Before the 11th century, history was characterized by several phases of instability, which can be traced back to disputes over the throne and increased dynasty changes. Its exceptionally favorable location made the city one of the most important places in Upper Burma as early as the 9th century. The city extends on the Irrawaddy (also Ayeyarwady ), a river where the trade routes from China and India met. Already in 849 the city was owned by King Pyinbya(846 – 878), who also made it the capital of the empire, were surrounded by a wall. At that time, Indian and Bengali immigrants lived in the area. The local snake cult mixed with Vajrayana Buddhism (also Tantrism) from India at this time. According to the Burmese tradition, the capital changed with every change of rule, and so Bagan was left until Anawrahta (also Anuruddha ) came to power in 1057.
The rise of Bagan
With the arrival of King Anawratha, Bagan’s most important phase of power began, which can still be seen architecturally today in the temple and monastery buildings that have been preserved. Anawratha ascended the throne in 1044 and could be taken for Hinayana Buddhism. In 1056 he drove out the priests of the serpent cult. He and, after him, his son Kyanzittha (1084-1112) ensured that the city flourished and made Theravada Buddhism an instrument for maintaining power. Under Anawrahta, the empire was expanded to the Mon centers of Pegu (Bago) and Thaton (in the Irrawaddy Delta), and religious and political relations soon extended to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka ).
The city profited from the gigantic material and cultural resources gained and from the deportation of the Mon educational elite to Bagan. The Mon script was adopted and so was the literature of this culture. At that time Bagan, with an area of 40 square kilometers, exceeded even such important medieval cities as London in size. The royal court was located in Bagan, the capital, and, like the monasteries, was financed by household taxation and labor services by the governed villages. Large parts of the country were given to the Buddhist monasteries to maintain monasticism. The time of peace would last about 250 years. During this time around 6,000 pagodas were built at the behest of the pious rulers, of which around 2,000 are still preserved.
The decline of Bagan
The decline of the city in the 13th century was due on the one hand to the immense costs of building and maintaining temples. There was also the tax exemption of temples and monasteries. On the other hand, the weakening of the state had made it easy for the Thai and Mongols to push from the north into the area of the Burmese Empire. If one summarizes the fall of Bagan in one event, then it was the conflict between the Bagan king Narathihapate (1254 – 1286) and the Mongolian-ruled Yuan- China who provided the impetus for this. The king had countless temples torn down and a city wall built from the material. Nevertheless, the army of the Mongol prince Kublai Khan succeeded in capturing the city in 1287. The king fled, and with him died the myth of a Bagan that had acted as a bridge between heaven and earth. The empire, whose rulership had been Bagan, split up into several small states that were at war with one another.
Bagan after the decline
There was no resurgence of Bagan as a center of power. The population dwindled to that of a village, which was able to survive in what was once a much larger area. In 1998 the residents of this village were forcibly relocated and taken to a location a few kilometers south of Bagan. This place is what is now New Bagan. The old village is abandoned today. There are only a few expensive hotels and a few religious institutions there.
Of the around 13,000 temples and stupas that were once around, around 2,200 have been preserved today.
As early as 1958 – around 30 years before the current military junta came to power – the restoration work and inventory of the historic buildings in Bagan began. Sometimes mistakes were made that led to damage. Far more devastating destruction was caused by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 in 1975. Many buildings in Bagan, which was considered to be the epicenter, went up in ruins.
The military government had many temples (which had been dismantled after the earthquake) rebuilt from new building material and others built from scratch, mostly ignoring the historical concepts and stylistic elements. With the arbitrary construction measures, the ruling generals want to suggest a piety to the population that they certainly do not have. Once again, Buddhism is stylized as a kind of social bracket.
In June 2002 Bagan was nominated by UNESCO as the potential first World Heritage Site in Myanmar as defined on ezinereligion. However, due to the interventions described and the radical development of a tourist infrastructure (with golf course, paved expressway and 61m high observation tower), the nomination has not yet been accepted.