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The Early History of the Mons
The Mons were one of the earliest peoples settled in Southeast Asia. According to the Burmese chronicles, they were the first people settled in Burma as well, immigrated from some where in central Asia several centuries before the Christian Era. Linguistically, the Mon language belong to the Mon-Khmer family.
In the beginning they settled in the area between the lower Salween and Sittang rivers, and established the kingdom called Suvannabhumi, which is mentioned in the early Indian literatures and Chinese records. Around this time there was another state called Pyu centered at Sri Ksetra near Prome in central Burma, to the north of the Mon kingdom. The Pyu people ethnically the Tibeto-Burman, constructed Buddhist monuments and made Brahmanic artifacts. Several Arabic geographists called the country of the Mons Ramannadesa, derived from the ancient Mon word Rmen meaning the Mons themselves. In contrast, the Burmese called the Mons Talaings, derived from Talingna, a place name in southeastern India.
According to the chronicles, the Mons were the people who constructed the Swedagon Pagoda in Rangoon about 2,540 years ago. However, what is obvious is that the Mons introduced Buddhism into Burma for the first time. In the third century B.C. according to the chronicles, Suthammavadi or Thaton, the center of the Mons at the time, had close contacts with India particularly during the time of King Asoka, who sent missionaries called Sona and Uttara to Suwannabhumi.
One of the Mon chronicles mentions that the Mon kingdom at Thaton was established in 302 B.C. by two princes of an Indian king called Tissa. This first kingdom of the Mons had 59 kings who succeeded the founders of the dynasty. The Mon kingdom at Thaton actively contacted and traded with India and Lanka, and received Indian civilization in various aspects including language and religion, particularly Hinayana Buddhism. In fact, the Mons played the role of introducing Indian culture to other peoples in southeast Asia, such as the Burmese, the Thais and the Laotians.