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    Volume 9 Issue 3 | January 15, 2010|

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Travelling along the Coasts-1

In the Land of Captain Hiram Cox

Audity Falguni

The Kiyang Premises.

The original Rakhine or Arakanese name for Cox's Bazar, the tourism township of Bangladesh was Aung Sheng Tha Mro meaning the 'township of peace and prosperity.' Captain Hiram Cox, the Scottish-born representative of the British East India Company in Yangoon or formally Rangoon who was also cum the ruler of the Chittagong-Arankan area, first visited the present popular tourist town around 1794 and gradually established good ties with the Rakhine of the area. The long bloody war between the Burmese king Bodpawa and the Rakhine of the Arakan state (Rakhine Prey or the 'Land of the Rakhines') in 1784 drove a number of Rakhine to settle down in Cox's Bazar (including the adjoining Ramu, Teknaf, Maheshkhali, Khurushkul, Chaufuldandi, Chakoria, Harbang) and in the Banderban hill district and Patuakhali and Bargona regions of Bangladesh. Captain Hiram Cox offered an open shelter to these Rakhines he was also very liberal to local Hindu and Muslim Bengalis and the Buddhist Rakhine people in practicing their native religions.

In order to launch an effective war against the Burmese king, he recruited local Rakhines and Bengalis of the region in his troops and earned much reverence and admiration. The delighted Rakhines, then, renamed the township as Falang-Shei-Mro or the 'township of special ruler (bishesh odhikartar shahar).' In Rakhine language, Falang indicates a 'ruler' or 'officer.' Captain Hiram Cox died at the mere age of 39 years besides the bank of the Bankkhali river in Ramu of high fever and soon after his death the local people of the region from all religions and ethnic groups renamed the township again as Cox Saheber Bazar (Bazar of the Firingi Cox) or 'Cox's Bazar' as a tribute to the relentless endeavours of the late Captain to develop this coastal region into a peaceful and wealthy area. (Bangladesh e Rakhine Samproday: Itihas, Oitijhjho o Jibondhara by Maung Ba Aung, page 55-56 & 161-164),)

"Actually, Captain Cox was one of those handful of British rulers who adopted the friendship approach with local people rather than treating them as merely dominated subjects. Now-a-days, the younger generation knows very little about him and there is no other mark to remember him in Cox's Bazar except naming a petrol pump after him," says Maung Ba Aung, an official in the Cox's Bazar Deputy Commissioner Office and the author of the resource book on history of the Rakhines namely Bangladesh e Rakhine Samproday: Itihas, Oitijhjho o Jibondhara (The Rakhines of the Bangladesh: History, Tradition and Lifestyles). His book is a hard scholarly work on the basis of books by reputed historians like M.S.Collis (Arakan's Place in the Civilization of the Bay), G.E.Hall (History of Burma), B.R.Pearn (King Bering) or J.N.Sircar (Mugs and Feringhis in Bengal) and largely refers to and quotes from those documents.

L-R: Bronze Budhdha idol in Kiyang, Idol in Cox's Bazar Kiyang and the idol presented by Captin Cox to Kiyang.

It was my third visit to Cox's Bazar. This time it was a lone journey for research on the Rakhines of the area and also as an attempt to get a reprieve from of the year's stress get away from hectic Dhaka. No sooner had my bus crossed the Hiram Cox Petrol pump I felt that familiar thrill. I had already read about the vivid descriptions of the complex trianglular relationship of Burma-Arakan-Bengal in history and found them all so mind-blowing. I had been intrigued by the dimensional analysis of Burma-Arakan-Bengal-India politics and history by nobel laureate leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi in her much acclaimed book 'From Fear to Fearlessness' or the luminous annotations of Burmese life in popular and all time great Bengali author Sharat Chandra's novels like Pather Dabi (The Demands of the Road) or Sri Kanta, the fabulous tale of the establishment of Mahathindawgree Kiyang (the largest Buddhist temple in Cox's Bazar) by the Rakhine Prime Minister in exile cum Buddhist monk Agga Medha Wi in 1638. In 2006, I worked a year with a Chittagong-based NGO and I had to work with the Rakhines of the Patuakhali and Bargona region as part of my official assignment for two weeks at a stretch. The hereditary beauty and tranquility of Rakhine life ignited the impulse in me to work more on the Rakhines and particularly with those living in the Cox's Bazar region.

Let us come back to the fabulous tale of the Mahathindawgree Kiyang in Cox's Bazar. According to the annals of Rakhine history, after the death of the King Thu Dha Ma in 1638 there was anarchy in the Rakhine Prey or Arakan. It is alleged that the King's queen was involved with a powerful army general of the country and that the general assassinated the king. The general then married the queen and brutally killed other relatives and well wishers of the late king. He did not even spare the newly born son of the late King. The King's younger brother Nya Tun Khine and an intelligent minister of the Court Nya Lat Roon, along with 50,000 loyal soldiers migrated to Chittagong. The minister, however, later settled with 80 Rakhine families near a mountain along the Bankkhali river-bank and named the area as Aung Sheng Tha Mro or the 'township of peace and prosperity.' Meanwhile, the young minister, still unmarried, grew worried over the beastly tendencies in human beings for material greed, adultery and power and vowed to accept the austere life of a monk. As a monk, his new name was Agga Medha Wi and he established the Mahathindawgree Kiyang.

"Look at this particular statue. Captain Hiram Cox presented this Budhdha statue to the monks of the temple after his fellow men found this statue after an excavation work," explains Lalit Barua, a young supervisor and guide of the Kiyang. The whole Kiyang is full of a variety of Buddha statues of different metals and look unique in design, decoration and motifs.

"Unfortunately, the Kiyang authority is having some land disputes to fight in court as illegal grabbers are encroaching upon the temple premises," he adds.

"Till the Second World War, Cox's Bazar was mostly inhabited by the Rakhines. But, no sooner had the Japanese bombs have struck this little township and the partition of 1947 followed, the Rakhines began migrating to Myanmer in huge groups. Now-a-days, we number near about one lakh in the Cox's Bazar town and the adjoining regions," mentions E Thing, the woman MP from Cox's Bazar and her husband Professor Kay Thing Aung.

Being out of the temple premises, my local guide Shamima Akhter (a veteran social worker and cultural activist of the town) takes me to Burmese market and the sea beach as usual. We also take a ride to Himchari by CNG which takes 45 minutes from the Cox's Bazar sadar. Pretty Rakhine girls are selling their routine products from Myanmer like sandal cake, Burmese cotton shirts and woolen shawls woven by Rakhine women, sandals and other knicks knacks. Beautiful are the items in the Burmese market and more beautiful is our long sea beach at sun set, but the roads and lanes of Cox's Bazar municipality corporation are dirty, narrow and dilapidated. It is quite clear to me now why there has been a decline in foreign tourists in Cox's Bazar. No, we, Bangladeshis should not vote on-line Cox's Bazar as `one of the seven most beautiful spots' in the world. If anybody terms me unpatriotic for this comment, I am prepared to hear that. Because patriotism does not mean being blind to the glaring flaws around us; rather it means raising a voice against our anomalies and try holistically to cure them. Should not our Tourism Ministry and the Cox's Bazar Municipality Corporation be at least a little more sincere to keep this tourism spot clean for the better sake of our country?


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