Nearly a Dozen Buddha Images Damaged Inside Ancient Rakhine Temple

By Min Aung Khine 19 October 2018

SITTWE, Rakhine State — Authorities and conservationists in Rakhine State suspect local vandals for the damage of nearly a dozen Buddha images inside a 14th century temple Wednesday night in the ancient Arakanese royal capital of Mrauk-U.

Eleven of 28 Buddha images inside Sin Cha Seik Ward’s Lay Myat Hnar Temple were damaged, said Daw Khin Than, who chairs a government-supported conservation group in Mrauk-U.

From the 15th to 19th centuries Mrauk-U was the seat of a succession of Arakanese kings who at their height controlled much of modern-day western Myanmar, including Rakhine State, and eastern Bangladesh. Much of the ancient city remains well preserved and some 380 historic temples are scattered among the lush hills of northern Rakhine.

“There is a need to tighten security in Mrauk-U. I think people are drinking and abusing drugs inside pagodas. Some Buddha images had their heads broken off, some images had their arms damaged, and so on. Buddha images in an urban area have been destroyed because of lax security,” Daw Khin Than told The Irrawaddy.

U Than Htike, director of Mrauk-U Township’s Department of Archaeology, National Museums and Libraries, said he has filed a complaint police.

“We made a field inspection this morning, and residents in the neighborhood said they heard people fighting that night. They did not dare to go there to see what was happening until the next morning. Then they saw that the Buddha images were destroyed,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Than Htike said his department lacks the personnel to assign security guards to the Lay Myat Hnar Temple. He said it has installed doors at the temple’s four entrances but added that some of them were now in poor condition.

Daw Khin Than said this was the first time that Buddha images in one of the township’s urban wards have been damaged.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has been working to nominate Mrauk-U for UNESCO world heritage status.

Mrauk-U sits on the Kaladan River, about 60 km inland from the state capital, Sittwe, and is among Rakhine’s main tourist attractions along with Ngapali Beach. But communal violence between the state’s Arakanese Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities in mid-2012 has driven tourist numbers down.

Authorities forbid foreigners from visiting the old city in the wake of the violence. And although the ban was lifted within months, foreign visitors have remained few.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.