This article has been extracted from
THE IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF INDIA , 1908.
OXFORD, AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.
Head-quarters of the District of the same name in Lower Burma, situated in 16° 55' N. and 97° 22' E. Its name Thaton is believed to be a corruption of Saddhama (sat-dharma, i.e. ' good law '), and may be connected with the legendary fame of the city as a repository of the Buddhist scriptures. The town is pic- turesquely situated at the very foot of the forest-clad slopes of the Martaban hills, wedged in between a hill ridge and a stretch of level alluvial land, about 10 miles in width, which separates it from the Gulf of Martaban. Flat and well wooded, shut in on the east, but open to the cold-season breeze from the north and the south-west monsoon, which blows across the rice flats from the sea, Thaton enjoys a climate which is on the whole pleasant and salubrious. The rainfall is heavy, but the town is well drained ; and the heat, which rarely rises above 95°, is generally tempered by cool air currents.
Thaton was in ancient times a flourishing port and the capital of an independent kingdom, known in Pali literature as Ramannadesa. This was the country of the Mons, who, since their final conquest by the Burman king Alaungpaya in the middle of the eighteenth century, have come to be known as Talaings. Tradition likewise points to Thaton as the centre and mother city of the Taungthus, who still form a con- siderable element in the population, as they do also in the Shan State of Thaton or Hsahtung farther nortli ; but as regards the part played by this people in the past in Thaton the legends cannot be accepted without reserve. Trustworthy dates concerning the history of Thaton are, in fact, extremely few, and the town's early history may be briefly disposed of.
It appears from Buddhist writings preserved in Ceylon and elsewhere (particularly the Mahavanso) that at the third great synod held at Pataliputra (the modern Patna), it was determined to send missionaries to all lands to preach the doctrines of Buddhism ; and accordingly two missionaries, Sona and Uttara, were dispatched to Suvanna Bhumi, which is identified with the country of which Thaton was the capital. About the middle of the fifth century a. d., a copy of the Buddhist scriptures was brought over to Suvanna Bhumi from Ceylon by Bud- dhaghosha, a learned native of Bihar. Both these traditions have, however, been doubted ', and there is reason for discrediting the belief of the Burmans, that the earliest form of Buddhism in Burma was of the Southern School. In the eleventh century, in the reign of king Manuha, the town was sacked after a famous siege by Anawrata, the Burman king of Pagan, who took away w'ith him many elephant-loads of relics and manuscripts, as well as the most learned of the priesthood. So thorough was the work of destruction that Thaton henceforward figures hardly at all in either legend or history. It is true that Sir Arthur Phayre identified Thaton wath the port called Xeythoma which was visited by Nicolo de' Conti about 1430, but the identifica- tion appears to be exceedingly uncertain. It seems more probable that at that date Thaton had long since ceased to be upon the sea- coast, and the port in question is more likely to have been Sittang.
The date at which the sea began to withdraw from Thaton is not exactly known, but is probably indicated by the foundation of Pegu and Martaban, the cities which took its place, the one as a capital and the other as a seaport. These towns are said to have been founded by emigrants from Thaton in a. d. 573 and 575, respectively; and it seems safe to infer that Thaton was already in its decadence when Anawrata finally accomplished its ruin. Though in the past Thaton itself has usually been identified as the landing-place of Sona and Uttara, and later of Buddhaghosha, it should be mentioned that Dr. Forchhanmier has shown weighty reasons for placing the scene of these events, if they actually occurred, at Taikkala or Kalataik, at the foot of the Kelatha hills.
Little remains at the present day to attest the ancient magnificence of Thaton, except the ruins of the city walls. The chief remains of pagodas are situated between the site of the citadel and the south wall. At present the largest is a modern one, of the usual form, built
1 See Y. A. Smith. Indian Antiquary, 1905, p. 180. over an old one and called the Shwesayan. Near it are three square ones. The principal of these, known as the Thagya or Muleik pagoda, lies on the eastern side of the great pagoda, and still exhibits signs of having once been a beautiful and elaborate structure. It is built entirely (as are almost all pagodas in that part of the country which was inhabited by the Takings) of hewn laterite. The whole face of the pagoda has been carved in patterns, but the most remarkable part is the second storey ; into the face of this are let red clay entablatures, on which various figures are depicted in relief. Few now remain, and they are much mutilated and covered with whitewash ; the scenes and costumes depicted, however, are very curious.
The population of Thaton, which had dwindled in 1853 to a village of thirty or forty houses, was 14,342 in 1901, and is increasing steadily. A large proportion of the non-Burman inhabitants are Taungthus. There are a few Karens and a good many natives of India. The increase in population during the past twenty years is due, in large measure, to the communication established in 1883 with the outer world by the 8 miles of light railway which connect the town with Duyinzeik on the Donthami river, whence a steam-launch (run by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company) plies daily to Moulmein. The town is also connected by a metalled road with Kyaikto on the north-west and Martaban on the south-east. Thaton possesses a flourishing market, a District courthouse, civil and military police lines, and a municipal hospital. It has been administered since 1887 by a municipal committee, composed of five ex-officio and ten nominated members. The income and expenditure of the municipal fund during the ten years ending 1901 averaged Rs. 25,500 and Rs. 23,500 respec- tively. In 1903-4 the income was Rs. 38,000, the principal sources being house tax (Rs. 4,700) and market dues (Rs. 18,000). The expenditure was Rs. 57,000, the most important items being adminis- tration (Rs. 6,800), roads (Rs. 4,500), and hospital (Rs. 25,000).