Religious edifices and sacred images already located in Mandalay areas, long before King Mindon founded his new capital city and built his new palace there, are as many as they date far back to the Bagan period of Myanmar history. To begin with, we have four ordination halls [Simas] founded and consecrated by Primate Shin Arahan of Bagan period. An ardent Mon-Sri Lankan missionary monk and rajah guru of King Anawrahta and his successors, Shin Arahan founded and consecrated ordination halls not only in and around Bagan but also beyond it. These ordination halls still exist in Thaton in Mon State, and Meiktila, Mandalay in central Myanmar. In Mandalay, there are four ordination halls namely (1) Sun-rise ordination Hall at Bo Tet Kone [Htun tone Put et] near Aung Pin Lei Reservior in Pathein Gyi township (2) Noon Ordination Hall at Kan Kauk village to the west of Mandalay [PyinOoLwin motor road in Chan Aye Tha Zan township] (3) Sunset Ordination Hall in the 11th Street in Nyaung Gwe ward in Aung Myey Thazan township and (4) Midnight Ordination Hall in the precinct of Pyay monastery in Tagun Taing ward in Pyi Gyi Tagun township.
Shwe Kyi Myin Temple and Pagoda now located in down town Mandalay to the north west of the palace city was built by Prince Min Shin Saw. The Prince was founding a town at Htun tone Putet and looking for an auspicious site to build a pagoda. He saw a community of crows cawing on a mound. So he built a temple and pagoda and named it Shwe Kyi Myin [golden crows saw the site]. In the temple sits a thickly gilt sitting Buddha image of Bagan style studded with precious stones on its crown. In 1899, all sacred images from the Mandalay palace shrine rooms were brought and kept in the temple of this pagoda. There are two Bagan period stone inscriptions at this temple.
Phaya Ni: Located in Pale Ngwe Yaung ward in Anaukpyin of Mandalay, this monument was built by Shwe Taik Soe Wun (Minister in charge of royal treasury) and his younger sister, in the reign of King Bodawpaya of Amarapura. Because its walls were left uncovered by concrete plaster, they remain original brick red. Hence came to be called Red Pagoda [Phaya Ni] though its official name was Hsu Taung pyi phaya [wish-fulfilling pagoda]. Local legend says that in the past, lawsuits were decided in the front of the Buddha statue inside the temple. Vows were made to the statue and lie and guilt were revealed when the face of the statue turned red, [Hence Red phaya]. Nearby is a pagoda called Baung taw kya built by Prince Min Shin Saw at that place where his headgear fell down.
In Myaukpyin, near Thu-ye-Zay there are two pagodas Ayeik mahtwet phaya and Baung taw kya phaya. Local people say these two pagodas were built by King Kyan zittha of Bagan period. The former, it is said, cast no shadow until King Kyan zittha was reborn human, and the latter marked the site where his headgear fell down.
Prince Min Shin Saw built a cave like monument called Gu-Gyi kone in Nyaung Gwe ward near the Ayeyawaddy River.
At Minte E-kin quarter, there lies a well-known pagoda Yadana Myit Zu built by Pyi sone Min, Maha Thiha Thura. A cluster of minor pagodas, images and inscribed stone pillars of the past and present tell the past and present history of Mandalay.
In Anaukpyin, there are religious edifices of antiquity. By the side of Thingaza stream lies a prominent temple pagoda and Buddha image most well-known as “Chan Tha Ya” phaya built by son and Crown Prince of King Bodawpaya.
On the summit of Mandalay Hill, sits “Hsu Taung Pyi Zedi [wish-fulfilling Pagoda] built by King Anawrahta of Bagan, on his return from his pilgrimage to Gadalayit [China]. The son and Crown Prince of King Bodawpaya repaired and renovated it. Later King Bagyidaw again gilt and renovated it. Four covered causeways were built around it. King Mindon enshrined in the sanctorium of the Zedi two Buddha statues Myat Saw Nyi Naung which were originally from the shrine room of King Narapatisithu of Bagan period.
Other little-known pagodas are Shin Bo Mei built by Queen Shin Bo Mei, in Yadana Bhumi township, Ayo oh gyi and Ayo oh kalay pagodas enshrining the bone ashes interned in urns, of prominent monks, Mingyi U Pwa’s pagoda, Kyun Lone U Shaung, and Myey Sun Wun’s phaya at Myo Haung Railway Station.
The following pagodas, temples and images have extraordinary legend and background history. Till today they are most attractive centres of pilgrims and tourists at home and abroad.
First, we begin with Eindawya Zedi [officially named Maha Loka Yanthi] built by King Bagan to mark the site of his residence before he became king. It was built in 1847 A.D. At the south west corner was a pavilion in which a middle size black stone (chalcedony) Buddha image is housed. Originally it was sheltered at Zaung Ka Law Pagoda [Loka Muni Cula] situated to the south east of Mandalay. There used to be a natural lake called Zaung Ka Law Lake. Now it was land filled and many public houses were built on it.
Next, a very prominent Buddha image in Mandalay is Maha Muni. The son and crown prince Thiri Maha Dhamma bhizeya Sihasura, was sent by his father King Bodawpaya to the Kingdom of Rakhine to bring to his capital the alloy Buddha image in 1785 A.D. It was enshrined in a very sumptuous temple built near his capital Amarapura. When Mandalay was founded this temple with the great image were included within the boundaries of Mindon’s capital city. In 1883 A.D. a great fire broke out destroying all buildings. Although all gold ornaments on the image were melted down by the fire, the original alloy image remained intact. Melted gold weighted 5450 viss. The image is 12 feet 7 inches high. The pedestal throne is 7 feet high. Today the image has collected nearly 3 tons of gold gilt and gold ornaments on its body and the crown and several diamonds and precious stones. Its regalia, the bowl, umbrella, stand, water goblet, flower stands, candlesticks, etc. are made of gold studded with rubies. There are religious and historic objects – statues, bells, inscribed pillars on display in the surrounding museums and halls. There is a shed in which stone inscriptions of all historic period are stored for scholars and researchers to study. In a separate brick house are displayed four bronze statues of elephant, lion and two human males. They were brought from Rakhine when Maha Muni Image was moved to Amarapura. Originally these statues were from Cambodia. When Ayuthia [Siam] invaded Cambodia, Khmer images were taken to Ayuthia. When King Bayint Naung conquered Ayuthia, he brought bronze statues to his capital Hanthawddy (Hamsavadi). When Rakhine King invaded Hanthawaddy he took many war booties to Rakhine including Khmer bronze statues. When King Bodawpaya’s son and crown prince took Maha Muni image, these bronze statues came with Maha Muni image. So, the only remaining four statues are seen today in the precinct of Maha Muni Image.
Regarding the Iron Buddha Image “Sanda Mani” cast by King Bodawpaya and brought to Mandalay by King Mindon, we have described its background history in Part V of this article.
We shall now deal with the third category of monuments and images at and around Mandalay built and made by King Mindon.
The first group of seven known as Thata Thana owåXme or seven sites with seven buildings were chosen and on which structures were built on the same date and at the same astrologically auspicious time. They were (1) the capital city (2) the moat (3) Maha Loka Marazein Zedi (4) Ordination Hall (5) Maha Atula Way Yan Monastery (6) Pitika Taik Taw and (7) Thudhamma Zayat. In the previous articles, the first two – the capital city and the moat were described in detail. Here we proceed with the remaining five religious works. Maha Loka Marazein Zedi built in 1857 A.D. and was completed in 1860. Three brick walls around it and between the walls vast spaces were left where later the king built 729 dhamma zedi cases with inscribed Tipitaka literature on marble stone slabs sheltered in them, arranged in the form of a book. The design of the zedi is that of Bagan Shwezigon pagoda. In the relic chamber were enshrined a replica of Sacred Tooth Relics of Lord Buddha presented by Sri Lanka and votive objects. Except the eastern side, the remaining three sides of the zedi, north, south and west have big brick salas [rest houses] built with the special fund from royal treasury. The meaning of Maha Loka Marazein is “The Great Conqueror of Five Enemies of Human Life” one of the spiritual attributes of Gotama Buddha. But the zedi is more commonly well-known as Kutho daw Gyi [The Great Religious Merit].
To the north of the capital city, at the foot of Mandalay hill was located “Ordination Hall” built by King Mindon’s queen “Maha Ratana Mingala Devi” of North Palace. It was destroyed by four elements. Today wellwishers of Mandalay are reconstructing it on its site. It was known as Pathan Golden Ordination Hall.
In Ashey Pyin, in a spacious precinct, lies the great brick monastery of extraordinary size and design known as Maha Atula Vizaya Yama Taik Taw, loosely rendered into English it is “In-comparable Brick Monastery”. It took 18 years to complete it. The roof has five tiers of gilt and decorative designs of stucco [plaster] art. These are 246 teak posts, of which the tallest measures 63 cubit feet. A Buddha image made of King Mindon’s clothing and Bodhi tree ashes gilt and with a big diamond of 100 carats on its forehead was one of the extra-ordinary religious objects kept in the monastery. Minister of Yaw, U Po Hlaing supervised its construction.
The following is a firsthand account of this monastery by an English man who visited it in 1885:
“In Mandalay, King Mindon erected a monastery the like of which there is not, the Great Incomparable [in Myanmar Atu-mashi] which possesses a beautiful hall, unquestionably the finest in all Mandalay. It would be no great stretch of truth to say that it is the finest in the world. The building is composed of a series of bold terraces, seven in number, rising one above another, the central one being the highest. The golden hall is carried on thirty-six pillars some of which are seventy feet high, the ceiling reaching its greatest elevation in the high central terrace. And there, a colossal figure of Goutama Buddha sits, meditating beside a golden throne intended for the king. The boldness of the general design, the noble proportions of the immense hall, and the great height of the golden roof soaring over the throne and the statue, fill the mind with surprise and pleasure. Pillars, walls and roof are richly gilt, glass-inlaying heightening the brilliancy…”
Unfortunately the Great Incomparable suffered vandalism, during the turbulence following the British annexation of Mindon’s kingdom in 1885. The large diamond mysteriously disappeared. The art treasures were looted and finally in 1892, the whole building was burnt to the ground.
For decades, it remained in that state of ruin. But with the fund allotted by the government and cash and kind donated by well-wishers the Great Incomparable had been reconstructed on its original model based on historical documents and copies of the original designs. The only alteration made is that the pillars inside have been replaced by flying buttress beams concealed behind the ceiling to provide more space for assembly.
Today the reconstructed Atu Mashi or the Great Incomparable is a splendid building. Massive and gigantic, yet artistic and visually pleasant, its interior gives the visitor the illusion of the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace of the French King Louis XIV. Though there are no mirrors there, the gilt décor, the glass mosaic work, the grand chandeliers on the gilt ceiling and the snow white sagyin marble stone flooring combined, create such illusion. The spacious hall which can comfortably accommodate an assembly of over one thousand exudes and air of majesty, permeated by religious solemnity. The reconstructed Atu Mashi, the Great Incomparable is one of the marvels of Mandalay or can even be said to be the “finest in the world” as remarked by the English visitor in 1885.
(To be continued)