A Guide to Tourism Destinations and Beyond

Vol. 3 No.2 April-June 2004   

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Mount Meru, a Maze
Monastery and the Stairs of the Lying Cat:
Hidden treasures of Inwa

By Tin Tun
Photos: Maung Maung Latt(Chit Nyo)

You may often have been to Inwa, an ancient capital of Upper Myanmar. It is common knowledge that it was the seat of 33 kings for 377 years from the mid 14th century to mid 19th century. Its official name is Ratana Pura, City of Gems. It is located about 21 km southwest of Mandalay, on an island formed by the Ayeyarwaddy River and the smaller Myit Nge River, and a canal on the third side.
Myint-mo Taung(Mt.Meru)Pagoda
Inwa was not a capital for one stretch of time. King Thado Minbya founded it in 1364 and it remained a capital with 17 rulers in succession until 1554 when Tabinshwe Hti of the Toungoo Kingdom, which lies further south, invaded it.
Again in 1597 King Nyaung Yan of the Toungoo dynasty made his capital in Inwa,and, a period in history is known as the Nyaung Yan Period due to his move. 10 kings reigned there until 1751 under the rule of King Maha Dhamma Razadhippadi. This time King Banya Dala of Bago, a Mon Kingdom of the south, conquered it.

In 1765, King Hsinbyu Shin of the last Konbaung Dynasty founded his capital there until his descendent King Bodawpaya shifted the capital in 1783 to Amarapura. Again, King Bagyidaw of the same dynasty moved back to Inwa in1823 and his heir King Thayarwaddy again moved to Amarapura. in 1838.

Inwa became capital for five times, an unusual practice, as kings liked to find new sites that they felt were more auspicious. It played not I an important role in history but even more so as one of the most pleasant spots in Upper Myanmar.lnwa even now is a lush, green place shaded with brilliant green tamarind trees and probably in the old days it was as beautiful if not more so. It certainly is a pretty place for anyone, king or commoner, to want to live there.

One can still see the inner city walls and gate, and the moat, as well as brick lined walk-ways used by the king now meandering past village houses rather then palaces. There are two beautiful examples of the traditional type of monastic architecture, one of wood and the other of brick, the Bagaya and Maha Aung Mye Bon San Monasteries. Bagaya Monastery has 267 whole teak tree trunks, 18m high, as pillars, and in the ceiling 44 gigantic beams. Its doors are carved with relief figures of celestials holding lotus flowers. It is a beautiful example of traditional Myanmar construction.

Kyaung Lain Spiral Staircase Monastery The Maha Mye Bon San donated by queen Mai Nu and sometimes known as 'Mai Nu's Brick Monastery' was built in the same style as a traditional monastery but in brick. This Queen of Bagyidawpaya spent more than Ks. 300,000 for the construction. In those days it was a huge sum. It was donated to the Abbot of Nyaung Yan, Sayadaw U Po on its completion in 1828 after five year's work.

As palace pavilions were built of wood, no trace of them remains and only the 18m high watch tower, leaning slightly to one side, stands alone in the empty fields where golden roof tiers of the palace once rose to the sky.

But these are the sites known to everyone! There are still places undiscovered by tourists or even the Myanmar pilgrims.

To the west of Bagaya Monastery, there is a row of identical stupas but of a style unknown in most of central Myanmar. With multiple levels and ridges, the stupas are in the same shape as some from the ancient Rakhine capital Mrauk 00, which lies many miles west of Inwa beyond steep mountain ranges. The .height ranged from 16m to 17m.

According to a palm leaf manuscript found in the Mula Annuroddha Monastery, the stupas were built by nine queens of King Maha Dhamma Razadhippadi as associate pagodas to the bigger Lawkatharapu Pagoda. The text. stated that each stupa was crowned with a nine or seven-tiered umbrella. He had reigned from  1733 to 1751,the last in the Toungoo Dynasty line of kings ruling at Inwa beginning with King Nyaung Van. Each stupa has a name of the donor queen but unfortunately only six survived. Their names are pretty and so similar to each other that one wonders if they were sisters or if the King changed their names. The names were: Htut Htaik Moe, Htut Myat Moe, Myat Htaik Moe, Myat Htut Moe, Htut Htaik Pan and Atula Htaik Moe.

Beyond these pagodas there is a very green and pretty spot called the Mingalar Place. Due north there are a few surprising buildings in almost a straight line. The first is the Kyaung Lain Monastery, which means Spiral Staircase or which can literally be translated as a Lying or Twisted Cat! It was built by King Taninganway (1714 -1733) of the Toungoo Dynasty. However one can see a flight of steep stairs on the northern side, leading right up to the central core. The entrances are surmounted by bell-shape domed stupas. There is nothing much left, with the vaulted roof collapsed in many places.

Not far from it to the west is the Lawka Dotha Mahn Aung Pagoda, or the Conqueror of Worldly Angers. It means that all who worship here would be able to quench their anger, and it looks like a very useful place for a great many people from allover the world to come and pray!

It is at tall and tapering stupa decorated with mouldings. It also has multiple ridges. To the east is a Prayer Hall with a Buddha image seated on a throne.Pretty pagodas in a row,built by ancient queens

West of the Conqueror of Angers Pagoda is Mount Meru,or Myint-mo Taung in Myanmar. It is a cylindrical structure on a rounded plinth. In ancient cosmology, the center of the Universe is the Myint-mo Mountain with seven oceans and seven mountain ranges at its foot. Along the sides of Myint-mo there are heavens and realms of celestials.ln the seas are four islands and the southern Zapuddipa Island is what modern men know as Planet Earth. The Sun and Moon Celestials circle the Myint-mo Mountain. All these places are symbolised around the plinth and the terraces of the main structure as well as a pagoda to symbolise the sulamani pagoda believed built in the heavens enshrined with the Buddha's hair. Two spiral staircases are
set into the thick walls, reaching to the top spire.

Beyond Mount Meru lies Wingaba or 'Maze' Monastery. It was built by King Maha Dhamma Razadhippadi, whose nine wives built the nine identical pagodas. It is a square two-storied set structure on a high brick plinth. There are entrances on the south and the west. On each side there are nine windows set in three tiers. Inside on the ground floor are four staircases at each corner. In the centre there is a square room with three entrances. The stairs in the corners go through the thick wall up to the first floor, where there are two corridors running around the central room.

In November,on the Full Moon night of the month of Tazaungmone, pagoda festivals are held allover the country. There would also be a large maze built out of bamboo in the center of which is placed a Buddha image. People, especially children, love to enter the maze and try to reach the center to pay homage to the image. The King had apparently decided to build a more lasting maze then that made of bamboo!

Although we cannot see the royals today the villagers living in Inwa give a good opportunity to study their rural life. They work as boatmen, fishermen, horse-cart driver, farmer, and weavers of both fabrics and reed mats. They even make the alms bowls of monks, hammering them out of sheet metal before coating with black organic lacquer, and there are workshops where women spend their days rolling cheroots with their babies playing in the dust beside them. In the early mornings and evenings some gather by the riverbanks to wash clothes or bathe, but many houses have their own wells.

The hidden treasures of Inwa provide a glimpse into the life of villagers of today and Royals of three hundred years ago and it is a place well worth a visit.