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The Wheel-Turner and His House: Kingship in a Buddhist Ecumene
by Geok Yian Goh
Northern Illinois University Press, 2014
eISBN: 978-1-60909-172-9 | Paper: 978-0-87580-716-4
Library of Congress Classification DS529.2.G64 2014
Dewey Decimal Classification 959.102

The recorded history of precolonial Burmese empire and the modern state of Myanmar starts with the kingdom of Bagan in the 11th century. The oldest surviving written records and structures are from the reign of King Anawrahta (1044–1077). Anawrahta converted to Theravada Buddhism and created a vibrant Buddhist state in the Irrawaddy River basin. Anawrahta is a folk hero to this day in Myanmar and is widely credited as a charismatic and pious leader who consolidated various ethnic groups throughout the region into a single nation.

The Wheel-Turner and His House traces the archaeological and historical record of Anawrahta and his seminal position in forming modern Myanmar, based on the few sources that have been recovered. The Great Chronicle, an important history of the country written by the 18th-century Burmese nobleman U Kala, forms the basis for much of the knowledge we have about Anawrahta today. Geok Yian Goh examines U Kala’s work in light of the context of U Kala’s own time and points out the bias of his royal court, as well as the scribe’s personal views from the elaborate narratives he produced. She looks at other sources as well, including unpublished palm-leaf manuscripts, to disentangle earlier knowledge about Anawrahta and 11th-century Bagan. Placing the overall study of Burmese historical tradition within the larger manuscript culture of Asia, Goh presents a critique of theoretical issues in history, especially the relationship between the past and memory.

In order to analyze the expansion of Anawrahta’s historical image that formed the development of a Buddhist ecumene in the 11th and 12th centuries, Goh utilizes published and unpublished texts in Burmese and classical Chinese, along with northern Thai and Sri Lankan texts, many of which Goh makes available for the first time in English.

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