Burma: Life in the 1970's and 80's
Part II - Mandalay, The Burmese Heartland

Dr. Constance Wilson, Department of History
Northern Illinois University

The Mandalay region.

Mandalay was the capital of Burma from 1860 until 1885 when the British captured the city and completed their control over the country. Mandalay was a new capital built by King Mindon. The city is known for its many monuments and religious buildings that illustrate the artistic skills of the Burmese craftspeople.

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We open with a view of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River from Mandalay Hill, taken during the monsoon when the river is flooded. Our second slide looks down the opposite side of the hill at the Kyauk-taw-gyi Paya with its numerous small chedi (small stupas). We now enter the city of Mandalay which was a very quiet city in the 1970s and 1980's. A sense of its quietness can be seen in slide No. 3. Downtown we see some of the older buildings, the city is still quite uncongested (4). A group of drivers with their pony carts rest in the shade of a large tree (5). At this time pony carts still provided much of the transportation in Upper Burma. Next we observe a group of men playing a board game (6).

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We move on to the main market in Mandalay. Designed by an Italian architect it is known locally as Zegyo (7). It is a very large market divided into different sections (8). Note that the Burmese, both men and women, wear the national costume, the longyi (9). Two more scenes from the Mandalay market appear in the slides numbered 10 and 11.

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The next set of slides shows various craftspeople at work in Mandalay. First (12) we visit an ivory factory where a workman is engraving small plagues of ivory. Next we watch a young woman embroidering a piece of yellow cloth (13). The results of such detailed work can be an elaborate dance costume (14). Numerous shops in Mandalay provide employment for woodcarvers (15).

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The region is also famous for its metalwork. Here a young man hammers designs into a large dish (16). Bronze work attracts many people (17). The silverware is outstanding (18 & 19). Marble carving is yet another important craft (20 & 21). Tablets and images rest outside the shops.

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Mandalay is well-known for its religious monuments. We are at the entrance to the Kuthodaw Paya (22), an example of the skill of the Mandalay marble carver. The Kyauk-taw-gyi Temple is known for its numerous small chedi (23). A newly gilded stupa gleams in the sunlight (24). Only the bottom story remains of the Atumashi Kyaung monastery, destroyed in a fire (25&26). These slides show the interest of the Burmese in western architectural forms.

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The Mahamuni Temple

The most famous temple in Mandalay is the Mahamuni. Like most important temples the way to the sanctuary is lined with small shops (27). These may sell foodstuffs and supplies to the visitor as well as various religious objects. A group of people surround one stall (28). A stall selling gilded altars for the home and other religious objects (29). A young woman is applying gold leaf to a low table (30).

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The main sanctuary as seen in the 1970s, the building is whitewashed and the roof is being covered with gold leaf (31). A decade later, the building has been painted a light blue and decorated in white with touches of gold leaf (32). The roof shines in all its gilded glory (33). The large entrance porch (34) is the scene of much activity. A vendor serves a meal to a group of children (35). In the interior we see the famous image (36). Originally from Arakan, the image has been covered with gold leaf put there by the faithful to such a thickness that its original shape can no longer be seen.

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Mandalay Hill

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Mandalay Hill stands to the north of the city above the old palace moat (37). Unfortunately the original Mandalay palace was destroyed by the Japanese bombing during the Second World War. The palace is currently being reconstructed by the present government in modern reinforced concrete.

At the entrance to the staircase that ascends Mandalay hill, a large chinthe stands guard (38). This guardian figure is a stylized lion. Initially the ascending staircase has a gentle slope, here lined with a group of Burmese nuns (39) in their white robes. A young girl helps her mother at a flower stand (40). The flowers will be presented to the Buddha images as a sign of respect. A tall gilded Buddha image faces the visitor (41). Another Buddha image stands under the head of a naga (snake) with an open mouth (42). The naga often guards a Buddha image. As we continue our climb we see another small shop on the Hill (43).

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A large bell is mounted in one of the buildings (44). A group of Burmese visitors has stopped for a rest and possibly a discussion of what they have seen (45). An astrologer at work (46); astrology continues to have much influence in the ordinary life of the Burmese people. A gilded Buddha image rests peacefully in its arch (47). Another image stands out on its gilded throne (48). The view at the top shows the flooding of the Irrawaddy River (49) and the surrounding rice fields.

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The Thakawin Kyaung Taik

The Thakawin Taik is a teak wood monastery built in European style in 1885 by a palace minister after a visit to Europe. It may have been designed with the assistance of European architects living in Mandalay in the 1880s. In the 1970s the building was under reconstruction. The first slide shows a front view. This view of the left side shows many European architectural details (2). European style pediments have been built above the windows (3). The interior with its carved ceiling (4) reminds one of a European audience hall. More carving surrounds the doorframe (5). Greek columns with a cut-work arch surround a door in front of which is a carved ceiling (6).

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The Shwei-in-bin Monastery, 1895

The Shwei-in-bin Monastery is a classic example of traditional Burmese wooden architecture. It was built by a Chinese merchant married to a Burmese woman from the royal family. Very few of the elements of this monastery are in a Chinese style; it is preeminently Burmese. This general view (1) shows the large white staircase to the main platform. Above this platform is a chamber with an elaborately carved roof, to the left is another chamber with an elaborately carved roof. Slide 2 is a close-up of the carving on two peaks of the main chamber. Notice the elaborate detail in the carving on the main platform, and the skill of the Burmese worker (3). This frontal view of the elegant spire simplifies the elaborate plan (4). A side view reveals a triple roof (5). Each tier of the spire is covered with detailed carving (6). At the top is the hti, which in this case is gilded (7).

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The Shwenandaw Kyaung

The Shwenandaw Kyaung was once part of the royal palace at Amarapura. With the building was moved to Mandalay, it became the royal apartment of King Mindon. After King Mindon died the building was moved to its present location. It is a large building with a tiered roof and a balcony with an elaborately carved railing (1). The stairs go to the main entrance above which are additional carvings (2). A monk rests at a well alongside the balcony with its carved railing (3).

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These slides (4-9) provide details of the wood carving at the Shwenandaw. The tiny figures with their Burmese dress are very lively and cheerful and brighten the building. The last slide of this set (10) shows that the gilded interior, a memorial to the king who once lived there.

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The Mandalay region was the site of other earlier capitals, among them Amarapura first founded in 1783, replaced by Ava in 1823, resettled in 1841, to be replaced by Mandalay when it was built in 1860. Today little remains of Amarapura except the ruins of old chedi (1 through 7).

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The architectural styles range from traditional Burmese to modified European. No. 7 is very amusing; at the top of the monument above the flame trees is the head of a naga. The unusual roof of this building has led to its frequent reproduction in pictorial works on Burma. There is a quiet resting place (8) where people can meet and picnic in a grove of trees near U Bein's Bridge. It is a resting place for the pony carts as well (9). U Bein's Bridge (10) is the longest teakwood bridge in the world. It was built with timber from the old palace at Amarapura.

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The Sagaing Hills

The Sagaing Hills are a major religious center in modern Burma. Large numbers of old monasteries and nunneries are to be found among the hillsides. The location beside the Irrawaddy River (1) is a most attractive one. A visit to Sagaing makes for a very pleasant day. The monasteries and nunneries at Sagaing illustrated the eclectic nature of Burmese architecture. Here (2) we look down on an Italianate European style building. A closer view gives some of the building's details (3). The roofs of more traditional monasteries line the hillside (4 & 5). Among the monasteries is a classic Burmese teak house (6).

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A man and a monk rest outside a local shop (7). Sometimes there appear to be as many nuns (8 & 9) in Sagaing as there are monks. Elsewhere a group of monks and notices pose in their monastery (10). Notice the walls made from woven bamboo. This European style house seems to been married with a Burmese style roof (11). There is even a railway station in Victorian style(12).

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A shop with some gilded religious goods (13). Offerings placed in front of a Buddha image (14). An image of the Buddha seated on a throne (15). As the sun sets, monks and lay people rest on a roof overlooking the Irrawaddy River (16). Finally, near Sagaing, we find the Kaunghmudaw Paya (17), another famous Burmese stupa.

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