Historical Point of View of Arakan(Rakhine)

The land which is known as “Arakan” by the foreigners is called by its own people “Rakhaing”. The word “Rakhaing” is derived from Pali word “Rakkha Pura”, the village of “Rakkhas”. The Arakanese chronicles mentioned the settlement of a savage people called “Beeloo” that stands for Pali word “Rakkha” or “Rakhasas”. In the Arakanese Princess Yaingcrong or Egin (cradle song) composed by royal poet Fadu Mong Nyo during the reign of Ba Saw Phru (1459-1482 A.D.), it was mentioned that “Rakhaing” was being called as the beeloos (Rakhasas) were defeated.

The name “Rakhaing” is of much antiquity. Rakhaing are aboriginals of Arakan. Thus the home of Rakhaing was known to be “Rakkha Pura” or “Rakhaing Pray”. The term “Arakan” is a derivation of “Rakhaing”. Some Chittagongnian Bengali Muslims claim that the terms “Arakan” derives from Arabic word “Al-Rukun” and try to designate “Arakan” as “Arikistan”. It means just to put the Arabic dress on the Buddhist monks.

In the Anandachhandra inscription on line 40 of northern face, the word “Arakhadesa” appears meaning the land of Arakha. In fact the word “Rakhaing” (Rakhine) was derivation of “Rakkhas” and so was “Arakan” of “Rakhaing”. Thus the word “Arakan” or “Arakanese” stands for only “Rakhaing”.

Bengali Muslims called “Rakhaing” as “Roang or Roshang” which are a corruption of Rakhaing, the indigenous name of Arakan. In colloquial Chittagong dialect “Arakan” is called as “Rohang” “sh” being placed by “h”. Philologists believe that the term “Rohang” derived from “Rakhaing”. “Rohang” is a Tibeto-Burmese term which according to philologists means “Rakhaing”. In the medieval Bengali literature a number of words like “Rohang, Rosang and Rakhan” are found. All these words denote “Rakhaing (Rakhine)” which is the national identity of Arakanese. To the Portuguese, other European travelers and chroniclers, it is Racom, Rakan, Arracam, Aracao, Orrakan, Arrakan and Arakan.

Magh (Bengali name) for Arakanese is commonly applied to the inhabitants of Arakan particularly those living near the Bengal district of Chittagong. There seems to some truth in the word being derived from “Maghad” of India. The word “Magh” is allied to Sanskrit “Magh” meaning “Superior”. “Mang” meaning husband in Chittagong dialect may have connection with Arakanese “Maung”. The name “Magh” is invariably applied to both Arakanese and Bengali Buddhists. Every Magh is not Arakanese. Magh belongs to these main groups, Barua Magh, Jumia Magh, Firingi Magh and Roang or Rakhaing Magh. It is wrong to call the Mongoloid Arakanese as Magh who by association have been Known as Magh.


In 1406 A.D Arakanese king Mong Saw Mwan who was dethroned by the Burmese King Min Khaung Yaza took asylum at the court of Bengal sultan Gaisuddin Azam Shah. After 24 years of exile, he regained his throne by the help of Sultan Gaud Jalal Uddin Mohammed Shah in 1430 A.D and founded the new capital of Mrauk U and built the Laymyaknhar pagoda in it.

From this time to King Thirithudhamma (1522-1638 A.D) of Mrauk U dynasty, the rulers of Arakan adopted Muslim names and inscribed them on their coins as the symbol of their sovereignty over a part of Bengal especially Chittagong. According to the Arakanese chronicles, Mong Khari(1434-1459 A.D) who succeeded Mong Saw Mwan and assumed firstly the Muslim name, defied the authority of Bengal and annexed Ramu to his kingdom.

Ba Saw Phru (1459-1482 A.D) the son and successor of king Mong Khari proceeded further north and took possession of Chittagong. His Muslim name “Kalimah Shah” engraved on the coins give the light on the facts of his control over Chittagong. Ba Saw Phru was succeeded by his son Mong Daulya (1482-1492 A.D). After Mong Daulya’s death, Ba Saw Nyo (1492-1494 A.D), the uncle of Daulya and son of Mong Khari, became king in Arakan. After a short reign of two years he died and was succeeded by Ran Aung, son of Daulya, who ruled for a few months in 1484 A.D. After him, the throne was captured by Salungathu (1484-1501 A.D), the uncle by the mother’s side of king Ran Aung in the same year.

During the reign of Mong Khaungraza (1521-1531 A.D) the 11st king of Mrauk U dynasty, Chittagong was not absolutely under the possession of Arakan after the conquest of Tippra (Tripura) and Bengal. The king who lost Chittagong never took Muslim name nor strike coin bearing Muslim name as mark of his suzerainty over Chittagong.

Mong Bun or Mong Ba (Sri Suryachandra Dharma) (1531- 1533 A.D), king of great ability, his Muslim name “Jobouk Shah” again retained Ramu and Chittagong after launching fierce campaign against Bengal Sultan. After wining victory on Chittagong and twelve towns of Bengal (Twelve Bengalas), in his return to Mrauk U, he built the Shite-thoung Temple which is the most famous pagoda in Arakan. Other famous temples such as Kudaung temple were done by him, which all can still be seen in present Arakan.

After Mong Bun’s strong rule, it was followed by the successive weak rulers Mong Dikkha (1553-1555 A.D), Mong Saw Lha (1555-1564 A.D) and Mong Chhakkya (1564-1571 A.D.). None of these kings could claim authority over Chittagong. At the loss of their hold over Chittagong they felt no necessity of taking Muslim names. Mong Phalaung, his Muslim name “Shikandar Shah” (1571-1593 A.D) had reconquered Chittagong and part of Noakhali and Tippra (Tripura). After him the kings of Arakan readopted the Muslim names again. Orite-taung pagoda which is famous in Arakan comparable to the Shwedagon pagoda in Burma was one of his noble works done during his rule in Arakan.

Mong Phalaung was succeeded by his son Mong Razagree or “Solim Shah -I” (1593-1612 A.D). In the early years of his reign, the governorship of Chittagong was the wise Minister Mahapin-nyagyaw. His successor was Mong Khamoung or “Husain Shah” (1612-1622 A.D). Mong Khamoung or “Husain Shah” was succeeded by his son Thiri Thudhamma or “Solim Shah-II” (1622-1638 A.D). He was the last king who adopted Muslim name on the line of Mrauk U dynasty in Arakan. He was actually a pious king and a true devotee of Buddhism. This can be clearly seen in the record of Manrique’s travel in Arakan (1629-1635 A.D). In the description of King Thiri Thudhamma by Muslim poet Alwal, it is stated that the king belonged to Maghad dynasty with Buddhist religion.

During the rule of King Sandathudhamma (1653-1674 A.D), Arakan lost Chittagong after the Mugul’s invasion in 1666 A.D. From his time to the annexation of Arakan by the Burmese king Bodaw Maung Wyne in 1784 A.D, the kings of Arakan could never reoccupy Chittagong and they no longer took Muslim names as the rulers of Chittagong.

Only 15 along the line of 48 rulers of Mrauk U dynasty assumed Muslim names. The rulers who had Chittagong under their possession assume Muslim names. Thus it is difficult to accept the view that assumption of Muslim names was the manifestation of Muslim influence in Arakan. Without losing sight on the fact that (1) the absence of Muslim names by the Buddhist Arakanese kings totally coincided with their loss of possession over Chittagong and that (2) the rulers who assumed Muslim names had Chittagong under their possession: the conclusion could be taken that taking Muslim names by Arakanese king does not mean Muslim rule in Arakan but Arakanese rule over Chittagong.

Muslim names and striking coins in Persian scripts were the signs of Arakanese sovereignty over Chittagong and the tactics of Arakanese kings to hold Chittagong under their control and for the administrative purpose. The kings who assumed Muslim names are in fact the Buddhists and whose works of Buddhism still could be found all across present Arakan now under Burma. Anyhow, history does not prove Muslim rule in Arakan.

The period of the Arakanese rule in Chittagong was the heyday of Buddhism in this region and Manrique’s travel gives evidence of the predomi-nance of Buddhism in Arakan. Though the Mugul conquest of Chittagong in 1666 A.D delt a great blow to Buddhism in Chittagong, it did no harm to Buddhism in Arakan.

Mugul empire could but be extended up to Ramu till the time of its cession to the East India company in 1760 A.D. ##


Total population of Arakan is over 7 millions. Arakanese (Rakhaing) are majority and main ethnic group in Arakan. Their population is over 6 millions and constitutes 86% of the total population of Arakan.

Chittagonian Bengali Muslim (new name Rohingya) settlers are minority in Arakan and most of them are living in Buthidaung and Maungdaw towns which are neighbouring with the border of Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. They trace their origin to the Bengalis of Chittagong district and speak the same language with their own accent and dialect. Their legal population is about 2 hundred thousand and constitutes 4% of the population of Arakan.

Other Mro, Thak, Khami, Dainak, Chin Kaman are the ethnic minority of Arakan and constitutes 10% of the population of Arakan. Mro, Thak, Khami, Dainak are the Buddhists and Kaman are the only group who practice Islam. They are the descendants of Shah Suja (youngest son of Shah Jahan -Taj Mahal Emperor)’s followers who sought shelter from Bengal in Arakan in 1563 A.D under the protection of Arakanese king Sandathudhamma (1652-1674 A.D). They served as soldiers of the bow-regiment of Arakanese kings. They no longer returned to their native land and settled in Arakan since that time. They are not Bengali Rohingya Muslims.

The settlement of Bengali Rohingya Muslims in Arakan could be categorised into 3 main divisions such as settlement-

(1) During the rule of British from 1824 -1948,

(2) Illegal immigration during the regime of AFPFL led by U Nu (1948-1962) and

(3) After the takeover of Ne Win in 1962 to the present epoch.

During U Nu’s government after the independence of Burma in 1948, in the election held in 1952, the politicians under the AFPFL had smuggled 10 thousands of Chittagongnian Bengalis of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) into Arakan to win their votes to compete with the Arakanese nationalist groups which won decisive majority votes in Arakan. AFPFL had less support in most of the constituency in Arakan.

During the Ne Win’s Burmese Socialist regime, the corruption of military, immigrant and civil officers has caused a great bulk of illegal immigration into Arakan.

The main refrerence of this article is from “History of Chittagong” by Dr. S. B Qanungo (1986).


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