A GUIDE TO MRAUK – U An Ancient City of Rakhine, Myanmar by Tun Shwe Khine

Mrauk-U, a fine last royal capital of Rakhine has scenic beauty and historical remains which are inextricable and remarkable. Innumerable pagodas belonging to all ages can be found throughout the city. Everywhere one looks within Mrauk-U city wall on every mound, every field and every hill are Buddha images, temples, sima(Thein) and pagodas.
It is no wonder that Mrauk-U is popularly known as the ‘Land of Pagodas’ and Europeans remarked Mrauk-U as ‘The Golden City’. The Rakhine of those days were proud of Mrauk-U. They were entirely satisfied to be the inhabitants of Mrauk- U. The history shows what happened in the city in early times.

Mrauk-U was founded in 1430 A.D. and became the seat of the Rakhine dynasty of that name. It had attained its highest prosperity for 355 years til! 1785 A.D. Before Mrauk-U, several other former royal cities, Dhanyawaddy, Vesali, Sambawet, Pyinsa, Parein, Launggret , Hkirt and Nayyinzaya-taungngoo had flourished from generation to generation for many years (see chapter 2).

Geographically, Mrauk-U lies at the head of a tributary, Kaladan River, about 45 miles from the sea coast, but the largest sea-going ships of that period could reach it through a network of deep creeks by which it was surrounded. Mrauk-U’s unique position in the Bay of Bengal, with both land and sea routes to the east and west, resulted in the development of its commercial and cultural centre which later emerged as a highly flourishing country because of its strategic location between India and South East Asia. It also received Buddhist religion and Indianized civilization from the west.

A visitor, Schouten, a Dutchman who visited the area in 16th century A.D , remarked that the city was comparable in size and wealth to such western cities as Amsterdam and London. He also mentioned that it was the richest city among the ports of Asia. The city was called by the Europeans as ‘Golden City’. That term applies very fittingly to Mrauk-U whose wealth depended mainly on its extensive regions of rice land which surrounded the city. The crops never failed because of an annual 200 inches of rainfall. The export of rice increased from year to year. Moreover, the goods were allowed to enter the city duty-free in order to encourage trade. Thus the city was crowded with a large number of foreign merchants from the neighbouring countries and western countries as well, such as the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Various kinds of goods were on sale in the markets of Mrauk-U.

The export of elephants was most popular in the Mrauk- U period. An elephant cost 1300 silver coins in those days. The Portuguese and the Dutch were permitted to build a factory at Aungdat port in Mrauk-U. Since a ship after leaving Bengal on a voyage to Java or any city on the eastern coast, and did not sail straight across the bay had to keep to the coast. Hence, trading ships naturally put. in at Mrauk-U to replenish food, water and other necessities.

In this way Mrauk-U became usual focus for trade on the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal. Mrauk-U, therefore, was very prosperous during those days. At the beginning of the 16 century the sea-faring- nature of Rakhine was even more accentuated. The King Minbin (1531-1553 A.D.) was able to build a large naval fleet with modern cannon to guard the long coastal territory of about one thousand miles. According to the Magh Raider in Bengal it had ten thousand warboats and their cannon were so numerous that flotilla exceeded the waves of the sea. Now, several types of old cannon can be seen in Mrauk-U ‘Museum.

Mrauk-U was built as a defence city by the kings of those days. Taking advantage of the ridges surrounding the city, the citywalls have been built by joining the higher points of the ridge. The walls were built with local sandstone and earth. Inside the wail some portions of the mountain had to be levelled at the appropriate points to make ramparts. Some secret paths were constructed from top to bottom and stone gates had been erected for going in and out. Above them some bulwarks or forts were provided with modern artillery. A maze-like chain of lakes and moats were also constructed both inside and outside the city walls. These moats and water tanks not only supplied fresh water for the inhabitants but also provided a measure of defence.

Besides the venerable pagodas, visitors of today can see citywalls, moats, ramparts, watch towers and forts as the most interesting archaeological remains. They were all constructed with well-fitting cemented stones and they remain in good condition up to the present time.


Some Japanese samurai came to Mrauk-U in 1623 A.D and served as domestic guards of Mrauk-U kings. Because of their valiant and incomparable swordsmanship they were selected as royal bodyguards by the kings.

The dynasty of Mrauk-U had successfully defended itself against all foreign invaders for many years. A few wars were fought, which ended in victory for the Rakhine kings. No civil strife had ruined the peasantry of Mrauk-U. Because of Buddhist teaching and an efficient administrative code, law and order had been maintained in the whole of the kingdom.

The kingdom of Rakhine was divided into twelve prov- inces, each administered by a governor who pledged allegiance to the king. It was the traditional obligation of the time for the governor of the provinces to build pagodas in the royal city of Mrauk-U.The people of Mrauk-U also offered very lavishly to religious causes. A pagoda, 400 feet to the east of Shitthaung Pagoda, was said to have been donated by a woman who sold fish-jelly, (Rakhine term Ngapithama). This pagoda has been known as Ngapithama Pagoda. 

Monuments seem to overwhelm the landscape of the city of Mrauk-U. The whole city has numerous lakes, pagodas, traces of buildings and other vestiges indicating that it was the site of a once-important city. These monuments are of different sizes and of various types. They are in varying stages of preservation and disrepair.

Some of these have been repaired and restored by public donors. Most of them were demolished not by unruly people but by the tropical monsoon climate. Nevertheless, these mounds of bricks here and there remind us of the site of the ancient Mrauk-U, once a splendid capital of Rakhine.

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