Archive for the ‘Arakan Tradition and Culture’ Category


The Author

Tun Shwe Khine was born in Rambyae, Rakhine State in 1949; graduated from Yangon University in 1972 and obtained master degree in Geography in 1976. He has served as a tutor in Yangon Worker’s College; assistant lecturer and registrar (2) in Sittway Degree College. Now he is the Registrar (1) of Sittway Degree College. He has written several research articles and books, and edited some books, magazines and journals.

Some of his works excluding articles are as follows:
(1) Rakhine State Regional Geography (in Myanmar),
(2) Ancient Cities of Rakhine (in Myanmar),
(3) The History of Rakhine Dynasty (in Myanmar),
(4) The Thet Tribe in Northern Rakhine (in Myanmar),
(5) Rakhine Buddhist Art in Vesali Period (in Myanmar),
(6) Rakhine Folk-Tales (in Myanmar),
(7) Earlier Writers in Rakhine (in Myanmar),
(8). 4 Study of Rakhine Minthami Aye-gyin (in Myanmar),
(9)The History of Rakhine Mahamuni (in My anmar and English) and
(10) Historical Sites in Rakhine (in English).

PREFACE

Mrauk-U, a fine last royal capital of Rakhine has scenic beauty and historical remains which are inextricable and remarkable. Innumerable pagodas belonging to all ages can be found throughout the city. Everywhere one looks within Mrauk-U city wall on every mound, every field and every hill are Buddha images, temples, sima(Thein) and pagodas.

It is no wonder that Mrauk-U is popularly known as the ‘Land of Pagodas’ and Europeans remarked Mrauk-U as ‘The
Golden City’. The Rakhine of those days were proud of Mrauk-U. They were entirely satisfied to be the inhabitants of Mrauk- U. The history shows what happened in the city in early times.

Mrauk-U was founded in 1430 A.D. and became the seat of the Rakhine dynasty of that name. It had attained its highest prosperity for 355 years til! 1785 A.D. Before Mrauk-U, several other former royal cities, Dhanyawaddy, Vesali, Sambawet, Pyinsa, Parein, Launggret , Hkirt and Nayyinzaya-taungngoo had flourished from generation to generation for many years (see chapter 2).

Geographically, Mrauk-U lies at the head of a tributary, Kaladan River, about 45 miles from the sea coast, but the largest sea-going ships of that period could reach it through a network of deep creeks by which it was surrounded. Mrauk-U’s unique position in the Bay of Bengal, with both land and sea routes to the east and west, resulted in the development of its commercial and cultural centre which later emerged as a highly flourishing country because of its strategic location between India and South East Asia. It also received Buddhist religion and Indianized civilization from the west.

A visitor, Schouten, a Dutchman who visited the area in 16th century A.D , remarked that the city was comparable in size and wealth to such western cities as Amsterdam and London. He also mentioned that it was the richest city among the ports of Asia. The city was called by the Europeans as ‘Golden City’. That term applies very fittingly to Mrauk-U whose wealth depended mainly on its extensive regions of rice land which surrounded the city. The crops never failed because of an annual 200 inches of rainfall. The export of rice increased from year to year. Moreover, the goods were allowed to enter the city duty-free in order to encourage trade. Thus the city was crowded with a large number of foreign merchants from the neighbouring countries and western countries as well, such as the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Various kinds of goods were on sale in the markets of Mrauk-U.

The export of elephants was most popular in the Mrauk- U period. An elephant cost 1300 silver coins in those days. The Portuguese and the Dutch were permitted to build a factory at Aungdat port in Mrauk-U. Since a ship after leaving Bengal on a voyage to Java or any city on the eastern coast, and did not sail straight across the bay had to keep to the coast. Hence, trading ships naturally put. in at Mrauk-U to replenish food, water and other necessities.

In this way Mrauk-U became usual focus for trade on the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. Mrauk-U, therefore, was very prosperous during those days. At the beginning of the 16 century the sea-faring- nature of Rakhine was even more accentuated. The King Minbin (1531-1553 A.D.) was able to build a large naval fleet with modern cannon to guard the long coastal territory of about one thousand miles. According to the Magh Raider in Bengal it had ten thousand warboats and their cannon were so numerous that flotilla exceeded the waves of the sea. Now, several types of old cannon can be seen in Mrauk-U ‘Museum.

Mrauk-U was built as a defence city by the kings of those days. Taking advantage of the ridges surrounding the city, the citywalls have been built by joining the higher points of the ridge. The walls were built with local sandstone and earth. Inside the wail some portions of the mountain had to be levelled at the appropriate points to make ramparts. Some secret paths were constructed from top to bottom and stone gates had been erected for going in and out. Above them some bulwarks or forts were provided with modern artillery. A maze-like chain of lakes and moats were also constructed both inside and outside the city walls. These moats and water tanks not only supplied fresh water
for the inhabitants but also provided a measure of defence.

Besides the venerable pagodas, visitors of today can see citywalls, moats, ramparts, watch towers and forts as the most interesting archaeological remains. They were all constructed with well-fitting cemented stones and they remain in good condition up to the present time.

Some Japanese samurai came to Mrauk-U in 1623 A.D and served as domestic guards of Mrauk-U kings. Because of their valiant and incomparable swordsmanship they were selected as royal bodyguards by the kings.

The dynasty of Mrauk-U had successfully defended itself against all foreign invaders for many years. A few wars were fought, which ended in victory for the Rakhine kings. No civil strife had ruined the peasantry of Mrauk-U. Because of Buddhist teaching and an efficient administrative code, law and order had been maintained in the whole of the kingdom.

The kingdom of Rakhine was divided into twelve prov- inces, each administered by a governor who pledged allegiance to the king.

It was the traditional obligation of the time for the governor of the provinces to build pagodas in the royal city of Mrauk-U.The people of Mrauk-U also offered very lavishly to religious causes. A pagoda, 400 feet to the east of Shitthaung Pagoda, was said to have been donated by a woman who sold fish-jelly, (Rakhine term Ngapithama). This pagoda has been known as Ngapithama Pagoda.

Monuments seem to overwhelm the landscape of the city of Mrauk-U. The whole city has numerous lakes, pagodas, traces of buildings and other vestiges indicating that it was the site of a once-important city. These monuments are of different sizes and of various types. They are in varying stages of preservation and disrepair.

Some of these have been repaired and restored by public donors. Most of them were demolished not by unruly people but by the tropical monsoon climate.

Nevertheless, these mounds of bricks here and there remind us of the site of the ancient Mrauk-U, once a splendid capital of Rakhine.

Read MORE <>>A GUIDE TO     MRAUK – U     An Ancient City of Rakhine, Myanmar by Tun Shwe Khine

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Author

U Shwe Zan is a native of Rakhine Slate Myanmar Naingngan. He passed B.Sc. from University of Yangon in 1952. Joined Burma (Myanmar) Civil Service (Sr.Br.) in 1954. Served as a Senior Branch Officer, Selection Grade Officer and Senior Administrative Officer in different posts at different places in the Union of Myanmar for 24 years.

Elected as a member of Rakhine State Peoples’ Council in 1978 and served as Secretary of State Council for two successive terms and Chairman of the State Judges Committee for the third term.

During tenure of his Slate Committee Service he look the responsibility of editorship and publisher of the Rakhine Stale Magazine issued in commemoration of the lOlh an-niversary of the Rakhine Stale and served as Chairman of the Publishing Committee of Mrauk-U Lan Hnyun(n guide to Mrauk-U) in 1988. Acted also as Chairman of the Compilation Committee of Rakiiine State Gazetteer comprising (5) volumes (unpublished).

THE GOLDEN MRAUK-U , An Ancient Capital of Rakhine

U Shwe Zan

Second Edition
1997

Mrauk-U is an ornament of the Rakbine culture. Its name suggests the fulfilment of endeavours. Between 1430 AD and 1785 AD it was the last capital of the powerful Rakhine kings where Rakhine culture had
its full bloom.

The golden days of Mrauk-U city, those of 16th and 17th centuries, were contemporary to the days of Tudor kings, the Moghuls, the Ayuthiya kings and Inwa, Taungoo and Hanthawaddy kings of Myanmar.

Mrauk-U was cosmopolitan city, fortified by a 30-kilometer long fortification and an intricate net of moats, and canals. At the centre of the city was the Royal Palace, looming high over the surrounding area like an Asian Acropolis. Waterways formed by canals and creeks earned the fame of distinct resemblance to Venice.

Mrauk-U offers some of the richest archaeological sites in South-East Asia. While Bagan is considered as the city ofpagodas,Mrauk-U, the last stronghold of the Mrauk.-U kings could be truly considered as the fortress city in Myanmar.

Mrauk-U’s rich heritage is evidenced by many magnificent monuments and pagodas as the massive Sbitethaung that houses a rich array of Lord Buddha’s previous lives and also the figurines of Rakhine culture of that period. The colossal Htukkant Thein, an ordination hall with several images exhibiting clothing popular in the 16th century, richly decorated central pillar of Anndaw Thein, auspicious Lemyathna Pagoda, coloured plaque Laung-bwannbrauk Pagoda, conical structures of victory pagodas

Mrauk-U is an ornament of the Rakbine culture. Its name suggests the fulfilment of endeavours. Between 1430 AD and 1785 AD it was the last capital of the powerful Rakhine kings where Rakhine culture had its full bloom.

The golden days of Mrauk-U city, those of 16th and 17th centuries, were contemporary to the days of Tudor kings, the Moghuls, the Ayuthiya kings and Inwa, Taungoo and Hanthawaddy kings of Myanmar.

Mrauk-U was cosmopolitan city, fortified by a 30-kilometer long fortification and an intricate net of moats, and canals. At the centre of the city was the Royal Palace, looming high over the surrounding area like an Asian Acropolis. Waterways formed by canals and creeks earned the fame of distinct resemblance to Venice.

Mrauk-U offers some of the richest archaeological sites in South-East Asia. While Bagan is considered as the city of pagodas,Mrauk-U, the last stronghold of the Mrauk.-U kings could be truly considered as the fortress city in Myanmar.

Mrauk-U’s rich heritage is evidenced by many magnificent monuments and pagodas as the massive Sbitethaung that houses a rich array of Lord Buddha’s previous lives and also the figurines of Rakhine culture of that period. The colossal Htukkant Thein, an ordination hall with several images exhibiting clothing popular in the 16th century, richly decorated central pillar of Anndaw Thein, auspicious Lemyathna Pagoda, coloured plaque Laung-bwannbrauk
Pagoda, conical structures of victory pagodas

Inscribe this cultural and historical book to my late parents-U Tha Zan Oo (Retired District and Sessions Judge) and Daw Ma Bu, and to my late elder brother Professor U San Tha Aung (former Director-General of Higher Education Department) in token of personal regard and of my sincere admiration for his learning and his works.

Read MORE <>> THE GOLDEN MRAUK-U , An Ancient Capital of Rakhine by U Shwe Zan


By Kyaw Tha Hla

Traditional Rakhine Thungran is celebrated on 13-17 April every year, it”s also known as the Water Festival. Traditionally there is a festival for each of the twelve months.

Thungran is on Tangu, the first lunar month of Rakhine calendar. Thungran means passing from one year to another. The New Year, Thungran Celebration, symbolizes the feast of washing away the old year clean.

Traditional Rakhine Thungran is held in three stages which are: incense – grinding, offering of water to Buddha images and holding the water festival. There are four days of holiday. All marketing and shopping are closed. Before the arrival of Thungran, everyone”s household must be cleaned. On 12th April, the eve of Thungran, young women prepare the scented water at night. To make the scented water, a piece of sandal-wood is rubbed with a little water added on the surface of a flat, circular stone plate surrounded by a sunken ring to collect the mixture. Young men come and join them accompanied by music and dance, and then they make beautiful bamboo trees with hanging things to offer to the monasteries. They are called the “Padetharpon”.On 13th April, the opening day of Thungran, young men-women, children and parents go to monasteries in lorries bringing scented water and “Padetharpon” (bamboo trees). When they arrive at the monastery compound the girls carry the water and the boys wash the Buddha images and statues, then offer scented water to the Buddha images. They go around from one monastery to another offering one “Padetharpon” to each monastery. Before bathing the Buddha no one is allowed to play with water. When they return home from visiting the monasteries, anyone can throw water at the lorries carrying people. The Water Festival starts the next day. In every suburb they make a beautiful pandal with wooden posts surrounded by toddy palm leaves hanging with green bunches of leaves and colourful flowers. In the middle of the pandal there is a wooden rowboat filled with water. In front of the boat there are benches in a single row which provide seats for the girls. A fence is placed three feet above the ground. It serves as the divider between males outside the pandal and females inside the pandal. Rakhine girls who are pandal members run the pandal. There are usually twenty to forty young girls at a pandal. The girls sit on the benches facing the boat, they wear the same colour and designed uniform. They all look alike from the rear. It is hard to tell the girls apart. The pandals open from 11.00am to 3.00pm.

The boys go around the city one pandal after another. The boy can choose the girl he likes as his mate and chat with her teasingly but politely. The boys come on foot and in the bullock carts with music instruments and utensil boards. Every group has to wait for its turn while the other group is enjoying the water festival in the pandal. While they are waiting for their turn, there is singing and dancing in the fore ground.
When the whistle blows, it means that the time is up. The next group takes the place opposite the girls of their choice. The boy invites the girl to join him for the water festival, he greets her with a cupful of water gently thrown her back.. The girl gets up and throws a bowl of water at him. He calls her “Maree”, sister-in-law, before he politely asks for some water. The girl fills his bucket with water. He takes a cup of water from his bucket and throws it at her. She throws him a bowl of water from the boat. They play face-to-face, faster and faster If some-one”s cup drops down or he/she wipes his/her face, that will be a looser, as must pay a fine. A group is allowed to enjoy themselves for about 15 minutes. There are whole pandals filled with water sparks. After the pandals close the members of the pandals go around the city in the lorries. The Water Festival Celebration goes for three days in the cities but in the countryside it”s celebrated until the end of the month.
During the Thungran days, every house cooks some traditional food and sends it to monasteries. Also they send food to relatives and neighbors then, everywhere is filled of music until midnight. On New Year Day, the cultural association group goes around, suburb to suburb, and gives respect to the oldest people by prayer, singing, dancing and presents. It is the most joyful celebration of the year. 

Mingalabar Shin!

Now, you’re going to enjoy the Rakhine traditional dance named “The Dance of Offering Oil-Lamps to Lord Buddha”.

All national races residing in the Union of Myanmar have their own traditions and customs respectively.

Through their traditions and customs, such various sectors as their religion, social and economy can be observed.
(more…)


In Myanmar, there are many ancient cities with high culture. Rakhine State, flourish with varieties of pagodas, is one of them.

Myauk-U, an ancient capital of Rakhine monarchs, is situated between Kalatan and Lay Myo Rivers. Being an Rakhine ancient capital city, there are many historical pagodas and religious and cultural edifices. In Myauk-U, there are countless numbers of ancient monasteries, ordination halls, public rest houses and pagodas revered by generation of Rakhine monarchs since 11th century. Shitthoung Pagoda was built by Rakhine King Minbagyi in 1536 AD and it was also known as Yan Aung Zeya Pagada. Shitthoung Pagoda is a significant one. The main pagoda, surrounded by a variety of satellite pagodas, was built on the five-tier cave. It resembles the pagodas of Wathali and Danyaweddi eras. Many carvings and relief were fully sculpted on the wall of the fourth-tier of the cave. These depict Buddha’s birth stories and the performance arts, sports and wearing styles of that era can be observed there.
(more…)


National races village in Thaketa Tawnship where the Rakhine Traditional Culture and Sports Festival held with a view to preserving the Rakhine Traditional Customs, the Rakhine people who lived in Yangon held this festival for the first time in Yangon. The ceremony was attended by the Rakhine elders in Yangon and was opened with traditional Rakhine dances.

There are “three” aims & objectives of holding this Rakhine culture and traditional sports festival. These are:-
(more…)


In Myanmar, there are many ancient cities with high culture. Rakhine State, flourish with varieties of pagodas, is one of them.

Myauk-U, an ancient capital of Rakhine monarchs, is situated between Kalatan and Lay Myo Rivers. Being an Rakhine ancient capital city, there are many historical pagodas and religious and cultural edifices. In Myauk-U, there are countless numbers of ancient monasteries, ordination halls, public rest houses and pagodas revered by generation of Rakhine monarchs since 11th century. Shitthoung Pagoda was built by Rakhine King Minbagyi in 1536 AD and it was also known as Yan Aung Zeya Pagada. Shitthoung Pagoda is a significant one. The main pagoda, surrounded by a variety of satellite pagodas, was built on the five-tier cave. It resembles the pagodas of Wathali and Danyaweddi eras. Many carvings and relief were fully sculpted on the wall of the fourth-tier of the cave. These depict Buddha’s birth stories and the performance arts, sports and wearing styles of that era can be observed there.

Architecturally, all the roofs are made with sand stone using wedging and arching methods. And the inner part of the cave is specially built for the good ventilation.

Another prominent pagoda is Htokkant Ordination Pahtodawgyi built by Rakhine King Min Phalaung in 1571-AD.

The significant point of it is that along the tunnel there are 146 inches where stone images of the Lord Buddha are placed. On either side of these small caves are sculpted statues of 16th Century Myauk-U era people and warriors in their original costume-styles.

The last but not the least is Andaw Ordination Pahtodawgyi built by Rakhine King Min Yaza in 1596-AD. The distinct point of it is that 6 stone sculptures of standing Buddha images are placed in the wall-mounted niches of the Pathodawgyi. These are the fine stone sculptures and various postures of standing Buddha images can also be observed there.

Among them, we’re going to present you celebrations of the festivals of Shitthoung Pagoda, Htokkant Ordination Pahtodawgyi and Andaw Ordination Pahtodawgyi.

Rakhine nationals have been celebrating traditional pagoda festivals in the Tagu Months annually and it is nearly 100th time celebration. Among them, the festivals of offering first crop to Lord Buddha, alms offering to the monks by the whole Township community and devotional offering to Rakhine traditional Myauk-U Shinma spirit, as well as Rakhine traditional tug-of-war contest, wrestling contest and regatta are well crowded with people.

The festival of offering first crop to Lord Buddha means that the Rakhine nationals cook their first and foremost crops in the early morning of the festival days and offer them to the Lord Buddha at the pagodas.

The second one is the festival of alms offering to the monks by the whole Township community. On the festival days, monks from the monasteries of the whole Myauk-U Township collectively go round the town to accept offerings of food. All the Township community, young and old alike, offer rice and provisions to the monks with deep generosity. It is to be enraptured, by observing the graceful scene of the procession of monks together with the pleasant sound of Rakhine traditional drums.

The third is the festival of devotional offering to Rakhine traditional Myauk-U Shinma spirit. At the festival, locals of Myauk-U Township paid respects to Myauk-U Shinma Spirit with the means to protect the local from every danger and harm and give success for the abundance of food. They also perform with songs and dances, portraying their wish for the spirit to be cool like water and fresh like flowers. Rakhine nationals’ customs of preserving their tradition can also be observed there.

The fourth one is Rakhine traditional tug-of-war contest. In the contest, groups or teams of Townships have to compete with all their might. It is also traditional sport event where two teams pull, with ropes, at opposite ends of a coach until one team drags the coach outside the designated boundary on the ground. Only when the participants have unity and unyielding spirit, will the team win the contest.

The fifth one is the festival of Rakhine traditional wrestling contest. “Kyin” or “Wrestling” is a kind of sport events come down from the period of ancient Rakhine Kings. Wrestling contest is the essence of Rakhine traditional festivals. “Kyin” is not a sport event to attack each other furiously and intentionally until the opponent is badly hurt, by kicking, beating up and fighting with force. It is a kind of sport event that one has to play with his strength and sporting prowess. On the other hand, it is a kind of wrestling in which a contestant has to wrestle his opponent to the floor using his might. There are many interesting places in Myauk-U which is rich with ancient cultural heritages. The festivals of the three prominent pagodas in Myauk-U are traditionally held on a grand scale for a week starting from the fullmoon day of Tagu. So, I’d like to invite you to visit Myauk-U of Rakhine State.

The last one is the festival of Rakhine traditional regatta. Being situated between Kalatan and Lay Myo rivers, Myauk-U ancient city has many water ways and there have been the Royal Navy Force of ancient Rakhine Kings. Warriors of the Royal Navy Force used to make maneuvers in the pre war periods and the festival of Rakhine traditional regatta comes out from such occasions. Only when all the oarsmen in the raising boat row with all their might and with all doing their bits in unison, will they win the race. Rakhine nationals hold regattas for the generations to be united and to preserve their tradition.
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