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May 19, 2019

MraukU: the royal capital of ancient Arakan

  • By Arakan Sein

 

By Arakan Sein

Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan, is today one of the seven states in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and lies in the western part of the country , shut off from the Irrawaddy Valley by a long chain of mountains. It is one of the poorest of the states and divisions in Myanmar. The other day I was thrilled by the news report that efforts have been made to put MraukU on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites,according to the Director of the Archaeology and the National Museum Department in MraukU.
It is an encouraging news that surveys have been carried out under the instructions of the Union Minister with the provision of more staff and an increased budget. In addition, Italy kindly donated US$ one million to UNESCO for this project and China and Australia showed their interests for assistance.
Little is known about MraukU if it is compared to Pagan, the most popular tourist attraction in Myanmar. Very few tourists, including local ones, have visited MraukU possibly due to inaccessibility and a lack of support and encouragement by the authorities concerned. Furthermore, MraukU was geographically situated among mountain ranges, about forty miles deep north from Sittway, the Capital city of present-day Rakhine State, the narrow strip of land on the west coast of the Union of Myanmar.
In 1784, MraukU, the capital of the Royal Kingdom of Arakan fell under the occupation of Bodawpaya, one of the greatest of all Konbaung kings.
The British and the Myanmar fought two wars, in 1824-6 and 1852-3, both resulting in decisive British victories and thence the British annexed Arakan in 1826 after the first Anglo-Myanmar war.
But for centuries Arakan prospered on international trade and readily took in people and ideas from across the Asian continent and beyond, a flourishing civilization with the most cosmopolitan court in modern Myanmar history.
And in the 15th and 16th centuries, it was independent and a significant force in its own rights. In 1430, after nearly three decades in exile, King Naramithla returned at the head of a formidable force, largely made up of Afghan adventurers, who swiftly overcame local opposition. That was the start of a new golden age for this country—a period of power and prosperity—and the creation of the remarkably hybrid Buddhist-Islamic court. He abandoned the old capital and established a new one, MraukU.
MraukU grew to be an international centre of over 160,000 people. Its inhabitants were a mix of Arakanese, Bengalis, Afghans, Myanmar, Dutch, Portuguese, Persians and even Japanese Christians from Nagasaki. Some of Japanese Christians formed a special bodyguard to the Arakanese king.
The city was set inland, and a massive defense system of earthern ramparts, and the citadels supplemented the ring of hills and rivers nearby. The Portuguese Jesuit Father A. Farrinha, S.J, called the city, with its numerous intersecting rivers “the second Venice” and other writers of the time compared MraukU with Amsterdam and London.Father Sebastian Manrique arrived in Arakan in 1630 and described MraukU in his travels.
Now MraukU, one of the cities of Rakhine State, remains among the ruins of temples and stupas covered with bushes and hills. Among them stand out are several kinds of Man Aung stupas, Shit-thaung and Kothaung temples with stone sculptural walls with carved figurines inside. Htuk-Khan Thein is located on a hilltop from where one can have a commanding view of the valley areas.
Moreover, streams and creeks within the valleys along the hill ranges were dammed with huge stone slabs to form man-made lakes at different elevations. In ancient times, princes and princesses were allowed to go swimming in these lakes. With realization of the project within a period of a decade, MraukU, I hope, will become one of the tourists’ attractions in the Union of Myanmar.
Ref: Thant Myint-U’s “Burma And The New Crossroads Of Asia”, “The River Of Lost Footsteps” and “The Making Of Modern Myanmar”.

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