Koe-thaung Pagoda, Mrauk-U Kingdom Middle Phase

Koe-thaung Pagoda, Mrauk-U Kingdom Middle Phase

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.

Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U - small tiered pagodas

Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U - passage

Koe-thaung Pagoda – Architecture and Excavation

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. 


Passage, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Buddhas in passage, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Entrance with facing passages, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

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.


Life-size Buddha stone image, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Buddhas carved in niches on the walls, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Stupa dome, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Central Buddha image with relic stupa behind, Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Buddhas in lower passage from northeast (now deteriorated), Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Koe-thaung Buddha images

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. 


Door guardian (or ogre), Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Door guardian (or ogre), Koe-thaung pagoda, Mrauk U

Ogres or Door Guardians of Koe-thaung

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)

Shit-taung Pagoda, Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

Shit-taung Pagoda, Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

Shit-taung Pagoda

Shit-taung means 80,000, which is a rounded number of the 84,000 images enshrined all over India by King Ashoka the Great, who was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty, and ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c.?268 to 232 BCE. He was a great follower of Buddha’s and spread his teachings throughout the entire Indian subcontinent. Back to present day 1536 when Shit-taung was built by King Min Bin, who we remember came back from exile in Bengal after defeating them, to rule the Mrauk U kingdom. Dr. Pamela Gutman describes Min Bin’s creation of Shit-taung, thus, “A massive Buddhist statement of a Buddhist king who saw himself as a cakravartin, or world conqueror who had triumphed ove rthe forces of Islam…” [Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok,p. 96]. Seems this fight has been going on for centuries.

Architecture and Site

Architectural iconography from Burmese and Late Buddhism of the northwest India characterize and inform much of the building of this pagoda, all in service to the king and his religion. This iconography is also similar to other Southeast Asian monuments coupled with royal cults, a possible cosmic rendering. Shit-taung is built on a mound halfway up the Pokhaung Hill north of the palace site. One enters from the south and walks up a flight of old stone stairs up to the platform of the pagoda.

It seems more cave-like than it actually is, in fact there as no excavation needed, not for that anyway. The elevation is bordered by turret style stupas on the south, north and northwest corners. Another large bell shaped stupa crowns the roof along with four smaller corner stupas and 24 more arranged around the center. Not all of these are any longer original. Restoration was made in the 1920’s and again in the 1950’s after World War 2.

On the north side of the entrance is a massive four-sided pillar of red sandstone. This is the all important stelae inscribed on three sides by Arakan’s rulers describing their prowess as a warrior and king, basically describing the rulers’ histories from the 6th to the 12th centuries.

A three-arched sandstone block screen is similar to mosque architecture of 16th century (or contemporary) Gaur, then the capital of Bengal. Examples include Boro Sona Masjid and Lotan or Lattan Masjid. Both have the same multi-arched faces and surrounded by domes in a series. Three paralled vaulted passageways make it feel as though one is walking through a cave, as mentioned earlier. Although this cave is sunlit and was quite bright in the mid-morning sun when we were there. We were greeted and then pretty much followed around by two very energetic novices who really enjoyed getting their pictures taken.

Inner Passageways Depicting the Three Worlds

These passageways extend from the southeast to the northeast around the central Buddha image, which is itself in an inner shrine, facing east away from a large entrance hall. From here to the outer passage where the wall holds 28 niches each with a life size Buddha. They contain the 28 successive Buddhas of past and present time. Light is coming through, falling on the inner wall. The inner wall is a series of sculpted bas reliefs. According, again, to Dr. Gutman, these reliefs, “can be seen to represent the world of King Min Bin and his perception of himself as a world conqueror or cakravartin, after his military successes in Bengal.” (p. 96) So much for the Buddha’s teachings on dukkha.

The bas reliefs also tells the story of King Ba Saw Pru’s Mahaodhi Shwe Gu, built in the First Phase of Mrauk U Kingdom.

This iconography depicts the microcosm of the Three Worlds which made up the Buddhist universe, the World of Desire, the World with Partial Form and the World without Form. A manuscript entitled ‘Trai Phum,’ written for King Luthai in Sukothai in the mid 14th century provides the material for these iconographic images.  The lower five tiers represent the World of Desire as seen by the six heavens of the World of Desire. The sixth tier is the Brahmins’ world or the World of Partial Form. [Gutman, Pamela – 2001, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan, Orchid Press, Bangkok, p. 96]

Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

King Min Bin and the beginning of Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase

During the time of King Henry VIII’s reign in England, Min Bin’s reign in AD 1531 marked the beginning of the Mrauk U Kingdom Middle Phase, also referred to as the second Golden Mrauk U period. His reign lasted until his death in 1553, when his son, King Dikkha who ruled for three years after his father’s death. Min Bin took advantage of the turn of events in India, namely a civil war and the arrival of the Mughals in Bengal. With the help of newly arrived Portuguese missionaries and along with their brilliant naval fleets and expertise they led the ground military and the navy to protect and enlarge Arakan or Rakhaing. This middle phase lasted from 1531 to circa 1600, but Venerable Ashon Nyanuttara [A Study of Buddhism in Arakan, Ashon Nyanuttara, 2016] gives a more definitive end to this period as 1620.

Trade, Military and Advancement

The trade network in Rakhaing went throughout the known world all the way to Portugal and the Netherlands. Mrauk U had diplomatic relations with India, Sri Lanka, the Burmese, the Mon, Siam, Indonesia, Java, Japan and several western countries. [section 5.3, A Study of Buddhism in Arakan, Ashon Nyanuttara, 2016].


Novice monk at Shittaung Pagoda

Detail of stonework, Khrain Kaik Pitakataik, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

This period also was a time of closer ties with the Muslim states. This is possibly due to a debt by Min Bin to the Sultan of Bengal for services rendered to help Min Bin return to power in Mrauk U. He was away in Bengal before his reign began. The Rakhaing kings took Islamic names and the coins were inscribed in both Persian and Rakhaing. During this time hundreds of Muslims from Bengal migrated to Mrauk U.

This was a time of great rivalry of kings, sultans and emperors for the land in what is now modern Bangladesh and West Bengal, namely Chittagong, for sovereignty. These were the kings of Rakhaing, Mughal emperors, Afghan kings and Bengali sultans. Thanks to the superior Portuguese naval and land defenses, put to use to defeat their rivals. By 1532, the land of Rakhaing was as far as Calcutta, West Bengal in the north and contained all of what is now modern day Bangladesh.  By the end of the 16th century, noblemn in Mrauk U received tribute from cities as far as Mushibadaad in the west, Pegu, the capitol of Mon in the east. This was upheld by armies of Mughals, Japanese, Mon, Siamese and Portuguese mercenaries.

Sitting under the trees at Andaw Thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Young girl at Phara Ouk shrine, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

The Temples and Monuments of Mrauk U Kindom Middle Phase

The most important shrine from this Mrauk U Kingdom Middle phase, and for the entire period of the Mrauk U Kingdom, was Shittaung Pagoda, the pagoda of 80,000 images. Next was Koe Taung, a somewhat similar structure with the winding and meandering (or so it seems) cave-like trenches under the earth built with heavy stones and many Buddhas. Koe-Taung is the largest pagoda, only unearthed in 1997, the shrine of 90,000 images. Others during this period include Andaw-Thein (Tooth Shrine), Htu-Kan-Thein (Cross Beam Ordination Hall), Phara Ouk, Pitaka-Taik and Thet-Taw-Ra, a library repository built to store Buddhist scriptures received by King Min Phalaung at the end of the 16th century from Sri Lanka.

Htu-Kan-Thein, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Buddhas inside Koe-Taung pagoda, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase

Mrauk U Kingdom First Phase

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.


Lay-myut-nha, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

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.

Lay-myut-nha, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar


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.

Buddha figure in Nyi-daw restored shrine, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mahabodhi Shwe-Gu

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].

Mahabodhi Shwe Gu, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

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.


Nibbuza, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar - the solid brick stupa is behind this structure

Nibbuza, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar - renovation in progress

Nibbuza, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar - cracked stone inscriptions

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.



Mrauk U Kingdom Momuments and Temples

Mrauk U Kingdom Momuments and Temples

I am organizing my posts about the Buddhist shrines and temples in the same way that Dr. Gutman did in her book, by the three major phases of the Mrauk U kingdom, which lasted from 1430 until 1784, when Bodawpaya captured the Mahamuni image and brought it (if it actually made it) to his new capital in Mandalay.

The oldest monuments that I took photos of and that is well covered in books about Mrauk U is the Pizi-Phara (or Pisie Buddha). Also called the Testes Relic Pagoda because it enshrines the pisie relic of the Buddha, Pizi Phara was installed by King Kawlia in the mid-12th century during the Pyinsa dynasty. It is located on the road between Pyinsa and Mrauk U. There is a view of Koe-taung Temple.


Pizi Phara Buddha, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar


The Pizi Buddha displays a serene Theravada style face, which looks more human and so is accessible to pilgrims. The head is larger in proportion to the body. This is an example of the later Pagan style also being squat with an elongated usnisa (top knot). Again the head is large in proportion to the body, with a wide chest narrowing toward hips. Buddha’s facial expression is more benign here, though, than early (ethereal) Pagan style.

The hill below this image was excavated in the 16th century during the Mrauk U kingdom, by King Min Phalaung. He installed four Buddha images in a round shrine. During this period, also, images were beginning to get crowned and ornamented as royalty. This first appeared in Pala art in Bengal. It was introduced to Pagan in the 11th century and other parts of Southeast Asia.


Andaw Temple, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Royal Ornamentation

The royal ornamentation was mostly done by laypeople looking to acquire merit, which is still alive and well in Myanmar today. It worked back in the 16th century for both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. Concepts of royalty initially resulted from the Mahayana concept of combining in one image both the earthly form of the Buddha Sakayamuni and his heavenly form of Buddha Maitreya adorned by royal ornaments. In Theravada Buddhism, Sakyamuni takes on attributes of cakravartin, or the ideal world ruler.


Phara Oux with local kids, Mrauk U, Rakhine State, Myanmar

Mrauk U Kingdom – The Three Phases

Firstly, we have the appropriately named First Phase, beginning in 1430, lasting until 1531, when Min Bin came to power. The temples and shrines included in this first phase include Le-Myet-Hna, Nyi-Daw, Mahabodhi Shwe-Gu, Htupayon, and Nibbuza, After this is the Middle Phase, beginning in 1531 and ending around 1600, only 70 years later. The temples built during this great and prolific period include Shit-taung, Koe-taung, Andaw-thein, Htu-kan-thein, Phara Ouk Pagoda, Pitaka Taik (library).

And, finally, the Late Phase begins where the Middle Phase left off and lasts until 1784 when the Mrauk U Kingdom was conquered. The Late Phase temples, monasteries and shrines include here Laung Pan-Prauk, Ratana-Pon, Mingala Manaung, Sakya Manaung and Mon-Kong Shwetu Pagoda were installed during this phase. These are all temples, shrines and monuments we visited during our week in Mrauk U in November, 2011. [Pamela Gutman, Burma’s Lost Kingdoms, 2001]