The Ancient Capital of Rakhine State
Mrauk-U (Myo Haung) is another interesting historical site in
Rakhine, fast becoming a tourist attraction. Mrauk-U was founded in 1430
AD and flourished till 1785 as recorded in its history. Known as the
Golden City by foreign travelers of the era it was a focus of trade due
to its strategic on the coastal region of Bay of Bengal. Many historical
sites such as the old palace grounds and ancient pagodas principally
Shitthoung Pagoda (Eighty thousand pagodas), the old city of Vesali, the
Mahamuni Image of Kyauktaw offers a glimpse into the Rakhine history.
A new tourist site which is becoming increasingly more popular
in recent years is the old capital of Rakhine (Arakan) called Mrauk-U.
Some of the local people refer to it as Myo ( or Mro) Haung, the old
city. It was first constructed by the Rakhine King Min_Saw Mon in 1430
AD, and remained its capital for 355 years until 1784 when the Rakhine
Kingdom ceased to exist as a separate entity and became an integral part
of the Myanmar Kingdom.
The Golden City of Mrauk-U became known in Europe as a city of
oriental splendor after Friar Sebastian Manrique visited the area for
about (8) years between 1629 to 1637 AD and though he was a Portuguese
Augustinian missionary he wrote his fascinating "Travels" in Spanish and
published it as a book in 1649 and 1653. Father Manrique's vivid
account of the coronation of King Thiri_Thudhamma in 1635 and about the
Rakhine Court and intrigues of the Portuguese adventurers fired the
imagination of later authors, especially after an English translation
was published by the Hakluyt Society in 1927 in 2 volumes. In Volume One
of this English translation we can read the intriguing account of
Rakhine in mid-17th century. Manrique wrote of his astonishment when he
was shown a pair of pendant ear-rings, set with priceless rubies as
large as a small hen's egg. He said when he beheld these kyauk-nagats he
could scarcely fix his eyes on them due to the radiant splendor they
cast; he just stood amazed. In the markets also he saw "being sold in
abundance, diamonds rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topazes, gold and
silver in plates and bars, tin and zinc, which were very difficult to
get in his home country.
It was the English author Maurice Collis who made Mrauk-U and
Rakhine famous after his book The Land of the Great Image based on Friar
Manrique's travels in Arakan, was published in 1942. The Great Image is
of course, the Maha Muni Buddha Image which is now in Mandalay, though
originally it was made and venerated in this area about 15 miles from
Mrauk-U where another Maha Muni Buddha Image flanked by two other Buddha
images is now worshipped. You can visit this place also on the hillock
called Sirigutta, about (6) miles east of Kyauktaw town.
About ten years ago it was difficult to travel to this area
but you can easily visit Mrauk-U now. From Yangon there are daily
flights to Sittway the capital of Rakhine State. There are Travel and
Tour Companies in Yangon and Sittway which operate tours to Mrauk-U and
the surrounding area.
How to get there
In Sittway you should visit the newly built Rakhine State
Cultural Museum and Library and the Buddhist Museum where many
interesting antiquities of Rakhine's colorful past are on display.
From Sittway to Mrauk-U you can take a boat on the Kaladan
River and then go into some of its tributary streams. Mrauk-U, on
Thinghanadi creek is only 45 miles from Sittway and the sea coast. It is
a very pleasant river journey. If you are visiting in the winter months
you can see flocks of wild geese, ducks and other migrating waterfowl.
To the east of the old city is the famous Kiccapanadi stream and far
away the Lemro River. The city area used to have a network of canals.
In Mrauk-U itself you can visit the Archaeological Museum
which is near the Palace Site. This site is right in the centre of
Mrauk-U which was built in a strategic location by leveling three small
hills. Recently the Archaeology Department has been excavating the
Palace Site which was occupied by Rakhine Kings for over two hundred
Even the pagodas are strategically located on hilltops and
look like fortresses as indeed they were once used as such in times of
enemy intrusion. There are moats, artificial lakes and canals and the
whole area could be flooded to deter or repulse attackers.
There are innumerable pagodas and Buddha images all over the
old city and the surrounding hills. Some are still being used as places
of worship today; many in ruins are now being restored to their original
splendor. You should at least visit some; the most famous and well
worth seeing are the Shitthaung, the Andaw, the Dukkhan Thein (Sima or
Ordination Hall), the Koethaung, the Laymyetnha and the Shwe Daung
The Shitthaung or "temple of the 80,000 Buddhas" is a
fascinating place full of small images, scenes in sculpture of Buddhist
stories with the kings and queens, courtiers and common people portrayed
in their mediaeval costumes and head-dresses, all frozen in stone
throughout the ages. You should take a good torch-light to examine the
myriad interesting scenes and figures lining the dark corridors of this
temple. You can see some Rakhine men boxing and wrestling, some girls
dancing and playing, and then there are also the mythical birds, beasts
and half-human celestials and demons. Try and find the figures of both
the male and female Vasundhra/ Vasundhari symbolizing the God /Goddess
of the Earth.
The Shitthaung Pagoda, 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, but according to
records on inscriptions as King Minbin who reined from 1513 to 1553. The
king built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack.
The Portuguese mercenaries later served under Rakhine kings. There was
also surprisingly an elite corp of Japanese bodyguards protecting the
kings of Rakhine.
The Andaw (meaning the tooth relic of Buddha) is a pagoda only
86 feet to the north-east of the Shitthaung Pagoda. Built by King Min
Hla Raza in 1521 it is said to enshrine the tooth relic received from a
Sri Lankan king by King Minbin.
This temple is a hollow octagonal building made of pure
sandstone blocks; there are two internal concentric passages, with a
prayer hall on the east. Like other temples it is on a small hillock.
Visitors should see the frescoes giving detailed portrayals of
life in the Mrauk-U court; these frescoes are found in Laymyetnha and
the Shwe Daung Pagoda. Laymyetnha Pagoda was built by King Min Saw Mon
in 1430 AD as one of the original pagodas at the time of the founding of
Mrauk-U. The name of the Pagoda means "Four faced" as there are four
entrances to this square sandstone structure with a central solid stupa
80 feet high. There are 28 Buddha images as mentioned in the Sambuddha
The Shwe Daung pagoda or the "Golden Hill Pagoda" is also believed
to have been built by King Minbin between the years 1531-1553. It is a
landmark pagoda as it is the tallest in this area and can be seen as far
away as 20 miles from the main Kaladan River. The hill itself is 250
feet high and is about half a mile to the south-east of the Palace Site.
It is a solid stupa with a circular base. During the First
Anglo-Burmese War, 1824-26, the Myanmar forces built earthen
fortifications on this hill and mounted guns which inflicted heavy
losses on the British forces. Some of these fortifications can still be
Standing on a plain of rice fields is the Koethaung Pagoda;
the name means 90,000 and probably signified the number of Buddha images
it was supposed to contain. It was built by King Min Taikkha, the son
of King Min Bin who built the Shitthaung or temple of 80,000 images, so
the son exceeded the father by 10,000! It is the biggest pagoda in the
Mrauk-U area. Like the Shitthaung, this pagoda is also a massive
fortress-like structure built with stone walls and terraces. There are
108 smaller pagodas surrounding it, all made of sandstone. With a
winding corridor it is like a cave tunnel which you have to traverse
until you reach the central chamber. The inner gallery has collapsed and
is no longer accessible. There is an octagonal pagoda in the middle
surrounded by over one hundred smaller pagodas. Unlike some of the other
temples, not only sandstone, but bricks were also used in this pagoda.
Apart from the pagodas, visitors should not miss seeing the
Ordination Hall, Htukkan Thein, and the exquisite little library the
Pitakataik. Htukkan (or Dukkhan) Thein is located about 300 feet to the
north-west of Shitthaung Pagoda. Built in 1571 by King Min Phalaung it
is on a hillock 30 feet high, with two stone stair ways (8) feet broad
on the east and south.
No longer used as an Ordination Hall, it is now one of the
well-known pagodas of Mrauk-U. There is a long vaulted passageway which
leads to the central shrine room which is 15 feet in height. This room
is said to be the place where the Buddhist Archbishop used to sit to
discuss religious affairs with Senior Monks. See the seated stone ladies
preserving in sculpture the ancient hair-styles, among the many other
interesting figures. There are also 140 niches with Buddha images.
The little library or Pitaka-taik, the Repository for the
Buddhist scriptures was built in 1591 also by King Min Phalaung. It
measures only 14 feet from east to west, 10 feet from north to south and
is only 9 feet in height. Built entirely of stone there are lovely
designs on the outer walls making it look like a tiny jeweled casket
shaped like a blooming lotus. There were 48 libraries in Mrauk-U but
only this one is preserved, though it is sometimes obscured by thickets
of bushes and partly covered by moss and weeds which flourish in the
200" of annual rainfall in the region.
This library is reputed to have housed 30 sets of the Buddhist
Tipitaka which King Narapatigyi (1638-1645) received from Sri Lanka.
Unfortunately it acquired an unpleasant appellation due to its dark
windowless interior. It is now known as Chin-kite library, Chin-kite
meaning mosquito-bite. The Rakhine people say that Chin-kite is a
Myanmar mispronunciation of the Rakhine word Khraung kaik, the name of
the city wall which is close to the north of the library. If you have
difficulty in finding this library asks for the Htupayon Pagoda as it is
just north of this pagoda.
The artificial, man-made lakes named Anomakan and Letsekan on
the southern part of Mrauk-U were once part of the defense system. They
are now peaceful havens for visitors as well as for the local people,
and for animals, birds and fish. Letsekan is (3) miles in length and
half a mile wide. Some of the old city walls can also be seen.
The Portuguese and other Europeans were given a separate
quarter at Mrauk U, only about half a mile west of the palace site. The
place is called Daingripet and this place for the European settlement is
on the other bank of Aungdat creek. The old church built by Father
Manrique, now in ruins, can still be seen in this place. It is near the
Daingri tank built by King Ba Saw Phyu (1459-1482).
Rakhine has other historical sites which are earlier than
Mrauk U, at Vesali, only 6 miles to the north, and at Launggret a little
further away, but easily reached by car in about half an hour.
If you are interested in spectacular places of historical
interest and natural beauty Mrauk-U is the place. There are now
comfortable hotels and guest houses where you can stay while exploring
this ancient land, which was once a seat of oriental splendor.
Click here to see Mrauk-U Tour