The second-last king of the Konbaung dynasty, which was first established, great-great grandson of the founder King Alaungpaya, who united the country into the Third Myanmar Empire. His predecessor and elder brother King Bagan was ruling from the capital of Amarapura, when he lost the southern lands of Myanmar to the British after the second Anglo Burmese war of 1852. By the next year, Mindon had taken over the throne, keeping his incompetent brother and deposed king in luxurious confinement. By 1859, he had decided to shift the capital to a large area of scrubland at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The official name of the new capital was “Yadanabon” but most call it Mandalay after the famous his overlooking the city, a green crest rising out of the flat plains on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River.
Another famous site that existed before the founding of the capital is the Mahamuni Pagoda, enshrined with a 13ft high effigy of Buddha cast in bronze. The Mahamuni image is second only to the Show Dagon Pagoda in importance as a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. It has so often been gilded that the torso has lot all its proportions with only the face remaining unchanged. Every morning at dawn a mystical ceremony of washing the face takes place, attended by hundreds of devotees.
King Mindon built a great many monasteries and pagodas. He was the patron of the Fifth Buddhist Synod a position which he held from 1860 to 1868.
After this great event, he erected 729 marble slabs incised with the entire Buddhist text, each slab in its own pavilion, at the Kuthodaw Pagoda which became known as the largest book in the world. Another of his merits is the Atumashi Monastery, a great monument to Buddhism that was also destroyed by the bombs of WWII but was rebuilt. It once enshrined a huge Buddha image made of lacquer, together with King Mindon’s clothes. A huge solitaire set in the forehead, was stolen when the British took over the whole of Myanmar in 1885, during the futile rule to his son King Thibaw.
His beautiful palace was destroyed during World War II, after being used as offices and social clubs by the British but replica has been built in its place. The only pavilion saved, was one where King Mindon lived and passed away, which was taken apart and rebuilt outside of the palace walls and donated to a monastery. Today this Golden Palace Monastery has lost its thickly crusted exterior gilt of gold to the elements, but the carvings and the thick layers of gold within the interior walls and ceilings remain as they had been at the great king’s passing.
The ancient capital, now a busy trade center is surrounded by places of serenity such as Inwa an old capital now shelters beautiful ruined pagodas and graceful Buddha images almost hidden in thick toddy palm groves.
Still encircled in part by old city walls, Inwa is now a fertile farmland as it is bordered on three sides by two rivers and a canal. Another Charming place is the mile long U-Pein Bridge. It spans the Taung Thaman Lake in the old capital, Amarapura and is constructed entirely of teak. It has been in existence for over 200 years and is the longest teak span in the world. Amarapura is also the centre the traditional crafts where carvers, casters and weavers have their ateliers. Silk woven with a hundred or more shuttles is one famous product of this region, the requisite formal wear for society women. By now Mandalay’s suburbs had spread out so quickly that Amarapura became part of Mandalay.
Sagaing across the Ayeyarwaddy River was once a capital city, but now it is a religious sanctuary with hundreds of monasteries and nunneries, most of them in stunning colonial architecture. Beyond Sagaing is the immense Mingun Pagoda, Left only one-third finished in 1819 at a staggering height of 162 feet. The biggest ringing and uncracked hanging bell in the world weighing 90 tones, which was cast for the Mingun Pagoda platform, remains intact to third day.
The unfinished pagoda and the completed bell were to be placed in one size, as planned by King Bodawpaya, King Mindon’s great-grandfather , but the immensity of the project was found to be too much and when King Bodawpaya passed away in 1819, his heirs decided not to complete it.
Mandalay as the old capital does not stand alone: the old cities of Inwa, Sagaing and Amarapura lend their glory, added by the charm of lovely Mingun, incomplete but awesome.