Royal Family Aims to Renovate King Thibaw’s Mandalay Palace

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 12 December 2013

RANGOON — Members of the late King Thibaw’s royal family are seeking to renovate the Mandalay-based monarch’s former palace, and plan to submit a letter to President Thein Sein requesting permission to carry out the project.

The Mandalay Palace was built in 1857 by King Mindon of the Konbaung Dynasty, a line of kings that ruled from 1752 to 1885. Their reign was ended by the British colonial forces, which abolished Burma’s monarchy and sent Mindon’s heir, King Thibaw, into exile in the late 19th century.

The Mandalay Palace was largely destroyed by an Allied bombing campaign during World War II, leaving only the moat and city walls remaining. The palace complex was reconstructed in the late 1980s and is today known as Mya Nan San Kyaw, the Golden Palace.

The palace holds the tombs of King Mindon and his three wives. King Mindon was the late King Thibaw’s father and the tomb of his mother, Queen Laung Shay, also lies inside the palace.

Soe Win, a descendant of King Thibaw living in Rangoon, said he is now attempting to contact King Mindon’s descendants—no easy task for a king who had three wives and some 50 concubines—to gather their support for the palace’s renovation.

“As royal family members, we should maintain the Golden Palace. Though the government has taken responsibility, we want to repair some parts of the palace that are in really terrible condition,” he said.

He added that the Mandalay Division government has allocated just 100 million kyats (US$102,000) for the maintenance of the palace, an amount insufficient for the task at hand.

“Our grandparents’ tombs are almost unrecognizable, many tourists don’t even know that the tombs are still there when they visit the palace, so we need to repair these tombs first as royal family members,” Soe Win said.

In late 2012, President Thein Sein visited King Thibaw’s tomb in Ratanagiri, India, where the king was exiled and spent the remaining years of his life. Soe Win traveled with the president on the trip and proposed that Thibaw’s remains be brought back to Burma. Prior to the president’s visit, the proposal was noted by Parliament in July 2012.

“Bringing Thibaw’s grave to Burma was proposed last year when I spoke with the president. Now I will definitely submit a proposal letter to U Thein Sein again, after speaking with King Mindon’s relatives in Mandalay,” Soe Win said.

“Though we are of Thibaw’s blood, King Mindon was also our great grandfather, so we need to talk with his direct bloodline, most of whom are living in Mandalay,” he added.

Kyaw Thiha, U Soe Win’s nephew, said he is assisting his uncle in the effort to repair the king’s palace in Mandalay. He said he expected that they would organize a committee next year to handle the matter after speaking with relatives in Mandalay.

“Inside the palace compound, the roof on the palace is falling apart, other structures in the palace as well, especially our grandparents’ tombs are obscured by bushes. We won’t allow them to be destroyed, so we will ask the president to grant permission to renovate,” he said.

“Most of my relatives in Mandalay want to repair their grandparents’ tombs through their own funding. First we will repair King Mindon’s tomb, and his wives’ tombs will follow if we get permission,” he said.

In the palace’s interior, 10 roofs out of 24 in total are the original architecture. The rest were reconstructed by Burma’s former military regime.

Amid the royal family’s plans to fix up the palace, the Mandalay Division government is in the process of privatizing tourism at the historical complex, the abode of Burma’s last kings.

In August 2012, several firms were invited to submit a tender to manage commercial tourism at the famed palace, with the winner expected to invest in the development of tourism facilities at the complex such as public gardens, souvenir shops and restaurants.

The Ministry of Culture’s archeological department will maintain overall authority for management of the palace.