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Rakhine State


NGAPALI BEACH

Who does not dream of a breathtaking white, unspoiled beach with crystal-clear water? A 45 minutes flight from Yangon (or a 13 hour drive via Pyay - as you wish!) will bring you to the Bay of Bengal, where you can spend wonderful vacations away from the main tourist spots. From a recently built first-class hotel including 24 hour electricity to budget accommodations - you may choose according to your taste. No time to get bored! There are more mosques than pagodas to be visited, fishing villages nearby and of course a big market, popular for its dried fish, in


Mermaid statue at ngapali beach, rakhine state, myanmar
Ngapali Beach


THANDWE,

a sleepy town until 1989 named Sandoway and the oldest "city state" of Rakhine. Not only Lord Buddha spent some of his life on the hills surrounding Thandwe but also Mr. George Orwell - to whom we owe "Burmese Days" - had to serve some of his time here as a colonial officer for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria of England.

 


Sandoway
SITTWE
One hour flight from Yangon, the capital of Rakhine State does not offer the white, white beach. Here the beach is black with water as clear as in Ngapali. It is worthwile to visit some of the pagodas, the Mahakuthala Monastery and the Cultural and Buddha Museum with exceptional collections of ancient sculptures, copies of old works of arts, bronze and old coins. 

Sunset from point at Sittwe

Once one of the most beautiful and prosperous ports of Myanmar, Sittwe nowadays is the gateway to

MRAUK OO,
which is still not accessible by road.

A beautiful 6 hours' boat ride on the Caladan River will bring you to this historical site where you will be witness to a mute evidence of the former glory of Rakhine State!
HOW TO GET THERE
By private chartered boat on the Kiccepanadi River (appr. 5-6 hours). You can also drive by car from Sittwe via Ponnakyun and Kyauktaw to Mrauk Oo (appr. 3-4 hours). As we do not recommend to drive by boat at night we arrange a car from Sittwe to Mrauk Oo and take the boat back to Sittwe.
SHITTAUNG TEMPLE
Shitthaung or "temple of the 80,000 Buddhas" was built by one of the most powerful kings of the Mrauk-Oo Dynasty, called by the people, Minbargyi. King Minbin who reigned from 1513 to 1553 built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack on the City of Mrauk Oo.

The skill and art displayed in its construction and ornamentation are remarkable. Besides, you may observe here about the maze-like layout of this pagoda. In the accounts of this curious plan, some foreigners remarked that the Shitthaung Temple was built alike a fortress. The real purpose of the temple was for prayer, some rituals of initiation, and some of the King's ceremonies, which were usually held secretly. It was constructed six feet thick of solid sandstone and like "rock cave tunnel". No mortar was used in the construction and stones were connected with stone brackets. It is believed that 84,000 of the Buddha's relics with the same number of the Lord's images are enshrined in it. People who entered the tunnels of the temple felt that they were actually inside an endless tunnel.


Shit-Thaung Temple in Mrauk Oo

 

DUKKANTHEIN TEMPLE
The Dukkan (or Htukkan) temple stands on a hill, 30 feet high, having a flat surface like that of a drum. King Minphalaung built the pagoda in 1571 A.D. Like the Shitthaung and the Andaw shrines, Dukkanthein was built of hewn sandstones and layers of bricks over the roof. It measures 190 feet from north to south and 200 feet from east to west. It is reached by stone stairways, 8' broad, situated on the east and south.

These stairways measuring 106 feet are built of massive stonewalls on the north, east and south. The west one which is slightly convex is connected to an oblong chamber.

The temple entrance on the east side, closer to the south-east corner, leads to a long vaulted passage which spirals up in two tiers till it reaches the central chamber. The superstructure, a bell-shaped dome on receding terraces, is similar to the one on Shitthaung, but here a tall square arch is provided on the east side to admit light into the central chamber. The inner chambers and passages of the temple are constructed with well fitting and cemented stones. The pagoda is well-known for the stone sculptures in the vaulted passages, es¬pecially the figures of seated ladies, with different styles of coiffure, in the manner of offering lotus buds to the Buddha. Traditionally it is said that there are sixty-four kinds of hairstyle and all the figures are of the wives of noblemen. Besides, on both sides of the entire passage, niches of 1˝ feet broad, 1 foot deep, and 2 feet high are dug at regular intervals of 20 feet in the wall and each contains a stone image of the Buddha in sitting posture. There are one hundred and forty-six niches along the passage.

KOETHAUNG TEMPLE
The name means 90,000 and probably signified the number of Buddha images it was supposed to contain. It was built by King Min Taikkha, the son of King Min Bin who built the Shitthaung or temple of 80,000 images, so the son exceeded the father by 10,000! It is the biggest temple in the Mrauk Oo area. Like the Shitthaung, this temple is also a massive fortress-like structure built with stone walls and terraces. There are 108 smaller pagodas surrounding it, all made of sandstone. With a winding corridor it is like a cave tunnel which you have to traverse until you reach the central chamber. The inner gallery has collapsed and is no longer accessible. There is an octagonal pagoda in the middle surrounded by over one hundred smaller pagodas. Unlike some of the other temples, not only sandstone, but bricks were also used.

LAYMYETNHA PAGODA
Was built by the first king of Mrauk Oo Dynasty in 1430 A.D. It is one of the five pagodas built at the beginning of the establishment of the city. It is a square structure, with a long protruding portal towards each cardinal point. The interior room is octagonal. In the center of the latter there is an octahedral column intended to support the circular tower erected over the center of the roof. Over each of the four corners of the terrace a smaller circular stupa was built. Each side of the square of the shrine measures 55'; the portals are 13' broad and protrude 17' into the platform.
The central tower is circular and has the shape of a dome, with a circumference of 80 feet at the base and is 70 feet high. There are 28 Buddha images as mentioned in the Sambuddha scripture.

PITAKATAIK
Situated close to Htupayon Pagoda and south of Shinkite wall was built by King Mong Phalaung. It was square in plan with an entrance passage to the east like others pagoda in Mrauk Oo. Built entirely with stone, the outer walls are decorated with ornate floral and geometric design. It is said that there were 33 Pitakataiks, built in Mrauk Oo. The little library or Pitaka-taik, the Repository for the Buddhist scriptures was built in 1591 also by King Min Phalaung. It measures only 14 feet from east to west, 10 feet from north to south and is only 9 feet in height. Built entirely of stone there are lovely designs on the outer walls making it look like a tiny jeweled casket shaped like a blooming lotus. There were 48 libraries in Mrauk Oo, but only this one is preserved, though it is sometimes obscured by thickets of bushes and partly covered by moss and weeds which flourish in the 200" of annual rainfall in the region. This library is reputed to have housed 30 sets of the Buddhist Tipitaka which King Narapatigyi (1638-1645) received from Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it acquired an unpleasant appellation due to its dark windowless interior.

RATANABON PAGODA
Was built by Minkhamaung and his chief queen Shin Htway in A.D 1612. The main edifice is circular at the base, measures 365 in circumference, and is constructed of huge blocks of sandstone; it rises in a number of concentric tiers, of which the upper portion recedes from the one lying beneath it, to a height of about 200 feet. The uppermost portion has fallen down. During the Second World War, a bomb hit the Ratanabon Pagoda, and a half of the main structure was damaged. There are no entrances, niches, arches, nor ornamentation of any kind, not even an image could be found. At a distance of eight feet from the central stupa rises a brick wall 4' high and 2' thick, which encompasses the pagoda in circle; then follows a row of 24 small circular pagodas, built of brick. They are now all in ruin. This pagoda resembles a huge bell. The whole structure is enclosed by an octagonal wall 8-10' thick, with an entrance at the south. A lion made of sandstone protects each of the four corners of the outer pagoda walls.

The temple court is in ruins. The building is impressive by its massiveness. Its architecture pattern resembles an ordinary pagoda, like Sanchi in India. But the bareness of decorative designs and the absence of structural ornamentations characterize it as peculiarly Rakhine. Traditionally it is believed that the pagoda was built for the purpose of acquiring or securing treasures, both mundane and spiritual. (Ratana means "treasure", "bon" means to gather, to accumulate.)

SAKKYAR MAN AUNG PAGODA
King Sri Suddhamma Raja built the Sakkyar Man Aung Pagoda in A.D 1693. It is located in the south of Yadanar Man Aung Pagoda. This Pagoda is known to be one of the five most revered pagodas in Mrauk Oo. The pagoda was built with stones instead of bricks. The architecture of the pagoda is in the form of lotus flower. There are 12 small pagodas surrounding the main Sakkyar Man Aung Pagoda. The dimension of the Pagoda is 240 feet and the height is about 114 feet.

There are two statues of Orges guarding the pagoda. The sculptural arts of these two images are of rare artists. Also there are two statues of Nats, paying respect to Buddha.

ZINE MAN AUNG PAGODA
Is located on top of the Pandein Taung hill andwas built and donated by King Sanda Thuddhamma during A.D 1652. The structure of the pagoda is octagonal in shape. At the base, there is a mouse with two bodies and a head. On the higher level, there are two more mice.

WETHALI (VESALI), A CITY OF TRADERS:
The ancient city of Wethali was founded by King Dvan Sandra in 327 A.D. It is about 8 km to the north of Mrauk Oo. By jeep it takes about half an hour from Mrauk Oo to Wethali. The Great Wethali Payagyi, the 17 feet high Buddha image is said to be made from a single piece of boulder. Chronicles say that it was donated by Queen Thupaba-Devi, the Chief Queen of King Maha Taing Candra, the founder of Vesali. This ancient Buddha image in the Bhumi-sparsa or Earth-touching Mudra, is one of the oldest Buddha images in the whole country, but unfortunately the original features have been largely lost due to later renovation.

Old brick walls of the city can still be traced and the archaeological department has excavated five sites so far. Stone sculptures, coins and many stone artifacts were unearthed and are now in display at Mrauk Oo museum and some monasteries at Mrauk Oo.

Dating from 327 to 1018 A.D, Vesali is pre-Bagan and contemporaneous with Pyu cities like Beithano and Hanlin in central Myanmar. Excavations carried out in 1980 to 1984 revealed some Buddhist religious buildings, one probably an ordination hall or sima, and also parts of the city wall and sandstone inscriptions. The Ananda Candra pillar inscription now housed in the Shit-thaung Pagoda of Mrauk Oo was originally from Vesali and records about twenty Kings who ruled there. Vesali is undoubtedly one of the earliest Buddhist cities in Myanmar. There are also some ancient Vishnu Images of 6th century within the Wethali village. Visitors go up the 510 feet mound near the old Abaungdaw moat to Thaung-gyatt-taw (or frontlet Relic) Pagoda for a panoramic view of the old city now covered by forest trees with a couple of village lying in between some farm land.

MAHAMUNI SHRINE (DYANNYAWADI)
According to Rakhine chronicles, Lord Buddha in his life time visited the city of Dhannyawadi (Grain Blessed) in 554 B.C. The Rakhine king Sandar Suriya (Sun Moon) requested Lord Buddha to leave the image of him. This Buddhist shrine is one of the most revered sites in the whole country as the Maha Muni Buddha Image is believed to have been cast in bronze and five kinds of precious metals by Sakka or Indra the Lord of the Celestial Realm. After casting the Great Image Maha Muni (Great Sage) Lord Buddha breathed upon it which resembled the exact likeness of the Blessed One. Maha Muni was worshipped by Rakhine kings for centuries and regarded as a protector of the country. In 1784 A.D, Rakhineland was conquered by King Bodaw Paya and the Great Image was carried across the Rakhine Yoma to Amarapura (now Mandalay).

In the main shrine on the topmost level are three very old stone images of Buddha. The central image four feet, two inches high is known as Maha Muni's brother. The shrine is a peaceful, quiet place about 10 km east of Kyauktaw town and about 40 km north of Mrauk Oo. It is on a small hillock called Sirigutta surrounded by three low walls on three successive terraces, the main shrine built on the highest platform. On the lowest platform is an old library built by king Minkhari in AD 1439; it is a rare example of a library from this early period Also a large tank dug by king Sandasuriya can be seen in the vicinity. In the year 1900, a rich man from Akyab (Sittwe), U Rai Kyaw Thu cast an image and installed it at the former place of the Great Image. Up to this day, Maha Muni site has become the most venerated site in Myanmar and the former glory has again been restored due to the new highway linking Yangon and Sittwe. Mahamuni Site now can be reached by car either from Sittwe or Mrauk Oo. Throughout the year, pilgrims flocked to visit from all parts of Rakhine State as well as devotees from different parts of Myanmar. There is a small museum near the shrine which displays some oldest stone.

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© 1999 Myriam Grest Thein