Well so many earthquakes in Bagan along with the series of political turbulence have effectively reduced much of the temples in Bagan ... Fortunately, even after the collapse of the First Burmese Empire (Bagan kingdom) in 1287, several monks have occupied several temples to reinvigorate those temples so we are fortunate to see about 2,217 pagodas left - out of 4,446 pagodas during the glorious days.
The historic tomb of former Siamese King Uthumphon, located near Mandalay City in Upper Burma, is set to be destroyed to make way for a new urban development project, according to local historian sources.
The magnificent burial place, which is larger than most and measures the size of a small pagoda, is situated inside prominent Linzin (former Burmese name for Laos) Hill graveyard on the edge of famous Taungthaman Lake in Amarapura Township, Mandalay Division.
“Thai people visiting Burma come to this tomb regularly to pay respect to their king,” a local resident told The Irrawaddy. “I have heard that this graveyard will soon be cleared for some sort of urban project.”
According to Burmese history records, King Hsinbyushin (1736-1776), the third king of Burma’s Konbaung Dynasty, invaded the ancient Thai capital Ayutthaya in 1767 and brought as many subjects as he could back to his capital Ava, including Uthumphon.
“The records say the Thai king was in monkhood when he was brought back as a prisoner of war and when he died in captivity his body was buried at Linzin Hill,” Dr. Tin Maung Kyi, a well-known Burmese historian and Mandalay resident, told The Irrawaddy.
He said experts believe Uthumphon died during the reign of King Bodawpaya (1745-1819), the sixth king of the same dynasty.
The authoritative History of Ayutthaya website says Uthumphon, who is better known as King Dok Madua or “figflower” is Siamese history, was the youngest son of King Borommakot (1733-1758) and a minor queen called Phiphit Montri, and was appointed as Uparat (Crown Prince) by his father. Uthumphon also means “figflower” but in Sanskrit.
The website adds that Uthumphon succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father, but his position was insecure so he decided to abdicate in favor of his elder brother Suriyamarin (1758-1767) who was constantly meddling in court affairs.
He then retired to a monastery he built called Wat Pradu Songtham. In 1767, after the fall of Ayutthaya, Uthumphon was taken out of his temple and led away to Burma where he died in captivity in 1796.
Scholars in Mandalay have raised concerns that the new project will not only mean the loss of considerable heritage but also affect the country’s nascent yet potentially huge tourism industry.
“Thai people regularly come to their ex-king’s tomb to pay respect. I always have to clean the tomb before their arrival. They will also feel hurt if the tomb is destroyed,” said Nyein Win, an archaeologist in Amarapura.
Despite proposals from historians to preserve ancient tombs and cemeteries which are deemed historically important, the Burmese government has nevertheless replaced a large number with new buildings and urban projects.
In 1997, the Burmese military junta destroyed Kyawdaw graveyard in Rangoon, where well-respected individuals from political, economic, social and other prominent arenas were buried.
Kingdoms of fortune
Special to The Nation
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 14:30
U Min Thonze Cave Temple at the top of Sagaing Hill offers a panoramic view of the pagoda-rich landscape. (Photo - Manote Tripathi)
The former Myanmar capitals of Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura boast a wealth of Ayutthaya-style art and icons
Thai visitors to the ancient kingdoms of Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura in northern Myanmar will no doubt find themselves flashing back to the history lessons of their school days and particularly the events that followed the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. Familiar Siamese art forms decorate the walls and ceilings of temples and the signs of former abundance perhaps explain why the Thai captives taken to Ava never made it back to their homeland.
A trip to salvage the lost facts is fun, and especially so for anyone with an interest in the 18th century. Within a 20-kilometre radius of Mandalay lie Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura, all former capitals of the Myanmar Empire.
Mandalay is a perfect launch PAD for a weekend foray to these cities, setting the tone for a journey back in time to post-1767 Siamese life in upper Myanmar.
Almost all Thai tourists visit Mahamuni Pagoda, Mandalay's holiest pilgrimage site. The towering golden Buddha image known as the Mahamuni is believed to be the most ancient of all Buddha images and said to be one of only five likenesses of the Lord Buddha when he walked the earth.
Equally interesting is the monastery's compact museum, which houses a collection of large bronze figures, part of the treasures taken from Ayutthaya.
A large notice says Myanmar king Bayinnaung brought the bronze figures from Ayutthaya in 1536 after conquering the Siamese capital. In fact, the figures are not Siamese but Khmer in style and were taken from Angkor War by one of Ayutthaya's kings as prizes of war sometime in the 15th century, As Buddhist karma would have it, the bronze figures ended up in different hands some 1,200 km from the old Siamese capital.
Fast forward to the 18th century when hostilities between the Siamese and the Myanmar intensified and Ayutthaya fell to the Myanmar for a second time, leaving a deep scar on the Thai national psyche. Looting and torching of temples and palaces were common in the aftermath of the war and the Myanmar once again took the treasures they acquired to the Ava Kingdom, along with 100,000 Ayutthaya residents and several members of the royal family.
Among these was King Uthumphon of Ayutthaya, whose tomb was discovered not too long ago at Linzhin Hill in modern-day Amarapura, 11 km from Mandalay.
The 32nd monarch of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Uthumphon (also known as Udumbara and Dok Madua) was taken as a prisoner of war by King Hsinbyushin, the third king of Myanmar's Konbaung Dynasty, when he razed the Thai capital in 1767.
Although a captive, Uthumphon was allowed to travel independently. Based at a monastery in Amarapura, Uthumphon stayed in the monkhood for 29 years, a period that saw four reigns. After his death, King Bodawpaya held a grand funeral for Uthumphon at the Linzhin Hill graveyard.
Like other captives, Uthumphon initially lived in the capital Ava, now known as Inwa. The Thais built their own community outside the walls of Ava's Royal Palace. The Ayutthaya people were collectively referred to as the Yodia (natives of Ayutthaya) in Myanmar. The term is still in use today and means Thais in general.
Ava is bounded by the Ayeyarwady River to the north and by a smaller river to the east. Getting there requires a short trip by ferry.
Though not an island like Ayutthaya, Ava in many ways feels like the ancient Thai capital with its riverine way of life. The landscape has remained almost unchanged over the centuries with monasteries, pagodas, paddy fields and the river stretching as far as the eye can see.
Sadly, though, the Royal Palace of Ava has lost most of its grandeur. A series of earthquakes in 1839 brought total destruction and necessitated its relocation to Amarapura in 1842. Today the palace grounds are used as banana plantations and the fruit is exported to China.
Two monuments did however withstand the quake: the Watch Tower and Bagaya Monastery.
Built in 1834 by King Bagyidaw, Bagaya is Ava's most beautiful teak structure supported by 267 massive teak columns measuring more than 20 metres in height and three metres in diameter. The dark interior is adorned with wood carvings and decorations that experts say are of Ayutthaya style, especially the garuda carvings and floral motifs.
In terms of the quality of life of the Thais living here in the old days, it was perhaps not all doom and gloom.
The Ayeyarwady was much bigger than the Chao Phraya and the plains were fertile. And there were plenty of betel nuts to chew just like in our former capital. Ava and nearby cities also had more monasteries and pagodas than Ayutthaya.
Ayutthaya didn't have scenic hills either. Across the river is Sagaing, which served as the capital of Myanmar from 1760-1765. The Sagaing Hill is pock-marked with pagodas and monasteries.
The Tilawkaguru Cave Temple is full of mural paintings and bears Ayutthaya motifs on the ceiling. Built around 1672, the temple is in Myanmar style, but it's believed that its murals underwent a series of renovations done by skilled Thai artists from Ayutthaya.
The Ayutthaya style also permeates the murals of Maha Thein Dawgyi Temple, which feature the garuda, the naga and the Buddha.
U Min Thonze Cave Temple, sometimes referred to as the 30 caves pagoda, perched atop Sagaing Hill is home to many Buddha images. The main hall of the temple has a narrow crescent shape and occupies a cave on the side of Sagaing Hill, The thick outer walls are also in a crescent shape and boast 30 windows. The interior houses a collection of beautiful Buddha images in a crescent-shaped colonnade.
Sagaing's hilltop monasteries also offer stunning panoramic views across the confluence of the two rivers, of Mandalay in the distance and Ava down below.
So did the captured Thais want to return to the ruins of Ayutthaya? Somehow, given the pros that far outweigh the cons of the Ava Kingdom, one would doubt it.
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