85 feet. Each ladder was built at west, south and north sides of the pagoda. The first terrace was 104 square feet wide, the second 70 square feet and the third 48 square feet. More than 60 baked earthen reliefs were installed on the two square feet arches on the first terrace. A total of 13 plots of Jataka mentioned on the reliefs cannot be clearly depicted.
Reliefs at Thagyar Pagoda
The plots bore 10 major Jataka on lives of the Gotama Buddha on relief plaques from the first terrace at Thagyar Pagoda, mentioned by Sir Saint Andrew Johnson. Meanings of Jataka plots from Temiya, Mahosadha, Bhuridatta, Vidhura and Vessantara could be exposed but broken relief plaques could not be defined. The plot of Temiya Jataka depicted carrying of Prince Temiya by pony cart to kill him outside the town. With regard to Mahosadha Jataka, the plot bore Mahosadha who brought his wife to be Amara Devi by palanquin after taking gifts. Moreover, other moves of plots illustrated Mahosadha at the pottery industry. Another one portrayed Amara Devi and a minister in form of white monkey in the presence of King Bramadatta and his queen.
The plot of Bhuridatta Jataka carried discussions among King Dragon, hunter and son of Bhuridatta after Bhuridatta brought hunter and his son to the country of dragons. Two plots of Vidhura Jataka mentioned the ogre meeting with female celestial being in the jungle and the play of Punnaka ogre and the king. The plot of Vessantara Jataka portrayed people throwing gravels at the Ponnas who took white elephant from King Vessantara.
A relief kept in the stone plaque chamber from Thagyar Pagoda was carved to create a plot of Nemiya Jataka.
Sir Saint Andrew Johnson defined the backgrounds of reliefs from Thagyar Pagoda by observing glaze terracotta plaques from Shwezigon, Ananda, Mingala and Phatleik edifices in Bagan. But, stone inscription officer Mr Taw Sein Kho assumed these reliefs were not related to Buddhism but Ramayana Jataka plots from Hinduism.
Other reliefs
Other reliefs bore a statue in royal regalia of the king holding a fork in addition to plots of 10 major Jataka. Such kind of object took a position at southwest corner on the first terrace of Thagyar Pagoda. Some assumed such statue might be Shiva statue. However, stone inscription officer U Mya made a field trip to Thaton. He did not support assumption of above-mentioned concept and submitted a report that reliefs from Thagyar Pagoda were excerptions from Buddhology. Some experts assumed the styles of reliefs mentioned the plots of Buddhism but some scholars, the statues related to Hinduism. As such, a conclusion came out that Buddhism and Hinduism might contemporarily flourish in Thaton area. The education department of the Indian government released the list of ancient buildings in Thaton District in February 1919, comprising Shwesayan, Zingyaik, Kawgungu, Zwekabin and Kyaikhtiyoe pagodas as well as Thagyar Pagoda. Currently, reliefs from Thagyar Pagoda were painted with lime, so their original colours could not be seen.
Historic Kalyani ordination hall was located outside the southern wall of Shwesayan Pagoda. Border posts of the ordination hall were made of shale stone. These posts bore the plots of Jataka from the Nipata of the Lord Buddha. The reliefs from Thagyar Pagoda can be compared with that of the border posts of ordination hall. Paintings, sculptural statues, glaze terracotta plaques and votive tablets depicting plots of Buddhology can be seen at various areas of the country. Among them, reliefs from Thagyar Pagoda in Thaton are cultural heritages of Buddhism, so it needs to properly preserve them.

(Translated by Than Tun Aung)

Myanmar Encyclopaedia Volume XII
Suvannabhimu Research (U San Win)
Yamana, the residences of Mon ethnics (Mamaka, Researcher)

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