Park Project Near Thai King’s Tomb Draws Critics in Mandalay

By Zarni Mann 21 February 2014

RANGOON — Archeologists and historians are opposing plans by the Mandalay city administration to develop an outdoor park near the remains of an 18th century town and a Thai king’s tomb.

While constructing a fence for the park, workers unearthed a royal road that ran about one meter away from the tomb of former King Uthumphon at Linzin hill in the town of Amarapura.

“They destroyed the center part of 150 feet [45 meters] of the ancient brick road,” said Win Maung, an author, architect and member of an excavation team that has worked to conserve the Thai king’s tomb. “All the bricks were pulled from the road and thrown away.”

He the nearly five-kilometer road had been built to connect a monastery near the tomb to a royal city.

“According to historical records and maps, along with our current excavation work, we have found the monastery, the road and many remains of the ancient buildings of Amarapura. We don’t want the MCDC to destroy this heritage, but to maintain it,” he added, referring to the Mandalay City Development Committee.

Archeologists have filed complaints about the park development to the Ministry of Culture’s department of archeology since February, when the fencing process began.

Speaking Friday in Mandalay, the deputy minister of culture said it was unclear whether the ministry had authority to take action.

“The problem is, it is still not clear whether it’s our responsibility, or if it’s the responsibility of MCDC or other government officials. However we are keeping our eyes on the MCDC project and will oppose it if the work seriously affects historical heritage,” Than Swe told reporters at a press conference.

Rather than a recreational park, historians and archeologists want to reserve the area for an archeological park and a Thai cultural village. The Thai-Burma excavation team planning to undertake conservation works on the Thai king’s tomb has requested four acres for this purpose, but has been granted about one-fourth of that area.

“We want to ask through what means and how long will it take for the ministry to keep an eye on the MCDC works. Will they take action only after everything has been totally destroyed?” Mickey Hart, a historian leading the excavation team, told The Irrawaddy.

“Actually, our aim to turn the area into a park is the same as MCDC’s. The only difference is that ours would be an archeological and historical park, which would later be handed over to the ministry and which would of course benefit the area’s heritage as well. We would like to achieve conservation with MCDC and the responsible authorities, to find a better solution to preserve the heritage.”

A well-known monk, Sitagu Sayadaw, has joined the chief abbot of the Mandalay divisional monks’ association in pledging to help raise the issue with the ministry and MCDC.

Meanwhile, the excavation team says their work on the tomb has been delayed, with only a small portion of the project completed after one year on the job.

“Disturbances by several departments of authorities, including delays with the permit to do the excavation works and many other restrictions, mean that only 20 percent of the work is done,” Hart said. “We just hope we will not face such restrictions again.”

A 100-member group of Burmese and Thai archeologists and historians have worked on the excavation of the tomb since February 2013. An urn containing human bones, some pieces of yellow robes from a Buddhist monk, and artifacts have been discovered during the process, as have the remains of a large monastery building buried beneath the tomb.

According to Burmese history records, Uthumphon was originally brought to Mandalay Division in the 18th century as a prisoner of war. He was captured by the third king of Burma’s Konbaung Dynasty, Hsinbyushin, who invaded the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya in 1767 and returned to his own capital, Ava, with as many subjects as possible.  The Thai king, who was in monkhood, died in captivity and was buried at Linzin Hill.