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Dr Edward Hamilton Johnston and Anandacandra Stone Inscription

Aman Ulla
RB History

March 13, 2016

Edward Hamilton Johnston (1885 –1942) was a British oriental scholar who was Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1937 until his death.

Edward Hamilton Johnston was born in 1885 and was educated at New College, Oxfordwhere he obtained a first-class degree in 1907. He joined the Indian Civil Service, winning the Boden Sanskrit Scholarship during his probation, and worked in India from 1909 onwards in various capacities. He took the opportunity to retire in 1924 after working in India for 15 years, and returned to England. Thereafter he spent his time on the study ofSanskrit, later learning sufficient Tibetan and Chinese to make use of material available in those languages. 

In 1937, he was elected Boden Professor of Sanskrit and Keeper of the Indian Institute at the University of Oxford, also becoming aProfessorial Fellow of Balliol College. He published several articles on a variety of topics. He died on 24 October 1942 at the age of 57. His obituary in The Times described his death as “a heavy loss not only to his friends and to Oxford but to Sanskrit studies everywhere.

Anandacandra Stone Inscription is a stone inscription which was erected by King Anandacandra and is a prasati of king Anandacandra who ruled Arakan about 720 CE. That’s why it is called Anandacandra Stone inscription. Since it is now sited at the Shitthaung, it is also called the Shitthaung Pillar.The Anandacandra inscription is a priceless document, which not only has lists of the personalities of each monarch, but also some of the major events of every reign. It is not only an important epigraphic record but also it was part of a ceremonial tarana (portal) bristling with mystical connotations. The components forming this doorway were the pillar itself, a lintel, an octagonal column and a swinging gate. Pamela Gutman’s has suggested that as the material used was red sandstone, she proposed a date anterior to the middle of the seventh century.

The early history of this inscription pillar is a blank. It was first mentioned in the Rakhaing chronicles when it was conveyed from Vaishali on the orders of King Mong Ba Gree (reigned 1531-1553) to his Shitthaung pagoda at Mrauk U, nine miles to the south. Ten various dates are given for this event, such as 1534, 1535 and 1536. The north entrance of the pagoda then became the Inscription’s new home. On the death of Mong Ba Gree in 1553, the pillar was neglected, and thereafter for over four centuries abandoned and finally used as a gatepost. 

As noted rightly by Noel Singer, “if Johnston had not been translated the contents of the Inscription, it may be remained inaccessible for well over a thousand years, would never have been known. Although the Rakhaihg chroniclers, monks and laymen alike, were incapable of deciphering the Sanskrit text, they were not above providing fictitious names and accounts of the rulers of this and other ancient sites.” (Noel F. Singer, ‘Vaisali and the Indianization’pp.39-40) 

While the Inscription, which consists of sixty-five verses [seventy-one and a half lines], has provided important material regarding dates and locations, its compiler could also be infuriatingly terse at times. Neither the name of the kingdom or the two premier city sites of Dhanyavati and Vaishali are mentioned; it simply states that a nagaram (royal city) had been established. (Singer pp. 39-40)

This 11-foot high monolith, unique in entire Burma, have three of its four faces inscribed in a Nagari script, which is closely allied to those of Bengali and north-eastern India and Bengal.

As the monolith is cemented to the floor, each of the four panels has been designated according to the cardinal direction in which it faces; this is for easy reference. The script on the panel on the east face is believed by Johnston to be the oldest. According to Pamela Gutman it was similar to the type of script used in Bengal (Bangladesh) during the early 6th century CE. As to the panel on the north face, Johnston mentioned that several smaller inscriptions in Bengali characters had been added in the 10th century. Gutman however felt that the principal text in this section is of the mid-11th century CE. The panel on the west face, which is reasonably preserved, is believed by Gutman to be of the earlier part of the 8th century. This priceless document not only lists the personalities of each monarch but also some of the major events of every reign.

This inscription was first read by Dr. Johnston of Oxford University in 1935-1942. Later it was studied by Dr. D. C Sircir. Dr. Johnston’s transliteration was later copied by U San Tha Aung and Dr. Pamela Gutman. . Dr. Johnston was the first to read the inscription fully. His readings reveal a list of kings which he considered to be reliable from the beginning of the Candra dynasty. Most of the pronunciations of the words used in it are pronounced as the Rohingyas of today use in their language. 

Singer remarked that, “Regrettably, the contents of the eastern and northern faces have not yet been fully investigated, and the situation has reached a critical point as the surfaces are fast deteriorating. Half-hearted plans to have the texts studied and translated have not materialized.” As to him, “The profound apathy which appears to grip most civil servants in the relevant departments may be one of the reasons. One must also assume that there are no competent epigraphists available to attempt unraveling the inscriptions. By all accounts, resources are now focused on the archaeology in Myanmar proper, with early Arakan and old Mon thrust to one side.” (Singer pp. 39-55)

The Shitthaung pillar was first notice by Dr E. Forchhammer. According to him, “about half a mile north of the palace, is the Shiithaung pagoda erected by King Minbin, the 12th of the Mrauk-U dynasty who reigned over Arakan from A. D. 1531 to 1553. The shrine is the work of Hindu architects and Hindu workmen; the skill and art displayed in its construction and ornamentation are far beyond to what the Arakanese themselves have ever attained to; the entire structure is alien in its main features to the native architectural style….to the left hand of the entrance (north side) of the shrine a square stone pillar rises to the height of 3.3m from the socket ; each side is 2 4″(.7m) broad ; three sides are covered with inscriptions in Nagari characters; that facing the east is almost entirely defaced and the text cannot be recovered ; the inscription on the north side is also much damaged; the lines are very irregular and the letters badly engraved ; that on the west side is best preserved; the south side of the pillar has not been inscribed; the stone exhibits no ornamental designs.”(Arakan..Forchhammer p.20) 

Although Forchhammer first brought this inscription to the notice of scholars, it was not until 1929, when Duroiselle sent an apparently inferior set of rubbings to the Government Epigraphist in India, that preliminary account was published ASI 1929-26 pp.146-148 and ASB 1929-26, pp. 27-30 and 59-60. A number of misconception found in this reading have been perpetuated by some Indian scholars. Under the instigation of Professor Luce, a new set of rubbings, prepared by his able assistant U Sein was sent to Professor E. H. Johnston at Oxford. With the aid of an unpublished reading of the last fifty lines prepared by Dr N. P. Cakravarti, one-time Government Epigraphist for India, Johnston made an almost complete annotated transliteration of the inscription intended forEpigraphia Birmanica. The break in publication due to the war, and Johnston’s sudden death in 1942 led to his posthumous article “Some Sanskrit Inscription in BSOAS XI (1944) prepared by Prof. Luce “from old notes on the backs of envelopes” and with an excellent translation and further annotation of the transcription by Professor L. D. Barnett.(Gutman’s Ancient Arakan p.35) 

Professor Johnston’s article, besides its paleographic interest-his remarks on this subject have not been omitted-is of historical importance, as giving the first solid foundation for the study of ancient Arakan, and as indicating the valuable results likely to be achieved by full-scale archaeological excavation at Vesali, Mrohaung, and other sites.

It is an invaluable heritage of Arakan, which Arakanese people regard to be very authentic and they are proud of it. So mentioning it here under the headline of culture of Rohingya may monument is their historical heritage, but the language that used in that inscription was different from Rakhine people but similar to Rohingya language.

Some of the usage of Inscription which are current or near to current in Rohingya language are: –

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