Meikhtila Lake, the largest nature and mail-made aquatic body in Myanmar

Maha Sadhamma Jotika dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

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Among many aquatic bodies of natural formation and artificial creation in Myanmar Meikhtila Lake is the largest and prominent.
Myanmar people call water bodies with different names, depending upon how they are formed. Water bodies of small, medium or large sizes formed by springs or falls are called Aine (tkdif). Those formed by floods are called Inn (tif;). Those formed both by nature, rain water and water through man-made canals are called Kan (uef) or Lake.
Meikhtila Lake is formed both naturally and artificially. In the arid zone of central Myanmar a vast plain of land, surrounded by hill and mountain ranges at remote places has a big depression, into which rain water flows naturally or made to flow into it by man-made canals.
As to who and at what date man came in to keep water in it, many legends, stories, verbal histories have, each its own version. Being a predominantly Buddhist country, Myanmar legends, archaeology and history are always associated with jatakas [Buddha’s birth stories] and the arrivals of Buddhist missionaries to Myanmar and spread of Buddhism in the country.
Emperor Asoka of Chandra Gupta Mauriya dynasty who after becoming a Buddhist convert, succeeded in uniting his vast empire by peaceful means preached by his guru monk teacher Maha Thera Mogaliputra Tisa. To atone for his misdeeds in his attempts to unite his empire by waging wars which caused untold destruction of lives, Asoka constructed 84000 religious monuments 84000 artificial water bodies, rest houses and several social welfare works throughout his domains and beyond. Also, at the advice of his guru monk, he sent out Buddhist missions to propagate Buddhism to nine places and nine countries.
The Buddhist mission he dispatched to Myanmar then known as Suvanna Bhumi [Thaton] was led by Maha Theras Sona and Uttara whose successful missionary works were proved by religion monuments we witnesse till today across the country, especially in Mon and Karen states.
It is claimed by Myanmar people that Meikhtila’ Lake was among the list of 84000 Lakes which Asoka dug across his empire and nine places and nine countries to which he sent his religious missions. But legends, archaeology and verbal history contend that there were predecessor kings before Asoka who were either builders or maintainers of the Lake. Some stone inscriptions and epigraphs on other materials such as metal, papyrus, palm leaf or mural ink writings on the walls and ceilings of monuments made references to king Akarahta as the original first digger of the Lake. He received water from sacred lake Anawrahta in Himalayan mountains brought by the devas. The king and the devas made vows that crystal pure sacred water poured into the dug Lake shall forever be the elixir of life for all living beings. In the list in this article are 16 kings and one wealthymen kings of whom 8 kings were Myanmar kings, who built, maintained, repaired or renovated the Lake.
Myanmar kings maintained, repaired renovated and extended the Lake for the supply of water for consumption and irrigation. Therefore many religious monuments and spirit shrines are found around the Lake, Meikhtila town and beyond. Meikhtila Lake and Meikhtila town are favorite objects to record in history, to depict in visual arts, to describe in literature and to make old sayings and to sing in folk songs.
To mention but a few Myanmar old sayings and folk songs are “a&rSmppfukdif;? vIdif;rSm ykcef;i,f? v,frSm awmifwGif;? pyg;rSm &rnf;oif;? tif;rSm awmiforef? uefrSm rdw¬Dvm}}

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Sagaing is noted for water, Pakhan Ngeve is noted for waves, Taungdwingyi is noted for fields, Yamethin is noted for paddy.
Among Inns [aquatic bodies formed by flood] Taung Tha Man is the largest.
Among Lakes [aquatic bodies formed naturally artificially or both] Meikhtila Lake is the Largest. There is an old rhyme about Meikhtila Lake
MudK;Mumraomuf? a&raemuf? rayguf a&TMum rdw¬Dvm?
In Meikhtila Lake no crane drinks its water. Its water is not muddy. No Lotus flower plant grows in it.
This old rhyme is to say that the Lake is clean and unpolluted because of constant maintenance. There used to be a water level marking post set up in the middle of the Lake, with a statue of a crane bird on its top. Water level of the Lake is maintained. So that it would never reach the mouth of the crane bird statue. Since Lake Water is clean and not muddy, aquatic plants like lotus cannot grow in it.
In one of Myanmar well-known lullabies [cradle songs to lull the baby to sleep] Meikhtila Lake is highlighted as follows:
vluav;&,f? acsmhp&m
rdw¬Dvm uefawmfatmufu
rsufvkH;&,f? aMumifawmifawmifeJ h
“In lulling baby to sleep
Go get a frog from Lake
Meikhtila’s deep.
If you have got frogs
Give him one with peeping
eyes and a small body”
Meikhtila Lake was given its deserving tribute by reputed authors in different periods of Myanmar literary history in all literary forms prose, verse and drama or rhymed prose. Besides it is interesting to note how the Lake’s name underwent changes until it became Meikhtila.
According to its early history, king Akarahta dug the Lake with his four armed forces Elephantry, cavalry, chariotny and Infantry] of 400,000 strength. At that time there were ‘Jforests of Shi Shar trees growing profusely in that area. Shi Shar fruits were consumed by saint monks. The king named the Lake Shi Shar Kan. The next king who repaired the Lake was king Kutha of Savathi kingdom. He was followed by king Insena, grandfather of Lord Gotama Buddha, a wealthy man Anathapindika king Azatatha, and king Kala Soka of Vesali kingdom, who named the Lake Mingalar Kantaw.
After emperor Asoka, King Duthagamani of Ceylon [Lanka dipa] King Thumondarit of Sre Kestra and Popa Saw Rahan and Anawrahta, kings of Bagan dynasty maintained, repaired and renovated the Lake.
King Anawrahta installed sluices, spill ways and water gates to regulate the inflow and outflow of Lake water. A long post was set up in the middle of the Lake to measure the water level in all three seasons, Summer, Rain and Winter. A statue of a crane bird with its beak open was superimposed upon the post. “Let the crane never drinIc1 the lake water” which means that water level of the Lake shall never rise to reach beak, so that the Lake would never be flooded andits embankments be well preserved. All users of lake water in the neighboring towns and villages were assigned to the regular maintenance, repair, and renovation works at the Lake.
To ascertain the measurements and extent of the Lake, Anawrahta sent out one equestrian soldier who was his brother-in-law, as Anawrahta raised his sister to one of his lesser queens (concubines). The soldier set out early at the sun rise and returned late at night. After such a long journey to survey the Lake, he was totally exhausted breathing hard. He could only utter three words rxDvm [water does not touch] and fell dead. He meant that the Lake water does not reach Mt Popa of Bagan. His sister wept and fell dead. They became Nat spirits whom king Anawrahta appointed Guardian nat spirits of the Lake. Anawrahta gave a new name to the Lake ma hti lar [rxDvm] and also gave the same name to Shi Shar Town. In course of time, ma hti lar corrupted to Meikhtilar.
The following isthe List of 16kings and a wealthyman who built, maintained, repaired and renovated the Lake.
1.     Aka Rahta
Shi Shar Kantaw
2.     Kusa
Shi Shar Kantaw
3. Maha Insn, Kapilavathus kingdom.
Grandfather of Lord
Gotama Buddha
Shi Shar Kantaw
4.     Wealthly man Anathapindika. of Savathi
Shi Shar Kantaw
5.     Azatatha of Raj agraha
Shi Shar Kantaw
6.     Kala Soka of Vesali
Mingala Kantaw
7.     Asoka of Pataliputra
Kalawaka Kantaw
8.     Duhta gamani of Lankadipa [Ceylon]
Shi Shar Kantaw
9.     Thumondarit of Sre Kestra
Metta Kantaw
10. Popa Saw Rahan of Bagan
Shi Shar Kantaw
11. Anawrahta of Bagan
Ma-hti-lar Kan, Shi Shar Town
12. Alaung Sithu of Bagan
Metta Kan, Shi Shar Thingyi Town
13. Narapatisithu of Bagan
Yey mya Kan, Shi Shar Thingyi Town
14. Mingyi Swasawke Inwa dynasty
Shi Shar Kan, Ma-hti-lar Town
15. Nyaungyan Min, Nyaungyan dynasty
Mingala Kan, Ma-hti-lar Town
16. Bodaw paya [Amarapura] First Konbaung dynasty
Meikhtilar Kan
Meikhtilar Town
17. Mindon [Ratanapon Mandalay]
Meikhtilar Kan, Meikhtilar Town.
Today Meikhtilar Lake is to the west of Meikhtilar Town. It measures 7 miles long 1/2 mile wide, covering an area of 31/2 square miles. It is now composed of two Lakes-north Lake and south lake and a rail line crosses between them. But they are connected. In monsoon, water flowed into North Lake stays until it is silted and clear before if flows into South Lake. There are 11 sluices and a 30 feet wide water gate. It supplies water for human consumption and irrigation. Many monuments, stone inscriptions and Nat spirit shrines surround the Lake, recording its long history.

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