The rise of the Bagan Empire in Central Myanmar, its flourishing and eventual collapse is the subject of this episode of the Fall of Civilizations by Paul Cooper, whose documentary tracing the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire I have previously introduced here.
In this 2-hour episode Paul traces the distant, and not so clear, origins of the peoples living in Myanmar, and how an empire along the Irawaddy river eventually emerged in the 11th century following bloody infighting over the succession to the throne.
The new king Anawrahta not only succeeded in unifying the kingdom, but also was instrumental in introducing the reformed Theravāda Buddhism from Sri Lanka to replace the supposedly degenerate Ari Buddhism, which up till then had prevailed.
Interestingly enough historians trace the decline of the Empire to the very same institution which had helped unify it: the Theravāda Sāsana, whose foundations, in Paul’s words became like tax havens, draining the wealth of the kingdom and its ability to maintain itself, and by the end of the 13th century the Empire had fallen, and the kingdoms splintered into separate parts for the coming centuries.
The documentary relies heavily on the Burmese Chronicles to tell the story, which is tempered by modern scholarship. It illustrates the story with, for the most part, well chosen video and photographs; and is an in-depth look at the rise and fall of one of the most important Buddhist kingdoms in the Medieval period, including its political life, its culture and religion.
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