A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond
TWO ANCIENT CITIES AND A SANCTUARY
By Ma Thanegi
Inwa, the city of Gems
Old Myanmar texts state that the centre of the Universe is Myint-mo Mountain (Mt.Meru
in ancient Pali texts), which has seven mountain ranges and seven seas
surrounding it, in which four islands are located at the cardinal points of the
compass. Humans live on the Southern Island of Zapudipa, and as for the centre
of this earth we inhabit, it is stated as the site of the Lion Throne of the
Myanmar Kings. Thus the sovereignty of the king was emphasized, although the
center of the Earth can be said to be somewhat mobile, when the palace site was
moved from one city to the other.
The Bamar language, which emerged in the 10th century Bagan Empire, attained its
height of poetic beauty during this time. This era of turbulence also produced a
spate of new styles of compositions as both laymen writers and learned monks
wrote great epics. It was a time of glory, of bloodshed, of literature, of
romance, and of heroes.
Alaungpaya, one of the greatest kings of Myanmar, became a king but made shwebo instead of Inwa the capital. When his son Hsin Byu Shin, Lord of the White Elephant who was another great king came to the throne, the capital was moved to Inwa in 1763. Not a great deal of monuments remains in this small area,but what was left are exquisite examples of wood and brickwork. The emissaries from Britain and Europe, who visited Inwa, brought along artists who sketched the palaces and mansions of Inwa and who no doubt saw the other monuments as well.
One is the Maha Aung Mye Bonzan, a monastery donated by the favourite queen Enchanting Myanmar Mai Nu of King Bagyidaw to her most revered Abbot in 1822. This large brick buildjng is decorated with intricate bas-relief friezes of stylized flora and mythical animals. Mai Nu was a commoner and childhood sweetheart of the king.
The Bagaya monastery built at a later date, is a sprawling all-teak building with high patios and dark chambers; the balustrades, doors and railings are ornately carved in traditional motifs. It has 267 posts of teak trunks holding up the raised floor and the low ceilings. This weatherworn but magnificent monastery stands with lonely splendour in the middle of wide paddy fields, with palms, banana trees and thorny green bushes clustered in profusion around its shady base. Gentle tendrils of wild
vines climb over the doors on which carved celestials stand In high relief; they looked out impassively upon the sun lit bare boards of the empty patio as they had once looked upon kings and retinue. A number of little novices study in this monastery, and their clear voices reciting the holy verses are often heard within the dim, cool inner chambers.
A watchtower is the only building left on the palace site after an earthquake
left it standing with a list. There is also a wall of teak trunks, which was
once part of a stockade to train wild elephants, to be used in carrying Royal
personages or to serve in the army as forerunners of the modern tanks.
Amarapura, City of Immortals
Amarapura became a capital city in 1783 when King Bodawpaya moved his palace to there from Inwa. Then, his grandson Bagyidaw moved the capital back to Inwa in 1819 and in turn the Bagan King who ascended the throne in 1846 yet again moved his seat back to Amarapura. On that last move the lumber from the old palace at Inwa was used to build a bridge across Taungthaman Lake, which is fed by the waters of the Ayeyarwaddy River.
In 1859 the Bagan King's younger brother King Mindon moved the capital to
Mandalay, only a few miles away. It is a city that in this modern day had spread
wide enough to enclose Amarapura as one of its suburbs.
The Nagayon, "Embraced by the Dragon" pagoda is different from all other such temples of the same name, for the dragon embraces the entire building itself, and not the image inside as is usual. This strange temple astounded Sir Henry Yule, in his narrative written in 1855, who wrote that" seen from a distance it perplexed us much...in some points of view it appeared as a Pagoda; in others as one of the ngigantic Lions or griffins. ..the lower part was a temple...encased as it were in the bowels of the gigantic monster, whos elevated jaws and scaly crest formed a spire over it."
The twin pagodas, shwe kyet yet and shwe kyet kya, stand on a rise on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy. Country people from the surrounding villages come down to the shallow waters near these pagodas to water their cattle, do their laundry, bathe in the cool of evening. It is one of the loveliest spots on the river, with a view of the green Sagaing hills on the opposite side.
Amarapura remained capital only for a few short years. After fierce storms had damaged a roof of a palace pavilion, King Mindon decided that it would be fortuitous to move. Astrologers were consulted, meetings held and a spot was chosen at the foot of a distant hill called Mandalay. With great ceremony the land was cleared and condstruction began in 1857. There va new city rose, with wide streets set in a grid pattern. Mandalay is now the second capital of the country, with a lovely name forever evokes romance and the call of the East.
Amarapura may no longer be a capital city, but now its residents are the best craftsmen of the country, whether they cast bronze, carve wood, cut marble or weave silk. As a capital city it was also the biggest centre of silk weaving in the country with silk skeins imported from China. The Myanmar are staunch Buddhists who do not produce silk as it means taking the life of the worms. Cotton wares were exported to China. The sounds of present day Amarapura are not of Royal pomp and ceremony but the noise of busy labour to produce artifacts that are famed allover the country.
Sagaing, the sanctuary
Across the river from Amarapura lies Sagaing. Here and there on its green hills are the many golden spires of pagodas, some whitewashed stupas, and many massive monasteries built in traditional or colonial styles. Sjnce unknown times this place has been a refuge from those escaping the pains of secular life, and during World War II it gave sanctuary to thousands fleeing the bombing. The town is set near the jetty, but roads that meander up and down the hills lead to monasteries and nunneries hidden in deep gullies, walled in by thick trees, and tucked in behind cliffs. To turn a corner of a thickly wooded lane and come before a magnificent monastery is breathtaking and to look over a valley and glimpse the upper story of another almost hidden by the greenery is magical. The Soon Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda perched on the highest hill gives a panoramic view of the hills, the wide Ayeyarwaddy River, the Inwa Bridge spanning it and across to Mandalay, with its own pagodas twinkling in the sunlight. River craft, from small rowboats to the luxury cruise ship "Road to Mandalay" ply the waters here: the Ayeyarwaddy is the lifeline of the country and never more useful than in these parts.
Other famous pagodas are scattered all along the roads, and further beyond the
hills. Kaung Hmu Daw is a white domed' pagoda, styled after a famous stupa of
Sri Lanka. All the pagodas have been standing for three or more centuries,
marking places of pilgrimages for Buddhist all across the country.
It is the wish of most Buddhist as they grow old, that they can jive out their last years in the good Teachings of the Lord Buddha. It is not surprising to see older men, and women, too, leave their families and come to sagaing to at least become a Yawgi, a lay-religious practitioner, if they do not actually join the Order as monks or nuns.
In this way sagaing is a religious sanctuary to the Myanmar people, a place to
meditate and reflect on the Buddha's philosophy, which says that only by
loosening the attachments to the material life can we gain peace. Those who
meditate in sagaing have little material possessions: a few changes of clothing,
two meals a day with no solid food after 12 noon until dawn of the- next day.
But they have boundless quiet in the shady and cool glades, and they have peace.
A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond