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 with the city of Mrauk U being 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.
Although Arakan kings paid tribute to the Pagan dynasty, the South was mostly free of Pagan suzerainty and largely cut off from the rest of Burma. Separated from Pagan by the Arakan Mountains, Arakan developed more independently to other Burmese regions. its capital moved from Thaibeiktaung to Dinnyawadi to Vesali before the 11th century, and then to Pyinsa, Parin, and Hkrit in the 12th century, with the capital moving to Pyinsa again in 1180, and then Launggyet in 1237. Arakan had close contact with Bengal, coming into full contact with it as it was expanding eastwards. Bengal captured Satgaon and later Sonargaon towards the beginning of the 14th century, and during the reign of King Minhti (1279-1374), Bengal invaded Arakan by sea, raiding the Hinya river at Chittagong. Following the collapse of Pagan power and the death of Minhti, Arakan fell into an interregnum, and constant raids were conducted by both the Burmese and the Talaing. The new king who took power in 1404, Narameikhla, was immediately ousted by the forces of the Burmese king Pyinsing Mengswa, who captured Launggyet and forced Narameikhla to flee to the court of the Sultanate of Bengal at Gour. During Narameikhla's 24-year exile, Arakan became an extensive battleground for the Ava Kingdom and the Pegu Kingdom. The King of Ava installed his son-in-law on the throne of Arakan, bestowing him the title of Anoarahtâ. Pegu forces later captured and executed him. The power struggle ended with Râjâdirit coming out on top, capturing Taunggyet and installing his own governor, who was in power until 1423.
Reign of Narameikhla
Following the death of Ahmed Shah in 1426, his son Nazir Shah took the throne of Bengal. After 24 years of exile, Narameikhla finally regained control of the Arakanese throne in 1430 with military assistance from Bengali commanders Wali Khan and Sindhi Khan. 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. The kings compared themselves to Sultans and fashioned themselves after Mughal rulers. They also employed Muslims in prestigious positions within the royal administration. Narameikhla minted his own, with Burmese characters on one side and Persian characters on the other. Despite ruling parts of Bengal, it continued to remain a protectorate of the Sultan of Bengal up until 1531.
Narameikhla founded the city of Mrauk U, which 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). 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: Being experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan based its accounts on Friar Manrique' travels in Arakan.
Independence from Bengal
Narameikhla was succeeded by his brother, Ali Khan (reigning 1434-59), who annexed Sandoway and Ramu in 1437 with the vassalage to Bengal becoming null in 1433 following the death of Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. Ali Khan's successor, Basawpyu (Kalima Shah, named after his coins bearing the Kalima, reigning 1459-82) occupied Chittagong, a city that Arakan would hold onto until 1666, at the beginning of his reign. Although Barbek Shah, the new Sultan of Bengal, allowed Bengal to falter, Arakan remained subordinate to Bengal until 1531. Basawpyu was succeeded by his son Doalya, who launched a rebellion against him in 1482, taking his life. A line of weak kings followed, although they managed to hold on to Chittagong. However, in 1531, Minbin took the throne, strengthening the fortifications of Mrauk U and fighting back against coastal raids by pirates. Minbin was responsible for the construction of the Shwedaung pagoda as well as the Shitthaung, Dukkanthein, and Lemyethna temples in Mrauk U.
During Minbin's reign, Arakan came under attack both from the north, from the coast, and from the east. In 1544, the armies of King Tabinshwehti of Burma invaded and took Sandoway, beginning the Toungoo–Mrauk-U War. However, he was unable to march further, and was held there for two years. Thus, he brought in Talaing and Shan fighters and revitalized his offensive, marching north to Mrauk U. However, once he reached the city, Tabinshwehti retreated, as he it was too well-defended and he did not want to besiege or blockade it. From the north came the Raja of Twipra, who marched as far as Ramu. However, he was driven back, and upon the Arakanese reclamation of Chittagong, Minbin struck from production coins with his name that styled him as sultan. Minbin's reign ended in 1553.
Down the line of kings came Minyazagyi (1593-1612). In 1597, he joined the First Toungoo Empire in its siege of Pegu and requested the aid of Portuguese captain Felipe de Brito to assist him in it. Land levies and ships from Chittagong, and the city fell in 1599. de Brito was appointed governor of Syriam by Minyazagyi. However, he shook off Arakanese power over the region, and, supported by Goa, he pushed away the many attacks of Arakan. Minyazagyi took three years (1602-1605) to take Sandwip from Manuel de Mattos and Domingo Carvalho.
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 increased in the 17th century as they were employed in a variety of industries 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 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.
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
- History of Chittagong
- History of Rakhine
- List of Arakanese monarchs
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