This post covers the Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase, as described by Pamela Gutman, lasting from 1430 to 1531 [p. 85, Burma’s Lost Kingoms]. Le-Myet-Hna, Nyi-Daw, Mahabodhi Shwe-Gu, Htupayon, and Nibuzza are included here. Pizi Phara is also considered part of the First Phase, already covered in an earlier post.
These monuments tend to be smaller than the later ones, and there were earlier temples ascribed to this period that are no longer standing. Santikan or Sinkhi Khan mosque is said to be the earliest, most likely built by Muslim followers of Min Saw Mun after his exile in Bengal. Others include the Mukseitaw or Holy Beard Relic pagoda and the East and West Myatanzaung or Emerald Appendage pagodas, all overseen by Min Saw Mun. They displayed similar characteristics following the Burmese tradition of the bell shaped, circular stupas grounded to the earth with solid brick cores.
Le-Myet-Hna or Lay-myut-nha
Four sided pagoda built in 1430 by King Min Saw Mun. This stupa is square in plan, but with an “inverted bowl,” as described in “Famous Monuments of Mrauk U” by Myar Aung (2007). It was built with heavy sandstone blocks. This central stupa is surrounded by four vaulted entrances projecting out from it, one to each cardinal point and the main entrance on the east side. On the interior of the outside center stupa are twenty-eight niches, originally housing the 28 successive Buddhas who have come to guide mankind over successive cycles of time. Around the octagonal center column are eight seated Buddhas back to back.
This shrine calls attention to Laymyethna Monastery near Minnanthu Village in Bagan. It’s got a similar cruciform architecture with four seated Buddha images sitting back to back around the central pillar facing the four cardinal points. This monastery is also referred to as the Laymyethna Guphaya (phaya is defined as ’lord,’ and ‘gu’ as cave, so cave of the lord Buddha), which is where the Buddha images reside.
The next temple listed in Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase is Nyi-Daw temple.
Sometimes called the “Younger Brother” pagoda, this shrine was built by Min Saw Mun’s brother, Min Khari. It was restored in about 2001. I’m pretty sure that the Buddha image in front of the red brick was taken in side the fairly newly renovated (2001) Nyi-Daw temple. Notice the gold leaf and flower adornments. The temple itself has a solid, balanced floor plan, with a small and circular stone temple with a brick core. It would have been built from stone like its neighbor, Le-Myet-Hna, before time had its way with it. Again the 28 niches are present, although, not as I recall at the time, occupied.
We were driven here in the back of a very bumpy jeep driven by a young man. It was stout and squat with a nave welcoming visitors, sitting on a hill. Unfortunately, at the time I did not walk to the nave. Our driver seemed to rush us past this one? I was out and about taking photos. Who knows what was on my mind that bright sunny dusty day, but it wasn’t looking at the guidebook which I should have been.
Ba Saw Pru donated the octagonal temple, on a full moon in 1448 (Rakhine calendar) [Aung, p. 99] The bell shaped dome style on top is said to be from the Le-mro period, or when the capital was located in five different cities situated in the Le-Mro Valley (12th-15th centuries). It was a politically uncertain time. Pagan was acendent, which meant that Burma was sovereign over Mrauk U. The Le-Mro buddhas were gentle and flowing with a slight upturned smile. These possibly came from Indian craftsmen who made their way to Pagan and Mrauk U in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. [Gutman, p. 61-72].
Here is what I missed inside, from Famous Monuments of Mrauk U: Useful Reference for Tourists and Travelers by Myar Aung (which is not available anywhere that I can find it here, I purchased it at the Archaeological Museum in Mrauk U):
“On the wall of the passage are the figures in relief numbering more than two hundred and eighty which were sculpted on six layers of the stone walls. Most important figures are that of Buddha images, figures playing musical instruments, turning somersault, natural habitat of animals, paying homage to buddha, figures suffering in hell, waging battles, donating of off-springs by King Vesandra, shooting arrrow by Souvanna Sama, Jataka story of King of “hamsa” and so on.
“Above the figures are the small Buddha images. On the sandstone pedestal of the special chamber are the floral designs, the reliefs of Jataka stories, fitures of playing the conch shell, among others, as the artefacts of Mrauk-U period.”
Don’t miss it like I did!
Also spelled as Htu-pa-ron, this temple was built in 1494, ascribed to Min Ran Aung who only reigned for six months. In 1631, Min Khamoung had it renovated and gilded with lilies. This shrine was thought to be very auspicious, as the kings of Mrauk U period worshipped the Buddha image after their coronation ceremony to ensure victory or success in their reigns.
According to the map, this is across from Sanda Muni Temple, but I did not see it. A temple complex that looks similar to Htupayon is Ratana-Hmankeen and Ratana-San-Wray. They are situated across the dirt road from Laung-Praun-Prauk. The Famous Monuments of Mrauk U book places Htupayon inside the northern inner and outer walls of Laung-Praun-Prauk. Looking at Pamela Gutman’s map [Burma’s Lost Kingdoms, p. 76-77], Htupayon is across the way from Sandarama (or Sanda Muni) Temple, although depending on where one is standing and which direction you look in, it appears one would be able to see both of the larger structures as it’s sort of right in between them.
Nibbuza or Ni-buza
Referred to as “Offering to the Nats,” Nibbuza was built in 1527 by King Saw Oh, it seems that we’re getting later on in the Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase. In fact, excavations in 1997 found a shrine that existed there during the late Vesali period, which goes much farther back to circa 6th to 8th centuries AD. They found Hindu and Buddhist remains there.
I have a hazy memory of lots of debris and construction material all around, so for some reason I never went beyond the roofed Buddha figure. There was a worker there putting stones together as he worked on something. I ended up taking pictures of what he was doing. The only glimpse I have of the stupa is what can be seen behind the large Buddha figure in the “Nat House” (my name for it) in front of the stupa.
Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase – Summary
The architectural style of Mrauk U Kingdom’s First Phase veered towards the Burmese tradition of a circular stupa with bell shaped dome. With such solidity and downward gravity, these monuments feel grounded and settled on the land in which they were built. During the next phase, or the Middle Phase, we’ll look at what are considered the great monuments of the Mrauk U Kingdom.