Amarapura, the second last old capital city VIII

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(Further urbanization and renovation of Amarapura under King Bagan)

[quote font=”0″]Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt[/quote]

[dropcap font=”0″]O[/dropcap]n arrival back at his capital city, Amarapura, King Thayawaddy was too much involved in family affairs and court politics. Although he was quite satisfied with his religious works and defensive measures he took during his long sojourn in Yangon, he was very frustrated for the British could not be prevailed upon for the return of Myanmar territories especially Rakhine and Taninthayee and also that his military strength was no equal to that of the British in terms of weapons and strategy and tactics of naval warfare. But he was determined to retrieve the lost territories of his kingdom. Taxed by the challenges of the Anglo-Myanmar relations and family affairs and court politics, King Thayawaddy, like his elder brother King Bagyidaw, fell into moments of mental pain and disorders which contributed to his death in 1846. So, the oldest of his three sons – Prince Bagan, Mindon and Kanaung – Prince Bagan succeeded him.

Young, very patriotic and naïve King Bagan too was like his father, determined to carry out the unfinished effort of his father to drive out the British aggressors by force. With the help of the French and other Europeans he planned to modernize Myanmar army and to purchase modern arms and ammunitions or manufacture them in his kingdom. He received envoys and missions from the west other than Britain. He extended urbanization of his capital city by building new roads, founding new living quarters for his local and foreign servicemen, and trading and commercial communities, and constructing highways and bridges.

 The lake “Taungtha-man” was almost an inland sea at the peak of monsoon. Daily thoroughfare on its extensive stretch of water surface by water crafts by the public was time-consuming and dangerous when storm arose unexpectedly. As a prince, Bagan had two boyhood friends U Pein and U Sak. U Pein was appointed the mayor of Amarapura and U Sak his clerk when he became king. During their spare time in late evening and night Bagan, Pein and Sak, three young friends would just cross the lake to visit places of their interests, rabbit hunting shooting games and visiting pretty village damsels on the other side of the lake. There were toddy palm trees which produced fermented intoxicant drinks for joyful Myanmar males, where they also often made their way to.

It was U Pein’s idea to build nearly a mile long wooden bridge across the lake by using many discarded teak planks and posts at the sites of old capitals and towns. Today, this U Pein Bridge across the lake Taungthaman in Amarapura is the oldest and longest wooden bride in the world, attracting visitors and tourists at home and abroad to walk leisurely on it and to enjoy beautiful scenario around.

The construction of the Bridge begun in 1849 by Myanmar engineers and carpenters, using Myanmar traditional technology was completed in 1851. The bridge was not aligned on a straight line but a curve in order to withstand the storm, the wind and the waves in high monsoon. So it slants to the south. Very few nails were used for joints were intertwined. The thick teak posts supporting the long bridge were struck down into the lake bed seven feet deep. Two props at the foot of each post were affixed into it to keep it stable and strong. The tops of the posts were carved conical to let rain water stream down easily. Originally, there were 984 teak posts but now some of them were replaced by concrete ones. Two wide verandas, on right and left sides were fenced by teak or bamboo screens of diamond shape designs through which fresh breeze and sun light came in casting fantastic shadows on the bridge users. The floors of the verandas had three layers of broad thick planks. The two approach brick bridges, each on either end of the bridge were later demolished and replaced by wooden approach bridges to match with the wooden bridge. There were four wooden pavilions [rest houses for leisure] on the bridge. If the posts of the four pavilions and those of two wooden approach bridges were added, the total number of wood posts amounts to 1086.

There were nine passage ways in the bridge where the floors could be easily lifted by a Myanmar traditional mechanism to let pass the big boats and barges. War boats and the ceremonial royal barge Pyi Gyi Mon at the annual festival of Royal Regatta in the month of Tawthalin [September] nine passage ways were opened by lifting the bridge at these nine passages. For royal and public use there were 482 apartments built on the bridge. Their floors had nine tiers of planks. The exact length of this bridge measures 3967 feet that is three quarter of a mile.

Some foreign visitors including western envoys who eyewitnessed the bridge in its heydays, spoke of its grandeur and glory. The lake Taungthaman, an inland sea at the peak of monsoon was used for naval parade and naval exercise of royal flotilla. King Bagan was always alert to the possible attack of the British warships coming up from their bases in lower Myanmar.

Besides, this wooden bride is historic and romantic. The longest, the largest and the oldest wooden bridge in the country or probably in the world it is 164 years old today 2015. It is an object of historic antiquity deserving its rightful place in the UNESCO’s world Cultural Heritage List.

The beauty of the bridge changes in harmony with the three seasons of Myanmar – Geinman (summer), Wathan (monsoon or rain) and Heyman (cold or winter). The whirlwind brings down withering leaves turning the environment dry and dusty. But in no time scarlet blooms of Letpan (cotton trees) around the bridge peep out, majestic against the azure blue sky. Cuckoos harbinger the approach of summer while doves sing indolent songs making the bridge romantic. When monsoon arrives, green, yellow and white vegetations and rain water caress each other under the overcast inky sky. In mid monsoon, July and August, billows of water in the over-brimful lake Taungtha-man roll and roar almost engulfing the wooden structure thus creating an exciting romance. When cold season brings in winter, fragrance of wild flowers of different hues is being wafted in the soft breeze. Dew-laden green foliage and morning mist veil the bridge, while smokes from the nearly farms snake up heavenward. Faint crows of a far distant rooster and monastic gongs alternate breaking the monotony of buzzing cicadas. A forlorn romance indeed.

The next outstanding work of King Bagan in the renovation of his capital city Amarapura was the sumptuous temple he built on the bank of Taungthaman lake. When he became king he moved the great Sagyin stone Buddha image [which was made by his senior uncle King Bagyidaw] from Inwa to Amarapura, and housed it in a very grand temple designed on Ananda Temple of old Bagan. It was not only an act of religious merit but also a work of architectural and artistic wonders. Because of the new location of this Sagyin stone Buddha image on the bank of Taungtha-man lake, the image acquired a new common name Taungtha-man Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya [The great stone Buddha image on the bank of Taungtha-man lake.]

Designed on the model of graceful Ananda Temple at old Bagan, Taungtha-man Kyauk Taw Gyi Temple is a showcase of Myanmar visual arts, because its interiors were adorned with frescoes depicting major monuments of his capital city Amarapura as well as scenes of religious, social and cultural festivals of his people. These frescoes, executed by Myanmar traditional artists of that time tell the contemporary life style of Myanmar people. Due to lack of fund and maintenance technology they show signs of decay after years of old age. Perhaps, one day, the UNESCO world cultural heritage committee would turn its attention to them.

Among Buddhist monasteries which King Bagan renovated or built at and around his capital city Amarapura, was the Bakaya monastery of Amarapura which stands out prominent. It was King Bodawpaya [1782-1819 A.D.] who moved his capital city from Inwa to Amarapura in 1782 A.D. and founded a new, a large teak and gold gilt monastery named Maha Way Yan Bontha where his raja guru head monk was invited to reside. He was the first Ba Mei Sayadaw of Konbaung dynasty , and Maha Way Yan Bontha came to be commonly called the first Bakaya monastery of Amarapura. In 1821 A.D. in the reign of his grandson and successor King Bagyidaw, it was destroyed by fire. When King Bagan ascended the throne he rebuilt Maha Way Yan Bontha in 1847 A.D. It was commonly known as the second Bakaya monastery of Amarapura.

The second Bakaya monastery of Amarapura was one of the architectural wonders of that time. Except the staircases, the entire edifice was built of teak posts and planks of superb size and quality true to the typical design of the royal monastery. It had a magnificent gilt spire of 7 tiers sheltering a big Buddha image house, and a four tiered-roofed main hall and residence and a three tiered roofed meal room and stores. The enclosure wall of spacious monastic precinct had four entrance gates facing four cardinal quarters, and twelve spires of brick and plaster, three on each side.

The big monastery was surrounded by chief queen’s monastery “Beikman Yadana” and 48 lesser monasteries built by ministers.

In the reign of King Mindon [1853-1878 A.D.] a great fire destroyed it in 1866 A.D. In 1951, Mya Thein Dan Sayadaw Monk Ashin Nyanutara built a two storey building on the site in which he deposited over 500 Buddha images and 5000 sets of old palm leaf manuscripts collected around Mandalay and around the country.

In 1993, the government reconstructed the second Bakaya monastery on its original model, the picture the ground plan and all detail were found in the frescoes of Maha Thet Kya Yan Thi Temple [Taung Tha-man Kyauk Taw Gyi Temple].

Today, this reconstructed Bakaya monastery, of Amarapura is not only an architectural and artistic marvel, but also a museum and library of antiquities and manuscripts of Myanmar religious and secular subjects – ranging from Vedas, alchemy, astrology, occult sciences to technology gold, silver, bronze, black smithy to all visual and performing arts.

In spite of political turmoil and economic downturn that King Bagan’s short reign of 7 years [1846-1853 A.D] encountered, Buddha Sasana [Theravada Buddhism] continued to flourish, as the king provided his lavish patronage and his people constantly gave their supports. Because of the successful achievements of his predecessor kings in the reforms of Buddhism especially in Vinaya, the disciplinary rules of the Sangha, Buddhist Holy Order was re-strengthened, unified and stabilized. Happy results of Sangha unity were the emergence of highly learned Sayadaw monks and their scholarship of high erudition. A young monk of exceptional learnedness and high moral character named Pannajotabhidhaja was appointed by King Bagan Sangha-rajah [Sasanabaing Sayadaw]. This young monk wrote a commentary and sub-commentary in Myanmar language on the Anguttara Nikaya. This monk also translated into Myanmar “Saddhamavitasini.” His other works were commentaries on Samyutta Nikaya and Digha Nikaya in Myanmar. Despite wars and political turmoil, Theravada Buddhism continued to flourish. There was progress in Buddhist scholarship. Pali texts were translated into vernacular, thus making them available and accessible to Myanmar literati. The entire Suttanta appeared in Myanmar language. Commentaries sub-commentaries and vinaya were authored by learned bhikkus thanks to the royal patronage of King Bagan and support of his subjects.

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