Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay is of great importance as the center of Myanmar culture. Not only does it hold center-stage today, but even in the past, it was an important city and will continue to hold its pride of place in the future. Situated about 600 km north of Yangon on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River, it has half a million inhabitants.
Mandalay is the historical old capital- the center of Myanmar culture, Buddhist Sasana and Myanmar traditional arts and crafts. Dating back one hundred and forty-two years, the city abounds in historical sites, cultural memorials and Buddhist monuments, and is second only to Bagan, as the richest historical landmark. The name ‘Mandalay’ has a wonderful ring to it, and conjures up images of an archaic fairy tale kingdom, but the city is not very old and not particularly beautiful. However, one cannot deny its place in Myanmar history as it was the capital of the last independent Burmese kingdom, which in 1886 was finally conquered by none other than the mighty British colonial forces.
King Mindon had founded the town only twenty-nine years earlier in 1857 and thus it remained the capital of an independent kingdom for less than 30 years. Mandalay was built in an empty area in 1857, following an ancient prophecy that predicted the birth of a town in the exact location on the auspicious occasion of the 2,400th anniversary of Buddhism.
The city owes its name to the Mandalay Hill, which lies at the northeast corner of the present city. Legend has us believe that ever since Lord Buddha prophesied that a great city, a metropolis of Buddhism would be founded at its foot, the mount has been considered holy. It was King Mindon who fulfilled that prophecy.
Having fulfilled the prophecy, King Mindon who ruled over the Kingdom of Amarapura, then issued a royal decree on 13 January, 1857 A.D., to establish a new kingdom. Consequently, the Ceremony of Ascending the Throne was celebrated in July, 1858 following which the royal city and the kingdom were demarcated. The royal city as a whole was called Lay Kyun Aung Mye (“Victorious Land over the Four Islands”) and the royal palace, the Mya Nan San Kyaw (“The Royal Emerald Palace”). The kingdom was called the Kingdom of Yadanabon, while the name Ratanapura, means “The Bejeweled Site “. It was only later, that it was named after the Mandalay Hill, which lies 2.5km north east of the royal palace, and retains the same name till this day. The word “Mandalay” is derived from the Pali word ” Mandala “, which means ” a flatland ” and the Pali word ” Mandare” meaning ” an auspicious land.
Unlike other cities that were rebuilt, transfer of the capital to a new location in this case didn’t involve construction of an entirely new settlement with new material. The fact that all secular buildings of that time, including the royal palaces were built from wood was advantageous. It was possible to dismantle the houses in the old settlement to shift them to the new location. The building materials were loaded on to carts or transported on the backs of elephants to be reconstructed at the place chosen for the new town.
In 1782, the town had been moved about 8 km to the northeast, to the aforementioned Amaraputra. In 1823, the entire capital was dismantled again and this time rebuilt 8 kilometers south west in Ava. However, that wasn’t the last time it was relocated. In 1838, Ava was severely damaged by a powerful earthquake, and consequently, dismantled once again in 1841 and transferred to Amarapura. But this change was not permanent either, as 16 years later, the entire town was moved one more time; this time it was moved 12 km to the north east to the present Mandalay.
The architect who built the city followed the same layout plan as that of the earlier Kingdom of Amarapura. Looking from above one can clearly see the square and rectangular shapes that are formed by the streets and roads that intersect at right angles. The city is divided into four parts: Ashe-pyin (eastern part), Anok-pyin (western part), Taung-pyin (southern part) and Myauk-pyin (northern part), consisting of 54 plots.
King Mindon laid the foundation of Mandalay on the 6th waning day of Kason, M.E 1221, (1857 A.D.). He laid the foundations of seven edifices at the same time: the royal city with the battlement walls, the moat surrounding it, the Maha Lawka Marazein Stupa, the higher ordination hall named the Pahtan-haw Shwe Thein, the Atumashi the Incomparable ) monastery, the Thudhama Zayats or public houses for preaching the Doctrine, and the library for the Buddhist scriptures.
Initially, the royal moat was 68.58m wide and 3.35m deep, and was fed with water from the Yadana Nadi, now called the Ye Ni Canal. In 1995 the moat was dug up and the banks fortified with rocks. The city was beautified by 20 gardens, a huge earthen wall and a grand palace with fifty-seven doors. There were five bridges spanning the moat and twelve other bridges built around the city. At present, there are four bridges that span the moat, namely the U-hteik Bridge in the east, the Kyaw Moe Bridge to the south, the Kye Mon Bridge in the west and the Lay Thein Bridge to the north.
When King Mindon passed away, his son Thibaw ascended the throne. But sadly, King Thibaw was not destined to enjoy a long reign as in M.E 1247, the British invaded Myanmar overpowering all resistance and turning the country into a British colony. Mandalay was the old capital once ruled by two successive kings and was the last of the Myanmar kingdoms to be ruled by monarchs.
Once the British had conquered Mandalay in 1886, they transformed the royal palaces of Mandalay into their military headquarters and renamed the complex Fort Dufferin.
Later during World War II, the invading Japanese army installed a military camp in the same place. Sadly because of the Japanese occupation, the Allied forces bombed the city relentlessly, until nothing was left of the ancient palace buildings.
Mandalay today is a striking complex of modern and classic designs merged with the ancient traditional beauty of the royal palace and the moat surrounding it. The natural beauty of the Mandalay Hill has been enhanced by the new architectural phenomenon of modern houses and brick buildings. The former palace ground is today known as Fort Mandalay. A few replicas of the palaces have been built and further reconstructions are underway.
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- Pindaya Caves
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