Structures of Mandalay Palace
The First Seven Structure of Mandalay by U Thaw Kaung
On 13 January 1857 King Mindon (1853-1878) issued a Royal Order to move the capital from Amarapura to Mandalay which was to become the last seat of the Myanmar royalty.
Although the order to shift his royal city to Mandalay was issued in 1857 it took a little over a year to begin the actual construction as a lot of preparatory work had to be carried out for such a big task. Mandalay is the well-planned city with straight roads crossing each other at right angles. It was only on 22 May 1858 that the foundations of the first seven structures were laid all simultaneously on that same auspicious day in ceremonies attended by the ministers and the people. These seven structures were;
- The Royal Palace
- The Moat and Wall for the Royal City
- The Royal Monastery – the Atumashi (Maha Atula Wayan)
- The Royal Pagoda – the Maha Lawka Marazein or the Kuthodaw
- The Royal Congregation Halls for Buddhist monks – the Thudhamma Zayats
- The Royal Library – Pataka Taik Taw
- The Royal Ordination Hall – Thein Taw
The seven structures were all auspicious buildings and appurtenances of Myanmar Buddhist kings and even from King Bayinnaung’s (1551-1581) time they had been constructed to mark a Royal Capital.
Mandalay took her name from the Mandalay Hill, but during the Myanmar king’s time, her official title was “Yadanabon” meaning a heap of jewels. It was the capital for 27 years till 1886 when the British annexed our country and shifted the capital to what was then called Rangoon (or Yangon to give its correct name).
The Royal Palace rose in splendor right in the center of the royal city and protected by an inner stockade built of strong teak posts. An auspicious title was given to the Royal Palace and it was called Mya Nan San Kyaw. It was built on a raised platform of about 11 feet in height, 1004 feet from east to west and 574 feet from north to south.
The grandeur of the Palace was noted by Grattan Geary, the editor of the Bombay Gazette who visited Mandalay in December 1885. He described the beauty of the Palace thus:
“The Hall of Audience is the finest structure of all that goes to make up the totality of the palace. A beautiful pinnacle of wonderful lightness and grace surrounds it…”.
“The Palace consists of a series of pavilions and other buildings, differing in size and detail, but all composed of teak, elaborately carved, and painted red when not covered with gilding…”
“The ingenuity of the designer and the skill of the workmen give variety and interest to every varying detail. There is no monotony, and no straining after the grandiose.”
Between 1886 and 1945 the Royal Palace suffered much degradation. It was turned into quarters for the British troops, some of the best rooms being used as an Officer’s Club.
Finally, at the Japanese retreat, the Allies bombed the palace on 17 March 1945 there was also artillery fire and the whole palace complex built largely of inflammable timber went up in smoke.
Out of the 114 buildings which existed in 1886, 89 buildings were reconstructed. The reconstruction work was completed on 18 September 1996. Now the Myanmar people and foreign visitors can once more view the palace buildings as they once stood.
The Moat with a width of 225 feet and 11 feet in depth has been completely dredged and concrete embankments constructed on all four sides. It is fed by a stream called Yadana Nadi, now popularly known as the Ye-ni Myaung. The repairing of the moat was completed in 1995.
A battlemented brick and mud mortar Wall surrounds the square-shaped central Royal City with about 10 furlongs in length on each side. It is quite a high wall of 25 feet backed by an earthen rampart. On each side of the wall, there are three gates, all at equal distances from each other. These 12 gates are surmounted by Myanmar Pyatthat (many-tiered spire-like wooden roofs). There is also a Pyatthat at each corner of the wall and 32 small Pyatthats making a total of 48. All the Pyatthats, gates and walls and the five bridges going over the moat have been repaired. The unsightly railway by the British crossing the moat and going through holes in the wall over the sacred ground to Madaya north of Mandalay has now been removed so that visitors can really enjoy the original beauty of the moat, wall, battlement and the wooden Pyatthat roofs on the gates and the wall.
The Royal Monastery is called popularly Atumashi or “the Incomparable”, its official title being Maha Atula Wayan Kyaung Daw Gyi. This magnificent monastery had taken about 18 years to build, and King Mindon, its donor placed his father’s throne there with a huge image of the Buddha adorned by a big 32-carat diamond. As befitting its name it was a most unusual structure, unlike any other monastery in Myanmar. One can see the influence of the West, the wood covered with stucco on the outside and its peculiar superstructure of five graduated rectangular terraces imitating in brick and mortar a kind of Myanmar Pyatthat.
Sad to say that the whole building was razed to the ground in December 1890, a few years after Annexation. An unknown visitor quoted by Scott O’Connor has given us the following impressions:
“It would be no great stretch of the truth to say that it is the finest in the world… The boldness of the general design, the noble proportions of the immense hall, and the great height of the golden roof soaring over the throne… fill the mind with surprise and pleasure. Pillars, wall, and roof are richly gilt, glass inlaying heightening the brilliance.”
The Royal Monastery was huge, 339 feet from east to west, 281 feet from north to south, in height 100 feet. For over 100 years it lay in ruins until October 1994 when it was rebuilt within 18 months and opened on 18 September 1996. The vast hall is now again being used for Buddhist ceremonies as in the Myanmar king’s time.
The Royal Pagoda popularly known as the Kuthodaw was given the official title Maha Lawka Marazein. It was modeled on the Shwezigon Pagoda at Bagan. This pagoda is often called “the largest library in the world” because it is surrounded by 729 small stupas each protecting a stone slab inscription, the total 729 lithic inscriptions comprising the whole of the Buddhist canon, the Tipitaka as checked and approved by the Fifth Great Synod which King Mindon convened to mark the 2,400 years of the Buddhist Era. This unique collection is often consulted by Buddhist scholars from all over the world. From September 1996 renovation work has been carried out at this pagoda, to repair the covered ways and a new covered Zaung-dan built to the south. Also, marble slabs have been laid on the Pagoda platform, the wall enclosures repaired, the small stupas repainted and so on.
The 18 large, open Royal Congregation Halls, the Thudhamma Zayats built of teak wood, can be seen to the north of the palace compound, near the foot of the Mandalay Hill. They are still in a fairly good state of preservation as they have been repaired every now and then.
Of the seven structures built to mark the foundation of Mandalay, not much is known now about the Pitaka Taik Taw, the Royal Library except that it was at the foot of Mandalay Hill near the Kuthodaw. The Thein Taw, the Royal Ordination Hall, has also disappeared. Maybe they too will rise like a phoenix from the ashes one day. Meanwhile, visitors can see and admire the five structures which are now in their original splendor.