On This Day

When the Daughter of Myanmar’s Last King Died

By Wei Yan Aung 3 June 2020

Yangon — On this day in 1947, Princess Hteik Su Myat Phaya Gyi, the first daughter of Myanmar (then Burma’s) last ruling monarch, King Thibaw, died in Ratnagiri in western India as the wife of an Indian gatekeeper at her family’s residence.

Born into luxury in Mandalay’s Royal Palace, everything changed when the British invaded and the three-year-old was sent into exile in India with her dethroned father in 1885.

At 23, she married Gopal Bhaurao Sawant, the gatekeeper of the king’s residence in Ratnagiri, who was already married. The couple had a daughter, Tu Tu (1906-2000), who had 11 children.

It was an unforgivable offense for a court servant of low status to marry a princess. The Indian gatekeeper would have been given a death sentence if Thibaw had still been king in Mandalay. Taw Phaya Galay Aung Zay, a grandson of King Thibaw, said the princess had to marry the Indian gatekeeper because he was encouraged by the British.

The deposed king was angry but could do nothing. After his death, Hteik Su Myat Phaya Gyi together with her mother Queen Supayalat and younger sisters returned to Yangon (then Rangoon) in 1919. But she returned to her husband in Ratnagiri and had barely any more contact with her royal relatives.

Living a hard life in India, she died at 64. The plaque on her tomb beside her father’s memorial was fixed upside down as her relatives could not read Burmese.

Her daughter and the first granddaughter of the country’s last king, Tu Tu, married an Indian driver Shankar Powar and lived in poverty. All her descendants became Indian citizens and three of the daughters of Princess Hteik Su Myat Phaya Gyi married men from Myanmar.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko