Also known as Sri Ksetra, Thayekhittaya was the capital of a Pyu kingdom from the fifth to ninth centuries and was eventually sacked by a Bagan king in the 11th century. As with Bagan, the ruins are in a pretty parlous state with reconstructions leaving it a little difficult to imagine what the original monuments actually looked like.
Just east of Pyay lie the ancient ruins of Sri Ksetra, meaning ‘City of Splendour’ in Sanskrit. Also known as Thayekhittaya, it provides a glimpse of an even older civilisation than those of Bagan or Mrauk U – that of the Pyu, who built this huge city between the 5th and 9th centuries.
The 1,500-year-old stupas and temples of Sri-Ksetra are among the earliest Buddhist monuments in the world. Built of brick, the stupas of Bawbawgyi and Phaya-mar and temples of Lemyet-nhar and Bebe were also among the first structures to employ a vaulted arch system, which later became prevalent in Myanmar and throughout Southeast Asia. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2014, the site is centred on the remains of the royal palaceand, although not much remains of the original city, there are a number of tombs, palaces, pagodas and other religious sites to explore – including the huge, cylindrical, brick-built Baw Baw Gyi Pagoda, said to be the oldest Buddhist monument in Myanmar; the Rahanta Cave Pagoda; the Lay Myet Hna monument; and the royal cemetery. A conservation management plan prepared for these three cities will protect Pyu’s cultural heritage, much of which comprises Buddhist structures like those at Sri-Ksetra. Meanwhile, a museum has opened containing relics from across the site.
As with Bagan, Thayekhittaya encompasses not just ancient history, but modern too. There are small villages and working farms throughout the central area, and for the non-archaeologically minded, these may actually prove to be more interesting than yet another “old temple”.