Mrauk U (Burmese: မြောက်ဦးမြို့; MLCTS: mrauk u: mrui., Burmese pronunciation: [mjaʊʔ ú mjo̰]; formerly Mrohaung) is an archaeologically important town in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. It is also the capital of Mrauk-U Township, a sub region of the Mrauk-U District. From 1430 until 1785, it was the capital of the Mrauk U Kingdom, the most important and powerful Rakhine (Arakanese) kingdom.
Mrauk U from Shwetaung pagoda
Map of Mrauk U with main temples
|Settled||16 November 1430|
|• Religions||Theravada Buddhism|
|Time zone||UTC+6.30 (MMT)|
Mrauk U lies roughly 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) east of the Kaladan River on the banks of its minor tributaries. The town is located on a small outcrop of the Rakhine Yoma on the eastern side of the Kaladan's alluvial plain. Thus, the surrounding countryside is hilly yet also contains a great deal of marshes, mangroves and lakes.
Mrauk U, like all of Rakhine State, is situated in a coastal tropical monsoon rainforest climate (Köppen Am) region. The town receives over 3,600 millimetres or 140 inches of rain a year from the Southwestern Monsoon, making it one of the wettest regions in Myanmar. The Monsoon season usually begins in late May and ends by mid October.
Although located in a tropical region, Mrauk U enjoys lower temperatures during the arid Northeastern Monsoon. From mid October to mid March during the Cool Season, temperatures can drop to 13 °C or 55.4 °F. This season coincides with the tourist season for Myanmar.
The rainfall on 19 July 2011 was nearly 24 centimetres (9.4 in), the highest for 33 years. There was flood because of continuous heavy rains in July 2011.
|Climate data for Mrauk U (1981-2010)|
|Average high °C (°F)||30.4
|Average low °C (°F)||12.1
|Average rainfall mm (inches)||4.6
|Source: Norwegian Meteorological Institute|
Some Rakhine scholars state that the name Mrauk U means 'The First Accomplishment' in archaic Arakanese. This is based on the story of the Arakanese being able to crush an invasion by the Pyu in the mid 10th Century by a Mro prince, Pai Phru. The town is said to be located roughly near the region where the Pyu invaders were decimated. The prince went on to claim the throne of Wethali from his uncle who had murdered the prince's father due to a love scandal. The battle was seen as the first accomplishment of the prince, and thus, the name 'First Accomplishment' came to be associated with the place.
A dismissed myth was that in the region where Mrauk U was to be constructed, lived a lonely female monkey. She met a peacock and the two later cohabited. The female monkey conceived with the peacock, and it laid an egg. A human son was born from the egg and he grew up to become a mighty prince. The prince later built a city near the jungle, and in respect of his birth story, the city was called Myauk-U meaning "Monkey's Egg".
In 1433, King Min Saw Mon established Mrauk U as the capital of the last unified Arakanese Kingdom. The city eventually reached a size of 160,000 in the early seventeenth century. Mrauk U served as the capital of the Mrauk U kingdom and its 49 kings till the conquest of the kingdom by the Burmese Konbaung Dynasty in 1784.
During British colonial rule, Mrauk U was known as Myohaung. The area was the site of fighting during the Arakan Campaign, in the latter part of the Second World War.
On 16 January 2018, Rakhine protesters rioted near a government building in Mrauk U after a ban was issued by local authorities on an event that commemorated the anniversary of the Kingdom of Mrauk U's dissolution. In response to protesters attempting to seize the government building, police fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing seven and wounding twelve.
Due to its proximity to the Bay of Bengal, Mrauk U developed into an important regional trade hub, acting as both a back door to the Burmese hinterland and also as an important port along the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. It became a transit point for goods such as rice, ivory, elephants, tree sap and deer hide from Ava in Myanmar, and of cotton, slaves, horses, cowrie, spices and textiles from Bengal, India, Persia and Arabia. Alongside Pegu and later Syriam, it was one of the most important ports in Myanmar up until the eighteenth century.
The city also traded with non-Asian powers such as Portugal and then the Dutch East India Company of the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) established trading relations with the Arakanese in 1608 after the Portuguese fell in favour due to the lack of loyalty of Portuguese mercenaries, such as Filipe de Brito e Nicote in the service of the Arakanese king. The VOC established a permanent factory in Mrauk U in 1635, and operated in Arakan till 1665.
At its zenith, Mrauk U was the centre of a kingdom which stretched from the shores of the Ganges river to the western reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy River. According to popular Arakanese legend, there were 12 'cities of the Ganges' which constitute roughly half of modern-day Bangladesh which were governed by Mrauk U, including Dhaka and Chittagong. During that period, its kings minted coins inscribed in Arakanese, Kufic and Bengali.
As Mrauk U and her kingdom prospered, the kings, ministers and peasants built many pagodas and temples around the town to reflect their faith. Thus, Mrauk U houses a rich collection of temples and pagodas second only to the Central Burmese town of Bagan, in Myanmar. Most of Mrauk U's temples were constructed of hewn stone bricks, unlike the mud and clay bricks of Bagan.
The most notable temples in Mrauk U are the Shite-thaung Temple (Temple of 80,000 Images or Temple of Victory), Htukkanthein Temple (Htukkan Ordination Hall), the Koe-thaung Temple (Temple of 90,000 Images) and the Five Mahn pagodas.
In 2017, an international commission urged Myanmar to nominate Mrauk U for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The proposal is backed by Kofi Annan and archaeologists are now cataloguing and protecting the city's many sites in preparation for nomination.
The following are some of the famous and noteworthy religious buildings in and around the town.
- Shite-thaung Temple
- Htukkanthein Temple
- Koe-thaung Temple
- Andaw-thein Ordination Hall
- Le-myet-hna Temple
- Five Man Pagodas
- Sanda Muni Temple
- Bandula Kyaung Monastery
Although Mrauk U is a primarily Buddhist site, there are several religious buildings of other faiths. The most notable would be the old Shindhikhan Mosque, built during Min Saw Mon's reign, in the southeast of the town. Friar Manrique also mentions the presence of a Roman Catholic church and a small number of converts and foreign born Catholics (including ronin who were forced out of Japan due to persecution by the shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu)
Today, Mrauk U is a major archaeological and tourist destination. The main attractions are the temples and ruins around the town. The remains of the main palace roughly form the centre of the town. The most popular mode for tourists to travel to Mrauk U is to take a domestic flight from Yangon to Sittwe and board a boat from Sittwe against the Kaladan River. The hotels in Mrauk U also arrange private boat services to and from Sittwe.
Mrauk U was housing a growing tourist industry, after becoming a reachable tourist destination. In 2019, tourism suffered a setback after two British tourists witnessed warfare at the Koe-thaung Temple. Travellers have been advised to avoid visiting the temple ever since.[self-published source]
Although a tourist destination, most of Mrauk U has very basic infrastructure. It has a Township hospital, a Basic Education High School and a market. Like much of Rakhine state and the whole of Myanmar, Mrauk U has 24-hour electricity.
Ruins of Portuguese Trade Office
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