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Myanmar sunset Bagan (formerly Pagan) temple      Source: murrrrrs / Adobe Stock

Is the Palace of Binnaka Waiting to be Discovered?

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Myanmar, once known as Burma, is a Southeast Asian nation that is increasingly popular with foreign travelers due to its incredible history and traditions. The once important city-state of Binnaka played a crucial role in the history and development of the country and is now an archaeological site. The remains offer a fascinating insight into the origins of the Indianized kingdoms in Southeast Asia and the unique ancient culture.

The History of Binnaka: Buddhism and War

As attested in the documentary records, the city-state of Binnaka was founded by the Pyu people in the 2 nd century AD who developed the first culture in Burma. They were Tibeto-Burman-speaking people who entered the region from what is now South China. Originally villages that rose up into cities thanks to trade, the Pyu established a series of city-states that vied with each other for dominance of the region. These were among the first states in Southeast Asia to come under the influence of Indian religion and culture, which was most likely spread by merchants.

It appears that Binnaka was a major power in the area and ruled by a monarch who was responsible for the fall of Tagaung, the original home of the Pyu people. Based on the archaeological evidence, the city became Indianized over some time. The artifacts reveal the slow conversion to Buddhism, which is still the dominant religion in Burma today. Ari Buddhism, the worship of bodhisattvas and nāgas, was followed early on, but eventually succeeded by Theravada Buddhism in the Late Middle Ages.

Extract of a Nanzhao Tujuan scroll, 9th or 10th century (Public Domain)

Extract of a Nanzhao Tujuan scroll, 9 th or 10 th century (Public Domain)

Binnaka began to decline with the rest of the Pyu city-states because of raids from the Nanzhao Kingdom, in what is now southeast China. In the 9 th century AD, the Barmen people entered the area, forming the Pagan Empire, and are regarded as the direct ancestors of the Burmese. They gradually conquered many of the city-states and at one time occupied Binnaka. It lost its Pyu characteristics and Binnaka, like the other city-states, played a critical role in the development of Burmese culture, including its distinctive alphabet.

According to the archaeological records, the site was occupied until the 19 th century and the area has been placed on a shortlist for potential certification as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Temples in Bagan, Myanmar. (CC BY 2.0)

Temples in Bagan, Myanmar. (CC BY 2.0)

The Rare Pyu Remains of Binnaka

Binnaka extends across 200 hectares on the Kyaukse plains and was once home to thousands.  In many ways, it follows the plan of other Pyu cities as its design and the layout is very similar to that of Maingmaw. The floor plans of the buildings also follow those of other Pyu towns.

The city was once surrounded by an outer circular enclosure and a square inner wall. The design represented a zodiac sign and a symbol of the sun. Most of the original brick walls, now almost lost aside from the outline, were surrounded by a ditch or moat.

Remains of a temple grace the center of the site as well as surrounding remains of houses and the Buddhist monasteries. It is believed that there may once have been a palace in the city, but it has not yet been unearthed. Ruins of pagodas built in the Indian Andhra style can be seen and tracts of land within the city walls were likely used for farming.

An example of the decorative Pyu script (Lost Footsteps)

An example of the decorative Pyu script (Lost Footsteps)

Due to decades of neglect, the remains at the site are not in good repair and many of these may not date from the Pyu period, but rather from the Pagan era. It seems likely that the later kingdom rebuilt many of the older structures.

Visiting the Binnaka City-state Ruins

Binnaka is in central Myanmar and is not easily accessible. To visit the site, it may be necessary to hire a taxicab from a major urban center. These are relatively inexpensive. A fee is charged to enter the archaeological site, which is situated in a forested area. Sadly, the ruins are badly weathered.

Top image: Myanmar sunset Bagan (formerly Pagan) temple      Source: murrrrrs / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan


Aung-Thwin, M. A. (2019). Pagan: the origins of modern Burma. University of Hawaii Press

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Bellina, B. (2014). Southeast Asia and the early maritime silk road. Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 22

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Hla, U. K. (1979). Ancient cities in Burma. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 38(2), 95-102

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Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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