Mrauk U is the old capital of Rakhine (Arakan). The city was first founded by King Min Saw Mon in the 15th century, and remained as the capital of the Arkan Empire for 355 years. Word of the Golden city of Mrauk U spread in Europe as a city of oriental splendor after Friar Sebastian Manrique visited the region in early 17th century. Father Manrique's vivid account of the coronation of King Thiri Thudhamma and the Rakhine Court intrigued several explorers and authors. Maurice Collis, an English author, wrote a book about Mrauk U called, “The Land of the Great Image” based on Friar Manrique's travels.
It is very convenient to travel to Mrauk U from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, since it is only 45 miles away. From Yangon there are daily flights to Sittwe, and there are small private boats as well as larger public boats that travel Kaladan River to Mrauk U.
The city area also used to have a network of canals in older days. Mrauk U maintains a small archaeological Museum near its Palace site which is located in the center of town. As a prominent capital of the Arkan Emprie, Mrauk U was carefully built on a strategic location by levelling three small hills. The pagodas are strategically located on hilltops and served as fortresses when under enemy siege.
There are innumerable pagodas and Buddha images all over the old city and the surrounding hills. The Mahamuni Buddha Image, which is now in Mandalay, was originally cast and venerated some 15 miles away from Mrauk U and is flanked by two other Buddha images. Some of these ancient pagodas are still being used as places of worship today, but many of them remain in ruins. The archaeological site of Vassali, another ancient capital which flourished during the 7th and the 10th centuries is located just 8 km from Mrauk U.
The Shitthaung or "Temple of the 80,000 Buddhas" is located about half a mile to the north of the royal palace in Mrauk U. It was built by one of the most powerful kings of the Mrauk-U Dynasty known as Minbargyi. According to records on various inscriptions in the pagoda, King Minbin reigned from AD 1513 to 1553 and built this fortress-temple after repulsing a Portuguese attack on the city of Mrauk U. The level of art and skill that went into the construction and ornamentation of the pagoda is remarkable, and the entire layout of the pagoda looks like a maze. Portuguese survivors made remarks saying that the Shitthaung Pagoda was built like a fortress. However, the real purpose of the pagoda was for prayer, rituals of initiation, and royal ceremonies that were held in secret. The pagoda was constructed using six feet thick sand stone making it look like some sort of a rock cave. No mortar was used in the construction and stones were connected using more stones.
Htukkan (or Dukkhan) Thein is located about 300 feet north-west of Shitthaung Pagoda. It was built in AD 1571 by King Min Phalaun, and lies on a hillock 30 feet high with two stone stair ways on the east and south. Although, it was a former ordination hall, it is now one of the most well-known pagodas in Mrauk-U. There is a long vaulted passageway which leads to the central shrine room, and this room is said to be the place where the Buddhist Archbishop used to sit while discussing religious affairs with senior monks. There are several sculptures of ladies sporting ancient hair-styles and clothing among many other interesting figures which represents various aspects of Arkan culture.
Standing on a plain of rice fields is the Koethaung Pagoda. The name means ‘Ninety thousand’ which probably signified the number of Buddha images it was supposed to have. The Pagoda was built by King Min Taikkha, the son of King Min Bin (the King who built the Shitthaung or Temple of 80,000 images) and is the biggest pagoda in the Mrauk-U area. Like the Shitthaung, this pagoda is also a massive fortress-like structure built with stone walls and terraces. It has a winding corridor that descends into a cave tunnel which you have to traverse until you reach the central chamber. Today, the collapsed inner gallery is no longer accessible; however, there is an octagonal pagoda in the middle of the structure surrounded by over one hundred smaller pagodas which can be visited.
Laymyetnha Pagoda was built by King Min Saw Mon in AD 1430, and is considered as one of the original pagodas constructed at the beginning of Mrauk U. The name of the Pagoda means "Four Faced" as there are four entrances to this square sandstone structure and the central stupa is 80 feet high. There are 28 Buddha images in the pagoda as mentioned in the Sambuddha scripture.
The Andaw (meaning the tooth relic of Buddha) is a pagoda that is located 86 feet to the northeast of the Shitthaung Pagoda. This shrine was originally built by Min Hla Raza in AD 1521. The central tower of the shrine contains the tooth-relic of Buddha obtained from Sri Lanka by King Minbin. The shrine is an octagonal structure made out of pure sandstone with two internal octangular concentric passages. Fifteen smaller circular pagodas built out of bricks stand on all four corners of the shrine. There is also a prayer hall on the east end side of the pagoda where devotees can be seen meditating.
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