Narinjara News

Worries over Burmese SPDC junta’s visit to ancient Rakhine city

Mrauk-U, 8th March: 
On February 28th the Secretary I of the State Peace and Development Council junta of Burma and his team made a short visit to the ancient city in western Burma, according to our correspondent there.

The city of Mrauk-u, situated about fifty miles north-east of Sittwe, the capital of the state, is dotted with hundreds of Buddhist edifices, a large number of which have experienced the worst vandalism and weathering.  The secretary I, General Khin Nyunt, called at the Mrauk-u museum where there is a large collection of ancient images, copper plates, and many other artefacts of historical importance to the Rakhine people, said an official of the Department of Archaeology.  He also went round the ruins of the Mrauk-U Palace site under excavation.  Then they visited the Shitthaung Temple, otherwise known as Ran Aung Zeya, built by Rakhine King Mung Bagree in 1536.  There at the entrance of the shrine they looked over the Ananda Chandra Stone pillar inscription of the Rakhine Vesali king, Anada Chandra, when Sanskrit  the language of the inscription - was used as the court language of the ancient Rakhine Kingdom.  The pillar, inscribed in 729 AD, is famous for being the ancient-most ‘book of history’ in the entire South-East Asia since its inscriptions list the names and tenure of the dynastic rulers of Rakhine Kingdom down to Anada Chandra’s rule, said the official.

A number of renowned businessmen, lawyers and academics have complained to our correspondent that, realizing the popularity of the opposition leader, daughter of Burma’s national hero, Aung San, whose ‘goodwill visit’ to Mrauk-U attracted a huge number of participants last December, a number of high ranking SPDC junta officials have called at the city and have ‘expressed their willingness’ to develop what they termed as ‘border areas’.  “This may be because of the utter negligence on the part of the successive Burmese juntas who always took up plans to exploit the entire Rakhine State for funding the beautification campaign conducted in the Burmese capital, Rangoon”, said a retired public service official.  “The scale of neglect is so horrible that there is not one town in Rakhine State where one can have even a six-hour power supply, let alone the village tracts where no schools and clinics put the life of the people into jeopardy,” he added.

“Besides that in the 1970s, by the name of excavating the ancient archaeological site of Vesali, in Rakhine State, funded by UNICEF, the ruling junta at that time, Burmese Socialist Programme Party confiscated all the excavations of artefacts and shipped them to the National Museum in Rangoon,” he further said, ”The excavations unearthed a Sima (Ordination) Hall of the Theravada Buddhism, considered to be the oldest in all over Burma.  Then came the plundering.  A number of Burmese Army officials forcefully took away many of the ancient Rakhine Buddha images and other artefacts from the collection of the monasteries in the area.  The latest of such incidence took place last year, when the noted Sakyamuni Buddha image that had been preserved in the Bandoola monastery of Mrauk-u since the days of the old Rakhine kings was forcefully taken away by the Burmese junta and was moved to Lawkananda Pagoda in Sittwe. Though in the beginning the junta attempted to move the image to Rangoon, finally under the pressure of the local Rakhine population they installed the image at Sittwe for fear of the breaking out of a riot.  The Burmese junta confiscated the image in the name of preserving it under what they alleged as the ‘existing laws of the ancient monuments and artefacts preservation act’.   Though the image was confiscated for preservation by the ‘Department of Archaeology’, in the face of wide protests they ultimately installed it in the present place.  Lawkananda Pagoda is also called as Dukkha Pagoda (Pagoda of Suffering) by the general populace as the junta used large scale forced labour to build it.  Ironically enough the upper part of the pagoda collapsed during last year’s monsoons.”

In Mrauk-u there are a large number of ancient Buddha images other priceless artefacts under private collection of a number of Buddhist monasteries.  Among them the collection at Bandoola Monastery is considered as most significant.  When the abbot of the monastery died on 12th December last the members of the ruling SPDC junta began to pay regular visits to Mrauk-U and make detailed inquiries of the nature and number of the preserved ancient images and other artefacts mostly made of bronze, said a renowned monk in the town. 

The Burmese junta in confiscating the Buddha images has been treading the path taken by the Burmese king, Bodawpaya, who is notorious for carrying off the Mahamuni Buddha Image, now enshrined at the Arakan Temple in Mandalay, in 1784, the discontented monk said.  The Pyidaw-byan Buddha Image at Zalwan, in the Irrawaddy division, is also a Rakhine bronze image, he claimed.    

“On March 13 in 1988, a number of Burmese Army personnel were engaged by the Burmese junta to dig the ground under the altar of the ancient Sakkya Mar-aung Pagoda in Mrauk-U by the alleged order of the dictator Ne Win.  As soon as the digging began the popular 1988-democracy movement started in Rangoon from an altercation in a teashop.   Instantly the dictator, getting apprehensive of the ‘repercussion’ of the order he had issued to dig the holy grounds, instantly radioed orders to stop the digging,” a monk in the city said.

“In the face of the recent visit of junta high-ups to Mrauk-U, residents of the city have become very much concerned about the consequences of what the junta is dubbing as ‘border area development’, which could mean stealing or even robbing the ancient artefacts of Rakhine that people so dearly have held,” the monk concluded. 

General Maung Aye, the Vice Chairman of the Burmese SPDC junta also visited the ancient city of Mrauk-U shortly after Daw Aung San suu Kyi held a rally there.#