Who Killed the King of Bagan by Jame DiBiasio is a booked about the history of ancient Bagan and its political landscape. The titled question is about King Anawrahta, the founding father of Bagan Empire. His death was quite a mystery in the history and the writer gives us to find out more about him and his death. The book also tells about the successors of King Anawrahta, famous pagodas in Bagan, short chapter on Buddha and the brief chronicle of early civilization in Myanmar.
When I was young, I learnt that King Anawrahta was killed by a bull. It was more of a folklore. It said the bull was actually the tree spirit who had malice to the King so it transformed itself to the form of a bull and attacked the King on the elephant. I found the story groundless. As I grew older, I read another similar story. In it, while the King tried to kill the raging bull, he fell down from his elephant and the bull killed him and dragged his body. It’s somewhat acceptable but the fact that his body was never found is totally bizarre. He’s the great King with abundant followers. It’s hard to believe his corpse was never found.
To dismiss the bull theory, DiBiasio has to presented plausible suspects and their motives. In the list of suspects, it includes the remnant of Pyu people and a group of Mon ethnic people whose land Anawrahta had invaded. Another convincing suspects are the various religious groups which Anawrahta tried to eradicate in order to make Theravada as the main religion of his kingdom. His queen and his son also make it into the list but their motives are not that strong. Kyansitha, another well-known king in Bagan era, is a suspect with rational motives, too.
The first half of the book focuses on Anawrahta’s reigns but the remaining half tells you about the other Kings and the pagodas they built in Bagan. Interlacing with the stories of its regional and foreign affairs, the writer gives a fascinating book for those who are interested in history of Bagan. He had referenced from local and international historians and several chronicles to fact check the foggy history and analyzed on them.
As a Burmese, I’ve known 70% of the history in this book. I was keen to find out about the culprit who killed Anawrahta. although the titled question is not answered in the book as there is no believable historical fact for it. It is more like a rhetorical question with speculations we have to live with. But I learnt an acceptable story of how he was murdered. DiBiasio’s epigrammatic of writing is quite entertaining. An enjoyable and informative read as it gives me some new perspectives on Bagan history.