Modern scholars assert that today is the birth date in 1150 of Narapati Sithu (နရပတိ စည်သူ, also Narapatisithu, Sithu II or Cansu II), king of the Pagan dynasty of Burma from 1174 to 1211. Contemporary chronicles vary widely concerning his birth date and year, however. He is considered to be the last significant king of Pagan, and his peaceful and prosperous reign gave rise to a Burmese culture which finally emerged from the shadows of Mon and Pyu cultures. Subsequently, Burman leadership of the kingdom was unquestioned. The Pagan Empire reached its peak during his reign, and declined gradually after his death.
Narapati Sithu was the son of Narathu and his wife (later known as Myauk Pyinthe, “Queen of the Northern Palace”) in Pagan (now Bagan). In 1171, his elder brother Naratheinkha succeeded to the throne of Pagan, but was greeted with multiple rebellions by the Kudus in the Tagaung region in the north and the Mons of Tenasserim coast in the south. Naratheinkha appointed Narapati Sithu as the heir apparent and commander-in-chief to deal with the rebellions. In 1174, Naratheinkha seized Narapati’s wife Weluwaddy (Veluvati) after he sent Narapati on a mission. Narapati retaliated by sending a group of 80 led by Aungzwa to assassinate his brother. After the assassination, he ascended the throne as Sithu II in honor of his grandfather Alaungsithu. He came to power some time between 27th March 1174 and 10th August 1174, most probably between April and May 1174.
One of the first acts of Sithu II was to found the Royal Palace Guards, whose sole duty was to guard the palace and the king. (The Palace Guards later evolved to become the nucleus round which the Burmese army assembled in war time.) He then had to pacify the kingdom, which had seen much instability since the death of Alaungsithu in 1167, and had grown increasingly restless. He successfully persuaded the great-grandson of the Mon king Manuha not to start a rebellion. The rest of the reign was free of rebellions.
By all accounts, his reign was peaceful and prosperous. Following Anawratha’s footsteps, Narapatisithu worked on increasing Upper Burma’s economic and human advantages over the Irrawaddy valley. He continued to develop the Kyaukse region by building the Kyaukse weir, and expanded the irrigable areas by starting the Mu canals in the present-day Shwebo District. His attempts to expand irrigation southwards into Minbu District by building a canal system repeatedly failed, and had to be abandoned. Through his efforts, the kingdom grew even more prosperous. The prosperity of the kingdom is reflected in the superb the Gawdawpalin and Sulamani temples in Pagan he built. He also built the Minmalaung, Dhammayazika and Chaukpala nearby. His lesser pagodas, such as the Zetawun in Myeik District, the Shwe Indein Pagoda in Nyaungshwe (Shan State) shows the reach of his kingdom.
His reign also saw the rise of Burmese culture which finally emerged from the shadows of Mon and Pyu cultures. The Burmans, who had entered the Irrawaddy valley en masse only in the 9th and 10th centuries, had led the Pagan kingdom under the name of the Pyu. But now, the Burman leadership of the kingdom was now unquestioned. For the first time, the term Mranma (the Burman people) was openly used in Burmese language inscriptions. (The earliest use of Mranma was found in a Mon inscription dedicated to Kyansittha dated 1102.) The Burmese script became the primary script of the kingdom, replacing Mon and Pyu scripts.
Narapatisithu appointed Nadaungmya, great-grandson of Nyaung-U Hpi (one of the great Paladins during Anawrahta’s reign), chief justice. His chief minister was Ananda Thuriya, reportedly a man of valor who continually hunted down robbers and presented them alive to the king. He had the first Burmese customary law based on his grandfather Alaungsithu’s judgments compiled, and used as the common system of law for the entire kingdom.
He encouraged reforms of Burmese Buddhism. By the efforts of his primate Shin Uttarajiva, the majority of the Burmese Buddhist monks realigned themselves with the Mahavihara school of Ceylon away from the less orthodox Conjeveram-Thaton school. This influence is still felt in Myanmar, where Theravada Buddhism is dominant and widespread.
Sithu II died at age 73 on 18th August 1211 (11th waxing of Tawthalin 573 ME). On his deathbed, he placed the hands of his five sons on his chest and enjoined them to rule with mercy and justice, and to live together in brotherly love. His immediate successor was his son Htilominlo (r. 1211—1235), followed by his grandson Kyaswa (r. 1235–1249). They were able to live off the stable and bountiful conditions Sithu passed on with little state-building on their part. Htilomino hardly did any governing. He was a devout Buddhist and scholar, gave up the command of the army, and left administration to a privy council of ministers. The seeds of Pagan’s decline were sown during this seemingly idyllic period. The state had stopped expanding, but the practice of donating tax-free land to religious groups had not. The continuous growth of tax-free religious wealth greatly reduced the tax base of the kingdom and ended in its collapse.
What is called “royal cuisine” in Myanmar these days is much more modern than the cuisine of the Pagan dynasty, but it probably reflects the ethos, if not the practice of bygone days. Rice is the main component, accompanied with an array of side dishes – many of them vegetarian, reflecting the Buddhist culture of Myanmar.
Here’s a video for preparing Nga Pi Chet. Rotsa ruck finding the ingredients if you don’t live in SE Asia: