Under the tree
reflecting life as it is
in this moment
Sitting gently strongly
with the effort
in stillness now.
Under the tree
reflecting life as it is
in this moment
Sitting gently strongly
with the effort
in stillness now.
The Mrauk U Kingdom late phase began in about 1600 at the end of Min Phaloung’s reign (1571-1593) and the beginning of King Kamoung’s. King Thiri Thudhamma reigned next and then his son, King Okkalapa. This period’s temple and monument construction includes Laung-Pan-Prauk, Ratana Pon, and Mingala-Manaung and Sakya Manaung and others. I was there in 2011; this historical phase went from about 1600 to Mrauk U Kingdom’s defeat in 1784. For the Mrauk U Kingdom and Arakan, this was considered the last unified Arakanese kingdom.
The architecture of this was more influenced by Burmese architecture from Burma proper, especially Mon architecture of Pegu and Dagon (Yangon). Stylistically, this meant low relief carving using either stone or stucco, depending on what was available. These carvings are mostly seen at the entrances to shrines and crowned by pediments ornately crowned and with guardians protecting the shrines. Some are similar to Pitaka-taik library with entire walls covered with complex geometric carvings into the stone.
Laung Pan Prauk Ceti or pagoda (or Laung Bwann Brauk Ceti as shown above), was built in 1525 by King Min Khaung Raza, according to this headstone in front of the pagoda. One hundred years later, in 1625, Thirithudhama is thought to have restored this temple to its current style, which puts it into the Mrauk U Kingdom Late Phase architecture.
It’s referred also to as the “Colored Tile” pagoda because of the deep blue, red, yellow and green opaque glazed tiles covering the stone wall around the structure.
The pagoda monument was built of large sandstones and stands 75 feet tall. The first tier has eight faces where an image of the Buddha lived inside a niche there. Uppermost on the pediment may look like a naga, but it is the peacock’s chest, said to be the crowning element of the royal throne. [Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok]
King Kamoung and his queen, in 1612, is credited with this monument. A hoard of gold, jewels and image is said to be buried within its very structure, but no one and no physical disaster such as earthquakes have managed to set it loose. What is here now is this solid sandstone block stupa. Ratana pon stupa is orthogonal on the ground. From there it rises in concentric tiers with an inverted bell on the third tier. These manaungs, or pagodas, are still in active use today evidenced by all of the practitioners we came across and people living in the area.
King Okkalapa, the son of King Thadhamma (or Thiridhamma) build Mingala Manaung (or Mongala Mar-aung) in 1685, situated north of the Mingala Gate. This is another conical pagoda typical of Mrauk U Kingdom late phase architecture. The structure is built out of sandstone blocks and fenced with stone walls. An ordination hall was built at what is considered the old site where there was originally a large ordination hall. Broken pieces of sculpture are still found scattered around. [Famous Monuments of Mrauk U, Myar Aung, 2007, only available locally]
Sakya Manaung (Sakya Mar-aung) Pagoda was built in 1629 by King Thiri Thudhamma Raza. It was named to commemorate the successful reigns of the royal Sakya clan. Two stone figures of ogres stand guard on both sides of the western gate. In the photo I took, these two young boys were having a marvelous time getting their pictures taken by me.
The plinth was designed to look like the pagoda was flowering from a beautiful lotus base, which is the base of the structure itself. Twelve satellite pagodas surround the main pagoda each with an ordination hall at its corner.
Andaw-thein was built during King Sajaka’s reign, 1515-1521. Min Palaung restored it twice, once in 1534 and again in 1542. After that, Min Raza Gri needed a place to put the precious gift of the Buddha’s tooth from Sri Lanka. This happened in 1596. The original form was an octagonal central shrine with two circular ambulatory passages, one closer to the outside the other closer to the inside of the stupa. It is similar in construction to Mahabodhi Shwe Gu built during Mrauk U Kingdom’s First Phase.
A bell shaped stupa crowns the main shrine. A ringed conical spire extends into the sky topped with a delicate lotus shaped finial. Mughal construction is evident in the stupas surrounding the main stupa, similar to multi-domed architecture of pre-Mughal Bengal. Where the passages are vaulted, they are supported by a western architectural standard, half-capitals.
Htu-kan-thein (Cross-beam ordination hall) looks more like a fortress than a temple. Like most temples here, the interior is dark and mysterious, however, this one seems to be more so. 180 Buddhas, a very auspicious number, include the central seated Buddha and 179 buddha images side by side along the passages. King Min Phalaung built this in 1571, believed by tradition that he built it, on the advice of his astrologers, to dodge a fledgling revolt against him by his officials. The Buddha images are flanked on each side by members of the nobility who donated to the construction of Htu-kan-thein. In fact, they were demanded to donate. This made them “suitably subservient to the king who as a dhammaraja was responsible for the promulgation of the Buddha’s law throughout the land.” [p. 119]
The floor plan is simple, reminding me of a wide bullet shape (actually called apsidal), with one entrance to the east. The middle interior brick structure, running along the entire bullet shape, is open to both sides, creating two passages to circumambulate. Buddha images sit back to back where one passage is visible to the other. One stairway leads up to the central core where another set of stairs leads to the meditation hall and the central Buddha image, lit by clerestory windows.
The 29 live sized Buddha images in this circular plinth, are all identical, all calling the earth to witness. Going around the circular stupa, the buddha images all face outwards in all directions. Phara-oux (or Phara Ouk). The upper structure was destroyed and it is suggested by Dr. Gutman that the architect unsuccessfully tried to build a new kind of superstructure that didn’t quite work out. That reminds me of the collapse of Hartford Coloseum’s space frame in the winter of 1978, when I was living there and studying architecture.
Phara-oux was built again by King Phalaung in the same year that Htu-kan-thein was built, 1571. These are both right in the beginning of his reign which lasted until 1593. The photos here show the restored structure above the original circular plinth that was all that was left behind.
Pitaka-taik, or Pitaka Library, was the last stop on our temple visiting journey on our second day. By the time we got there my camera was full of dust and the lens filter was cracked and stuck on. It probably saved my lens, I finally got it off later that night. We were carted around in the back of a jeep which is alot more comfortable than some ways to get around. Our young, hard rock loving driver didn’t do any talking until we got here. He wanted to show us everything about it. In 2011, when we were there, it was surrounded by scaffolding and covered with a corrugated roof.
This library was built in 1591 by King Phaloung, to properly store Buddhist scriptures received by the king from Sri Lanka. It is built entirely of stone and is the only one of 48 pitaka libraries in Mrauk U. As you’ll see in the photos, the outer walls are beautifully carved floral and geometric patterns and shapes carved deep (about 15 centimeters) into the stone.
As an introduction, King Min Bin is also referred to as King Mong Bar Gre, the donor of Shit-taung. King Tikkha, also spelled Dikkha, was king for 3 years after his father died. He donated Koe-Thaung during his short reign. The temple was built in 1553 and was built in six months.
The excavation of Koe-thaung began on September 9, 1996. Before that all that it was was a hill of bushes. This is a massive structure. According to Myar Aung, the western basement measures 250 feet long and north to south, it is 230 feet. From the southeast to the northeast it’s 77 feet at the base. The renovators added corrugated iron lintels from the baseline to the arches of the open doorways leading deeper into the structure. Dr. Gutman states the size as about seventy-seven meters on each side, which is about 253 feet.
Walking through the catacombs of passages, I could not have told you that this monument was square in any way. Maybe we were completely mesmerized by all of the buddha images and ogre carvings on the deep brick walls faced with sandstone. I would love to go back someday and intentionally circumambulate the entire pagoda.
108 small pagodas originally decorated the five receding terraces. Entrance stairs lead up to two ambulatory passages. Another set of brick steps takes one to the large stone Buddha seated in the pose of calling the earth to witness, on a large stone base. In fact, this is the same pose that all of the buddha images in Koe-Thaung Pagoda sit. Stepped niches of thousands of small carved buddhas adorn the walls throughout the pagoda.
Koe-thaung was built in only six months, according to the chronicles. This could explain the flatter and more stylized images than previously as well as the differences in workmanship and artistry. This image style clearly belongs to the Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase. First they are massively constructed with broad shoulders. Prominent nipples extrude from a bulging chest. Their large heads are bent slightly forward. The faces are abstract, as in condensed, with joined eyebrows, heavy half-closed eyelids and full lips. Sometimes the long earlobes reach to the shoulders and the hair finishes in a round or square topknot. Even the dress is different. Buddha’s thin robe passes over the right shoulder leaving the left shoulder bare.
The central image of Koe-thaung is the most superior in quality to all of the rest. The animals and guardian figures seen in Dr. Gutman’s book are no longer there. It is now covered by a wood and fiberglass roofed shed. What is also no longer seen is the red lacquer and gilding originally applied. Because the red lacquer intensifies the gold laid on top of it, this is a technique in use in Myanmar today.
Last but not least, in conclusion, call it an ogre or a door guardian, these life-size carved images are there to protect and guard the doors. Myar Aung describes them as ogres in stone sculpture. Most of them, it appears, carry a knife or a sword. They may carry shields blowing conch shells as if in royal or religious ceremony. And then there are the short and squat ones with large heads and knees spread outwards as in a squatting position. These are the demons hand picked by the Buddha to drive evil away from the shrine.
Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok
Myar Aung – 2007, Famous Monuments of Mrauk U (Useful Reference for Tourists and Travelers)