The Meaning of the Name ‘Mrauk U’

  • Dr. Saw Mra Aung
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Located in the beautiful hilly landscape, hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas, many of which are well-preserved remain of the powerful empire that once flourished in Mrauk U.  Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

Mrauk U, called ‘Mro-haung(Old city) by locals, is the last of the ancient Rakhine capitals. It was founded by King Min Saw Mon in 1430 A.D and came to an end in 1785 A.D. A long line of 48 kings reigned in it for about 355 years. It witnessed its hey-day during this long spell. It is situated on the bank of the Dat creek, which lies in the upper reach of Hin-kha-raw creek, a tributary of the Kalandan River.This article is not dealt with the history of Mrauk U but with the etymological explanations about the term ‘MraukU’.
It is found that the term ‘MraukU’ conveys ‘different meanings’ and has different sources. The first source of the meaning of the term ‘ Mrauk U’ goes back to Late the Vesali period thus: By the end of Vesali period, King Culacandra drowned to death some miles off cape Negris during the ship-wreck on his homebound journey from Tagaung( Thindwe). However, after his death, his Chief Consort Candadevi, with the aid of the magic ring given to her by him just before his setting off on his journey , ordered ministers to look for the person on whose finger the ring fitted. By means of the ring, the ministers conducted a thorough search in the kingdom for a person worthy of the much coveted throne. At long last, they came upon two Mro brothers and a son of the younger brother fishing in a river. Much to their surprise, the ring fitted all three of them. So they were brought into the court and the elder brother A-mra-tu was placed on the throne of Vesali, the younger brother Amraku installed as Crown-prince and his son Pei Phru given a village called Mrauk U. But, soon, as the Chief Consort had a loving affair with Crown-prince, the king, devising a means, shot him dead with a poisoned arrow in a remote place. Shrewd Prince Pei Phru perceived his uncle’s cruelty towards his father, but he repressed his anger and awaited the suitable time to retaliate the latter. When the Pyu king to the east of the Rakhine Yoma heard of the death of King Culacandra and ruling of three Moros over Vesali, he crossed the Yoma in force to raid Vesali. While they were encamping at the foot of the Pyaing Mountain. Prince Pei-Phru went into the presence of the Pyu king and acquainted him with his desire to take revenge on his uncle and to give him the Lemyo river as a tribute.

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Located in the beautiful hilly landscape, hundreds of ancient temples and pagodas, many of which are well-preserved remain of the powerful empire that once flourished in Mrauk U.  Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

Then, on the way back, Prince Pei Phru vowed that if he was powerful enough to repel the attacks of the Pyus, that region would be wrapped in darkness for seven days and that two war-boats fully manned with armed soldiers would come into his presence. Due to his power, Devas were motivated by his vow. So they created two war-boats with soldiers holding swords and spears and sent them to him. The whole region was engulfed in darkness for seven days. Prince Pei Phru, in the guise of a ferry-man, carried Pyu soldiers in boats and killed them and heaped their bodies on a mountain across. When seven days had gone by, darkness dispersed. To know where his men gathered, Pyu soldiers ascended the Pyaing Mountain and looked across and saw the dead bodies of their men piled up on a mountain on the opposite bank. Only then did they realize that Prince Pei Phru had killed their men by devising a stratagem. So the Pyu king and his soldiers fled to their city. When King Amratu heard of his nephew’s great power and victory over the Pyus, he, choked by fear vomited blood and died. Upon his death, Prince Pei Phru was made King of Vesali. The new king moved the capital to the site of Mrauk U village and renamed it ‘ Mrauk U’ to commemorate this great victory and because it was the place where his first undertaking was crowned with success ( Mrauk means ‘ accomplish’ and ‘U’ means ‘ first’).

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Mrauk U is located between the Kaladan and Lay Myo rivers in Rakhine State in the Western part of Myanmar. Over a period of more than 350 years countless temples and pagodas were built there.  Photo: Nyi Zaw Moe

The second source of the term’ Mrauk U’ is also found in The New Rakhine Chronicle thus: When the Taung-nyo Hill and the Kukkar Hill were bulldozed and the ground levelled for the site of the Mrauk U palace, the excavators saw a female monkey guarding over an egg of a pea-hen. After this phenomenal event, King Min Saw Mon named his new town ‘ Myauk U’, meaning , ‘the egg of the monkey’. In course of time, the term ‘ Myauk U’ was corrupted to ‘ Mrauk U’.
The third source is also found in the same book thus:While King Min Saw Mon was searching for a suitable place along a creek, a tributary of the Laymyo river to construct Mrauk U city, he, at a certain spot, saw two women catching fish with a bamboo fishing-trap each on either bank of a stream, calling out each other’s name ‘ Hey, May Mrauk U’. ‘ Hey, May Wa-thay’. When the king heard their names, he knew the side on which the women called ‘ May Mrauk U’ stood was ‘ Mrauk U’ and the side on which the woman called ‘ May Wa-thay’ ‘ Wa-thay’.As he built his new town on the side where May Mrauk U stood fishing, he named it ‘Mrauk U’.
The fourth source is found in a palm-leaf manuscript on the Rakhine chronicle thus: Once, there lived in a forest a king of peacocks who had 1,000—strong retinue and a king of monkeys who had 500—strong retinue. Soon afterwards, king of peacocks and consort of king of monkeys died almost at the same time. So King of monkeys and the consort of King of pea-cocks continued to live as a couple. When some time went by, the pea-hen laid three eggs. The King of monkeys brought and submitted them to King Hmwe-soka by saying that they were laid by a pea-hen, his wife. Out of surprise, the king asked Ven. Moggaliputta about this phenomenal event. The monk then replied that what king of monkeys told was true and that the Sasana ( The teachings of Buddha) would flourish and a big city would appear in the place inhabited by the monkey and that the city would be known by the name of Myauk U, for it was the place where the monkey submitted eggs to the king. The name ‘ Myauk U’ was changed to ‘ Mrauk U’ with the passage of time.
The Than-paing chronicle (palm-leaf manuscript) mentions thus: During the lifetime of the Kassapa Buddha, the Buddha during his itinerary reached the place where Mrauk U city would emerge. It was then inhabited by ogres. Later, a female monkey and a peacock lived there as husband and wife. In due course, the female monkey laid two eggs. The couple, much surprised, submitted the eggs to the Buddha.

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At the advice of the Buddha, the pea-cock brooded over the eggs in a nest on a tree growing on the bank of a creek, a tributary of the Meghavati river. In due time, two celestial females hatched out of the eggs. They were adopted by the two women living on the either side of the creek. The girl who was brought up in the place where the pea-cock had brooded over the eggs was called ‘ May Wat-thay’ and the one who was brought up in the place where the eggs had been submitted to the Buddha was called ‘ May Myauk U’. They were the guardian spirits of the villages and towns. When the city was established in the place where the eggs had been submitted to the Buddha, it was known by the name of Mrauk U. And the place where the peacock had brooded over the eggs was known as ‘ Wat-thay’.
The last source is extracted from a palm-leaf manuscript titiled ‘ Rakhine Htee-daw-pade-tha Kyan’. The source is only a Pali phrase, ‘ Rakkha Uttarana mate’ meaning ‘ to the north of Rakhine’. U Tun Shwe Khaing says that this phrase implies that King Min Saw Mon might have travelled northwards from Laungkrat city to look for a site to construct Mrauk U or ancient Mrauk U might have been situated at the northern tip of Laungkrat city. This extract suggests that Mrauk U had been located on the north of Laung-krat city.
In conclusion, it is thus found thus that the word ‘ Mrauk U’ had appeared before the fall of Vesali ( 8th century A.D)and that it is connected with the political situation of ancient Rakhine, the animals who inhabited the area where the city would emerge and its geographical setting.

1. Candamalalankara, Ven., The New Rakhine Chronicle, Yar-pyi Publishing House, Yangon, 2018
2. Tun Shwe Khaing, U, The Great Rakhine Chronicle, Zin Yadana Publishing House, Yangon, 2013
3. San Shwe Bu, U, Research Papers on Old Arakan, Ah-Thaing-ah-waing Sarpay, Yangon, 1988

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