For more than three hundred years Mrauk-u was one of the richest cities in Asia, trading with the middle east, Asia, Spain and Portugal.
Mrauk-U became a cosmopolitan city, fortified by a 30 kilometre long fortification and an intricate net of moats and canals. The Royal Palace was situated in the centre of the city surrounded by waterways and earned the reputation of a city resembling the “city of Venice”. These were the “golden days” of Rakhine history, at least in recorded history.
The Arakenese chronicles record three ancient capitals, the earliest was Dhanyawaddy which pre dates the Christian era to 3000 BC, the second Waithali also referred to as Vesali (Pali name) (327-794 AD), the third Lemro, all ruled by a long list of dynastic Indian kings and only a five kilometre distance from present day Mrauk-U which was the fourth capital.
There are only fragmentary records relating to this ancient past and much of what is available today relating to ancient Arakan is presumption or filling in the gaps on most accounts. For example some records state that the Buddha visited Rakhine in his lifetime, others state that he didn’t, there is no concrete proof of the Buddha’s visit to Arakan, yet there is a wonderful story fabricated around this visit.
According to “The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan” written by San Tha Aung, in September, 1979 up until the early 20th century, not much was known of the early history of Arakan up to 1000 AD., except for the dynastic lists of kings recorded in the local chronicles. The first of these kings mentioned was Marayu, the son of a prince from Kapilavastu who was probably driven into the region on political grounds and was the founder of Dhanyawadi.
After Rakhine was invaded and conquered in 1784 by a Burman army the famous Mahamuni Buddha statue was brought from Dhanyawaddy to Mandalay on the orders of King Bodawpaya. This Buddha image is recorded to be one of the five likenesses of the Buddha and is now located in the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay.
Today, this Buddha image is the most revered in Myanmar, although it resembles nothing of its original shape or size because of the build-up of multi layers of gold leaf applied to the statue over the centuries.
Temples, Pagodas – Dhanywaddy, Vesali & Mrauk-U
It is reputed that more than six million shrines and pagodas dotted the landscape of Mrauk-U and Vesali. According to the famous Dr. Emil Forchhammer (1851 – 1890), a German born Swiss Professor of Pali in Yangon College, stated “In durability, architectural skill, and ornamentation, the Mrohaung (Mrauk-U) temples far surpass those on the banks of the Arrawaddy”. Publications by Dr. Forchhammer on his archaeological studies of Arakan and Buddhist law are held in high esteem.
Shite-thaung Temple was built between 1535 and 1536 AD., was the most spectacular of King Mong Bong’s massive temples built in Mrauk-U. It is situated on the west side of Pokhaung Hill. The lower terrace is 40 feet high, built with stone blocks. On the upper terrace the walls are 9ft thick and approximately 12 feet high on the west and south sides.
Along the North and south walls are brick pagodas with gaps between them bridged with carved stone slabs. The side of the slab facing the temple carved with Buddha images, the slab facing the outside is carved with mythological beasts such as nagas, birds and ogres.
The main shrine has a gallery around the structure with internal passages leading to inner chambers. It is said that the shrine encases 84,000 holy relics of the Buddha and is dedicated to the 84,000 future Buddhas.
Shite-Thaung Temple – Ancient Arakan, Mrauk-U
To all the people of Rakhine I hope this page can let the world see how marvelous this part of Myanmar is. I hope peace and harmony shines on this beautiful land and its people once again.