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MRAUK U

Sittwe

Sittwe

Buddhist Museum

Buddhist Museum

Shittaung Pagoda

Shittaung Pagoda

Largely unknown to the Western world for much of its tur­bulent history, Arakan played a pivotal role in the exchange of cultures and religions between India and Southeast Asia. For over a thousand years the region which now forms the Rakhine State of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) was an inde­pendent state whose rich histry is only slowly being paid the attention it deserves. Stretching along the Bay of Bengal, from the Naaf River which separates it from Bangladesh to Cape Negrais in southern Burma, it occupies the narrow strip of land to the west of the mountains of the Arakan Yoma (Range). Land and sea routes connected it with Bengal to the west and Burma proper to the east, routes that were traveled by peo­ples, religions and cultures. When its neighbors were weak, Arakan was able to expand its influence along the coast to the east, west and south. At other times strong and aggressive neigh­bouring states would drive the Arakanese back to their home­land in the north or, at times, seek to conquer them.

Arakan’s heartland was in its north, based on the rich alluvial flood plains of the adjoining Kaladan and Le-mro valleys. The earliest cities were in the Kaladan valley, backed by hills and facing west, and were thus open to influence from India and beyond. Subsequently cities were founded west of the Le-mro River, more accessible to Burma proper. The greatest city, Mrauk-U, bestrides the gap between these two valleys and thus could control both. All these cities were accessible to the Bay of Bengal through the tidal Mayu, Kaladan and Le-mro Rivers and their tributaries.

 

From the early centuries of the present era Arakan was ruled by kings who adopted Indian titles and traditions to suit their own environment. Indian Brahmins conducted the royal cer­emonial, Buddhist monks spread their teachings, traders came and went and artists and architects used Indian models for in­spiration. In the later period, there was also influence from Islamic courts of Bengal and Delhi. As an important centre for trade and as a goal of Buddhist pilgrims it was also the recipi­ent of influence from other cultural centres in Southeast Asia. But the peoples of Arakan – like their counterparts elsewhere. In the region – also followed older traditions connected with their land and the spirits which guarded it. Many of these still survive in fertility and spirit cults, or have been absorbed into the Buddhist Pantheon.

 

Arakan was discovered and forgotten by the rest of the world as its power rose and fell. In the first century AD the Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy knew it as Argyre, the land of silver, which was visited by merchants from southern India. Chinese Buddhist pilgrims of the seventh century knew it and the area of east Bengal within its cultural sphere as A-li-ki-lo or Harikela. The Burmese inscriptions of Pagan and Ava from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries refer to the Country as Rakhaing, the Tibetan historians Rakhan, and the Sri Lankan chronicles Rakhanga. Portuguese explorers from the fifteenth century call it Rachani and Aracan, and were followed in this by the later Dutch and English traders. The spelling ‘Arakan’ became standard in the eighteenth century.

After Arakan was annexed to India by the British in 1826 a number of scholar-administrators began to study in antiqui­ties, and in 1889 Dr Emil Forchhammer, a Swiss Pali scholar employed by the Government of India, undertook a survey of the sites of the old cities and the major monuments. His com­prehensive account remains the best to date. Later archaeolo­gists found sites like Pagan in central Burma more accessible and attractive than those in remote and malarial Arakan, al­though the region was visited briefly by Charles Duroisclle all 1920 and by U Lu Pe ‘Will in 1940, Nevertheless, the sites always attracted Arakanese scholars, especially U San Shwe Bu who worked with British colleagues in the writing, of Arakanese history.

 

A resurgence of interest led by key Arakanese in the Burmese central government in the 1970s led to further study being undertaken by Professor of architecture U Myo Myint Sein and to the present writer’s work on the cultural history of the early period. Some Vesali sites were excavated in the 1980s by the present Director-General of the Department of Archae­ology in Myanmar, U Nyunt Han. Recognising the tourist potential of the region, the government declared the old city of Mrauk-U a Heritage area in 1996. It is now committed to funding restoration of key shrines, and excavation of the place sites of Vesali and Mrauk-U underway. 

 

 

Attractions:

Shittaung Pagoda

Shitthaung or “temple of the 80,000 Buddhas” located about half a mile to the north of the palace site was built by one of the most powerful kings of the Mrauk U Dynasty, called by the people, Minbargyi. It is an ancient temple, in Mrauk U of northern Rakhine state, Myanmar.

 

History

According to records on inscriptions as King Minbin who reigned from 1513 to 1553. The king built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack on the City of Mrauk U.

 

The skill and art displayed in its construction and ornamentation are remarkable. Besides, we may observe here about the maze-like layout of this pagoda. In the accounts of this curious plan, some foreigners remarked that the Shitthaung Pagoda was built alike a fortress. The real purpose of the pagoda was for prayer, some rituals of initiation, and some of the King’s ceremonies, which were usually held secretly. It was constructed six feet thick of solid sandstone and like “rock cave tunnel”. No mortar was used in the construction and stones were connected with stone brackets. It is believed that 84,000 of the Buddha’s relics with the same number of the Lord’s images are enshrined in it. People who entered the tunnels of the temple felt that they were actually inside an endless tunnel. The pagodas had been built by one thousand architects and workmen for a year.

 

The central pagoda measures 160 feet long and 124 feet broad, 86 feet high. On the north and south walls stand at regular intervals circular, turret-like pagodas. There are one big and 14 smaller ones on the north and a bigger one and seventeen smaller ones on the south. Along the other two inner galleries are hundreds of Buddha images of various sizes.

 

 

The Shittaung Pillar 

The Shittaung Pillar is well-known and it is located just on the northern entrance of the Shittaung Pagoda. It is believed to have been brought from Vesali to Mrauk U. It was placed by King Minbin in 1535 A.D. The pillar was destroyed during the World War II. Now it has been renovated. The original pillar stands from 10 feet and each side is 2′ 4″ wide in surface. Three faces have Sanskrit Inscriptions and the other one was badly damaged. The pillar was made from red sandstone and decorated with double lotus petal motif at all the eight corners. The ancient petal pattern designs of the Mrauk U period can be seen on this pillar.  

 

 

AROUND MRAUK U 

 

Sittwe

Sittwe is situated on an estuarial island at the confluence of the Kaladan River, Myu River, and Lemyo River. The location of Sittwe is between East Longitude 92deg 56′ and North Latitute 20deg 7′ and 22deg 17′.

 

This port city of the Rakhine State sits at the mouth of the Kaladan River where it empties into the Bay of Bangal. Off shore delta islands form a wide protected channel that has served as an important harbour for many centuries. The city started as a trading port around 200 years ago and further developed after the British occupation of 1826. International trade alone the coast bloomed during the British era. Two huge cargo steamers a day plied back and forth between Calcutta and Sittwe. Scottish short-storywriter and novelist Hector Hugh Munro, known by his pen name ‘Saki’, was born here in 1870. There is a distinctive Rakhine twist on standard Myanmar culture that includes the enjoyment of much spicy food and brighter-coloured clothing.

 The climate in Sittwe is moderate. Rainfall in the year round is not more than 200″. Monsoon starts in the last week of May and heavy rainfall months are June, July and August. The best month of the year is November and the best travelling months are November up to February. 

 

 

Interesting Places

 

Payagyi Temple

This temple is situated in the centre of town and features a large plain shed supported by pillars decorated with glass mosaic. A large seated Buddha image was cast in 1900 in the Rakhine style with the royal costume common to many Rakhine images. The face of the figure shines with gold, while the rest of the body is of bronze.

 

This is the only place where town people celebrate the annual lighting festival at the end of Buddhist Lent which usually falls in the month of October and November.   

 

 

Buddhist Museum

This modest two-stroey museum is the best place in Myanmar tours to view Rakhine Style Buddha images. The collection here represents a rare instance of historical preservation. Most of the images are under a meter in height with the royal attire common to Rakhine Buddhas Images. The majority dates to the Mrauk U period, while a few date as far back as the Wethali era and are made of bronze, silver, quartz or alabaster. There are also some Indian Buddha images and Hindu deities on display, a few Thai and Japanese Buddha statues, silver coins from the Mrauk U era, clay pipes, terracotta votive tablets and engraved astrological charts. Entry is free.

 

 

View Point

The View Point is a lovely recreational spot where one can enjoy breathing fresh sea breeze. It shows the panoramic view of Baronga islands on the other side of the Kaladan River, and also the Layshinedaung savage island lighthouse. The View Point was also known as Farkir Point.

 

 

Thalondaw Datt Pagoda

Thalondaw Datt Pagoda is situated in the western end of the town lying over the Ahgyettaw ridge near the north-western corner of the Royal Lake. This pagoda is said to have been donated and built by King Ashoka. It was called Letwai Thalonedaw Datt because Lord Buddha’s left thigh bone relic was enshrined in this pagoda.

 

 

Thandwe

Thandwe, called Sandoway by the British, is a city and major seaport in southern Myanmar. It is also a district. Thandwe is very ancient, and is said to have been at one time the capital of Rakhine State, then called Arakan. Thandwe is the main gateway to reach the beautiful Ngapali Beach. Thandwe consists of the Thandwe Airport.

 

The district has an area of 3,784 square miles. The country is mountainous, the Arakan Mountains sending out spurs which reach the coast. Some of the peaks in the north attain 4,000 and more ft. The streams are only mountain torrents to within a few miles of the coast; the mouth of the Khwa forms a good anchorage for vessels of from 9 to 10 ft. draught. The rocks in the Arakan range and its spurs are metamorphic, and comprise clay, slates, ironstone and indurated sandstone; towards the south, ironstone, trap and rocks of basaltic character are common; veins of steatite and white fibrous quartz are also found. The rainfall in 1905 was 23-49 in. Except a few acres of tobacco, all the cultivation is rice.

 

 

Kyaukpyu

Kyaukpyu is a town of western Myanmar on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal. Just to the south is the offshore island of Ramree in Combermere Bay, while 250 miles (400 km) to the northwest lies Yangon. The town includes a natural harbor which connects rice trade between Calcutta and Yangon. The estimated population in 1983 was 19,456 inhabitants.

 Kyaukphyu is a district in the Rakhine State of Lower Myanmar. It is situated on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal. It consists of a strip of mainland along the Bay of Bengal, extending from the An Pass, across the main range to the Ma-I river. The large islands of Ramree and Cheduba with many others to the south, lying off the coast of Thandwe.

 

 The An Pass is an important trade route and rises to a height of 4664 feet above sea level. Large forests of valuable timber cover an area of about 650 square meter. Kyaukpyu contains numerous mud volcanoes, from which the masrsh gas is frequently discharged with flames.

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