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August 09, 2020

Amarapura, the second last old capital city IX

Amarapura under King Mindon

King Bagan was successful in the maintenance and renovation of his capital city Amarapura. Outstanding religious monuments and public facilities he carried out, described in the previous article “Amarapura, the second last capital city VIII” [in this esteemed daily the Global New Light of Myanmar on 2-2-2015] attested his ability in urbanization. But external affairs especially in his relations with colonial powers of the West, he proved a failure. Patriotic, dauntless and well-intentioned though he was in exerting his efforts to retrieve the lost territories of Myanmar kingdom to the British in the first Anglo-Myanmar war of 1824-26, he was backward in the contemporary world politics or rather mis-informed regarding the Anglo-French colonial rivalry engulfing Asia particularly South East Asia. Ill-advised and misinformed King Bagan thought that he could get back Rakhine and Taninthayi by a diplomatic game of playing France against Britain. Turning to France for military assistance in terms of modern arms and ammunition across the French Indo-China border in case of another war with the British, he made rapprochements with the French. But he was unaware of or not informed of the “divide and rule policy” of these two colonial powers. The British after establishing the British Indian Empire in the sub-continent of India and beyond and the French after establishing French Protectorates in Indo-China [which came to be known as French Indo-China] agreed to divide and rule policy. By an Anglo-French Entente Cordiale the two powers reached a mutual understanding to halt their colonial extension – the French would stop westward move, the British would stop eastward move by keeping Siam [Thailand] as a buffer zone between them.

Therefore, when the second Anglo-Myanmar war broke out in 1852 on the flimsy pretext of the British, King Bagan was defeated. No French military assistance from across the Myanmar-French Indo-China border came and his backward armies were utterly defeated by the British. Although the British Home Government in London was not in favour of further expansion and was adopting the policy of “thus far and no further”, the British India Government under the then Governor-General Lord Dalhousie pursued “Forward Policy” over-ruling the Home Government. Dalhousie was backed by the British mercantile community, eyeing for Myanmar cheap cotton and vast China market for their textile products via Myanmar border town Bhamo, only 40 miles to Yunnan Province of China.

As King Bagan failed in his external affairs and lost war with the British, Myanmar Hluttaw turned to Prince Mindon to replace King Bagan. Prince Mindon knew that Myanmar army was backward and weapons were obsolete. He preferred to avoid confrontation with the British until his country became modernized. So with the support of the Hluttaw, Prince Mindon and his younger brother Prince Kanaung with their adopted son Po Hlaing [later Yaw Mingyi U Po Hlaing] and their followers escaped to Shwebo – the land of victory of King Alaungpaya, from where they staged a coup. They deposed King Bagan and Mindon ascended the throne in 1853 and his younger brother Prince Kanaung as Crown Prince.

King Mindon stopped war with the British and till the last moment he tried to prevent the British from further annexation of Myanmar territory. But it was too late. Lord Dalhousie ordered to annex the entire economically resourceful Province of Pegu. Thus half of Myanmar kingdom was annexed to the British Indian Empire. Lower Myanmar became “British Burma”.

Peaceful, pious and diplomatic, King Mindon stopped the war with the British, but he never concluded the peace treaty. He began to feel uncomfortable to continue to reside in Amarpura. Though auspiciously named Amara-pura Immortal city, Amarapura was waning after 62 years of grandeur and glory, just as the eternal city of Rome declined after nearly 500 years of heydays. That is the Law of Impermanence Lord Buddha had preached. Amarapura was the capital city twice with an interregnum of 13 years [1824-1837] during which it ceased to be a capital city. Like King Bodawpaya who resided at capital city Inwa for a yearly and a half and moved to Amarapura, a new capital city he founded, King Mindon resided in Amarapura only 5 years, and he moved to a new capital city Ratanapon he founded in the year 1857 and moved in that year.

King Mindon did not do anything for the urbanization or renovation of Amarapura. On the contrary, he was responsible for moving of major Buddha Images from Amarapura to his new capital city Ratanapon and dismantling many of the palace and public buildings to be used in his new palace “Mya Nan San Kyaw”.

In the second year of King Mindon’s reign at Amarapura that is 1855, Lord Dalhousie sent a British diplomatic mission led by Arthur Phayre to King Mindon at Amarapura to negotiate with him regarding the British annexation of the Province of Pegu, as well as to gather information about all aspects of upper Myanmar. Attached as members of the mission were one photographer Linnaeus Tripe and one painter Colesworthy Grant to obtain representations of scenes and buildings and places. They published their works as Burma Views which was widely distributed and well received. In it we can find Amarapura as it was, before King Mindon moved his capital to Mandalay.

After King Mindon moved to Ratanapon, Amarapura remains as Myo Haung [Old City] or commonly called Taung Myo [South City] lying to about 7 miles south of Ratanapon. What King Mindon spared and left behind still remain in Amarapura as silent witness to its glorious past. The following may be briefed as places of archaeological and touristic interest.

The ruined city laid out in a perfect square with brick walls, three gates on each side, totaling 12 gates had one wooden spired pavilion on each, now in ruin. The moat surrounding the city walls is lined with brick now overgrown with all kinds of water lily.

Within the city, the only surviving masonry structures are the Royal Treasury and the Record Office. At each corner of the palace city still stands a pagoda “Myodaunt Zedi”.

Not far from the south wall, outside the city, stands Patho-daw-gyi pagoda built by King Bagyidaw in 1820. It is an imposing stupa, with three lower terraces adorned with marble slabs with scenes of Jataka stories carved in bold relief. The history of the pagoda is recorded on an inscription stone pillar and on a large alloy bell dedicated to the pagoda still hung in a big pavilion in the precinct.

In addition to U Pein wooden bridge, Taungthaman Kyauk Taw Gyi Temple and Amarapura Bakaya monastery already described in the previous articles there is an unusual architecture in Amarapura which is Nagayone Phaya, a vaulted pagoda with a big statue of Naga [dragon]’s hood over it.

Within the city, now surrounded by paddy fields and farm lands, the tombs of King Bodawpaya and King Bagyidaw are located with inscriptions of their short biographies.

To the north-east of the city are the sites of two big wooden monasteries built by chief queen of King Thayawaddy and their daughter in 1843. These two monasteries in their heydays were museum of a sort for all Myanmar visual arts objects of exceptional quality were deposited there by way of dedication. Unfortunately, these monasteries were destroyed during the Second World War.

There are other buildings of historical interest, such as the reconstructed Chinese Temple which was built in the time of King Hsinbyushin, after the termination of Sino-Myanmar wars and signing of peace treaty by which the two countries agreed to exchange diplomatic missions every ten years. [Decemial Missions].

Tomb of Amat Kyi U Paw Oo, tomb of Thai King who became monk in Amarapura, burial sites of Neolithic age and world renown Buddhist learning and meditation centre “Maha Ganda yon Kyaung Taik, Saunder weaving school are later additions to the list of places of interest in Amarapura.(concluded)

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