Kingdom of Mrauk U
|Kingdom of Mrauk-U|
Mrauk U (1430–1785)
• Founding of dynasty
|18 April 1429|
• End of kingdom
|2 January 1785|
|History of Myanmar|
The Kingdom of Mrauk-U was an independent coastal kingdom of Arakan which existed for over 350 years. It was based in the city of Mrauk-U, near the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal. The kingdom from 1429 to 1785 ruled over what is now Rakhine State, Myanmar and Chittagong Division, Bangladesh. From 1429 to 1531 it was a protectorate of the Bengal Sultanate at different time periods. After gaining independence from Bengal, it prospered with help from the Portuguese settlement in Chittagong. In 1666, it lost control of Chittagong after a war with the Mughal Empire. Its reign continued until the 18th century, when it fell to the invasion of the Burmese Empire.
It was home to a multiethnic population including Arakanese Burmese and Arakanese Indians. The city of Mrauk U was home to mosques, temples, shrines, seminaries and libraries. The kingdom was also a center of piracy and the slave trade. It was frequented by Arab, Danish, Dutch and Portuguese traders.
Mrauk U was declared the capital of the Arakanese kingdom in 1431. As the city grew, many Buddhist pagodas and temples were built. Several of them remain, and these are the main attraction of Mrauk-U. From the 15th to the 18th centuries, Mrauk U was the capital of the Arakan kingdom, frequently visited by foreign traders (including Portuguese and Dutch).
King Narameikhla (1404-1434), or Min Saw Mon, ruler of the Kingdom of Mrauk U in the early 15th century, after 24 years of exile in Bengal, regained control of the Arakanese throne in 1430 with military assistance from the Sultanate of Bengal. The Bengalis who came with him formed their own settlements in the region. Narameikhla ceded some territory to the Sultan of Bengal and recognised his sovereignty over the areas. In recognition of his kingdom's vassal status, the kings of Arakan received Islamic titles, despite being Buddhists, and legalised the use of Islamic gold dinar coins from Bengal within the kingdom. Narameikhla minted his own, with Burmese characters on one side and Persian characters on the other. Arakan remained subordinate to Bengal until 1531. Arakan's vassalage to Bengal was brief. After Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah's death in 1433, Narameikhla's successors invaded Bengal and occupied Ramu in 1437 and Chittagong in 1459. Arakan would hold Chittagong until 1666. It stopped being a protectorate from 1430's to 1460's onward, despite ruling parts of Bangladesh it continued to remain a protectorate of the Sultan of Bengal up until 1531.
Even after gaining independence from the Sultans of Bengal, the Arakanese kings continued the custom of maintaining Muslim titles, despite remaining Buddhist. The kings compared themselves to Sultans and fashioned themselves after Mughal rulers. They also continued to employ Muslims in prestigious positions within the royal administration. From 1531-1629, Arakanese raiders and Portuguese pirates operated from havens along the coast of the kingdom and brought slaves in from Bengal to the kingdom. following many raids into Bengal, the slave population thus increased in the 17th century, as they were employed in a variety of workforces in Arakan.  Slaves included members of the Mughal nobility. A notable royal slave was Alaol, a renowned poet in the Arakanese court. Some of them worked as Arabic, Bengali, and Persian scribes in the Arakanese courts, which, despite remaining mostly Buddhist, adopted Islamic fashions from the neighbouring Sultanate of Bengal. Arakan lost control of end of eastern bank of the Kaladan river in southeast Bengal after the Mughal conquest of Chittagong. In 1660, Prince Shah Shuja, the governor of Mughal Bengal and a claimant of the Peacock Throne, fled to Arakan with his family after being defeated by his brother Emperor Aurangzeb during the Battle of Khajwa. Shuja and his entourage arrived in Arakan on 26 August 1660. He was granted asylum by King Sanda Thudhamma. In December 1660, the Arakanese king confiscated Shuja's gold and jewelry, leading to an insurrection by the royal Mughal refugees. According to varying accounts, Shuja's family was killed by the Arakanese, while Shuja himself may have fled to a kingdom in Manipur. However, members of Shuja's entourage remained in Arakan and were recruited by the royal army, including as archers and court guards. They were king makers in Arakan until the Burmese conquest. The Arakanese continued their raids of Mughal Bengal. Dhaka was raided in 1625.
The old capital of Rakhine (Arakan) was first constructed by King Min Saw Mon in the 15th century, and remained its capital for 355 years. The golden city of Mrauk U became known in Europe as a city of oriental splendor after Friar Sebastian Manrique visited the area in the early 17th century. Father Manrique's vivid account of the coronation of King Thiri Thudhamma in 1635 and about the Rakhine Court and intrigues of the Portuguese adventurers fire the imagination of later authors. The English author Maurice Collis who made Mrauk U and Rakhine famous after his book, The Land of the Great Image based on Friar Manrique' travels in Arakan.
The Mahamuni Buddha Image, which is now in Mandalay, was cast and venerated some 15 miles from Mrauk U where another Mahamuni Buddha Image flanked by two other Buddha images. Mrauk U can be easily reached via Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State. From Yangon there are daily flights to Sittwe and there are small private boats as well as larger public boats plying through the Kaladan river to Mrauk U. It is only 45 miles from Sittwe and the seacoast. To the east of the old city is the famous Kispanadi stream and far away the Lemro river. The city area used to have a network of canals. Mrauk U maintains a small archaeological Museum near Palace site, which is right in the centre of town. As a prominent capital Mrauk U was carefully built in a strategic location by levelling three small hills. The pagodas are strategically located on hilltops and serve as fortresses; indeed they are once used as such in times of enemy intrusion. There are moats, artificial lakes and canals and the whole area could be flooded to deter or repulse attackers. There are innumerable pagodas and Buddha images all over the old city and the surrounding hills. Some are still being used as places of worship today many in ruins, some of which are now being restored to their original splendor.
Konbaung Dynasty's conquest of Arakan in 1785, as many as 35,000 people of the Rakhine State fled to the neighbouring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to escape persecution by the Bamar and to seek protection under the British Raj. The Bamar executed thousands of men and deported a considerable portion of people from Rakhine population to central Burma, leaving Arakan a scarcely populated area by the time the British occupied it.
Buddhist Temples and artefacts of Mrauk-U
- Shite-thaung Temple
- Htukkanthein Temple
- Maha Muni Temple in Dhanyawadi
- Mahamuni Buddha image, moved from Arakan to Mandalay by Thado Minsaw
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