On the way to Champanagor [Champaknagar] in Myanmar


December 16, 2013, Monda

We left Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka at 7:15 PM by Biman Bangladesh Airlines for Yangon via Bangkok and landed at Yangon International Airport at 12:30 midnight. Phroo Ma and her younger sister Ninin received us. Maung Thowai my brother-in-law was with me. We were picked up by them to Star Sky Hotel. We had had booking for 3 days in that hotel.

[ Champaknagar]

December 17, 2013, Tuesday

After having breakfast we were in the lobby sitting on sofa, waiting for Ninin. She had come just at 10’ clock, and then we went out. At first we went to see gold-encrusted famous Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist pagoda in the world. It is situated on the summit of a hill. We got up on the hill top by lift. The artistry of the pagoda and other surrounding temples are so marvelous like the Grand Palace of Bangkok that can take eyes off. Here every day thousands of people including foreigners coming to enjoy the complex. We had been moving around the complex. I noticed that local pious men and women were reciting repeatedly the sacred sutras in Myanma accent taken from the Holy Tripitaka written in the Pali language. However, we got down of hill top and moved to the heart of the city where the picturesque Sule Pagoda is situated. On the way a beautiful restaurant was seen shaped like a peacock on the lake near the street.Yangon is one of the most attractive cities with four-lane streets and once it was the capital of the country. The present capital city is Nay Pyitaw. In the evening we were invited by Ambassador of Bangladesh to Myanmar His Excellency Major General [Rtd] Anup Kumar Chakma for dinner. Accordingly we went to his residence.

The author [right) with the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Myanmar in this residence, Yangon, [2013]
In front of shwedagon Pagoda [from left to right] Ninin, Maung and the author, Yangon. [2013]

December 18, 2013, Wednesday

In the morning accompanied by Ninin we left Yangon for Begu by jeep. It took only two hours of journey from Yangon. The small town of Pegu is now known as Begu or Bago. Reaching there we moved here and there but could not find out the way to the old palace. Then we entered into a village close to the town. There were found an open house and a few boys drinking tari [Arrack] sitting on the wooden floor. A palm tree was also there adjacent to the house. Finding no other way we stopped there for a while and in the meantime we purchased a bottle of tari and started drinking. Hereafter somehow the way to old Palace complex was found out. The complex is, no doubt a fascinating one. It may be mentioned here that the descent of the King Nandabareng [1581-89] belong to the Hansawaddy [Hangsabati] dynasty of Pegu [Begu]. The present Bohmong Raja of Bandarban U: U Chaw Prue is the 17th Raja of this dynasty. Coming back from Begu in the evening we had been to Mr. Shihab, the Country Director of Actionaid in Yangon. We had dinner with him. Mr. Shihab is from Bangladesh.

Bagan, Sagaing and Mandalay
December 18, 2013, Thursday

Being checked out from the hotel at 9:00 AM we left Yangon for Bagan by car accompanied by Ninin and Ma So via Naypyitaw, the capital city. Bagan was once a famous and powerful old Pagan kingdom. The road from the border line of Yangon to Naypyitaw and further more is of six-lanes and as smooth as silk. Both sides of the road there are limitless plain fallow land as if extending up to the horizon. Myanmar is such a big country that it is six times bigger than Bangladesh having population hardly six crore [5-11 million]. My purpose of travelling to Bagan is to trace out the place called Champaknagar, locally known as Champanagor/Sabenago/Sabainago/Sanbannago, the original kingdom of the Thet or Chakma. Someone in Yangon told me that the place mentioned above might be situated in Bagan. However, after passing Naypyitaw we advanced to a place called Meiktila [Mithila] from where one road going towards Bagan and the other one to Mandalay. We followed the one going towards Bagan. On the way a plateau was found called Kyaukpandaung within Arakan boundary immediately to the south-east of new Pagan. It is learnt from history that this plateau was once inhabited by the Chakma. In this regard, Harvey mentions in Marma Bohmongree that”….. The Chakma say that the plateau was once their home and phayree visiting it in 1866, found traces of former occupation.” However, in the evening we reached Bagan at 6 P. M. Here as winter had already set in, we felt much cold. Somehow, we spent the night in Hotel Yar Kin Tha.

December 20, 2013, Friday

We had our breakfast in an open restaurant on the roof of the hotel. I was talking to a tourist guide about the place Champanagor, its location, distance etc. but he could say nothing of the said place. At this I became disappointed to some extent but quite hopeful. Later, Ninin and Ma So my fellow travelers arranged quite well that I was taken to a senior citizen [retired from government service] and introduced me to him. I told him the purpose of my travelling to Bagan and had discussion with him about Champanagor as Burmese say. He could speak English well that I did not face any inconvenience during our conversation. However, he traced out the place looking for in a large map written in Burmese [Myanma]. I had a look at the map and observed a word Champanagor that is Champaknagar or It was possible for me as because I could read and write Burmese to some extent. I was happy indeed but there was no way to go to the said place from Bagan but Mandalay. I humbly asked the gentlemen for the map, he was so good to give me the same. I was thankful to him.

We looked around the palace of the former and powerful King Aniruddha or Anwarata [1044-77], Ananda Pagoda, Shwedaung pagoda and other ancient places of interest. I purchased two books namely History of Myanmar since ancient times and Mandalay and Other Cities of the past in Burm  from Shwedaung pagoda complex. The shopkeeper was so nice to present me a map of Myanmar in English where I traced out [Sanbannago] Sabainago, the ancient kingdom of the Chakma. I was thankful to him also. After having lunch, we left Bagan at 1.15 P.M. for Mandalay. On the way we found the beautiful Sagaing situated on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy. Sagaing is a Burmese [Myanma] term which means Chakma city or region. So it is understood that this place was inhabited by the Chakma in the past. We reached Mandalay at 5.30 P.M and spent the night in Pacific Hotel.

Mandalay and Champanagor
December 21, 2013, Saturday

In the morning before leaving Mandalay for Champanagor we went to see the old palace. We adopted the dress of the country loungyi as if Burmese [Myanma] and moreover two Burmese ladies since were with us we were treated as Burmese instead of foreigners. So we entered into the Palace through the entrance without any hindrance. Among all other ancient Palaces this is the biggest one. It is learnt from history that the British government in the year 1885 proposed to the King Thibaw that Burma [Myanmar] should come under British rule as a Native State but the King refused. As a result, the British acquired Burma next year that was in 1886. The King Thibaw and Chief Queen Supalayat were sent into exile at Ratnagiri of India. The statues of the King and the Queen are kept seated on the throne in the Palace. However, afterwards we moved for Champanagor. Going far away from Mandalay we had to stop for several times to have known the location of Champanagor from the passers-by. After a while we reached a place where a tea-stall was found and Ma So asked the stall keeper the way to Champanagor.In the meantime I got down from the car and looking about, here and there; immediately I noticed a signboard written in Burmese. I had a look on the board and could read the word Champanagor and other words too. Ma So and Ninin ascertained that it was the road to Champanagor apart from the main road. At last we arrived Champanagor which is a hilly country situated on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy just opposite to Mali or Male on the western bank. I was overwhelmed with joy that long lost Champaknagar has been discovered and I am the first Chakma [Thet] from CHT to set foot on the soil of historical Champanagor, the ancient kingdom of the Chakma.

On the banks of the lrawady [from left to right] Ma So Ninin and the author, Champanagor [2013]
The historical place Male or Mali on the western bank of the lrawady just opposite to Champanagor on the estern bank. [2013]

It may here be mentioned that Mr. Pradhir Talukder [Rega] and his entourage from Tripura [India] also reached Champanagor next to me.

At present, Champanagor is a Ward Council under Nyonoo [police station] of Pagan [Bagan] district. The Ward Councillor is the local administrator.

I had a mind to see him but unfortunately, he was not present at Champanagor that day.

Pierre Bessaignet writes, “He had a son named Champakali. He founded a new city on the eastern bank of the Irawadi and named Champaknagar after him. He built a temple on the Irawadi and installed an image of God in it” [Tribesmen of the Chittagong Hill Tracts 1958:69]

Padmeswar Gogoi likewise describes the fall of Tagaung, the first kingdom of Burma as “………. captured Tagaung, destroyed it and compelled the Raja to quit the country. The Raja and his family, with other followers, entered Mali stream and took refuge at Mali [Male] on the right bank of Irawady almost opposite to present ruins of lower Sabenago.” [Champanagor] [The Tai and the Tai kingdom. P. 104]

Afterwards we had been in a house of Thet [Chakma] and I was talking to a senior citizen of the country while Ninin and Ma So were to interpret conversation between us two. It was learnt from him that Champanagor or Sabenago was a city in the past but at present a village of four or five hundred families may be, most of them are Thet [Chakma] and the rest are Burmese [Myanma]. They closely resemble each other and both of them speak the same language that is Burmese. It is also learnt from him that he came to know from his grandfather that the Thet-min [Chakma king] once lived there and the kingdom was destroyed by the Shans in a very remote time.

It is further learnt that the majority of the Thet [Chakma] in course of time were assimilated into Burmese or Burman, however they are yet to be known as Thet [Chakma] till today in the country of Myanmar.

Mogok and Pyin Oo Lwin [Piuli]

We left Champanagor in the afternoon at 3 P.M. for Mandalay but it would be too late to arrive in Mandalay. So we entered into Mogok town and stopped in front of a hotel. Ninin and Ma So rushed to the hotel for booking rooms but the manager disagreed to have seen my passport and Maung’s that we were foreigners. Standing outside I was trembling due to tremendous cold. Ninin came back and later brought a blanket for me which I hastily wrapped. We left the hotel soon, being in haste I forgot to return the blanket. However, Ma So somehow managed to stay the night in someone’s house. We had already been in that house; I was told that U Thin Win, owner of the house was a Thet [Chakma] from Champanagor which was really fascinating for me, on the other hand, he was also charmed upon this unexpected happening. However, I had a long discussion with him about the Thet or Chakma. I came to have known from him that the majority of the Thet living in Upper Burma were assimilated into the Burmese [Burman] during rule of King Aniruddha or Anwrata [1044-77] of Pagan [Bagan]. However, they are yet known to be Thets till today. U Thin Win, arranged food and drinks for us. Next day [December 22, 2013, Sunday] morning we just got up from bed we were told that Police personnel came to him [U Thin Win] last night and asked about us. U Thin Win said to the police that they were not foreigners at all, but his relatives [nieces] that was his elder brother’s two daughters and their husbands. They had been to their village home at Champanagor a few days ago and while coming back today they came to see him. U Thin Win was telling us the story he narrated to the police last night. Sometimes later, a policeman without uniform again came and was looking at us from a little distant. Suspecting his ill motive we started making fun, Ma So and Ninin talking to each other, Maung and myself laughing loudly to make the policeman a fool. I thought he really became fool to see us, our fun, costume, conversation and similar face. Hereafter, he left the place without any sort of question or challenge. Therefore, we had to face no problem. It may be mentioned here that Military Intelligence [MI] of Myanmar is very efficient. But in spite of that we somehow could play false. However, we had our breakfast in an Indian restaurant.

The author [left] with U Thin Win in his residebce, Mogok [2013]
The author with Ninin [left] and Ma So [right] in a thet [Chakma] house, Champanagor [2013]

By bidding farewell to U Thin Win, we left Mogok as soon as possible. The small Mogok town lies in a lovely hollow in the hills on the edge of a jewel-like lake. This is a land of precious stones, which is world famous for its rubies, sapphires etc. That is why entrance of foreigners to Mogok is strictly restricted without permission from the competent authority, otherwise the trespassers are to be imprisoned for three years. God saved us.

Return journey from Mogok is to geting down from green hills after hills. At last we arrived the plain road on the border line of Mogok where four policemen were on normal duty. We stopped there on police signal; I was worried to some extent. Upon their query Ma So talked to them, signal was withdrawn, we proceeded on. Then I had a sigh of relief. However, within a short time we arrived Pyin Oo Lwin town. The town is as beautiful as Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya in north-east India. The pagoda situated on the top of a hill is amazingly beautiful. It was learnt that the Governor and other high officials lived in this town during rule of British India. We got to Mandalay in the afternoon at 4 p.m. I had talks over mobile with Dr. Hla Min Sein, a Chakma inhabitant of Yangon city. He invited me to go to him on next 24, Tuesday.

Mandalay and Yangon
December 23, 2013, Monday.

We arrived Yangon from Mandalay in the evening at 6 pm. and put up in hotel Royal White Elephant. In the evening Phroo Ma had thrown a party in a hotel where we attended.

December 24, 2013, Tuesday

In the morning at 10 am, Ninin took us to Dr. Hla Min Sein. He greeted us with a smile. After all sort of formalities, I had discussion with him about the Chakma. I was told that the Chakma [Thet] and Burmese [Burman] history were related to each other. According to historians the Pyus, Kanyans, and Thets [Chakma] are ancient people or aboriginals of Myanmar, on the other hand, the Burmese are their descendants. The majority of the Thet [Chakma] now living in Mandalay division of Upper Myanmar, will be nearly twenty lakhs in number. Some of them migrated to Arakan [Rakhine State] via Tayet or Sarak a place in Magway region in the past. However, he had presented me a wall calendar “The Memory of Chakma Myanmar 2014”. Then we moved to see U Aye Maung [Subir]. I met with him in Yangon after nearly forty years since he left Bangladesh for Burma [Myanmar] in 1971. We had lunch in a restaurant with both of them. Afterwards we went to Doingnak-Chakma Buddhist Temple. On the way back to the hotel we had been for a while in the residence of Maung Shwe Prue, the son-in-law of late Bohmang Raja Maung Shwe Prue Chawdhury of Bohmang Circle Bandarban, Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The picturesque Sule Pagoda, Yangon [2013]
The author [left] with Dr. Hla Min Sein in his residence, Yangon [2013]

December 25, 2013, Wednesday

We had invitation for lunch to Phroo Ma. Variety of comestables including egg-plant with nappi [Shrimp paste] which I asked Ninin for it. I had consumed soup, meat, fish, dried-fish etc but got no taste of egg-plant. The reason might be that I had been so habituated since my boyhood in taking nappi of low quality produced locally here. However, I enjoyed food similar to ours. In the afternoon we again roamed Yangon city, and it was seen that women were working everywhere in offices, hotels, shops, and even transport repairing workshops. At night Ninin informed over mobile that Phroo Ma was sick.

December 26, 2013, Monday

In the morning Ninin again phoned that Phroo Ma got herself admitted into hospital; appendicitis was to be operated. At this unexpected happening our schedule programs had been spoiled. However, we had been in the residence of the Ambassador of Bangladesh. Ninin was also with us. After having lunch, Ninin left us soon. In the evening we bade farewell and gave thanks to his Excellency Major-General [Rtd] Anup Kumar Chakma and Mrs. Chakma and left for Yangon Airport. We had to wait there for nearly one hour in the airport. In the meantime, I was recollecting memories of travelling to Champanagor, meeting with the Thets [Chakma] there, U Thin Win and how he saved us from a trouble telling a story to the police and his kindness to have given us shelter in his house at Mogok. Dr. Hla Min Sein, U Aye Maung, Phroo Ma, Ninin and Ma So of Yangon with whom I was so pleased to have their cordiality and love of friendship. In due time, we left amazing golden Yangon known as “The garden city of the East” by Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

Read More: The Chakma in the light of history of Myanmar (CHAPTER-II)

Writter: Supriya Talukder

Source: Inquest of  Champaknagar: The lost kingdom of the Chakma

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