Taungdwingyi, an old town where writers flourished by U Thaw Kaung
In September 1997, the railway line from Yangon to Pyay was linked with the Taungdwingyi line going northwards to Bagan. With the extension of this 90 miles stretch between Pyay and Hsatthwa just south of Taungdwingyi it is now quite convenient to go by railway from Yangon to Taungdwingyi and from there travel by car 12 miles west to the ancient Pyu city of Beikthano, the old “Vishnu City”.
It is also possible to go by car or bus from Yangon to Taungdwingyi. Tourists can stopover in Pyay to visit another famous Pyu site Thayekhittaya ( Sri K Setra ) nearby. From Taungdwingyi it is only a few hours north to Bagan by car or railway.
Tourists can now visit the ancient historical cities of Myanmar by rail or car from Yangon to Bagan and onwards to Mandalay and back, doing a round trip seeing different places on the way out and coming back.
From Yangon to Taungdwingyi it is 280 miles by road. It is a typical central Myanmar town whose legendary history links it with the time before Lord Buddha, and at least to the early years of this millennium. Like most old towns in Myanmar, the secular buildings are mainly of this century and only the religious edifices like pagodas and monasteries dating back to the early years.
The name “Taungdwingyi” means “a big plain or depression among hills or mountains”. It is a fitting description of the geographical location of Taungdwingyi which is in an extensive plain surrounded by the long Min Wun range of Yoma hills on the east, Taung Nyo to the south, Kho Taung to the west and Popa Taung to the far north.
According to the legendary history, Taungdwingyi was founded in Myanmar Era 191 (A.D. 829) by four kings named respectively Min Pyaung, Min Yaung, Min Naung, and Min Naga. Apart from the name Taungdwingyi, the town has three other names, viz. Zeyarwaphuna, Ponnawaddi, and Yadana Tin Tein.
Land of Writers
In Myanmar’s literature, Taungdwingyi is famous as the birthplace of several well-known poets and writers. Four famous classical Myanmar authors knew collectively as Pe Lei Bin, Shin Lei Ba all flourished in Taungdwingyi in the late 15th and early 16th centuries during the First Innwa Period. They were all learned monks, and their names were Shin Maha Thilawantha ( A.D. 1453-1518 ), Shin Ohn Nyo, Shin Ottama Kyaw, and Shin Khema. Of these four authors, Shin Maha Thilawuntha became so famous that he rivaled the monk author of the Innwa ( Ava ) Court, Shin Maha Rathtathara. Even now the Thein ( Sima ) Ordination Hall where Shin Maha Thilawuntha was ordinated as a monk, and the nearby pagoda marking the place where his cremated bones and the ashes were enshrined, can still be seen to the northwest of the Royal Lake at Taungdwingyi.
Another famous monk author who once lived in Taungdwingyi was Khin Gyi Phyaw, the Taungdwingyi Sayadaw ( A.D. 1724-1762 ). He wrote many treatises in Myanmar and Pali which are still studied today. He went to the Innwa Court and later to Sagaing when it was the capital for a short period during the time of King Naungdawgyi, the eldest son of the King Alaungphaya, the founder of the Konbaung Dynasty.
A contemporary of this author was the Taungdwingyi Min Kyaung Sayadaw who wrote the commentary to the well-known Kandawmin Kyaung Myittasa.
In modern times also Taungdwingyi has produced some well-known authors like the unorthodox monk writer Shin Ukkahta and author Aung Thin who still writes many books and articles up to now.
Shwe Inn Daung Pagoda is well worth visiting as it has a unique shape, a stupa with five terraces. Shwe means “Golden”, the inn in Myanmar means a “lake” and daung means “hill”, so the name of the pagoda means the “Golden Pagoda on a Hill in a Lake”, which aptly describes its location. There is only one other location with the same name of Shwe Inn Daung, and it is located near Yauk Sauk or Ba Htoo Myo in the Southern Shan State. Both lakes at one time were full of colorful water Lillies and wild waterfowl.
The other title for this Pagoda is Zeyya Mingala. There is a legend explaining how the pagoda got this Pali title meaning “Auspicious Victory”. In the old days, there were rebel enemies to the west of Taungdwingyi and they were repelled by forces led by Rakhine minister named Nga Shwe Ya. As the minister and the troops were about to go to battle they went and prayed at the Shwe Inn Daung Pagoda. At that time a man not quite right in the head came and shouted a gibberish chant which included the words “Mingala” and “Aung Lan” meaning “Flag of Victory”. When the king heard of this, he asked his wise minister Widura Kyaw Khaung to interpret the meaningless chant and the minister told him that it meant “Zeya Mingala”, one of the titles of the Lord Buddha and that this title should be given to this pagoda, and a special flag made and inscribed with this title in gold ink. All this was done and victory over all enemies was swiftly accomplished. Leading up to the pagoda is a long Ta Zaung whose pillars are decorated with Myanmar glass mosaic of beautiful traditional patterns. Legend says that it was built around A.D. 996 or even earlier, over a thousand years ago. Tourists should see the old stone stairways on all four sides of this pagoda constructed without any cement, the stones fitting perfectly.
There is also, an Arakanese Pagoda called Rakhine Hpayagyi, built on a small hill by King Min Pyaung. Legend says that soldiers returning from Rakhine contributed a brick for building this pagoda. Another version of the legend as given in the History of Taungdwingyi says that the Chief Queen Maha Nu Mala Yadana Dewi built this pagoda with the help of 1,000 soldiers and retainers brought from Rakhine whom she fed, gave gold, silver, and cloth and looking after their needs, they were able to complete this huge pagoda in six months. Later kings repaired it. Within the last 100 years also it has been renovated several times, but even today the rebuilding is still unfinished.
Other pagodas in this town are Shwe Bon Tha Pagoda, Shwe Maw Daw, Le Kyun Aung Mye, Mwe Daw Shin, Gu Gyi, Gu Phyu, Gu Toke, Yadana Beikman, Atwin Sigon, Phaung Daw Oo, and several others which have traditional Myanmar architectural styles and motifs.
Formerly there was an interesting Cultural Museum in Taungdwingyi which was unfortunately destroyed in the huge fire which broke out in 1981. Although the town has been rebuilt, the cultural heritage of the area collected and displayed in the museum were all lost, except for the precious palm-leaf manuscripts collection which had been brought down to Yangon to be preserved in the National Museum.
Near Taungdwingyi are some depressions in the ground filled with a kind of dross, scum formed from supposedly molten silver. The local people say that many centuries ago an adventurer from Europe named Nga Zinga came to Taungdwingyi and found a method of extracting silver from the rocks found in the neighborhood. Each day Nga Zinga smelted and got a heap of silver as big as a female elephant’s head.
King Thihapati wanted to get this technique of smelting so that he could donate lavishly to the poor and to build religious edifices. He, therefore, married his lovely daughter Daw Monsi to this foreigner. After the King learned about the technique of smelting, his minister Kyaw Htin advised him to separate his daughter from Nga Zinga and to kill him. But the king with truth and loyalty said kings should not go back on their words for all the gold in Jampudipa, the earth where we all live. Visitors can still see what is said to be the residue of melted rocks after the silver had been extracted. Is this Nga Zinga the same as the infamous Philip De Brito who became ruler of Thanlyin ( Syriam ) for a brief period in the early 16th century? No one knows for sure and further research needs to be done.
Taungdwingyi is a place to visit for those who are interested in Myanmar literature, culture, and history. Visitors can stay in Taungdwingyi and visit Beikthano nearby or can stopover on their way to Bagan. It is still unspoiled and typically Myanmar, a tranquil town of traditional beauty, art and culture and friendly people.