Htihlaing Shin ထီးလႈိင္ရွင္ Kyansittha က်န္စစ္သား / ကလန္ စစ္သား by Nyi Win

King of Burma

Reign 1084–1113 (28 years)

Kyansittha (Burmese: က်န္စစ္သား / ကလန္ စစ္သား, pronounced [tɕàɴsɪʔθá]; also Kyanzittha; 1041–1113) was king of Pagan dynasty of Burma (Myanmar) from 1084 to 1113, and is considered one of the greatest Burmese monarchs.

In his early life, Kyansittha was a popular and successful general who led Anawrahta’s major military campaigns that founded the Pagan Empire. He was exiled twice in the 1070s and 1080s for his affair with Queen Manisanda. Kyansittha ascended to the Pagan throne in 1084 after suppressing a major Mon rebellion that killed King Sawlu.

Kyansittha is one of the most famous monarchs in Burmese history. His life stories and exploits are still retold in Burmese literature, theater, and cinema.

Early life

Much of Kyansittha’s early life, like much of early Pagan history, is shrouded in legend, and should be treated as such. Many of the stories given in the Burmese Chronicles attributed to Kyansittha are legends, with a heavy touch of literary flourish.

In one version, Kyansittha was a commoner from Pareinma village ပရိမၼေက်းရြာ and became a trusted general in Anawratha’s army. ကလန္ စစ္သား

ႈIn another version, Kyansittha was born in 1041 to Princess Pyinsa Kalayani of Wethali and Anawarahta, then a senior prince at the court of King Sokkate of Pagan. (Wethali is believed to be in the present-day Rakhine State or in Bengal.

According to the chronicles, he grew up away from Anawrahta’s court after Anawrahta banished his mother who was pregnant with him to the countryside because Anawrahta was led to believe that she was not of royal blood. The chronicles also speculate that Kyansittha’s real father might not be Anawrahta but Yazataman, the Pagan official who guarded Pyinsa Kalayani during her journey to Pagan.

The chronicle stories here are filled with many inconsistencies. The chronicles claim that Anawrahta was already king when Pyinsa Kalayni was sent. But Anawrahta did not become king until 1044. Kyansittha was born circa 1041. Moreover, it was unlikely that the ruler of Wethali would have sent his daughter to Anawrahta who until 1044 was a prince but not to Sokkate, the king himself. The chronicles also claim that Anawrahta tried to kill off all babies in the year that Kyansittha was born because his astrologers predicted that a new born would be king. Again, Anawrahta was not the king.

Kyansittha was born at Pareinma village ပရိမၼေက်းရြာ on the bank of Chindwin river. 

Kyansittha grew up in relative obscurity until Anawrahta recalled his son at a later point (likely by his early teens).

The meaning of the name Kyansittha

Kyansittha’s birth name is lost to history. According to the Shwezigon Pagoda inscriptions dedicated by Kyansittha himself, the name Kyansittha is a title given by Anawrahta. The king gave him the title Kyansittha which means “the remaining/last standing soldier” because of the latter’s knack for surviving in the battlefield.

But according to historian George Coedes, it is a corruption of the Pali word, kalan cacsa ကလန္ စစ္သား, meaning “soldier-official”

Military career (1057–1070s)

At Anawrahta’s court, he was a minor prince under the shadow of his elder half-brother Sawlu, and served as a royal cadet in the Pagan army. Anawrahta soon recognized the ability of his son. In 1057, the king made his 15-year-old son one of four lead commanders in his invasion of Thaton Kingdom. (Anawrahta’s appointment of Kyansittha as commander at such an early age indicates that Anawrahta considered Kyansittha his offspring. During the Burmese feudal era, only the royalty were allowed to assume a senior position in the army at an early age. Commoners, who had to earn that privilege over years of service, were never that young.) Pagan’s forces captured Thaton after a 3-months’ siege. Kyansittha became famous as one of the Four Paladins

Anawrahta went on found the Pagan Empire (also known as the First Burmese Empire) expanding his authority in all directions: northern Arakan in the west, Shan Hills in the north and east, and Tenasserim in the south. Kyansittha partook in all of Anawrahta’s expeditions including one to the Nanzhao Kingdom, and in some cases (such as the Tenasserim campaign against the Khmer Empire) led them. Soon after the Thaton conquest, Kyansittha along with his three other “Paladins” were sent to take control of Tenasserim. The Four Paladins defeated the Khmer army, and Tenasserim became part of Pagan Empire from then on

In the early 1070s, Kyansittha was called into service to defend Pegu (Bago) against the raiders from the direction of Chiang Mai_(ဂြ်မ္းစစ္သည္ / Khmer warriors). The Pagan army easily drove out the raiders. The ruler of Pegu, whom Anawrahta had allowed to remain as viceroy for his cooperation in the 1057 conquest of Thaton, sent his young daughter, the lady Khin U, jewels and hair relics as presents for Anawrahta.

On the journey to Pagan, Khin U was borne in a curtained litter, and Kyansittha rode at her side. During the long journey, they fell in love with each other so violently that the matter had to be reported to Anawrahta. It was the end of Kyansittha’s career. He was sent into exile by the king.

The Burmese chronicles report his exile with a touch of literary flourish. Kyansittha was brought bound into the presence, and Anawrahta taunted him for a time until with his anger rising, he hurled his fairy spear Areindama. But Kyansittha’s hour had not yet come. The spear missed, grazing his skin and severing the ropes that bound him. He picked up the famous spear and fled never to return. His flight over hill and dale still forms a favorite subject of Burmese theater.

Exile years (1070s–1084)

Kyansittha fled west, and at a time, he earned a living by tending horses. He finally settled at Kaungbyu (likely in the Sagaing District), and got married to Thanbula, niece of the head abbot of the local monastery. He was in his early 30s. He lived there for the remainder of Anawrahta’s reign until 1077.

In 1077, Anawrahta died, and his eldest son Sawlu succeeded. Sawlu, who had always viewed Kyansittha as a rival, reluctantly recalled Kyansittha to Pagan, at the urging of Shin Arahan, primate of Pagan, to help administer the kingdom. Kyansittha left a pregnant Thanbula at Kaungbyu. At Pagan, he soon renewed his affair with Khin U (now with the title of Manisanda), who was now a queen of Sawlu. Kyansittha was promptly exiled again, this time much farther away to Dala (modern-day Yangon).

Pegu rebellion (1084)

In 1084, Sawlu faced a serious rebellion by his childhood friend Yamankan, whom he had appointed governor of Pegu. The king recalled Kyansittha to put down the rebellion. At a battle near Magwe မေကြး (at Pyidawthar Kyunn ျပည္ေတာ္သာကြ်န္း, near current day MiChaung Yae မိေခ်ာင္းရဲ), Sawlu was captured. Ministers offered Kyansittha the crown. But he refused. Instead he personally tried to rescue Sawlu by breaking into the enemy camp at night. Seated on Kyansittha’s shoulders and well on the way to safety, Sawlu thought Kyansittha was stealing him to kill him. After all, he had never treated Kyansittha well, and could not believe that Kyansittha would risk his life to rescue someone who had treated him badly. Yamankan on the other hand was his childhood friend, and son of his wet nurse.

Sawlu yelled out “Kyansittha is stealing me“. Kyansittha exclaiming, “Then die, thou fool; die the death of a dog at the hands of these scum” မင္းဆိုး မင္းညစ္၊ တလိုင္းတို့ လက္တြင္ ေနရစ္ေပေလာ့ , flung him down, and ran for his life. He swam across the Irrawaddy, and eventually made back to safety.

Yamankan promptly executed Sawlu, and marched to Pagan. Unable to blockade the fortified walls of Pagan, his army drifted north to near the present-day Ava (Inwa).

Kyansittha went to the Kyaukse region, the breadbasket of Pagan, to raise an army. He received allegiance from the chief of Htihlaing, who helped him raise men. With his army, Kyansittha drove Yamankan out. Yamankan’s army fled south while Yamankan fled on a barge full of gold and gems he had looted down the Irrawaddy. Kyansittha and his army followed up on the retreating Peguan forces. Midway to the Pegu country, Kyansittha’s advance forces caught up with Yamankan near Myingyan. Yamankan, who was blind in one eye, was killed by an arrow through his remaining good eye.

Ascension to throne

At Pagan, Kyansittha was once proclaimed king. He ascended to the throne with the title Sri Tribhuwanaditya Dhammaraja. The title’s meaning is “Fortunate Buddhist King, Sun of the Three Worlds”. He was joined by his three queens:

  • Apeyadana, his first wife, with whom he had a daughter Shwe Einsi
  • Khin Tan, daughter of chief of Htihlaing
  • Manisanda, the lady Khin U for whom he had endured exile twice

His wife from his first exile Thanbula was not present. She would later come and see him with their son Yazakumar later.

Rule of Pagan Empire

Kyansittha strengthened the foundations of Pagan Empire which Anawrahta had built. Although he suppressed the Mon rebellion, he pursued a conciliatory policy towards the Mon. Having spent seven years in the Mon country in exile, the king had a genuine a great respect for the Mon culture, and kept Mon scholars at his court. The language of most of his epigraphs is Mon (likely because the Burmese script was still coming into its own). The Mon language was widely used among the ruling elite, and the Pyu language continued to be a cultural force as well.

His policy proved effective. The rest of his reign saw no more rebellions in the south. Elsewhere too was largely peaceful. (He did send an expedition to northern Arakan because the tributary kingdom in the west had come under attack by the lord of southern Arakan. His troops repelled the attack but could not catch the lord.)

Pagan’s power did not go unnoticed. The Khmer Empire, the other Southeast Asian power, stopped raiding southern Pagan territory. When Pagan sent an embassy to the Chinese Song court in 1106, the Chinese met the Burmese envoys with the full rites accorded only sovereign kingdoms

Gradual growth of Burmese language

The use of Burmese vernacular continued to gain strength among the populace although it was still junior to more established languages of Pyu and Mon. (Pali had already replaced Sanskrit as the liturgical language since 1057.) The earliest evidence of a more settled Burmese script was the Myazedi inscription, dedicated to him in 1113 when the king was on his deathbed. The use of Pyu began to decline.

The first ever mention of the word “Myanmar” (the literary name of the Burmans (Bamar)) appeared in the epigraph of his new palace, built between December 1101 and April 1102.

Succession

Kyansittha appointed his grandson Sithu (later Alaungsithu) as heir apparent because he thought he did not have a son. It turned out that he had forgotten the pregnant wife he left in Kaungbyu when he first recalled to Pagan in 1077. Thanbula gave birth to a boy, and did not learn of Kyansittha’s ascent to the throne right away. When she finally came to the Pagan to meet Kyansittha with their son, the king did not want to go back on his word. Instead he appointed the boy the titular lord of Arakan with the title of Yazakumar (Pali: Rajakumar, lit. King’s son).

Kyansittha died in early 1103 at 71. Alaungsithu succeeded him.

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