Archive for the ‘An Arakan Angkor’ Category

An Arakan Angkor 2

Chrestomather | September 14, 2014 in An Arakan Angkor | Comments (0)

 

 

 

The Arakan coast was for millenia an important node in the trading networks of the Indian Ocean.

 

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The wealth generated by the trans-Oceanic trade nourished a number of kingdoms in this region over the centuries. Mrauk-U was the capital of a kingdom that flourished between 1430 C.E. and 1785 C.E.:  most of the surviving monuments were built in this period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today Mrauk-U is a quiet little town,

 

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Mrauk-U’s main street

in what is now Rakhine State in the Republic of Myanmar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But in its heyday Mrauk-U was a cosmopolitan city visited by ships from all over the world.

 

 

 

 

DSC03347It had a large Portuguese quarter with close links to Goa. The Portuguese adventurer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filipe de Britto e Nicote, also known as Nga Zinga,

 

 

 

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Filipe de Brito, c. 1600, (Wikimedia Commons)

 

spent many years in this region. But he came to a sad end, being executed by impalement in 1613  C.E.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The region exported a wide range of goods,

 

 

 

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including locally-made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese-style porcelain and pottery, some of it of fine quality.

 

 

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The small but well-laid-out

 

 

 

 

 

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museum of Mrauk-U has a good collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

of artefacts and

 

 

 

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weaponry,

 

 

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monumental sculptures in stone,

 

 

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and Buddha images from different eras.

 

 

 

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This is one from the 4th to 8th centuries C.E.;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this is from the Lamro period (8th to 15th centuries C.E.)

 

 

 

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while this is from the

 

 

 

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Mrauk-U period (15th to 18th centuries).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, although the wealth and grandeur are gone, a vast complex of monuments remains at Mrauk-U, to bear witness to the region’s past glories. I was fortunate to be guided through this enormous site by

 

 

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U Kyaw Hla Maung whose book The Rakhaing Kingdoms Hidden in South East Asia is soon to be published.

U Kyaw Hla Maung, who is partly of Manipuri descent, also goes by the name Rocky.

Rocky was studying medicine in Rangoon in December 1974 when the body of U Thant, the former UN Secretary-General, was brought back to Burma for burial. His interment became the occasion for widespread protests against the military regime, spearheaded by students. In the aftermath of the protests Rocky left Rangoon and moved to Mrauk-U with the intention of deepening his knowledge of his native region. Since then he has done extensive research on the history of Mrauk-U.

 

 

 

 

 

Rocky is an expert in the martial arts (of which there is a special Rakhine variant) and he is also a teacher – he runs informal classes in English and history.

 

 

 

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Rocky with two of his students

 

 

 

From what he and his students told me of his classes I had the impression that they are a Rakhine version of the classes run by Ludu U Sein Win in Rangoon (which I have written about on this blog).

Rocky’s daughter is currently studying computer science in the US, at Yale University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Rocky illustrates the differences

 

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between certain Buddhist architectural forms.

 

 

 

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The first monument we visit is the Miphara-gri  (Queen’s Cave) temple,

 

 

 

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in which a ten-foot high image of the Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rises above smaller

 

 

 

fern-draped figures  DSC03202

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

some of which

 

 

 

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gaze out of mossy niches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we move on to the magnificent

 

 

 

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built by King Tikkha

 

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in 1553 CE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The temple is reputed to contain 90,000 images of the Buddha.

 

 

 

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Some are carved upon the walls,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and some sit

 

 

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serenely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

in subtly-lit corridors,

 

 

 

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and mossy

 

 

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passageways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and crumbling terraces.

 

 

 

 

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The surroundings are as verdant as the temple itself.

 

 

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It seems miraculous to me that even one such temple exists  – but in Mrauk-U there are many others, among them the Htuk Kant Thein temple,

 

 

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built by King Min Phaloun in 1571 C.E..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modest entrance

 

 

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leads to

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

labyrinthine passageways

 

 

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in which images of the Buddha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

are placed in

 

 

 

DSC03314precisely aligned niches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vestibules converge upon a cavernous inner sanctum.

 

 

 

 

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‘Tradition has it that there was an image cast in nine precious metals in the special chamber.’ (Famous Monuments of Mrauk-U, Myar Aung, trans. Ah Lonn Maung, p. 91)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of Mrauk-U’s temples draw many worshipers:

 

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for example the Sanda Muni temple,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

where we run into a group of schoolgirls

 

 

 

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who are following

 

 

 

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in the footsteps of others before them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This temple is run mainly by young novice monks

 

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who live on the premises and bathe in adjoining wells,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and even

 

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do the cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is the marvelous Shaitthaung Temple, built by King Thiri Thuriya Sandar Maha Dhamma Raza in 1535 C.E. (897 Rakhine Era).

 

 

 

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‘It is also known as Ranaung Zeya (Temple of Victory) commemorating the re-annexation of twelve Bengal towns’ (Famous Monuments of Mrauk-U, p. 79).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, as in many of Mrauk-U’s temples

 

 

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the inner sanctum is ringed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with images of gods

 

 

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from the Hindu pantheon.

 

 

 

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Here too there is a labyrinth of richly carved galleries,

 

 

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where children play hide and seek,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

watched over by

 

 

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the Remover of Obstacles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the surrounding walls

 

 

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fierce dwarapalas (gatekeepers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rub shoulders with startled tigers.

 

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At intervals there are arches

 

 

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through which children peer in;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

they also provide glimpses of neighbouring temples

 

 

 

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and rain-drenched stupas.

 

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As I make my way out it occurs to me that each image in this cascading series of iterations

 

 

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is an assertion and celebration of the centrality of iconography in human life; they are each a signpost to a spiritual universe that is a galaxy removed from the logocentric, iconophobic worlds of the Book; they each represent an unspoken argument in which the medium is itself the message.  It strikes me also that in a small way this blog, with its meshing of word and image, is also a refraction of that universe, a glimmer of a possibility of broadening the novel’s boundaries of language. This reinforces my belief that the Net has enabled a return to forms of expression and perception wholly different from those of the age of print, with its by-no-means incidental overlapping with the era of Protestant iconoclasm.

 

 

 

 


An Arakan Angkor – 1

Chrestomather | September 9, 2014 in An Arakan Angkor | Comments (2)

 

 

Mrauk-U rises out of the misted hills and valleys of the Arakan

 

 

DSC03337coast like a mirage,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

at the end of a long journey

 

 

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over weather-worn roads,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

after innumerable swollen streams

 

 

 

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have been crossed on trestle bridges,

 

 

 

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while schoolchidren, with thanaka-daubed faces, look on

 

 

 

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as they make their way back to tiny hamlets

 

 

 

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and quiet villages

 

 

 

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that ought to be recognized as models of sophisticated sustainability,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with carbon footprints too small even to be measured,

 

 

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except when the occasional ancient tractor-truck comes sputtering along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countless rivers and creeks

 

 

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wind through the landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

meandering through ranges of hills that are shaped

 

 

 

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almost like pagodas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so that the spires of Mrauk-U

 

 

 

DSC03189become visual echoes of the site’s setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the shadow of the monuments villagers go quietly about their business.

 

 

 

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The effect is such that I was reminded of my first visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat twenty-one years ago.

 

 

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