Mrauk U from Shwetaung pagoda
Map of Mrauk U with main temples
|Settled||16 November 1430|
|• Religions||Theravada Buddhism, Islam|
|Time zone||MST (UTC+6.30)|
Mrauk U (Burmese: မြောက်ဦးမြို့; MLCTS: mrauk u: mrui., Burmese pronunciation: [mjaʊʔ ú mjo̰]) is an archaeologically important town in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. It is also the capital of Mrauk-U Township, a sub region of the Sittwe District. It was the capital of Mrauk U Kingdom, the most important and powerful Rakhine (Arakanese) kingdom, from 1430 to 1785.
Mrauk U lies roughly 11 km east of the Kaladan River on the banks of its minor tributaries. The town is located on a small outcrop of the Rakhine Yoma on the eastern side of the Kaladan's alluvial plain. Thus, the surrounding countryside is hilly yet also contains a great deal of marshes, mangroves and lakes.
Mrauk U, like much of Rakhine State, is situated in a coastal tropical monsoon rainforest climate region. The town receives over 1200mm of rain a year from the Southwestern Monsoon, making it one of the wettest regions in Myanmar. The Monsoon season usually begins in late May and ends by mid October.
Although located in a tropical region, Mrauk U enjoys lower temperatures when the Northeastern Monsoon falls. From mid October to mid March during the Cool Season, temperatures can drop to 13°C. This season coincides with the tourist season for Myanmar.
The rainfall in 19 July 2011 was nearly 24 centimetres (9.4 in), the highest for 33 years. There was flood because of continuous heavy rains in July 2011.
Some Rakhine scholars state that the name Mrauk U means 'The First Accomplishment' in archaic Arakanese. This is based on the story of the Arakanese being able to crush an invasion by the Pyu in the mid 10th Century by a Mro prince, Pai Phru. The town is said to be located roughly near the region where the Pyu invaders were decimated. The prince went on to claim the throne of Wethali from his uncle who had murdered the prince's father due to a love scandal. The battle was seen as the first accomplishment of the prince, and thus, the name 'First Accomplishment' came to be associated with the place.
A popular myth amongst the Arakanese and the Burmese people is that the name Mrauk U was derived from a legend of a monkey offering Gautama Buddha an egg as a sign of devotion. From this legend, it is purported that the name Monkey Egg (Myauk U) stuck with the region, and from it, the current Mrauk U was derived.
Another dismissed myth was that in the region where Mrauk U was to be constructed, lived a lonely female monkey. She met a peacock and the two later cohabited. The female monkey conceived with the peacock, and it laid an egg. A human son was born from the egg and he grew up to become a mighty prince. The prince later built a city near the jungle, and in respect of his birth story, the city was called Myauk-U meaning ‘Monkey’s Egg’.
In 1433, King Min Saw Mon established Mrauk U as the capital of the last unified Arakanese Kingdom. The city eventually reached a size of 160,000 in the early seventeenth century. Mrauk U served as the capital of the Mrauk U kingdom and its 49 kings till the conquest of the kingdom by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784.
Due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, Mrauk U developed into an important regional trade hub, acting as both a back door to the Burmese hinterland and also as an important port along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. It became a transit point for goods such as rice, ivory, elephants, tree sap and deer hide from Ava in Burma, and of cotton, slaves, horses, cowrie, spices and textiles from Bengal, India, Persia and Arabia. Alongside Pegu and later Syriam, it was one of the most important ports in Burma till the eighteenth century.
The city also traded with non-Asian powers such as Portugal and then the Dutch East India Company of the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established trading relations with the Arakanese in 1608 after the Portuguese fell in favour due to the lack of loyalty of Portuguese mercenaries, such as Filipe de Brito e Nicote in the service of the Arakanese king. The VOC established a permanent factory in Mrauk U in 1635, and operated in Arakan till 1665.
At its zenith, Mrauk U was the centre of a kingdom which stretched from the shores of the Ganges river to the western reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy River. According to popular Arakanese legend, there were 12 'cities of the Ganges' which constitute roughly half of modern day Bangladesh which were governed by Mrauk U, including Dhaka and Chittagong. During that period, its kings minted coins inscribed in Arakanese, Kufic and Bengali.
As Mrauk U and her kingdom prospered, the kings, ministers and peasants built many pagodas and temples around the town to reflect their faith. Thus, Mrauk U houses a rich collection of temples and pagodas second only to the Central Burmese town of Bagan, in Myanmar. Most of Mrauk U's temples were constructed of hewn stone bricks, unlike the mud and clay bricks of Bagan.
The most notable temples in Mrauk U are the Shite-thaung Temple (Temple of 80,000 Images or Temple of Victory), Htukkanthein Temple (Htukkan Ordination Hall), the Koe-thaung Temple (Temple of 90,000 Images) and the Five Mahn pagodas.
Temples in Mrauk U
The following are some of the famous and note-worthy religious buildings in and around the town.
- Shite-thaung Temple
- Htukkanthein Temple
- Koe-thaung Temple
- Andaw-thein Ordination Hall
- Le-myet-hna Temple
- Five Man Pagodas
- Sanda Muni Temple
- Bandula Kyaung Monastery
Although Mrauk U is a primarily Buddhist site, there are several religious buildings of other faiths. The most notable would be the old Santikan Mosque, built during Min Saw Mon's reign, in the southeast of the town. Friar Manrique also mentions the presence of a Roman Catholic church and a small number of converts and foreign born Catholics (including ronin who were forced out of Japan due to persecution by the shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu)
Today, Mrauk U is a major archaeological and tourist destination. The main attractions are the temples and ruins around the town. The remains of the main palace roughly form the centre of the town. The most popular mode for tourists to travel to Mrauk U is to take a domestic flight from Yangon to Sittwe and board a boat from Sittwe against the Kaladan River. The hotels in Mrauk U also arrange private boat services to and fro Sittwe.
Mrauk U houses a growing tourist industry, as it has only recently become a reachable tourist destination.
Although a tourist destination, most of Mrauk U has very basic infrastructure. It has a Township hospital, a Basic Education High School and a market. Like much of Rakhine state and the whole of Myanmar, Mrauk U lacks 24 hour electricity.
Ruins of Portuguese Trade Office
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mrauk U.|
- The Land of the Great Image - Being Experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan by Maurice Collis
- Pamela Gutman (2001) Burma's Lost Kingdoms: splendours of Arakan. Bangkok: Orchid Press
- Map of Mrauk U
|Capital of Mrauk U Kingdom
16 November 1430 – 2 January 1785
End of Mrauk U