MANDALAY: PALACES, CRAFTS, COMEDY, MONASTARIES AND LOIN-CLOTHED GOLD BEATERS

MANDALAY

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.

Named after Mandalay Hill, the site of an important religious shrine, and modeled after the nearby city of Amarapura, which was the home of the Burmese royal family before 1857, Mandalay has many beautiful spots even though it was ravaged by fires in 1945, 1981 and 1984, when many of it's beautiful wooden buildings were destroyed. The city was founded when it was to fulfill a prophecy that it would be founded on the 2,400th anniversary of Buddha’s birth.

Mandalay lies on flat, dusty and treeless plain on the east side of the Irrawaddy River in an area dotted with other old Burmese capitals. Home to 1.1 million people, it has its share of busy spots, with streets choked with cars, bicycles, scooters and trishaws. Over the past two decades it has experienced a modest amount of construction fueled by trade with China and government efforts to attract tourists.

Mandalay is only about a fifth of the size of Yangon but arguably has much more to see and do. Even though the city was first brought to the attention of Westerners by Rudyard Kipling's poem The Road to Mandalay , Kipling never visited the city although George Orwell did. A new $150 million airport in Mandalay opened in 2000 and is an example of the Myanmar regime’s ridiculous infrastructure projects. The airport has a relatively small number of flights.

Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “Despite its Kipling-haunted name, Mandalay is no dusty bell jar of British colonial memory. If anything, the bustling town evokes New China, Burma's most enthusiastic trading partner, whose border is barely 320 kilometers away. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Mandalay is a town that can sleep through anything. The sound of unmuffled engines hurls past with roaring Doppler effects, and motorbikes tear through the town like chainsaws run amuck. To amplify matters, the Burmese drive by the horn, and the sound of their honking — more a stutter of warning than a bellow of outrage — fills the air. At busy intersections, a screeching whistle accompanies the Hitleresque waves and salutes of white-jacketed traffic cops. [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

“In the evenings, just as the sound of traffic begins to die down, Mandalay settles in for its traditional entertainment. Bamboo poles lashed together and draped with painted canvas backdrops form impromptu stages that seem to appear out of nowhere, temporarily blocking off side streets. The stages are venues for anyeint pwe, a vaudevillian variety show of singing, dancing and comedy skits. Orwell described one such performance in Burmese Days:

HISTORY OF MANDALAY

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.

Mandalay in the 1970s: Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar”: “We were standing at the foot of Mandalay Hill, before two towering stone lions and a sign FOOT WEARING IS FORBIDDEN. I took off my shoes—"Stockings too," said the Burman apologetically—and socks, and began climbing the holy stairs. He kicked off his rubber sandals and followed me, muttering, "Omega, Omega." [Source: Paul Theroux, The Atlantic, November 1, 1971]

“And spitting. "Foot wearing" is forbidden, but bicycles are not—provided they are pushed and not ridden—and neither is spitting. Dodging great gouts of betel juice, I climbed, and soon others joined us. A troop of boys quickly took up the Omega chant. On every landing there is a temple, a soft-drink stall ("Dagon Pure Orange—Bottled in Yangon With Distilled Water"), and a sugar-water machine which squeezes split canes in a contraption that resembles an old laundry wringer. Halfway up the hill I stopped, had a Super Soda, and examined some statuary in wire cages, life-sized plaster figures, brightly painted and horrific as a Tiger Balm ointment tableau: a supine figure sticking his tongue out at a crow perched on his chest and tearing bright blue intestinal coils, yards of shiny hose, from a gaping hole in the man's belly; another satisfied man with a cutlass, squatting next to a disemboweled deer. I slipped a coin into a cast-iron machine, and three figures in a window were set into motion: a clockwork man swept a path with a wire broom, a clockwork saffron-robed monk shuffled on the path, and a clockwork devotee raised and lowered his clasped hands to the monk.

“We set off again, stopping once for a boy to piss on the sacred hill (according to legend, Buddha climbed the hill and pointed down at what was to become the Center of the Universe, later Fort Dufferin, and now Burmese Army Headquarters for the Northwest Command). In the temple at the top of the hill, where there is a massive gold Buddha pointing toward the army barracks, I collapsed onto a bench in the 106-degree heat. I was surrounded by Burmese quoting ridiculously high prices for my watch. Very clearly I said, "My mother gave me this watch," and in a moment they were gone. “

TOURISM IN MANDALAY

Mandalay Tourism Office: Myanmar Tourism Services Mandalay Office: Ka-411, Myin Sai Street, Yankintharyar Quarter, Paheingyi Township, Mandalay, Myanmar., Tel: (+952) 572 65, 576 50, Fax: (+952) 576 50

Orientation: Mandalay consists of five main townships: 1) Aung Myay Thar Zan, 2) Chan Aye Thar Zan, 3) Mahar Aung Myay, 4) Chan Mya Tharzi and 5) Pyigyi Tagun. Mandalay Hill is a popular destination. A beautiful view of the whole city can be had from the top of the hill. At the top of it and around it are many of Mandalay’s most famous pagodas and monasteries. Central Mandalay is reasonably compact but some of the main tourist destination are located in different parts of the city. The Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill areas have enough to keep one busy for a couple hours. Otherwise take a taxi or rent a motorbike or bicycle to visit more out of the way places.

Accommodation and Restaurants: Luxury hotels, moderate hotels and economy hotels are available in Mandalay. Restaurants offering, Myanmar, Chinese, Indian, and European food are available. Coffee shops and snacks bar are mostly in Mandalay. Beer pubs and bars are also available.

ENTERTAINMENT AND SHOPPING IN MANDALAY

Mandalay is the main city of cultural heritage. Marionette shows and traditional theatre are performed. Zegyo Bazaar is a good place to buy silk and enjoy Mandalay's nightlife. For who like oriental kiche the Lonely Planet guides describe several pagodas that contain amusing clockwork coin-in-the-slot displays. Many tour operators can arrange customized show programs with tourists. Handicrafts, lacquerware and other souvenirs shops are widely available. Art Galleries and Gems shops also offer reasonable prices for different items.

Mandalay Pwe: Anyeint pwe is a vaudevillian variety show of singing, dancing and comedy skits. George Orwell described one such performance in Burmese Days: “The music struck up and the pwe-girl began dancing again. Her face was powdered so thickly that it gleamed in the lamplight like a chalk mask with live eyes behind it ... The music changed its tempo, and the girl began to sing in a brassy voice ... [she] turned round and danced with her buttocks protruding towards the audience. Her silk longyi [sarong] gleamed like metal. With hands and elbows still rotating she wagged her posterior from side to side. Then — astonishing feat, quite visible through the longyi — she began to wriggle her buttocks independently in time with the music.” [B. D. Chapter 8, par. 32]

Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, “The pwe lasts all night, with the final curtain descending at dawn, but in Orwell's day there was no mountain of speakers on either side of the stage blasting music and voices over a wide radius of neighborhood. From my hotel in Mandalay, I could hear the cacophony of no less than three of these shows reverberating through the walls. At first I found the amplified strains and alien tongues pleasing to my sense of the exotic, but after two nights of fitful sleep, I began to loathe Mandalay's taste in entertainment. Actually, a third category of noise can be added to this list, though it falls far behind the other two in terms of pervasiveness: noise associated with religion. Steeples and minarets compete with stupas for the skyline of Mandalay, the result of Indian immigration and Christian missionizing, and from these houses of worship pour the noises of faith: gongs, hymns, bells and the call of the muezzin. [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

MOUSTACHE BROTHERS

The Mustache Brothers are arguably Myanmar’s most famous practioners of a-nyeint pwe, Myanmar’s traditional vaudeville, featuring puppets, music and slapstick comedy tinged, often colored by direct but dangerous political satire. Par Par Lay is the 60-year-old leader (2007) of the Mustache Brothers. He is a third-generation practitioner of a-nyeint pwe. He learned comedy from his father, who picked it up from his own father. Par Par Lay started out professionally in the mid-1960s and soon headed a traveling road show of three comedians, 10 female dancers, eight musicians and five roadies.

Choe Sang-Hun wrote in the New York Times: “The Mustache Brothers are a family troupe of 13 comedians, dancers and musicians. Mr. Par Par Lay and his brother U Lu Maw, 58, favor handlebar mustaches, the source of their group’s name. They used to travel from village to village, performing at weddings, funerals and festivals. In former days, Burmese kings would watch a-nyeint pwe (pronounced ah-NYAY pway) to gauge public sentiment couched in the comedy. [Source: Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times, October 29, 2007]

Nick Meo wrote in the Times: “Brothers Par Par Lay and Lu Maw and their rubber-faced cousin Lu Zaw are officially banned and blacklisted. They cannot perform at the weddings and village festivals where they once made a living. Two of them have already done nearly five years' hard labour, breaking rocks on the Chinese border. Their crime? Holding the regime up to ridicule at a performance before democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The years of punishment took their toll but failed to silence Burma's only dissident comedians...Their show is a bizarre but entertaining mix of slapstick comedy, graceful dance, and traditional music. The three started off in the tradition of bawdy peasant humour and temple dancing.[Source: Nick Meo, the Times, August 27, 2005]

Felipe Villamor of AFP wrote: “With nothing more than their sharp wit, the sexagenarian members of one of the long-isolated country's most famous comedy troupes are perhaps among the bravest dissidents to have stood up to the generals. Officially banned and blacklisted, the act counts pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi among its fans. The trio used to lead one of Myanmar's most popular traditional comedy acts.[Source: Felipe Villamor, AFP, February 29, 2012]

Moustache Brothers Comedy Show on Mandalay's 39th Street: Felipe Villamor of AFP wrote: “These days they perform in English to growing numbers of foreign tourists at their nightly show in their home city Mandalay. Lu Maw, a wiry 62-year-old whose broken English is peppered with mismatched idioms, elicited nervous laughter by admonishing the crowd at a recent show to be quiet because government agents were nearby. "We are blacklisted, jail birds, and illegals you know, so you are also here illegally," he told a young American woman in the front row before breaking into a grin. "But don't worry, the government loves tourists because they want your dollars." [Source: Felipe Villamor, AFP, February 29, 2012 ^]

“At another point in the show Par Par Lay asked the crowd if they wanted to see an authentic Burmese act. Within seconds, he was wearing a balaclava helmet over his moustachioed face and sporting a hand gun as he gingerly mimicked a thief breaking into a home. "That's how they are, like Jesse James, Ali Baba, like bandits," Lu Maw said on the microphone, alluding to the military to scattered laughter from the crowd. The regime is not the only butt of their humour -- their jokes also target the West, and in particular the United States. ^

“Feigning seriousness, Lu Maw wondered aloud why US-led coalition forces had not sent unmanned drones to Myanmar, whose military he said had been involved in some of the world's most atrocious rights abuses. "Burma is the same as Libya, Egypt, Somalia or Syria. But they all have oil," Lu Maw said with a naughty wink. "Ah, but they (the West) don't know what we have -- we have opium and heroin too." After the one-hour show, the brothers personally thanked every visitor and sold them souvenirs. They said the money would go to helping those political prisoners still languishing in jail. ^

At another show four years earlier, Paul Watson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Lu Maw is the middle brother, and since his fractured English is the closest to fluent, he warms up the small groups of tourists who fill the plastic lawn chairs in the brothers' living room each night. He cracks jokes rapid-fire, like a comic machine gun, under the harsh white light of six bare fluorescent tubes. Often he riffs on expressions he's picked up from the folks who buy tickets or while listening to foreign broadcasts on shortwave radio, like "Bite the dust," "New bottle, same wine," and "My brothers and I, we're skating on thin ice!" [Source: Paul Watson. Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2008 **]

“The living room theater is on Mandalay's 39th Street, the Broadway of a-nyient. The stage, covered in red all-weather carpet, is half a step up from a brick floor. The wall behind it is strung with marionettes, and two rattling fans hang from the low ceiling. Audience members come by rickshaw, cab or tour bus, and pay by donation. On a recent night, about a dozen people, mostly young backpackers and a few journalists who had posed as tourists to get into the country, helped out when Lu Maw's English failed him. A few gladly got into the act when the comedians needed more hands to hold up painted wooden signs naming the world's biggest spy agencies, and declaring, "Moustache Brothers are under surveillance." **

“After warming up with safe jokes about wives and backdoor men, Par Par Lay changed out of his fan dance costume, white robe and glittering gold pillbox hat, and leaped on stage in a black robber's mask, wielding a toy pistol, while his brother declared that civil servants behaved like Jesse James. "So much corruption," Lu Maw explained through an old-fashioned microphone to the audience. "That's why this guy has been three times in the clink, up the river -- in the big house!" **

GOLD POUNDERS AND MANDALAY CRAFTS

Gold-Leaf Pounders (southeast Mandalay on 36th Street between 77th and 78th) make gold-leaf the same way their predecessors did centuries ago with few modifications. Lumps of gold are placed in leather poaches and beaten hundreds of times into thin sheaths by sweating, shirtless, loin-cloth-clad men with huge hammers. When the foil-like gold-leaf is thin enough, it is cut and placed on pieces of paper by women in rooms next to the pounding areas. The gold leaf is used for gilding pagodas and Buddha statues and for inlays on lacquerware. Individual squares cost the equivalent only a few U.S. cents a piece. Visitors to the pounding area are often given free samples.

The process of gold-bearing which takes place in Mandalay is very interesting. A goldsmith starts with a lump of gold, the size of a silver dollar. The lump is then pounded into a foot long rod which is passed through a hand cranked roller. Repeating this process several times creates a ribbon of gold 55 feet long. The ribbon is then cut into square pieces, and each piece is placed between layers of bamboo paper or parchment. Several dozen of these paper-wrapped pieces are then bound and placed inside a deerskin cover, which is pounded with a sledge hammer or wooden mallet. The gold is then removed and cut into pieces again. This process is repeated until gold sheaths created. Each gold sheath is about five inches square and 1/200,000 of an inch (0,000127 centimeters) thick—which is thinner than the ink on a printed page. The sheaths are bought in packet by Buddhists who place the them on Buddhist statues and temples.

In Myanmar such gold-leaves are widely sold at the famous pagodas to gild Buddha images or stupa with gold-leaf. This is a Myanmar tradition to earn Buddhist merit, Mandalay's gold-leaf makers are concentrated in the south-east of the city, near the intersection of 36th and 78th Streets. Gilding a Buddha image or a stupa with gold leaf brings great merit to the gilder. As a result Buddhist images grow thicker and more amorphous as gold leaf layers are applied, with Buddhist statues being transformed into oadly-shaped gild blobs. Silver, aluminum, copper and sometimes palladium sheaths are available in Myanmar. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

Metal leaf is often used for decoration. Before the discovery of electroplating it was the only cost effective way to gild statues, rooftops and objects. In Asian countries edible gold is sometimes used in fruit jelly snacks, cakes, sweets and many other food products. Because gold is highly malleable it can be pounded into sheets just micrometers thick without breaking or tearing. As the metal thins out. it forms large sheets. The final sheets of metal are trimmed. cut to various sizes. and sandwiched between sheets of paper to protect them. A small amount of metal will result in a sheet with a large surface area but only a few atoms thick. ~

Mandalay Crafts: Woodcarving (Tampawadi quarter in southern Mandalay) is done by craftsmen who engrave and emboss traditional Burmese designs onto bas-reliefs. Silk Weaving (Inwa Road and 19th St. in eastern Mandalay) is where Lunyargyaw (woven with a hundred shuttles) and intricate hand-woven Burmese silks are made.

Marble Work (southern Mandalay) is done in workshops by stone carvers who make and polish Buddhas and other images of varying size. Embroidery Work (Yangyiang Road, 35th street, between 78th and 80th streets, and 72nd Street between 26th and 27th streets) is where sequined embroidery and applique is made by cutting figures out of cloth of various colors and attaching them to black velvet cloth hangings.

SIGHTS IN MANDALAY

Shwenandaw Kyaung (14th Street, close to Atumashi monastery and Kuthodaw Pagoda) is the best surviving example of Mandalay's beautiful wooden architecture. Originally a wing of King Mindon's Royal Palace it was removed and taken to its present site in 1880 by King Thibaw who turned it into a monastery. The teak carvings and panels around the monks cells are outstanding. The entire monastery is a veritable museum of mid-19th century Burmese architecture and wood carving. Its name means Golden Palace Monastery. It is the sole major survivor of the former wooden Royal Palace built by King Mindon in the mid-nineteenth century. The Shwenandaw is a wonderfully fragile yet grand example of 19th century Myanmar teak architecture and also a significant masterpiece of the wood-carver’s art. Entrance Fee: US$5 per person.

Mahamuni Pagoda (southern Mandalay near the airport) contains two much-venerated images: a Buddha which points to the Royal Palace, and the Mahamuni Image (a sitting Buddha brought from the Rakthine State in 1784). The original Buddhas were detailed bronze statues but so many sheaths of gold have been placed on them that they have lost their shape and now are golden blobs. The pagoda also contains six Khmer-style figures which have helped scholars unravel some mysteries of Southeast Asia's history.

There are many thing to see at this pagoda. In one room there is gong that weighs five tons. In a courtyard there are dozens of marble tablets. The six Khmer-style figures—two human figures, three stylized lions and one representation of a giant three-headed elephant—are located near the western gate. Many people come to rub their bodies against the human statues. If a person rubs part of his or her body against the corresponding part of the body on the statue it said that part of his body will become healed if there is something wrong with it.

The Maha Myat Muni Buddha Image is the most revered and ancient Buddha image in Mandalay. Also known as the Phaya Gyi, it was cast, it is said, in the lifetime of Lord Buddha while the Buddha looked on. The statue’s seated posture of relaxed deportment, namely the Bumi Phasa Mudras, symbolizes of His Conquest of of devil Mara. The 4-meter-high seated image is cast in bronze and weighs 6.5 tons. Its crown is decorated with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires.

Every morning at 4:30am, a team of monks washes the face and brushes the teeth. Since Myanmar Buddhists are so devout hundreds of thousands of devotees have applied gold leaf to gain merit. It is estimated the image has been completely covered with more than 15 centimeters of gold.

According to legend in 123 B.C, during the reign of King Sanda Thuriya, Monarch of Rakhine-Dharyawaddy, the image was carried to its present site. It took four months to carry the image reverently across the Rakhine Yoma Ranges, by rough route and by waterway. The Height of the Maha Muni Buddha Image is 8 Cubits and 1 Maik (3.83 meters). The altar is 2.13 meters high. There, two bronze Siamese images, three bronze lion images and one bronze three-headed Ayeyawun elephants are housed and displayed in the precinct on the left side of the northern exit passage. The early morning ritual of washing the face of the Buddha's image, draws a daily crowd of devotees. To be able to catch up the early morning ritual, one has to be at the pagoda by about 5:00am. Opening Hours 5:00am-8:00pm everyday. Entrance Fee US$ 4.

Water Buffalos at Work (western end of Pinya Road) is where specially-trained water buffalos haul timbers and load them onto trucks. The concept was inspired by the elephants-at-work shows in northern Thailand. There are also tracks in Mandalay that sponsor water buffalo and bullock races. carvings.

Yankin Hill (east of Mandalay) is known for its many carved figures of fishes was placed by Min Shin Saw, son of King Alaung Sithu during the Pagan Era. It is believed that first figures of the fishes were kept in the Royal Palace during the Yadanarbon period. But later on for the sake of the people and on their beliefs, Min Shin Saw placed the figures on Yankin Hill. Whenever there was a drought, the people of Mandalay carried the figures around the city and then went to Yankin Hill. It was believed that by doing this, it could bring rainfall to the city. There is a bus route winding up the hill from both the South and North side. The hill is about 215 meters high and ranging from North to South about 2013 meters wide. Yankin means "away from danger.” The Mya Kyauk tube well is situated near the Yankin Hill and visitors can also pay homage to the Atula Maha Mya Kyauk Pagoda.

Other Sights in Mandalay include Eindawya Pagoda, where King Pagan resided before he ascended to the throne; and the Mandalay Museum (corner of 24th and 80th streets), which house of collection of royal costumes, palm-leaf manuscripts, ornamental receptacles, and wooden items.

MANDALAY PALACE

MANDALAY PALACE (between 12th street and 26th street, in the heart of Mandalay) was destroyed by allied bombs, and the fires they ignited, at the end of World War II. The lovely wooden golden palace is gone and all that remains of the fort is a massive moat, some wooden-pavilion-topped city gates, a few buildings scattered in a park, and a huge 20-foot-high wall that is laid out in a square. Mandalay Palace is also called the Royal Palace and Fort Mandalay.

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.

It costs $5.00 to enter the "palace," which today is essentially a scruffy park surrounded by walls. Inside the walls is an Independence Monument, the wooden Nanmyintsaung (watchtower), with a spiraling exterior stairway, and a cultural museum that contains some items salvaged from the smoldering palace and a model of what it used to look like. The highlight is the colonnaded, red and gold Throne Hall. The large gilded throne was used by the king

Some of the dresses of the ancient kings, queens, princes, princesses and other ministers are displayed. You can wear copies of them and take some pictures.

History and Structure of Mandalay Palace: 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.

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 reflection of the Mandalay on the eastern moat is a beautiful scene to behold from the southeastern corner. The panoramic view of the Palace and the surrounding areas as far as the Sagaing Bridge, the Irrawaddy River and the hill ranges seen from the Mandalay Hill during sunset will be an enchanting experience. The beautiful palace with many other buildings were destroyed by fire due to the ravages of been reconstructed in brick masonry from photographic records, plans and drawings.

By looking at the massive city walls and the huge royal moat, you can imagine the greatness and might of Myanmar's monarchy in the 19th century. Each side of the royal city wall is a mile two furlongs long, and all four walls has a total length of 5 miles 1 furlong and rectangular in shape. The wall is 27 feet high and 10 feet wide. All along the city walls there are 3800 merlons for musket shooting. Each of the musket shooting holes is two feet nine inches wide.

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 HILL

MANDALAY HILL(the northeast part of Mandalay) is good place to get a view of the "forest of temples" that makes Mandalay famous. There are temples on the hill itself, and in the area around it, plus there are lovely views of other temples from the hill's summit. It cost $5.00 to enter the main gate, which is guarded by two huge white marble lions. It then takes about a half an hour to ascend the 1,700 steps to the top of the hill, which has to be climbed barefoot.

Mandalay Hill rises 230 meters (776 feet) above the surrounding plain is the natural watch-tower for the visitors to watch sunrise or sunset over the city and neighboring plains. At the bottom in front of the southwest entrance are the two immense statue of Lions guard the holy hill. If you drive by car from the archway of Mandalay hill, you will reach the entrance of escalator of the hill. From there, you can proceed to the top of the Mandalay hill by escalator and pay homage to Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, means wish-granting Pagoda, built by King Anawrahta and patronized and renovated by successive Konbaung Kings. You can study documentary photos of Mandalay hill on the platform of Pagoda.

There is a saying that if you want to live long, you take refuge in the environs of Mandalay hill. It means that as climbing to the Mandalay hill on foot is good for health. And to pay homage to the pagoda along the way makes one live long. You can pay homage to prominent pagodas along the stairway of Mandalay Hill. You can also visit the shops that sell traditional Burmese handmade toys, gifts and prayer beads. If you reach the top of the hill, you can pay homage to Su Taung Pyi Pagoda and see the elegant craftsmanship with two Snakes raising the hoods up.

According to legend, during the time when Buddha was alive while he was on one of his visits to Myanmar, the Buddha with his disciple Ananda climbed Mandalay Hill and prophesied that a great city would be founded below the hill and also pointed the place of that future city. Then a huge standing Buddha image was built at the place where Buddha stood, with his hand pointing to the Royal Palace.

Virtually all visitors and pilgrims who climb Mandalay Hill do so on the 1,729 steps of the covered southern stairway with its magnificent guardian chinthe (half-lion, half-dragon) at the entry, use stairways on the other sides or use easier means and take the escalator, cars or buses to the top. From its top, and from several way stations along the ascent, one has a magnificent panorama of the city, the old Royal Palace and Fortress river and the distant Shan Hills. You can see Sagaing Hill, the Irrawaddy River and Mingun in the west and Yankin hill and YaeTa Khun Hill in the east. In the evening, the platform of Mandalay Hill’s Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is crowded with tourists and devotees who record the beauty of sunset.

Sutaungpyi Pagoda (top of Mandalay Hill) is known as the "wish-granting" pagoda. It is suggested that the pagoda was originally built by the great builder of Pagan, King Anawrahta, in 1052. This pagoda and its ancillary pavilion are were often renovated by their patrons, the Konbaung kings, in later years. Perhaps the most famous of the renovators of the religious structures on Mandalay Hill was U Khan Dee. the famous and legendary "Hermit on the Hill", who spent 41 years of his life on the hill raising funds for many structures, including Sutaungpyai, where he spent many years. Entrance Fee US$5 per person

King Anawrahta of Pagan went to China in 1052 to bring the Tooth Relic of Buddha. On the way back, it is said, he built the Mandalay Hill Wish-granting Pagoda to enshrining the Buddha relics. The standing statue of Buddha giving a prophesy was built by King Mindon. It is 18 cubits high. On the first waxing moon day of Waso in the Burmese year 1255 the statue was partly gutted by fire and rebuilt by Sayadaw U Nandi Thuriya Thihathu. Even as donations were collected to do that, it is said, two serpents mysteriously came to the city of Myaukpyin. The two were brought atop the hill by the Sayadaw. They were displayed for a year there and they received a great deal of charity. In dedication to this. Hermit U Hkanti had figures of two serpents built atop there.

BUDDHAS AND PAGODAS AROUND MANDALAY HILL

Kyauktawgyi (southern approach to Mandalay Hill) was built in 1878. It contains a huge seated Buddha carved from a single chunk of whitish, pale green marble from the Sagyin quarry twelve miles north of Mandalay. It is said that it took 10,000 men 13 days to transport the piece of stone from the quarry to the pagoda. Kyauktawgyi meaning “Great Marble Buddha Image” in Burmese.

Kyauktawgyi Pagoda was built under King Mindon and modeled on Ananda Temple at Pagan. It closely resembles the Ananda in exterior form but it falls short of the latter in construction and interior decoration. Although its construction was started in 1853 by King Mindon, it was not completed until 1878, in part due to a palace rebellion and domestic disturbances in the mid-1860s. The Buddha Image is seated in the "Bhumisparsha mudra", the gesture of "calling the Earth to witness." The focus of this statue is the hand, the eyes are severely downcast if not actually closed. A covered corridor leads through the garden of the arhats to the structure housing the Buddha. On each of the four sides there are twenty shrines with figures representing the arhats, the eighty Great Disciples of the Buddha. Entrance Fee: US$5 per person.

Kuthodaw Pagoda (base of the southeast stairways to Mandalay Hill) is huge temple and walled complex. Built in 1857 by King Mindon, it encompasses 729 little white temples that surround a big golden one. Each temple houses a five-foot-high black marble tablet inscribed with Buddhist scriptures. Sometimes referred to as "The World's Largest Book," the stone slab contains the entire Buddhist canon (to recite them would take more than six months if you read them around the clock). The slabs were inscribed by 2,400 monks after they received orders from King Mindon in 1872. The nearby Sandamuni Pagoda also has many inscribed tablets.

Kuthodaw Pagoda was built by King Mindon at the same time he was constructing the Royal Palace. Its central stupa is modeled on the Shwezigon at Nyaung U near Pagan. An on-site carved tablet indicates that the pagoda’s height is 187 feet 9 in, high, while some guide books list its height at 100 feet (30 meters). The former includes the platform in the measurement.

The stupa itself, connected to the outside entry by means of a long corridor, is set in the middle of a thirteen acre field of 729 pitaka pagodas or shrines (Dama Cetis). Each shrine contains a marble slab, inscribed on both sides with the Pali script text of a portion the Tipitaka (Pali spelling, or Tripitaka, in Sanskrit), Theravada Buddhism’s sacred texts. Taken together, they contain the entire text of the Tipitaka and thus form “the world’s largest book.” The slabs were carved from white Sagyin Hill marble found just a few miles north of Mandalay. The work of carving began in October 1860 and was carried out in a special hall within King Mindon’s Royal Palace. Each slab is 5 feet ((1.5 meters) by 3.5 feet (1.1 meters) wide and 5-6 inches. (12.7 – 15 centimeters) thick. The Buddhist scholar/carvers completed their task in May 1869. If spread out horizontally, the slabs would cover a third of an acre (.1 ha); stacked vertically, the ‘pages’ would rise 340 feet (103 meters). Originally the lettering also had a gold leaf veneer. The statistics given here are those given by U Tun Aung Chain, retired Professor of History, Yangon University.

Several sources suggest the important role of the Fifth Buddhist Synod, which King Mindon called in 1872, in the development of the Kuthodaw. It perhaps was at this meeting of 2,400 monks from throughout the country that both authenticated the texts and began the construction of the encasing shrines. Entrance Fee US$5 per person.

Sanda Muni Pagoda (southeast of Mandalay Hill) contains an iron image of Buddha cast in 1802 during the reign of King Bodawpaya. The pagoda bears a resemblance to the nearby Kuthodaw pagoda because of the large number of slender whitewashed ancillary stupas on the grounds. The Sandamuni Pagoda, or Paya, is also famous for the Iron Buddha Sandamani cast by King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) of the Konbaung dynasty in 1802, and which King Mindon and brought from Amarapura to his new pagoda and shrine in 1874. The pagoda complex was erected on the location of King Mindon's provisional palace, the "Nan Myey Bon Tha." which he used until his permanent Royal Palace was completed in the center of the Royal City. It was built as a memorial to King Mindon's younger half-brother, statesman, reformer, stimulating personality and confidante, the Crown Prince Kanaung, who had helped him seize power from Pagan Min in 1853. Two of Mindon's sons, Princes Myingun, and Myin Kon Taing disappointed in being excluded from the succession, launched a palace revolution against their father on June 8, 1866, and assassinated Crown Prince Kanaung and three other princes: Malun, Saku and Pyinsi. The princes were buried on the grounds where they died. The royal residence was demolished the next year as the court was moved to the new Royal Palace. In 1874, King Mindon had the pagoda built near the graves of the Crown Prince and the other members of the royal family who lost their lives in the 1866 coup.

MONASTERIES IN MANDALAY

Atumashi Monastery (near the base of the Mandalay hill, about 10 minutes drive from the royal palace) was originally built in 1857 by King Mindon (1853-1879), who had founded his new capital of Upper Burma at Mandalay just a few years earlier in 1855. It was one of the King’s last great religious construction project. The original Atumashi was a magnificent wooden structure with considerable exterior stucco and set on a high platform reached by a formal ceremonial staircase. Instead of the traditional “pyatthat” (graduated wooden spires of decreasing size) and multi-roof design of traditional monastic buildings, the Atumashi was a huge grandiose structure surrounded by five graduated rectangular terraces. It was considered one of Southeast Asia’s most magnificent buildings. The monastery’s full name is “Maha Atulawaiyan Kyaungdawgyi.” Atumashi Kyaung” means “Incomparable Monastery.”

Atumashi monastery originally contained a very large, almost 30 feet (9 meters), image of the Buddha made from the king’s lacquered silk clothing. There were numerous treasures within the structure, including a large diamond set in the forehead of the Buddha, four complete sets of the Tripikata (the ‘three baskets’ of the Buddhist sacred texts), and much more. When the British annexed the city and Upper Burma in 1885, the large diamond vanished, perhaps taken by the British or other marauders. The building and its entire contents burned down in 1890 but it still contains some elaborate original stucco carvings.

For many years the ruins of the building lay open to the elements. Stumps of the charred teak pillars, a grand staircase and some colonnaded walls remained. The area was cleared in the 1990s and was rebuilt according to the original plans in 1996 by the Burmese archaeological department with the use of convict labor. While somewhat impressive, it does not come close to recreating the magnificence of the original building. The Atumashi Kyaung is near the Kuthodaw Pagoda, built at the same time, and next door to the Shwenandaw and not far from Sanda Muni Pagoda and Shwe Nan Daw monastery.

Shwe Kyi Myin Monastery according to Myanmar chronicles was built by Min Shin Saw, the eldest son of King Alaung Sithu of Pagan(A.D 1112-1167). Having fallen into disfavor of his royal father Min Shin Saw was exiled to Htun Ton Pu Tet, east of Mandalay. There he resided in state, doing many works of social and religious merits such as repairing old religious monuments and monasteries, building new ones including Shwe Kyi Myin Pagoda, constructing the Aung Pin Le and Ta Mok So lakes to supply water for cultivation by a system of irrigation channels.

Shweinbin Monastery (the 89th Street, between 38th and 39th Street, in Mahar Aung Myay Township. southwest corner of Mandalay) is an attractive monastery built in traditional Burmese fashion. One of the few buildings in Mandalay that has survived the test of time and one of the best examples of classic Burmese architecture in Myanmar today, it was constructed in 1895 by Chinese merchants and contains many impressive woodcarvings and also contains a number of admirable works of art.

Shweinbin Monastery was donated by a Chinese merchant U Set Shwin. He was born in China, Yunan Province and then moved to Mandalay. He became an orphan at the age of 14 and he struggled through life to become a merchant. He married a niece of King Pagan and finally was able to donate this great monastery. At present there are 35 monks that live in the monastery complex which is held up by the classical teak foundation that is often seen throughout the country but rarely in as good condition as at this illuminating site.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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