Restoration of Thai King’s Tomb Continues Under DNA Test Uncertainty

By Zarni Mann 21 June 2016

MANDALAY — Amid uncertainty over the material remains of an 18th century Thai King, the team restoring what is believed to be his tomb in Amarapura near Mandalay have chosen to continue work on the instructions of a Buddhist abbot.

This is in spite of a notice issued in May by Mandalay municipal authorities instructing the restoration team to halt their work while DNA tests are carried out to determine whether the tomb was indeed that of Thai King Uthumphon, who ruled Siam for only two months in 1758 and was later captured in a Burmese invasion.

A consecration ceremony planned for the tomb at the end of June remains as scheduled—although, in the absence of the funerary urn while it undergoes testing, the site will initially be designated only as a “memorial site.”

“The [DNA] test will take time because it [is being applied] to the remains of a person who died several hundred years ago. In the mean time, the Sitagu Sayadaw [abbot] instructed us to continue the restoration work to protect the ruins of the tomb and the related temples, which are threatened by the weather,” explained “Tampawaddi” Win Maung, who leads the restoration team.

Excavation of the Thai king’s purported tomb began in 2013. Many artifacts were unearthed, including the supposed cremation urn of the king, among a series of tombs and religious structures on Lin Zin hill in Amarapura Township, on the outskirts of Mandalay City.

Restoration work on the historic remnants on Lin Zin hill has been halted three times since then. According to the restoration team, more than half of the excavation sites have been “ruined” due to human activity and adverse weather during the halts.

“The Thai team, which funded the restoration, decided the place could act [initially] as a memorial site for King Uthumphon, […] for Thai visitors,” said Win Maung.

Restoration of the main tomb and the foundations of an old Thai-style monastery are almost finished. The ceremony to re-consecrate the tomb will be held on June 26 and 27. Prominent Buddhist abbots and monks from Thailand, and officials from the Thai royal treasury department, are planning to attend.

“Since there is some uncertainty over the cremation urn of the Thai king, we will not place it back in the tomb as we had originally planned,” said Win Maung.

“The place will be just a monument […] until the results from the MCDC [Mandalay City Development Council] proves whether or not it is the real tomb,” he added.

According to Burmese official history, Uthumphon (known as King Dok Madua in Thai histories) was captured along with many other members of the Siamese court—after he had already been deposed and was living as a monk—by Burmese King Sinphyushin (1736–1776) in his invasion of the Thai capital Ayutthaya in 1767. Uthumphon was brought as a prisoner to the Burmese royal capital of Ava, close to present-day Mandalay.

After the Burmese king shifted his palace from Ava to Amarapura, King Uthumphon lived in Amarapura as a monk until his death and burial on Lin Zin hill.