In West Burma, Ancient City Needs Care: Activists

Foreign visitors at Hokekathein stupa in Mrauk U.(Photo: Myat Su Mon / The Irrawaddy)

Foreign visitors at Hokekathein stupa in Mrauk U.(Photo: Myat Su Mon / The Irrawaddy)

Mrauk U, once the capital of an ethnic Arakanese kingdom, is presently more of a ruined city than an ancient capital.

The city in Arakan State was founded in the 1430s and remained a bustling commercial center until 1784, with trade to other Asian and European countries. Pagodas and stupas could be found throughout the city and surrounding hills, with religious edifices made of stone and rock.

These days, most of the Buddha images and religious edifices lie in ruins among bushes and vines. Buddha images in the precinct of the famous Shitthaung and Koethaung stupas have been disfigured over years of poor care.

The government says it lacks funds to adequately preserve Mrauk U, but a campaign is gaining steam to save what is left of the historical city.

Aung Kyaw Zan, assistant director of the Mrauk U archeology department at the National Museum and Library, is among those working to preserve the religious edifices. “During a visit to Mrauk U, President U Thein Sein said he would grant 600 million kyats (US$600,000) for preservation works for the 2014-15 year,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Under the former military regime, some religious edifices received what the government

called all-around renovation, but not full restoration. As part of the renovations, plaques with the names of ancient kings, queens and princes were removed from edifices and replaced with plaques honoring generals, including Gen. Than Shwe, the country’s former dictator. Shitthaung Stupa was disfigured by cement when former Gen. Khin Nyunt ordered its renovation.

“In the time of State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), generals came to Mrauk U and ordered the reconstruction of some pagodas and stupas,” said a researcher who is documenting Mrauk U history. “I suggested choosing a different way, since their renovation methods could destroy the religious edifices, but they did not listen.”

Generals were accused of taking Buddha images and artifacts for themselves. In 2011, an ancient Buddha image was discovered and news spread that it was made of pure gold. Government authorities claimed it for Naypyidaw, in the face of protest by thousands of locals. In fact, the image was made of only nine-carat gold. Locals said they appreciated it for its cultural value.

Meanwhile, some locals are trying to preserve badly disfigured Buddha images on their own, but authorities have prohibited them from doing so. “The original aesthetic features may be harmed,” Aung Kyaw Zan said of the government’s decision to ban unofficial renovations.

However, some leaders of the official archeological teams have been accused of lacking specialized knowledge and winning their positions due to connections with the former regime. And although construction of hotels near ancient regions is prohibited, businesspeople are building hotels and restaurants, allegedly thanks to under-the-table agreements with authorities.

The government is also building a railroad through holy places of the Mrauk U, angering the Arakanese people who say the Koethaung Stupa will not be able to bear the vibrations of nearby trains over time and will likely be damaged.

Still, measures are under way to earn the city status as a World Heritage Site. “We plan to apply for Unesco’s recognition in 2016. We’ve made all the preparations for Unesco to inspect the region,” Aung Kyaw Zan said.

Local people say they are particularly worried that Mrauk U may never make the World Heritage List if the stupa is damaged by the railroad.

11 Responses to In West Burma, Ancient City Needs Care: Activists

  1. Ancient Capital Golden Mrauk-Oo should preserve, should not disfigured the original stupa.

    This are the Arakanese landmark of the past. Mrauk-OO period was an important chapter of the Arakan history in which many Muslims stttlers were sent to Arakan by Mugol Emperor of India, so the civilization of Arakan is mixed with Indian culture. Arakanese King Narameikhla became king by the help of Aurungzig dynasty of India sent 30,000 Muslims soldiers mostly are Kaman and Pathan, Bangalis fron Culcutta later Arakan king allowed them to settle there and those are to day call
    ROHINGYA. Therefore you can find a place call Rohingya Para which is at Zayhong Maw lek in Sittwe.

  2. Thank you Oo m g, you just invented a ‘history’ of the Mughal empire. What a genius and a great scholar! The rohingya people and the moghul people will always remember you by inscribing on marble stones your name and your achievement!!!

  3. Mrauk Oo is Rakhine and here might be the problem as past as well up to day Culture Ministers are not so much ” Myanmar ” feeling but very much Burmese and if at all concentrate only on Burmese sites. In a way maybe lucky for Mrauk Oo as in the past more damage was done than good when Burmese Culture Ministers renovated the Chitaung Pagoga and changed all the century old camasutra style carvings into their ” not dirty ” style looking one s , Also today one can see that around Chitaung Pagoda – new main wall is sure re done beautiful but in no way as Mrauk Oo is and was , which can be seen easy at the still unfinished sides and areas or old wall …. The Minister of Culture continues what other top Burmese General ( PM s etc ) had done before already in Mrauk Oo , building a Burmese Disneyland for Mikey Mouse visitors. Let alone the poorest quality and NO quality control by the Culture Minister will soon give the final exodus of a real ancient Mrauk Oo….At same time century old terracotta tiles fly over the place and get broken into smallest pieces. There is clearly no Culture Ministry or Minister in charge still to protect or preserve Mrauk Oo — maybe still as they are feeling Myanmar but very much Burma……………

  4. Chittagong was part of the Arakanese empire till 1666. When the Burmese invaded Mrauk-U in 1784, everyone left the city. There is no question of any Muslims to stay there back when the Burmese king committed genocide after genocide (please check gaung-bung-brang in Mrauk-U where one can see the bone remains of the Rakhine killed). 98% of today’s Muslims in Rakhine state are immigrants, many came during the British colonial period, others infiltrated illegally. Sending Muslim settlers during the Mughal period (before 1666) was totally baseless. Only Shah Shuja with his followers came to Arakan, where the kind Rakhine king gave him asylum. Then Shah Shuja tried to stage a coup and he was killed with his followers. Please don’t try to distort the Rakhine history like the half-educated PhD holders who were heavily paid by the questionable rohingya organizations to concoct the history if you are really a son of Arakan. We need an Arakan where Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, animists and people with no religion will live in peace.

    • Dear Myanmar Star Forever,
      From your reply about Muslim Rohingya, I’d ask whether they had migrated from Chittagong (a city Of Bangladesh today). Therefore, the Rohingyas’ birth-place is Bangladesh, isn’t it? If so, why is Bangladesh Government not granted them as one of the Nationalities?

      Your reply would be appreciated.


  5. Reply to Oo Maung Gyi,
    Burmese culture have influence from India and China more or less.
    There was a slave trade along the Bay of Bengal participated by Arakan King and Portuguese. Some slaves were brought from Chittagong to Mrauk U. Chittagong was under Arakan king at that time until 1666. Those are Muslim slaves whom are later emancipated. They have nothing to do with the so called Rohingya (Chittagonian Bengali) who cooked up the story of “Muslim kingdom of Mrauk U” who came in masses during the British colonial rule.

  6. Oo Maung Gyi,
    You are really dealing half a deck of cards. No-one is questioning Kamans/Pathans/Bengalis were not there during Mrauk Oo period – don’t know your reference of 30K figure, though. Lumping large scale migration of Chittagonian Bengalis of 20th century (and still..) with this group is disingenuous.Bengalis of Maungdaw/Buthidaung have no cultural affinity with this group, nor can they speak Myanmar or Rakhine well (if at all). Your reference group (perhaps yourself included, and I mean in a respectful way) are very much integrated with society and retain their religious beliefs, both commendable.

  7. Please study carefully the history of Arakan written by many Arakanese Monks and many educated personals like Professor U San Thar Aung and etc. I have all those books and also foreigners written about Arakan. Do you know that there is still Persian language scripture under Chitthaung Phayar was discovered by U San Thar Aung.

    Can any body show me Arakanse Charactor such as Ka-Gyi – Kha Khwe etc. Do you know the period of Chandra Dynasty, is it not Hindu dynasty in Arakan. Please see 14th to 15th century, what Arakan had happened. I do not write without proof. Come Bangkok, I will show you. I do not disclose your name to public. You can come through Myanmar Embassy. If you come really I will provide you meeting place so that we can discuss friendly way without getting angry.

    You have to know that these peoples are calling them self as Rohingya, not because they want to call, Bama leaders U Nu, the first Prime Minister and Brig General Aung Gyi the then Vice Chief of Staff, Burma Army, Col. Saw Myint, Col. Ye Gaung had given them the name. I am not a money monger man, I am man of principle. No body can buy me with money, many present Arakanese leaders are bought by some super power for the Oil and Gas in Arakan.

  8. Do not distort the Arakan History which is very much great. Little knowledge is dangerous. Be a Peace Lover not to be a lover of hatred.
    Professor U San Tha Aung is a great man who discovered Persian Scripture from Chit Thaung Phayar. Buthidaung area and Maungdaw area were granted by Arakanese Kings to the Muslims of Arakan in those days. Many of the artifacts which are holding by Muslims of that area were exibited at an Organized event of Buthidaung town during the time of Islamic Religious Affairs Council ( IRAC ) held a regional conference at Buthidaung. IRAC is an organization recognize by Myanmar Government. Real imigrant to Arakan were Awakyunt Buddhists peoples now thousands and thousands living in Sittwe and also other townships in Arakan for liberation of Arakan as saperatist movement.

  9. It is no use to discuss with ignorant peoples. therefore I would like to suggest every one of you that you should study Danyawaddy Sayadaw’s History of Arakan, Rammawaddy Sayadaw’s A short History of Arakan and Professor U San Tha Aung’s Manucrip of Mro-Hong.

  10. One question: why Bangladesh denies them as one of the Nationalities? It is because, failing to Islamize Burma with the invented name of ‘rohinyga’, and by pushing in thousands of illegal into Rakhine state, and the Burmese government’s rigorous stand on the policy of the Muslims in Rakhine state, Bangladesh now has learnt big lessons by paying through their nose. Unfortunately the Pathans and Bengalis of the old have become Kaman, while the illegal Bengalis of today invented the name of Rohingya and have used force and rebellion since the 1940s to turn Rakhine state into an illegal Bengali enclave. These illegal waves of Bengalis first came to an island off Thaychaung at Sittwe, and from there they made entry into many places of Rakhine and the Rohingya armed organizations, through their clandestine websites, supported by Al-qaeda’s media wing, have campaigned with clear lies and fraudulent manipulations of Rakhine history. The coins with Persian scripts as quoted in some replies above were found in cities of Mrauk-U because Mrauk-U at that time was a metropolitan city with merchants coming from the east and the west, and if one can still remember there was a Dutch factory or trading center, and the Kings of Mrauk-u inscribed their coins in Rakhine and Persian scripts for international acceptance as the banknotes around the world today use English script for international acceptance. The demand that the Persian inscription in some Rakhine coins hinted that the kings of Rakhine were Muslims are just hogwash and campaign by the islamist terrorist organizations that take the name of rohingya in today’s media. If the kings of Rakhine were Muslims, where are their elaborate graves, as one can find everywhere in the world? The Buddhist temples and pagodas built by the Rakhine kings alone stand testimony to the irrefutable fact that the Rakhine kings have always been practising religion other than Islam.

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