Tabin Swehti

Tabin Swehti was the Burmese king who helped to unify the country as part of what is known as the Second Burmese Empire or the Toungoo dynasty, created by his father, Minkyinyo, in 1486 and lasting until 1752.

However, it was Tabin Swehti who was responsible for unifying the kingdom and identifying and adopting cultural institutions under which the country and its people could live together.

Burma was divided into territories held by different ethnic minorities, principal among whom were the Burmans, the Shans, and the Mons. Tabin Swehti was a member of the numerically largest Burman group but he recognized the need to forge a sense of national unity to persuade the Mons in particular that they should be part of his state. He ascended the throne in 1531 and at once set out to defeat the Shans in Upper Burma. The Shans were members of the Tai family, which had migrated to the region.

Having achieved this goal, Tabin Shwehti established his capital at Toungoo on the river Sittang and then dispatched a military campaign to conquer the Irrawaddy delta region and, in particular, the Mon capital of Pegu. By 1544, he had not only achieved this but defeated a Shan counterattack at Prome to the north and arranged for his coronation as king of all Burma at the ancient city of Pagan.

This represented the peak of Tabin Swehti’s career for he was later defeated in his next two campaigns, first against coastal Arakan to the west and then against the rebellious Siamese Tais of Ayutthaya, bolstered by Mon refugees from Pegu. Disappointed, the king is said to have turned to drink for consolation and was assassinated in 1550.

He was succeeded by his brother-in-law and chief general, Bayinnuang, who was responsible for extending Burmese power to an even greater extent. Nevertheless, Tabin Swehti is credited with uniting regions of Burma that had been torn apart since the Mongol invasion in the second half of the 13th century.

Tabin Swehti’s conquest of the Mons was long and bitter. Pegu was only taken after recourse to a stratagem after four years of bitter conflict. He recognized that the Mons had a high culture (and had enjoyed a period of independence of their own since the Mongol conquest) and did what he could to conciliate them.

This inspired him to take up a number of Mon practices and cultures, including adopting the Mon hairstyle. His legacy was to provide a unified state that formed the basis of further expansion and the reduction of internecine conflict.

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