Konbaung Rulers: (Title, Literal meaning, Lineage, Reign, Notes): 1) Alaungpaya, Future Buddha-King, village chief, 1752–1760, founder of the dynasty and the Third Burmese Empire, invaded Ayutthaya; 2) aungdawgyi, Royal Elder Brother, son, 1760–1763, invaded Ayutthaya with his father; 3) Hsinbyushin, Lord of the White Elephant, brother, 1763–1776, invaded and sacked Ayutthaya, invaded Chiang Mai and Laos, invaded Manipur, successfully repulsed 4 Chinese invasions; 4) Singu, King Singu, son, 1776–1781; 5) Phaungka, Younger Brother (Lord of Phaungka), cousin (son of Naungdawgyi), 1782, the shortest reign in Burmese history of just over one week.
6) Bodawpaya, Royal Lord Grandfather, uncle (son of Alaungpaya), 1782–1819, invaded and annexed Arakan, invaded Ayutthaya; 7) Bagyidaw, Royal Elder Uncle, grandson, 1819–1837, invaded Ayutthaya with his grandfather, invaded Assam and Manipur, defeated in the First Anglo-Burmese War; 8) Tharrawaddy, King Tharrawaddy, brother, 1837–1846, fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War as Prince of Tharrawaddy; 9) Pagan, King Pagan, son, 1846–1853, overthrown by Mindon after his defeat in the Second Anglo-Burmese War; 10) Mindon, King Mindon, half-brother, 1853–1878, sued for peace with the British; had a very narrow escape in a palace rebellion by two of his sons but his brother Crown Prince Ka Naung was killed; 11) Thibaw, King Thibaw, son, 1878–1885, the last king of Burma, forced to abdicate and exiled to India after his defeat in the Third Anglo-Burmese War.
King Alaungpaya (reigned 1752–1760)
Alaungpaya (reigned 1752–1760) unified Myanmar and founded the Konbaung Dynasty, sometimes referred to as the Third Burmese dynasty, which held power until the British annexed Upper Myanmar in 1886. King Alaungpaya founded Rangoon in 1755 and sacked and almost completely destroyed the Mon capital of Pegu in 1757.
Alaungpaya (meaning “The Victorious" in Burmese) was a village headman from the small town of Moksobomyo (present-day Shwebo), north of Ava, the Myanmar capital, in 1752 when Binnya Dala, the Mon king of Pegu, captured Ava and ended the Toungoo dynasty. Refusing to become a Mon vassal, Alaungpaya organized a resistance movement. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
Claiming descent from a 15th-century Myanmar king, Alaungpaya established a new Myanmar capital at Moksobomyo. In 1753 he recaptured Ava and went on the offensive in southern Myanmar. In 1755, at the end of a lightning campaign into the Mon country, he founded a new port later called Yangôn (Rangoon) at the site of the Mon fishing village of Dagon. In 1757 he captured the city of Pegu. and took Binnya Dala prisoner. Alaungpaya established effective control over the whole area previously under the rule of the Toungoo dynasty. ~
Because the French had allied themselves with the Mon, Alaungpaya was eager to gain British support. In 1757 he concluded a treaty with the British East India Company, granting it generous trade concessions. But the company, at war with the French in India, was unwilling to involve itself on a second front in Myanmar. In October 1759 the king's troops massacred British merchants at Negrais who were suspected of aiding a local revolt. After that action. relations between Britain and Myanmar were suspended. ~
Alaungpaya's last campaign was an invasion of Siam (Thailand). He led an army through the town of Tavoy southward to Tenasserim and then northward to Ayutthaya, the Siamese capital. which he surrounded in April 1760. During the siege he was wounded. and he died while his army was in retreat to Myanmar. ~
King Hsinbyushin (ruled 1763–1776)
Hsinbyushin (ruled 1763–1776) was the third king of the Konbaung Dynasty. Pursuing a policy of expansion at the expense of practically all his neighbours, he invaded and sacked Ayutthaya in Siam, attacked Chiang Mai and Laos, invaded Manipur and successfully repulsed four Chinese invasions.
Hsinbyushin's most important single project was the subjugation of Siam (now Thailand). In 1764 he campaigned eastward, taking Chiang Mai (Chiengmai) and Vientiane before invading the Chao Phraya River valley. When the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya fell in April 1767, he deported thousands of prisoners to Myanmar. According to the Siamese chronicles. "the King of Hanthawaddy [Bayinnaung] waged war like a monarch. but the King of Ava [Hsinbyushin] like a robber." Myanmar control of Siam was very brief; the Siamese general Taksin soon expelled Hsinbyushin's armies. Not content with just conquering Siam, Hsinbyushin invaded the Hindu kingdom of Manipur (in present-day Manipur state. India) three times for slaves and plunder. When the king claimed suzerainty over the country in the third invasion, he could then threaten British India. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
The greatest threat to Hsinbyushin's power came from China. Myanmar aggressiveness in the Shan states, Laos and Chiang Mai (then the capital of the kingdom of Lan Na) led the emperor of China to launch four expeditions against Myanmar in 1765-69. all of which were defeated by Hsinbyushin. In 1769 a treaty was signed that provided for trade and diplomatic missions between the two countries. In 1773 a revolt broke out in southern Myanmar. which Hsinbyushin suppressed. On his death three years later, he was succeeded by his son. Singu Min. ~
King Bodawpaya (ruled 1782–1819)
Bodawpaya (ruled 1782–1819) was sixth monarch of the Konbaung Dynasty. A son of Alaungpaya, the founder of the dynasty, he invaded and annexed Arakan, attacked Ayutthaya and was in power when the long conflict began with the British.
Bodawpaya came to power after deposing and executing his grandnephew Maung Maung. In 1784 Bodawpaya invaded Arakan, the maritime kingdom on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, captured its king Thamada. and deported more than 20,000 people into Myanmar as slaves. When Arakan was made a Myanmar province in 1785 the borders of Myanmar and British India were contiguous for the first time. The king's success in Arakan led him to invade Siam (Thailand) in 1785. but his army was defeated. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
Bodawpaya's rule in Arakan was so oppressive that the people revolted in 1794. When the king sent an army to crush the revolt thousands of refugees fled to British territory, with Myanmar troops crossing the border in pursuit of the rebel leaders. Conditions on the border became so unsettled that in 1795 the British sent a representative to Amarapura. the Myanmar capital, to negotiate with Bodawpaya. The disturbances continued, however, and Bodawpaya's campaigns in Assam added to the tension. Open conflict was narrowly avoided. ~
Bodawpaya was a fervent Buddhist who proclaimed himself Arimittya, (Maitreya). the messianic Buddha destined to conquer the world. He persecuted heterodox sects; made drinking, smoking opium and killing animals punishable by death; and built many pagodas. His most ambitious project was the Mingun pagoda. which, if completed. would have been 500 feet (150 meters) high. During his reign, he made a major economic survey of the entire kingdom (1784). ~
See Mingun, Places
King Bodawpaya's Pagoda
King Bodawpaya's Pagoda (in Mingun) is the largest brick building in Asia and, according to some, the world's largest unfinished Buddhist shrine. Built under King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) by thousands of slaves, on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, it was constructed between 1790 and 1797 to enshrine a tooth reputedly belonging to Buddha and other sacred objects. The king is said to have helped conceive the design and used 10,000 laborers just to fire the bricks at a rate of 300 a day each per person.
It has long been said that the temple reached about a third of its planned height when Bodawpaya died in 1819 and the king's children abandoned construction of the pagoda because it drained to much money from the kingdom's treasury. This, it appears, was a story dreamed up and perpetuated by the British who wanted to discredit the Burmese royals by making them seem decadent. One British visitor called the pagoda project an “extraordinary folly.”
Each side of the enormous brick base is 236 feet high, the lowest terrace measures 450 feet across. The colossal decorated door is 162 feet high. The shrine was used until in 1838, when an earthquake created the huge fracture and fissures on the facade of the shrine that visitors see today. Visitors climb to the top on a modern stairway mounted on the ruined corner of the monument. No access to the summit originally existed.
The temple is considered unfinished because it doesn’t contain a tower, a feature of most Burmese temples. Evidence gleaned from royal documents seems to indicate the temple was finished and that thus had a new design that was different from designs used in the past. It now seems the temple was designed as a broad temple rather than being the unfinished base of a tall one.
Leading to the temple is a formal processional path from the river with crouching guardian lions marking the entrance. Each of the four faces of the pagoda has a 30-year-old ornamental doorway leading to a small room whose purpose is unknown. Inside the chamber facing the river is a relatively new Buddha statue at which local people leave offerings of food and flowers.
Downstream from the pagoda a little closer to the river bank is a 15-foot-high model of King Bodawpaya's Pagoda. Downstream from the model is Settawya Pagoda, which contains a footprint of Buddha that was brought to Mingun by King Bodawpaya when the relic chamber in the base of his huge pagoda was sealed up.
The building of Mingun Pahtodawgyi started in 1791. According to the tall tower theory had it been completed it would have been 500 feet tall. It was stopped at 162 feet height. Its girth is about 450 square feet. It is King Bodawpaya built Mingun Pahtodawgyi aiming to worship it from Shwebo in the distance where he has ascended to the throne. There are two enormous statues of lions in Mingun. One of the main attractions is the east stairway of Pahtodawgyi which faces the Irrawaddy river. From here, you can also enjoy natural scenic beauty of Irrawaddy river and green and pleasant Minwun hill. If this pagoda been completed. then it would have been the largest monument.
King Bodawpaya dedicated a massive bell near the Mingun Cedi at Mingun on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, facing Mandalay. The bell was made of bronze; but it is said that Buddhist devotees inserted gold, silver ornaments and jewellery into the bronze. The bell measures eleven cubits and four thits (fingers) in diameter at its mouth; 33 cubits. one mit (6 inches) and four thits in circumference and 13 cubits., one mit and four thits in height. It weighs 55555 viss. It is the world's biggest ringing bell.
British Description of King Bodawpaya’s Rule
In the preface to his " An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava, sent by the Governor-General of India, in the year 1795", Michael Symes wrote: “The Birmans, under their present monarch (Bodawpaya), are certainly rising fast in the scale of Oriental nations; and, it is hoped, that a long respite from foreign wars, will give them leisure to improve their natural advantages. Knowledge increases by commerce; and as they are not shackled by any prejudices of casts, restricted to hereditary occupations, or forbidden from participating with strangers in every social bond, their advancement will, in all probability be rapid. At present so far from being in a state of intellectual darkness, although they have not explored the depths of science, or reached to excellence in the finer arts, they yet have an undeniable claim to the character of a civilised, and well instructed, people. Their laws are wise and pregnant with sound morality; their police is better regulated than in most European countries; their natural disposition is friendly, and hospitable to strangers; and their manners rather expressive of manly candour, than courteous dissimulation: the gradations of rank, and the respect due to station, are maintained with a scrupulosity which never relaxes.
“A knowledge of letters is so widely diffused, that there are no mechanics, few of the peasantry, or even the common watermen (usually the most illiterate class) who cannot read and write in the vulgar tongue. Few, however are versed in more erudite volumes of science, which, containing many Shanscrit terms, and often written in Pali text, are (like the Hindoo Shasters) above the comprehension of the multitude; but the feudal system, which cherishes ignorance, and renders man the property of man, still operates as a check to civilisation and improvement. This is a bar which gradually weakens, as their acquaintance with the customs and manners of other nations extends; and unless the rage of civil discord be again excited, or some foreign power impose an alien yoke, the Birmans bid fair to be a prosperous, wealthy, and enlightened people.”
General Maha Bandoola (ruled 1824-26)
General Maha Bandoola (ruled 1824-26) was a Burmese general who fought against the British in the First Anglo-Myanmar War. In 1819 Maha Bandula served in the Myanmar army occupying Manipur and two years later he commanded a second Myanmar force in the conquest of Assam. King Bagyidaw subsequently appointed him governor of Assam and minister at the court of Ava. In January 1824 because of increased tensions along the Bengal-Arakan border he was sent with 6,000 troops to Arakan. When the British declared war in March. he immediately invaded Bengal, occupying Ratnapallang and defeating a British force at Ramu. His objective was to seize Chittagong and Dacca in a lightning thrust and, with the aid of a second Myanmar army marching from Assam, to expel the British from Bengal. His plan was frustrated. however when the British landed a force at Yangon. The opening of a second front obliged him to call off the campaign and make a difficult retreat over the Arakan Yoma to Ava. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
After raising a large army in northern Myanmar Maha Bandula marched to Danubyu on the Irrawaddy River, where he established his headquarters in October 1824. In December he attempted. unsuccessfully to encircle the British, who were entrenched in a neighbourhood of Yangon. When his headquarters fell to the British he retreated to prepare for the defense of Danubyu. In March 1825 the British attacked Danubyu. which Bandula defended courageously. After he was killed in battle resistance collapsed, Danubyu fell, and the British advanced to Prome, signaling defeat for the Myanmar.
King Bagyidaw (ruled 1819–1837)
Bagyidaw (ruled 1819–1837) was the seventh monarch of the Konbaung Dynasty. He invaded Ayutthaya with his grandfather King Bodawpaya and attacked Assam and Manipur. He was defeated in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26). As a result of this defeat the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim were lost to the British.
Bagyidaw (d. 1846) was the grandson of King Bodawpaya. who had narrowly avoided war with the British over the frontier between Bengal and Arakan. Bagyidaw was an ineffectual king but his general Maha Bandula. influenced him to follow Bodawpaya's policy of aggressive expansion in northeastern India. He conquered Assam and Manipur, making them Myanmar tributaries and extending the Myanmar- British India border from Arakan on the Bay of Bengal northward to the foot of the Himalayas. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
The British. angered over Myanmar border raids in pursuit of rebel forces launched a war on March 5. 1824. Bagyidaw's armies were driven out of Assam, Arakan. and Manipur. British forces occupied southern Myanmar and advanced toward the capitalm Amarapura (near present-day Mandalay). On Feb. 24. 1826. Bagyidaw's government signed the Treaty of Yandabo; its terms included cession of Tenasserim and Arakan to the British. payment of an indemnity equivalent to 1 million pounds (10,000,000 Kyat silver coins). and renunciation of all Myanmar claims in Assam and Manipur, which became British protectorates. ~
During the remaining years of his reign. Bagyidaw attempted to mitigate the harsh terms of the treaty. In 1826 the king negotiated a commercial treaty with the British envoy. John Crawfurd. but refused to establish formal diplomatic relations unless he could deal on an equal basis with the British sovereign. rather than through the East India Company at Calcutta. Bagyidaw failed to persuade the British to give Tenasserim back to Myanmar. but a deputation that he sent to Calcutta in 1830 successfully reasserted the Myanmar claim to the Kale-Kabaw Valley. which had been occupied by the Manipuris. After 1831 Bagyidaw became increasingly susceptible to attacks of mental instability. and in 1837 he was succeeded by his brother. Prince Tharrawaddy Min.
King Tharrawaddy (ruled 1837-46)
Tharrawaddy (ruled 1837-46) was the eighth king of the Konbaung Dynasty. He fought in the First Anglo-Burmese War as Prince of Tharrawaddy. As king he repudiated the Treaty of Yandabo and nearly brought about a war with the British.
In 1837 Tharrawaddy deposed his brother Bagyidaw (reigned 1819-37), who had been obliged to sign the humiliating treaty that ceded the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim to the British. Upon his accession, Tharrawaddy declared the treaty invalid and refused to negotiate with representatives of the government of British India, demanding the right to deal directly with the British monarch. The British resident (a kind of quasi ambassador) at Amarapura, the Myanmar capital, was forced to leave in June 1837 and Tharrawaddy refused to deal with his successor in 1838 because he too was merely a representative of the Indian governor-general. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
In 1840 the British suspended the residency, and diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the British remained broken for more than a decade. Tharrawaddy nearly brought Myanmar to renewed war when, in 1841, he went to Yangôn (Rangoon) on a pilgrimage to the Shwe Dagon pagoda, bringing with him a large military escort. The British interpreted this as a warlike act and refrained from starting hostilities only because of their entanglements in Afghanistan. After 1841 Tharrawaddy became increasingly subject to fits of mental instability. He was dethroned and, on his death, was succeeded by his son Pagan (reigned 1846-53), who was defeated in the Second Anglo-Burmese War,
King Mindon (ruled 1846-1853)
King Mindon (ruled 1846-1853) founded Mandalay and tried to modernize his country by sending young people to Europe for education and initiating a . His reign was notable both for its reforms and as a period of cultural flowering in the period before the imposition of complete colonial rule. He compromised with the colonial British and had a very narrow escape in a palace rebellion by two of his sons that left his brother Crown Prince Ka Naung dead. Mindon reportedly had a cruel streak. A captain who grounded one of his Italian sternwheelers was beheaded on the foredeck of his ship.
Mindon was a brother of Pagan (reigned 1846-53), who had ruled during the Second Anglo-Myanmar War in 1852. Mindon overthew him. As soon as he became king, Mindon sued for peace and began negotiations with the British on the status of Pegu (in southern Myanmar), which the British had occupied during the war. Frustrated in his attempts to persuade them to return Pegu, the king was obliged to accept a much-reduced dominion, cut off from the sea and deprived of some of the richest teak forests and rice-growing regions. To avoid further trouble he signed a commercial treaty in 1867 that gave the British generous economic concessions in the unoccupied parts of Myanmar. In 1872 he sent his chief minister, the Kinwun Mingyi U Gaung, on a diplomatic mission to London, Paris. and Rome to secure international recognition of Myanmar's status as an independent country and to appeal for restoration of its lost territory. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
Mindon's reign is sometimes considered to have been a golden age of Myanmar culture and religious life. In 1857 he built a new capital, Mandalay, with palaces and monasteries that are masterpieces of traditional Myanmar architecture. The king also sought to make Mandalay a center of Buddhist learning. He convened the Fifth Buddhist Council in 1871 in an effort to revise and purify the Pali scriptures. Despite conservative opposition. Mindon promoted numerous reforms. The most important were the thathameda, the assessed land tax, and fixed salaries for government officials. He standardized the country's weights and measures, built roads and a telegraph system, and was the first Myanmar king to issue coinage. Mindon's reign compares favourably with that of Mongkut of Siam (Thailand), who enjoyed the privileged position of occupying buffer state between British and French possessions. while the continued existence of an independent Myanmar kingdom was a hindrance to British interests. Mindon was succeeded by his son. Thibaw (reigned 1878-85). who was to be the last king of Myanmar. ~
Mandalay is the cultural capital of Myanmar, its second largest city and home of its last kings. Founded in 1857 by King Mindon, one of Myanmar's greatest rulers, it is considered the spiritual center of Myanmar, and has so many religious shrines it has been described as a "forest of temples" (only Pagan has more). For more than two centuries, until World War II, when city was devastated by Allied bombing, Mandalay and the area around it were the home of Myanmar's kings.
Mandalay was known as Ya-da-na-bon (Cluster of Gems) Nay-pyay-daw (Capital City) in olden days. Also called the golden capital, it officially came into existence on May 3, 1859. Around that the same time, the cities walls, royal moat, Mahalawka Marazain Pagoda, Tripitaka (Sacred Buddhist Teachings) Royal library, ThuDhamma Zayat (Religious resting place for pilgrims or travelers), Maha Athu Lawayan monastery and the Dhamma Myitzu Pathan Zayat or Ordination Hall were also built.
Mandalay was also the last seat of the Myanmar King. The King who built this city from empty land was Mindon. who reigned from 1853 to 1878. In 1856 he was residing in the capital of Amarapura which he deemed no longer fortuitous. The full official name of this old capital was Amarapura Mandalar, and the King decided to take the last word and named the new capital Mandalay. Starting from scratch, the King was able to design the city to his liking, with wide streets set in a grid pattern. His palace was enclosed within walls which stretched one mile long on each of its four sides, surrounded by a moat. Inside these walls, the center area was enclosed again for the king's own palaces. Due to air strikes during 1945 in World War II, the golden palace built by King Mindon has burnt to the grounds. Mya Nan San Kyaw golden palace has now been rebuilt in original form according to the record of the history.
King Thibaw (ruled 1878–1885)
King Thibaw (ruled 1878–1885) was the last king of Burma. He was forced to abdicate and exiled to India after his defeat in the Third Anglo-Burmese War. Thibaw was a younger son of King Mindon and studied in a Buddhist monastery (1875-77). As king he was strongly influenced by his wife, Supayalat, and her mother. His accession to the throne was accompanied by much violence and civil strife. According to to one account he eliminated all possible rivals to the throne by having 80 of his half-brothers and -sisters executed.
George Webb of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs wrote: “In 1879, invoking historical precedents for eliminating rivals, he had eighty members of the royal family massacred: to avoid the shedding of royal blood, these were clubbed or strangled, and thrown dead and alive into a trench which was then covered over and trampled by elephants. Theebaw and his court were surprised and resentful at the horror this aroused abroad, in the day of the electric telegraph. The atrocities went on, and as Upper Burma slid into anarchy and brigandage, powerful appeals came from commercial interests, humanitarians and missionaries, for urgent British intervention. [Source: George Webb, Royal Society for Asian Affairs, June 16, 1983 //\\]
In an attempt to enlist the aid of the French against the British, who had annexed Lower Myanmar during his father's reign, Thibaw's government sent a mission to Paris in 1883. Two years later a commercial treaty was concluded and a French representative arrived in Mandalay. Rumours circulated that Thibaw's government had granted the French economic concessions in exchange for a political alliance. In response British officials in Rangoon, Calcutta. and London began demanding immediate annexation of Upper Myanmar. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]
An excuse for intervention was furnished by the case of the British-owned Bombay-Myanmar Trading Corporation, which extracted teak from the Ningyan forest in Upper Myanmar. When Thibaw charged it with cheating the government and demanded a fine of 100,000 pounds, the Indian viceroy, Lord Dufferin, sent an ultimatum to Mandalay in October 1885, demanding a reconsideration of the case. Thibaw ignored the ultimatum. On November 14, 1885, the British invaded Upper Myanmar, capturing Mandalay two weeks later. Thibaw was deposed and Upper Myanmar became the province of British Myanmar. Thibaw was exiled to India, where he remained until his death.
Mandalay Period: a Brief Golden Age
Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: “Although Mandalay was the capital of Burma for only a brief period of 25 years (1860-1885), it was here during the reign of King Mindon that the arts of Burma came to their final flowering. By 1852, as a consequence of the First (1824-26) and Second (1852) Anglo-Burmese Wars, Britain had gained control over the lower half of the country which left Mandalay and Upper Burma completely cut off from the coast and the outside world. Many believed that only divine intervention could save Burma from being entirely conquered by Great Britain. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]
“To assure purity and consequent strength and prosperity, King Mindon moved the capital from Amarapura to a new site a few miles to the north of the old capital at the base of a sacred hill. Tradition maintains that Gautama Buddha visited the sacred peak of Mandalay Hill with his disciple Ananda, and proclaimed that on the 2400th anniversary of his death, a metropolis of Buddhist learning would be founded on the plain below the hill. In this way, the shift of capitols was justified, and a standing image of Gautama Buddha pointing to King Mindon’s palace was subsequently erected on Mandalay Hill. =
“The political center of the new city had the perfect geometrical form of a Buddhist Mandala, for which the city was named, Mandalay. Despite British control of the lower third of the country, King Mindon arranged for a remarkable International Buddhist Council to be held at his new capital, only the fifth such council or synod to be convened since the Buddha’s death in the 6th century BC! The King constructed a number of buildings in which to convene the synod and to welcome the delegate monks who arrived from throughout the Buddhist world. Among these were the Kyauktawgyi Temple at the foot of Mandalay Hill (1878), the Kuthawdawgyi Stupa and the Atumashi monastery and assembly halls. =
“His mission in convening the Synod was to purify the clergy by standardizing the Pali scriptures – a traditional undertaking of great Theravada monarchs. At King Mindon’s command, 2,400 monks were assembled in the eastern hall of the palace to work on this project that required five months to complete. The completion of the synod was celebrated by the installation of a new hti atop the Shwedagon Stupa in Rangoon, then located in British held territory. Although the king’s actions produced extraordinary art and architecture, they were to no avail against the British military forces. In 1886, Mandalay and Upper Burma fell to the British at the conclusion of the Third Anglo-Burmese War and the last Burmese king, King Thibaw, was exiled to India. =
“Fortunately, the Royal Guilds who created such exceptional works for the King remained in Mandalay where they have continued until today to produce art objects in the Mandalay style. Gold was thought to represent the radiance of spiritual energy and power and was all that King Mindon had to muster as the British gunboats came progressively closer to Mandalay. Gold, therefore, played an important part in the Mandalay Style that is characterized by the extensive use of gold leaf with bits of inlaid colored glass and silver mirror – a style seen to best advantage in the relatively dark interiors of the palace and monasteries.” =
Mandalay Palace was the first palace to be built in Mandalay, by King Mindon when he shifted his capital from Amarapura in 1861, to fulfill an old prophecy. The site was chosen with the auspicious omen and astronomical calculations. Also called the Royal Palace and Fort Mandalay, it was (and still is today) surrounded by a massive 20-foot-high wall that is laid out in a square. Each side of the wall is about a mile long and it takes about 20 minute to bicycle around the entire thing. The 12-foot deep, 250-foot-wide moat around the wall was drained, dredged and mucked out by hand in the 1990s with the help of tens of thousands of forced laborers. A wide, somewhat busy road surrounds the moat.
The last kings of Burma were reportedly so disliked by the population they were afraid to venture outside the walls of the palace. King Mindon is said to have buried 52 local people (13 at each corner) alive under the wall’s foundation in 1858, hoping they would become protector nats for the compound. He had 60 wives and his successor claimed the throne after having 80 relatives sewn into velvet bags and beaten to death.
The magnificent palace was built of teak wood on raised brick base gilded with gold and vermilion. The queens' chambers in order of priority is 1 Southern, 2 Northern and 3 Lesser queens in the West. All ancillary buildings for the court, the fortified high walls with ramparts, the moat, water systems, roads, gardens with shady tamarind trees, recreational playgrounds, swimming pools, mint, security ports with infantry, cavalry, archers, artillery, sheds for royal elephants, stables, audience halls, throne halls, religious edifices and monastery and devotional halls were superbly planned and executed to minute details. The implementation and completion of construction took five years (from 1857 to 61). The artistic workmanship and handicrafts depicting the glory of the golden age of the days gone by is still amazing, awe inspiring and the beholder will be spell bound with wonder.
The entity of the palace cannot be separated from the Mandalay Hill, from where the prophecy and name is deemed. The palace located right in the center of the palace grounds, which is meticulously a true square, enclosed within fortified high walls with ramparts and the beautiful deep moat all the layout in perfect squares. So much so the city surrounding the place too had been laid-out in blocks of squares enclosed by sheets.A muddy canal feeds the supply of water to the moat. It is surprisingly strange that the red muddy water turns crystal clear. This moat water is potable and the source of home consumption and is free from lime content. It also serves a double purpose as a good protection from enemy assault of those days.
The four city walls have 12 large main gates, four huge tiered roof outlook towers, 32 smaller tiered roof outlook towers for a total of 48 tiered roof outlook towers. On each city wall there are three gates. Altogether on the four sides of the wall there are 12 gates and all main gates are connected by bridges crossing the royal moat. The royal moat is 225 feet wide and 11 feet deep. The middle gates leading to the palace are named " Dat Ta-Gaa " which means doors mandated with special powers.” There are small gates on the left and right side of the "Dat" gates—12 gates in all. The gate facing the south, the Mingalar (or) Kyaw Moe gate, means auspicious, good fortune and glory.
Outside of this Royal Compound and within the city walls are houses of ministers and nobles, several homes for the aged dowager, minor queen's apartments and barracks. The main great Audience Hall housed the Thiha Thana Lion Throne and was considered the center of the Earth. The "Zay Da Won Hall" was called the " Hall of Victory". At the east side of the hall, you will find the "Hintha Throne". "Hintha" is a mythical bird. This throne is octagon-shaped. The Privy Council Hall is where most of the king met with his council, weddings took place and musket balls were stored.
The royal crown hall or Baung Daw Sanw hall is where the king kept his crown, which was embedded with precious gems. In this hall the king also changed his royal dress before giving audience. "The Breezy Hall”, also called "Lay Thar Hall", is at the south of the "Hall of Victory". This is the place where the kings relaxed and received monks and listened to religious sermons. The Hall is now called the "Brick Meeting Hall".
In this hall the king and his ministers meet to discuss matters relating to royal declarations. Beside. the above-mentioned Halls. you can also witness the "East Entrance Hall", "South Entrance Hall", "Left Reception Hall", "Right Reception Hall", "The Southern Dedicating Pavilion Hall", "Treasury" and "Palace Power". The palace tower is the most prominent structure you will see in the royal palace grounds. There were a total of 360 teak pillars in the whole palace, signifying the 360 days of the lunar calendar. All these halls were decorated in the traditional Myanmar manner with architectural designs, woodcarvings and paintings. One of the most beautiful palace pavilions was the Glass Palace, which had interior walls and pillars completely covered with glass mosaic.
Mandalay Palace and City Plan
Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: “At the center of Mandalay was a massive square brick wall that measured a mile and one eighth (7 furlongs) on each side. This crenellated wall rose to 25 feet and was backed by an earthen rampart. There were twelve gates, three evenly spaced along each side. Each gate was surmounted by a square wooden pavilion, a pyatthat, and marked with a sign of the zodiac. This fortress was completed by a wide moat that averaged 225 feet in width and 11feet in depth. Consequently, in modern times this fortification has often been referred to as Mandalay Fort. The wall, however, was built not only to provide security but also to demarcate a sacred space for the royal palace that was situated at the very center of its three concentric enclosures. The homes of commoners and foreigners, shops and workshops, and the markets were located beyond the wall along a rectilinear grid of streets that also had the palace compound as its symbolic center. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]
“The plan of the royal palace in Mandalay is typical in many ways of the royal palaces found throughout Southeast Asia. It consisted of groups of wooden buildings erected on a masonry platform within a secure enclosure. All of these structures were one-storey buildings with teak floors and multiple roofs held in place by tall wooden columns. Because the palaces were important objectives in times of war and were made of perishable material, most have disappeared and are known in detail only from contemporary paintings, descriptions in chronicles, or from traveler’s accounts. The Mandalay Palace, constructed in 1857 from the disassembled palace at Amarapura, is the last example of this long tradition. Even though all the palace buildings were destroyed during World War II, they are well document by photographs and in architectural surveys. =
“Inside the fortified brick wall was located two additional square enclosures. The first consisted of a teak stockade and brick wall inside of which were arranged formal gardens and groves of trees around ponds and canals. At the center of this enclosure were a low boundary wall and the rectangular palace platform that enclosed an area measuring 400 meters by 210 meters. All the palace buildings were erected on this platform that stood six feet tall and could be accessed by several stairways. The primary entrance was in the middle of the eastern façade, which was the beginning of an east-west axis along which all major buildings were arranged. =
“The most important building along the eastern front of the palace was the Great Hall of Audience that consisted of a large, central throne room with two open, lateral wings to accommodate large gatherings. Immediately behind this building was the Hall of the Lion Throne where the most important ceremonies of state were performed. Since this building was considered the center of the universe, it was marked by the tallest tower within the complex that soared upward though seven tiers to 256 feet. Each of the eight throne halls was known by the animal or insect that was used in the decoration of its throne. =
“Each throne hall consisted of a rectangular room that was divided in the center by a partition wall in which there was a doorway that opened on top of a high pedestal into the front half of the room. The King’s ascent to the throne was by a short stair in the "back" half of the room that led up to the door. After passing through the door, the king sat atop the pedestal and looked down upon his subjects who lay prostrate below him on the teak floor. Other buildings such as the royal sleeping quarters, the treasury, the armory, a theater and recreation rooms, an elegant watch tower, the servants and soldiers quarters, stables, and elephant shed were placed on either side of the Throne Halls or at the periphery of the compound. During the Konbaung period, throne halls so closely resembled the main hall within a monastery that when King Mindon died in his palace apartment in 1880, it was disassembled and reconstructed outside the palace walls where it has continued to be used as a monastery building. It is now known as the Golden Monastery or Shwenandaw. =
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014