The Pyu People/1. General History  

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The Pyu people settled inland along the middle reaches of the Irrawaddy River but at a distance from the river’s course. This is in sharp contrast to the later Burmese cities such as Pagan, Ava, Amarapura, and Mandalay that were situated directly on the riverbank. The Pyus developed a system of irrigation using elevated weirs as well a sophisticated system of urban planning. The Pyus adopted Buddhism as it spread into Southeast Asia while continuing to practice animism, the worship of indigenous spirits. Excavations at the great Pyu capitol, Srikshetra, uncovered artifacts associated with Vishnu as well as the remains of Buddhist stupas and monasteries that clearly indicate that Hinduism as well as Buddhism were practiced there. Indeed, the name of the earliest Pyu city, Beikthano, means the “City of Vishnu”, the second of the great gods in the Hindu Triad. Due to the scarcity of written material, little is known about the Pyu peoples themselves. Although the Pyu had a written language, few examples still exist. The Pyu language and culture seems to have disappeared as they were conquered and absorbed by the Burmese. The Pyu and Burmese languages are similar, both belong to the Tibeto- Burman family of languages. Most of what we do know of the Pyu is extrapolated from archeological excavations, surface finds and scant references in Chinese Dynastic Histories. Additional but very limited information is found in the few inscriptions on burial urns that typically state the names and reignal dates of early rulers and in the formulaic inscriptions on Buddhist votive tablets. None of these sources yields detailed information about the Pyu people or their culture. In fact, it wasn’t until 1911 that the Pyu language could be read. This was the result of the translation of the Myazedi Inscription, the Burmese “rosetta” stone. This quadrilingual inscription, written in the Pyu, Mon, Burmese, and Pali languages, was erected before the (Buddhist) Myinkaba Kubyauk-gyi Temple at Pagan in 1113 AD. That this Pagan inscription was written in Pyu in the 12th century suggests that although Pyu culture had declined in the 9th century due to invasions from the North by the Chinese and had been subsequently absorbed by the Burmese, the Pyu had continued as an important presence for over three centuries after the Chinese invasions. However, little is heard or known of the Pyu after the 12th century.

Dr. Richard M. Cooler
Professor Emeritus
Art History of Southeast Asia
Northern Illinois University Former Director
Center for Burma Studies
Northern Illinois University

This entry was posted on Jan 3, 2009 at Saturday, January 03, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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