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The Cultural Affinity of Rohingyas with Bengal
by Rohingya Human Rights
2009-04-21 08:54:30
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Ignoring the glorious historical records of the Rohingya Muslims in the ancient Arakan Kingdom, the Burmese military regime and the anti- Rohingya camps brand them as the Bengali immigrants of the 123 years of British Colonial rule from 1827 to 1948 in order to turn Arakan into a "Rohingyaless" land on the pretext of the close affinity of the Rohingyas in terms of ethnicity, language and religion with the Bengalis particularly the Chittagonians of Bangladesh. All the historical records irrefutably testify that the Rohingyas are an indigenous group of the ancient Arakan having its own culture and heritage and a few historical records are being present here for one's easy reference.
 
The Multicultural Society of Ancient Arakan

Arakan, which had an area of more than 20,000 sq. ml. till the British period, is situated among India in the North, Burma in the East and People's Republic of Bangladesh in the West. To the south, it extends up to Haigri Islands and is bounded on the south-west by the Bay of Bengal. Today, the area of Arakan is located between Lat. 16' 00" N- Lat. 21' 20" N and Long. 92' 20" E- Long. 95' 20" E.  Arakan of today's Burma and Chittagong of today's Bangladesh share a 320-kilometer border. Arakan is now a State under the Union of Burma.

Historical evidences show that the ancient Arakan was a rendezvous of people of different cultures and religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The primitive rulers of Arakan were of Hindu religion. And Buddhism was introduced into Arakan during the lifetime of Buddha himself. According to Arakanese chronicles, Lord Buddha, accompanied by his five hundred disciples, visited the city of Dhannyawadi (Grain blessed) in 554 B.C. King Chandrasuriya (Sun and Moon) and all the people converted to Buddhism and became Buddhists since then. The king requested Lord Buddha to leave the image of Himself to commemorate the event before he left Arakan and Lord Buddha consented it. This was the famous Mahamuni (Great Sage) image, known throughout the Buddhist world and desired by kings who sought to conquer the country in order to carry away this powerful prize. The history of this image is entwined with that of Arakan. After casting the Great Image Mahamuni, Lord Buddha breathed upon it which resembled the exact likeness of the Blessed One. Of course, through the ages later, several Hindu Dynasties ruled Arakan like from 100 - 957 A. D. and the Chandra dynasty was one of them. Ref: http://www.rakhapura.com/arakan/ 

Situated on the Bay of Bengal, the ancient Arakan kingdom naturally had more ties with the Indian sub-continent than with the rest of Burma, from which it was separated by the Arakan Yoma mountain range.
 
History traces back (even according to the anti-Rohingya camps) the presence of the Muslims in Arakan from the 7th century and their influence grew further after the Arab traders established trade link with the East Indies in the 8th and 9th century A.D. 'During this time, Chittagong which was the lone seaport of East India, became the resting place and colony of the Arabs. We know from the accounts of the ancient Arab travelers and geologists including Sulaiman (living in 851 AD), Abu Jaidul Hasan (contemporary of Sulaiman), Ibnu Khuradba (died 912 AD), Al-Masudi (died 956 AD), Ibnu Howkal (wrote his travelogue in 976 AD), Al-Idrisi (born last half of 11th century) that the Arab traders became active in the area between Arakan and the eastern bank of the Meghna River.' Ref: Bengali Literature in the Kings’ Court of Arakan.

Although there are many controversies as to the actual religious beliefs of many kings of the ancient Arakan, but all the historians unanimously agree that the names of many kings of the ancient Arakan before the British colonial rule, were 'Muslim' like (1) Solaiman Shah Narameikhla (1430-1434), (2) Ali Khan Meng Khari  (1434-1459), (3) Kalima Shah Ba Saw Phyu (1459-1482), (4) Mathu Shah Doulya (1482-1492), ( 5) Mohammed Shah Ba Saw Nyo (1492-1493), (6) Nori Shah Ran Aung (1493-1494), (7) Sheikh Modullah Shah Salingathu (1494-1501), (8) Ili Shah Meng Raza (1501-1523), (9) Ilias Shah Kasabadi (1523-1525), (10) Jalal Shah Meng Saw Oo (1525), (11) Ali Shah Thatasa (1525-1531), (12) Salimshah (1608). And all of those kings used coins with Muslim inscriptions like Kalima 'la-ilaha-illallah', 'Muhammedur Rasulullah' etc.
 
Bengali Literature in ancient Arakan Kingdom: From Rakhine Perspective

Bengali or Bangla is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, which evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. Bengali is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. There are also a significant number of Bengali speakers in the Indian states of Assam and Tripura. With nearly 230 million total speakers, Bengali is one of the most spoken languages (ranking fifth or sixth) in the world. Bengali is the primary language spoken in Bangladesh and is the second most spoken language in India. Along with Assamese, it is geographically the most eastern of the Indo-Iranian languages and the most eastern of the Indo-European languages.

Bengali is the national and official language of Bangladesh and one of the 23 official languages recognised by the Republic of India. It is the official language of the states of West Bengal and Tripura. It is also a major language in the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is also the co-official language of Assam, which has three predominantly Sylheti-speaking districts of southern Assam: Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakandi. The national anthems of both India and Bangladesh were written by the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

Many dialects have evolved from Bengali language which are prevalent in much of eastern and south-eastern Bengal like Barisal, Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong divisions of Bangladesh. Rajbangsi, Kharia Thar and Mal Paharia are closely related to Western Bengali dialects, but are typically classified as separate languages. Similarly, Hajong is considered a separate language, although it shares similarities to Northern Bengali dialects. The Rohingya language of Arakan is also a dialect of Bengali language which is closely identical with the Chittagonian dialect of Bangladesh.
 
However, the language of the Hindu rulers of the ancient Arakan was those which were prevalent in the then Indian sub-continent where Bengali was one of their commonly spoken languages and later the Bengali literature has flourished significantly in the ancient Arakan Kingdom by the 17th century.

On July 30, 2005, the "Arakanese Research Society of Bangladesh (ARSB)", a Rakhine organization, published in its "Arakanese Research Journal - Vol. 2." a chapter of "Arakan Rajsabhay Bangala Sahitya (1600 - 1700 AD)", (Bengali Literature in the Kings’ Court of Arakan) originally written By Dr Muhammad Enamul Huq (M.A., Ph. D) and Sahitya-sagar Abdul Karim Sahitya Visarad and was translated from Bengali by Maung Sein Pru, the Consulting Editor of the journal and which is now available in the anti-Rohingya website of the Rakhine organizations: See here
 
The original book of  "Arakan Rajsabhay Bangala Sahitya" was written in Bengali and it was published by Sahitya-sagar Abdul Karim Sahitya Vasarad in 1935 AD from Gurudas Chattaopadhyay and Sons, 203/1/1 Cornwallis Street, Kalikata, India. The book provides a huge record of the glorious presence of the Muslims and the Bengali literature in the ancient Arakan also called as 'Roshang' and below there are some excerpts:
 
"The Muslim poets in the Roshang Court, which itself was dominated by Muslim influence, nurtured Bengali literature in the 17th century AD. The outcome of the Bengali literature in Roshang Court was multifaceted and long-lasting."

"The way Bangali flourished in the court of the 17th century Arakan, nothing of that sort is found in its [Bengal’s] own soil. It is surprising that during the exile of Bengali language in Arakan, it was greatly appreciated by the Muslim courtiers of the Arakanese kings and the Muslim poets of East Bengal, especially those of the [greater] Chittagong Division. Later we will see the Bengali language received new form and inspiration from the Muslim poets in the Kings’ Court of Arakan. To properly understand the development of the Bengali literature in the hands of foreigners of a foreign land we need to know first the Arakanese history of the 17th century and Muslim influence on it. With this aim in mind we have introduced the following short history of Arakan and the Muslim influence on it."

"We can also learn about this from the Roshang national history: when Roshang King, Maha Taing Chandra (788 - 810 AD) was ruling in the 9th century, some ship wrecked Muslim traders were washed ashore on “Ronbee” or “Ramree” Island. When they were taken to the Arakanese king, the king ordered them to live in the village (countryside) in his country. Other historians also recognised the fact that Islam and its influence developed in Arakan in the 9th and 10th century AD."

"The Arabic influence increased to such a large extent in Chittagong during mid 10th century AD that a small Muslim kingdom was established in this region, and the ruler of the kingdom was called “Sultan”. Possibly the area from the east bank of the Meghna River to the Naf [npp: Nâf] was under this “Sultan”. We can know about the presence of this “Sultan” in the Roshang national history. {Cont: p-4.) In 953 AD Roshang King, Sulataing Chandra (951- 957 AD) crossed his border into Bangla (Bengal) and defeated the “Thuratan”  (Arakanese corrupt form of Sultan), and as a symbol of victory setup a stone victory pillar at a place called “Chaikta-gong” and returned home at the request of the courtiers and friends. This Chaik-ta-gong was the last border of his victory, since according to Roshang national history – “Chaik-ta-gong” means “war should not be raised”, many surmise that the modem name of Chittagong district originated from “Chaik-ta-gong”."

"In this way the religion of Islam spread and the Muslim influence slowly extended from the eastern bank of the Meghna to Roshang Kingdom in the 8th and 9th centuries."

"The study of Bengali literature that the Muslim initiated reached perfection under the aegis of the courtiers of the Roshang kings. It is needless to say that the Kings’ Court of Roshang got filled up with Muslim influence long before this. From the beginning of the 15th century AD the Kings’ Court of Roshang by luck was compelled to heartily receive the Muslim influence."

"Roshang King, Thiri thu-dhamma Raja (1622 -1638 AD) was as greatly powerful as his father, Meng Kha Moung or Husain Shah (1612 -1622 AD). He also used Muslim name as his father; unluckily that has not been deciphered. He ruled a vast area from Dhaka to Pegu. During his rule, Poet Daulat Qazi, with orders from Ashraf Khan, while living in King’s Court of Roshang, started writing the incomplete epic poem, “Satî Mainâ. The lineage, Dhamma [religion], religious practice, great power and justice of King Thiri thu-dhamma has been testified by Daulat Qazi as follows:
 
“To the east of the river Karnafuli there is a palace,
Roshang City by name - like the Heaven.
There rules the glorious king of Magadha descent a follower of
the Buddha,
Name being Sri Sudhamma Raja, renown for his justice.
His power is like the morning sun, famous in the world,
Grooms the subjects like his own children.
Reveres the Lord [Buddha] and purely religious,
One's sins are forgiven when one sees his feet....
Whoever extols the pious, famous and just king –
His poverty vanishes though born poor he is.
If by virtue of good deeds
One can see the King’s face –
From hell (he's) delivered to heaven
A life of success.
Justice and peace prevail across the land
One needs not fear another, all (are) fairly treated
If the ants rejoice over honey-woods
The elephant doesn’t cross them fearing the King.
Whoever hears and extols that virtue
His poverty vanishes though born poor he be."
 
The king also had vast number of soldiers and navy. The poet writes:
 
White, red, black- elephants of every hue
The sky is covered with colourful flags.
Millions of soldiers, and countless horses,
Who can tell the number of [war] boats?”
 
The “Laskar Uzir” or “War Minister” was a Muslim – Ashraf Khan by name. He [the poet] wrote his poem by the order of Ashraf Khan. He was King’s trusted favourite person. The King felt relieved by entrusting all the state craft to him. The Queen also consider him to be more “worth and profoundly learned” than her own son. This shows how much “authority, influence and control” the “Laskar Uzir” wielded in Arakan. In fact he ran the country and was the supreme authority. No wonder, the influence and circumstances of the Muslims would flourish in such a country. Actually it was so. Countless number of Sheikhs, Syeds, Qazis, Mollahs, Alims, Fakirs, Arabians, Rumis, Moghuls, Pathans import to Arakan and Ashraf Khan took the responsibility to give accommodation in Roshang and service to them; he built mosques and dug ponds in many places. People who left their countries, people living abroad, travellers and merchants from Ashin (Achi, Ache?), Kuchin (Cochi), Maslipettan (Macilipatan) to Mecca- Medina praised his love of own nation and religion.
 
“Laskar Uzir” Ashraf Khan hailed from Chittagong. The remnants of his building at Charia village of Hathazari thana [in Chittagong district] can be seen even today. A pond in the village also carries his memories. It can be heard that there are a number of monuments attributed to him in different places of Chittagong. Amongst them a large pond at Kadalpur village of Raozan thana is still renown as “Laskar Uzir’s Pond”.
 
"The influence and power of the Muslims that was established in the King’s Court of Roshang increased day by day without any sign of lessening. For this reason we can see that the chief poets of Roshang kingdom [when vacant] were not filled without the Muslims. The Muslims were without doubt skilled statesmanship. Or else the highest ranks in the Court would not been filled up by Muslims."
 
"From Alaol’s poem “Saiful Muluk” it is known that when he ascended the Roshang throne he had not acquired the skills to run the country yet. Therefore the minor King’s mother ruled as Regent by appointing Magan Thakur as the Chief Minister. Possibly Sanda-thudhamma took over the burden of government before Magan Thakur’s death. After Magan Thakur, Solaiman - another Muslim- filled the position, that is, became the “Prime Minister” (chief counsellor/ courtier of the highest rank) of Roshang King Sanda-thu-dhamma. The treasury and general administration of the country was entrusted to this Muslim chief Minister. During Sanda-thu-dhamma’s rule the important posts of Roshang kingdom were given to the Muslims. Syed Muhammad was his “war minister” (armed force minister); Alaol got to write “Sapta Paykar” at his order. Another Muslim named Majlis was “Navaraj” [Nawa-raja -young prince?] in the King’s Court of Arakan; he is known as “Navaraj Majlis”. Alaol translated “Sikandar Nama” - a Persian poem into Bengali by his order”. It seems that the civil and criminal courts were run by the Muslim Qazis [judges]. It is known that during that period a man by the name of Saud Shah was a Qazi of Roshang. {Cont: p-12} 
 
“Syed Saud Shah, Qazi of Roshang,
Agreed to [foster] me, finding in me a little learning...”
(Sikandar Nama) 
 
Another person, Sayed Musa, was a minister of Sanda-thu-dhamma. Alaol completed “Saiful Muluk” by his order.

The degree of the influence and presence of Muslims can easily be guessed in the King’s Court where the Muslims prevailed. Of course, Sanda-thu-dhamma had a high esteem of the Muslims. Serious politics was behind the gruesome assassination of Shah Shuja by the King in 1660 AD. It does not prove the King’s lack of love for the Muslims. Thus we see:
 
“People from every country, hearing the magnificence of Roshang,
Took shelter under the King.
Arabian, Michiri [Egyptian], Shami, Turkish, Habsi [African], Rumi
Khorachani and Uzbek.
Lahuri, Multani, Sindi, Kashmiri, Dakkhini [Deccanese], Hindi,
Kamrupi [Assamese] and Bangadeshi [Bengali],
Ahopai Khotanchari (?), Karnali, Malayabari,
From Achi, Kuchi [Cochi] and Karnataka.
Countless Sheik, Soiyadjada, Moghul, Pathan warriors,
Rajput, Hindu of various nationals.
Avai [Inwa], Burmese, Siam [Thai], Tripura, Kuki to name
How many more should I elaborate.[?]
Armenian, Olandaz [Dutch], Dinemar, Engraj [English],
Castiman and Frangais.
Hipani[c], Almani, Chholdar, Nachhrani,
Many a races including Portuguese.”
(Padmavati)

 End of Quotation

Notably, Daulat Qazi (1600-1638) was a medieval Bengali poet who was believed to have been born in a Qazi family in the village of Sultanpur in Rauzan, Chittagong. Failing to get any recognition at home, he left for Arakan, where he was warmly received. He wrote in Bangla though he lived in Arakan. Quazi is believed to be the first Bengali poet to write under the patronage of the Arakan court. His patron Ashraf Khan was “Laskar Uzir” or “War Minister” of king Shrisudharma who ruled between 1622 and 1638. Ashraf Khan asked Daulat to render the west Indian stories of Lorchandrani and Mayana into Bangla. Daulat Quazi died before he could finish his poem. It was completed years later by Alaol.  

Alaol (1607?-1680?) was a medieval Bengali poet. Perhaps his most well known work is Padmavati, which depicts the story of the Sri Lankan princess Padmavati. He is widely believed to be one of the most talented of Bengali medieval poets. Born in Faridpur district of Bangladesh, Alaol is believed to have been kidnapped by Portuguese pirates while travelling on boat with his father. He was taken to Arakan. Alaol worked as a bodyguard for a while, but slowly his reputation as a poet spread. Magan Thakur, the prime minister of Arakan, secured him a place in the court of Arakan. His other works are: Satimayana-Lor-Chandrani, Saptapaykar, Saifulmuluk Badiuzzamal, Sikandarnama, Tohfa , Hopto Poykor, Ragtalnama, Lorchandrani (completion of Doulat Kazi's work), His works, apart from Ragtalnama, are adaptations of works in other languages.  

The Origin of 'Rohingya' & their Language  

There are many controversies in  the origin of the word 'Rohingya', but the most appropriate and logical conclusion is that it has evolved from the word 'Roshang' and 'Rooinga'. Regarding the origin of 'Roshang' (later Rohang), it was stated in the Chapter one of  "Arakan Rajsabhay Bangala Sahitya(1600-1700 AD)" (Bengali Literature in the Kings’ Court of Arakan): "During the 17th century AD when Muslim in Arakan nurtured Bengali Literature, the Muslim poets of that time identified the country as “Roshang”."

Therefore, many historians including many Rakhine intellectuals are of the opinion that “Roshang” is the ancient name of Arakan from where the word 'Rohingya' has originated. Of course, the anti-Rohingya camps allege that the word 'Rohingya' has sprang up by 1950s and it was never heard before.  

However, in his article titled ' A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire' published in 1799, in the fifth volume of Asiatic Researches, Dr Francis Buchanan (15 February 1762 - 15 June 1892), a Scottish physician who made significant contributions as a geographer, zoologist and botanist while living in India from 1803 to 1804 as the surgeon to the Governor General of India Lord Wellesley in Calcutta, India, recorded the identity and language of the Rohingyas (which he wrote as 'Rooinga') of the ancient Arakan as per the following:    

"I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan. The second dialect is that spoken by the Hindus of Arakan. I procured it from a Brahmen and his attendants, who had been brought to Amarapura by the king’s eldest son, on his return from the conquest of Arakan. They call themselves Rossawn, and, for what reason I do not know, wanted to persuade me that theirs was the common language of Arakan. Both these tribes, by the real natives of Arakan, are called Kulaw Yakain, or stranger Arakan.  

The last dialect of the Hindustanee which I shall mention, is that of a people called, by the Burmas, Aykobat, many of them are slaves at Amarapura. By one of them I was informed, that they had called themselves Banga ; that formerly they had kings of their own ; but that, in his father’s time, their kingdom had been overturned by the king of Munnypura, who carried away a great part of the inhabitants to his residence. When that was taken last by the Burmas, which was about fifteen years ago, this man was one of the many captives who were brought to Ava.  

He said also, that Banga was seven days’ journey south-west from Munnypura: it must, therefore, be on the frontiers of Bengal, and may, perhaps, be the country called in our maps Cashar."  

Giving a record of comparative vocabulary of three dialects of the ancient Arakan spoken by 'Rooinga', 'Rossawn' and 'Banga', Dr Francis Buchanan mentioned 50 words of each tribe like: ( 1) Sun – Bel - *Sooja - Bayllee (2) Moon – Sawn – Sundsa - Satkan (3) Stars – Tara - *Nokyoto -* Tara (4) Earth – Kool – Murtika - *Matee (5) Water - Pann? - *Dsol - *Pann? (6) Fire – Auin - *Aaganee - Zee (7) Stone – Sheel - *Sheel - *Heel (8) Wind – Bau - *Pawun - *Bo (9) Rain –Jorail - †Bistee - *Booun (10) Man – Manush - †Moanusa - *Manoo (11) Woman  – Meealaw – Stree – Zaylan (12) Child – Gourapa - *Balouk - Sogwo (13) Head – Mata – Mustok - Teekgo  (14) Mouth – Gall – Bodon – Totohan (15) Arm – Bahara - *Baho - Paepoung (16)  Hand – Hat – Osto - Hatkan (17) Leg – Ban - †Podo - Torooa (18) Foot – Pau – Pata - Zankan (19) Beast---Zoomtroo - Sasee - sangee (20) Bird – Paik - †Pookyee - †Pakya (21) Fish – Maws - Moots? - †Mas (22) Good – Goom – Gam - Hoba (23) Bad - Goom nay – Gumnay - Hoba nay (24)  Great – Boddau – Dangor - Domorgo (25) Little – Thuddee - *Tsooto - Hooroogo (26) Long – Botdean – Deengol - Deengul (27)  Short – Banick - *Batee - *Batee (28) One – Awg -*Aik - *Ak (29) Two – Doo - *Doo - De (30) Three – Teen - *Teen - †Teen (31) Four – Tchair - *Tsar - *Saree (32) Five – Pansoee - *Paus - * Pas (33) Six – Saw - *Tso - *Ts? (34) Seven – Sat - *Sat - *Hat (35) Eight – Awtoa - †Asto - *Awt (36) Nine – Nonaw - *No - *No (37) Ten – Dussoa - *Dos - *Dos (38) Eat – Kau - *Kawai - †K? k (39) Drink – Karin – Kawo - †Peek (40) Sleep – Layrow - †Needsara - Hooleek (41) Walk – Pawkay – Bayra - †O-teea-ootea (42) Sit – Boihow -†Boesho -†Bo (43) Stand – Tcheilayto - *Karao -†Oot (44) Kill – Marim - *Maro -*Mar (45) Yes – Hoi – Oir - Oo (46) No – Etibar - *Noay - *Naway (47) Here – Hayray – Etay - Erang (48) There – Horay – Horay - Orung (49) Above – Ouchalo -* Ooper - Goa (50) Below – Ayray - Hayray† -  Tol. Here the words which come nearest the Hindustanee spoken on the Ganges, have been marked with (*) and those which are not evidently in connection with the same but show resemblance by analogy, have been marked with (†). 

Notably, except four words e.g; Ban, Thuddee, Tcheilayto and Etibar out of the above mentioned 50 Rooinga words, all other 46 words are still commonly spoken by the Rohingyas of today's Arakan and the people of Chittagong alike some ones with a little change of accent, object and area. And about 80% of other words of 'Rossawn' and 'Banga' of the then ancient Arakan language are now in use in the Bengali language of today's Bangladesh and the West Bengal of India.  

Ref: SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 1, No., 1, Spring 2003, ISSN 1479-8484

http://web.soas.ac.uk/burma/Comparative%20Vocabulary.PDF 

All the above facts which were not written by the Rohingyas and where there is an unequivocal consensus of all the pro- and anti – Rohingya historians as well as the world historians, irrefutably prove that the Rohingyas existed in the ancient Arakan as an indigenous group with their own language and culture and they are not the British era settlers of Arakan which is now a state under the Union of Burma.

...................................................................................

Address: 2975 Vang i Valdres, Norway. Email: arahman567@yahoo.com, www.rohingyareview.com


  
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