By Jenna Jolie
Burma's coastline defines the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal, running from the Bangladesh border in the northwest down to the Malay Peninsula and Thai territory in the southeast. Southern Burma consists largely of the western slopes of the Bilauktaung Range, which constitutes the northern base of the Malay Peninsula. Northern Burma, which comprises the great bulk of the country's area, consists largely of the broad river valley of the Irrawaddy. Originating high up in the very eastern extremity of the Himalayas, the Irrawaddy rushes down through great mountain gorges in northern Burma before spreading out into one of the largest river deltas in Asia. Both of Burma's principal cities--Rangoon and Mandalay--are situated along the Irrawaddy, and the 1,000 mi (1,600 km) river is navigable for almost two-thirds of its length. The Irrawaddy Valley is surrounded by a great horseshoe of mountain ranges, which rise in the east to the highlands of the Shan Plateau.
Culture and Religion
The culture of Myanmar (or Burma) has been heavily influenced by Buddhism and the Mon people. Burmese culture has also been influenced by its neighbors India, Thailand, and China.
In more recent times, British colonial rule and Westernization have influenced aspects of Burmese culture, including language and education.
Burma is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country. Buddhism reached Burma around the beginning of the Christian era, mingling with Hinduism (also imported from India) and indigenous animism.
Islam reached Burma at approximately the same time but never gained a foothold outside the geographically isolated seaboard running from modern-day Bangladesh southward to Irrawaddy Delta (modern Rakhine State, formerly Arakan, an independent kingdom until the eighteenth century). The colonial period saw a huge influx of Muslim (and Hindu) Indians into Yangon and other cities, and the majority of Yangon's many mosques and temples owe their origins to these immigrants.
Christianity was brought to Burma by European missionaries in the 1800s. It made little if any headway among Buddhists, but has been widely adopted by non-Buddhists such as the Chin, Karen, and Kachin. The Roman Catholic Church, Myanmar Baptist Convention, and the Assemblies of God of Burma are the largest Christian denominations in Burma. Burma is home to the second largest population of Baptists in the world, after the United States, the result of American missionary work.