US Funds Preservation of Historic Mandalay Monastery

By Zarni Mann 25 July 2013

MANDALAY — The US government announced on Thursday that it is funding a two-year project that will help preserve Mandalay’s Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery, one of the city’s most historic buildings.

The US Ambassadors Fund for the Cultural Preservation will join hands with Burma’s Ministry of Culture to preserve the 19th century, traditional teak wooden building, also known as the Golden Palace, which was constructed during the reign of King Mindon.

US Ambassador Derek Mitchell said the World Monument Fund based in Washington would implement the US$500,000 million project, adding that the project would also include training in preservation techniques for Burmese officials and craftsmen.

“We are now planning to give training and share experiences of modern techniques on how you preserve monuments. Not just in this place, but at other wooden monasteries around your country as well,” Mitchell told reporters during a press conference in Mandalay.

“This is an original and still remarkable monument. We looked at a lot of different options, but we just felt that this is the good place to start,” he said. “It represents not just a wooden monastery, but it has a connection to the imperial era and is worth preserving as it has deep historical relevance.”

Deputy Minister of Culture Than Swe said Burmese traditional craftsmen would to work together with the US team to preserve the monastery.

“We will try our best to preserve this place and will make sure the preservation works will not affect the original wood carvings, the structure and its beauty. We are glad that our monument will have a chance to get better preservation,” Than Swe said.

The Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery was originally covered with gold leaf and glass mosaics, and it is known for its intricate wood carvings on the walls and roofs that show Buddhist myths. It was built as a royal chamber for King Mindon and located within the Mandalay Palace complex.

Under his son, King Thibaw, the building was moved to a site outside of the Mandalay Palace moat and it was turned into a monastery. During World War II, aerial bombards destroyed most of the historic buildings inside the Mandalay Palace complex, leaving the Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery as the only remaining original structure from the 19th century palace.

As Burma’s development speeds up, Mitchell said, it should ensure the preservation of such important historical buildings and other cultural heritage.

“Your neighboring countries, they have lost many of their historical monuments. But your country has preserved that and it’s made something special about the country,” he said. “You have to preserve the heritage with your heart and soul because if you lose your history, you lose a lot of yourselves.”