By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Monasteries built of bricks or wood in late Konbaung era among abundant historical heritages in Mandalay are dubbed the Hidden Treasure in Mandalay.
Thanks to U Ye Myat Tun, Patron of Mandalay Tour Guides Association, Daw Sanda Aung from MTVTH training school, and tour guides, I grasped the opportunities to visit ancient wooden Maha Minhtin Monastery in Mandalay.
Among many monasteries built of bricks or wood across Myanmar, a large number of wooden monasteries and religious edifices built by kings and royal families, and wealthy persons were located in Mandalay, Inwa, Sagaing, Salay, Salin and Myaing townships. Eminent wooden monasteries in style of late Konbaung era were Golden Monastery, Shweinpin Monastery, Dhammikayama Shwegyin Monastery, Thingaza Monastery, Thakawun Monastery, Myataung Monastery and Minhtin Monastery in Mandalay.
The Great History of Konbaung Dynasty stated kings in Konbaung era namely Alaungmintayar U Aungzeya, Naungdawgyi, Myaydu, Badon, Sagaing, Thayawady, Bagan, Mindon and Thibaw built monasteries. King Mindon and King Thibaw in Yadanabon era constructed 55 monasteries in Mandalay. King Mindon allotted monasteries in eastern, western, southern and northern wards of Mandalay but some numbers of monasteries have been in the city up to now. Golden Palace and Shweinpin monasteries are under preservation of the government. Although the majority of monasteries were built in Myanmar architectural works, some monasteries such as Thakawun and Yaw Atwinwun monasteries were built in mixed architectural works of European and Myanmar styles.
Ancient Myanmar monasteries
Ancient Myanmar monasteries were formed with tier-roofed building, Sanu building, main building and Bawga building.
The tier-roofed building was created with five to nine tiers on the roof. Eastern, southern and northern wings of the tier-roofed building were installed with a ladder each for use of king, first queen and venerable Buddhist monks only.
The tier-roofed building was a location for the throne of Buddha image. The abbot resided at the tier-roofed building, and the main building which was connected with Sanu building where guest members of the Sangha were accommodated.
The main building constructed with a double tier-roof was called Dawei building and with a triple or quadruple tier-roof, Zetawun building. The main building rounded by extended roofs was named double-roof monastery or triple-roof monastery depending on the style of roofs.
The main building was parted with curtains from the floor to the roof to divide it as east and west Marabin halls. Abbot met congregation at Marabin hall at day time and allowed members of the Sangha to spend night. At some monasteries, those keeping Sabbath took a rest at the eastern Marabin hall and venerable monks resided at the western Marabin hall.
A throne decorated with a backdrop was kept in the east hall and the throne without backdrop in the west hall. Both sides of the main building were installed with a ladder for monks and men and another one for women separately.
Bawga building was located in the westward of monastery. It comprised three rooms—one side room for storing kitchen wares, another side room for fruits and foodstuffs, and the middle for novices.
Some monasteries were added with an arch building for accommodating increased members of the Sangha. The arch building was constructed in front of the main building or between the main building and Bawga building, or between the main building and Sanu building. In the late Konbaung era and early colonial era, some monasteries were combined with Bawga Sanu building between the main building and Bawga building. Such a building can be seen at Shweinpin monastery.
Minhtin monastery, Motah ordination hall, Ananda temple
Among monasteries, ordination halls and pagodas built on a grand scale in Mandalay in Yadanabon era, there were three eminent edifices namely Maha Minhtin monastery, ordination hall of Motah monastery and Ananda temple also called red ordination hall, south of Maha Muni Buddha Image in Mandalay.
Ancient wooden monastery namely Maha Minhtin positioned on Pyinnya Pyokhin street, northeast of Maha Muni Buddha Image in Shwephoneshein ward of Mahaaungmye Township in Mandalay.
Motah ordination hall was located in the precinct of Motah monastery, east of Dhammikayama monastery and north of Maha Minhtin monastery. Granary Minister cum Motah Officer built Motah monastery in 1226 Myanmar Era in the reign of King Mindon and offered it to Sujatabhi Siridhaja Maha Dhammarajaguru Sayadaw. It was a seven tier-roofed building. Although central Motah monastery was burnt down, the ordination decorated with sculptural works remains unchanged till today.
Mandalay Ananda temple was located south of eastern stairway of Maha Muni Buddha Image. The temple in which four standing Buddha images were kept was similar to Bagan Ananda temple. The temple was named the ordination hall. But locals called it as red ordination hall because of the red brick walls. Queen Yintaw built the temple in the reign of King Badon and Pyu governor-cum-first queen of King Bagan repaired the temple. Hermit U Khanti also renovated the temple in 1279 ME.
Original Maha Minhtin monastery was built in ancient Inwa city and moved to Amarapura in 1852 AD. In the reign of King Mindon in 1876 AD, elephant minister U Min Htin, son of original monastery well-wisher, moved the monastery to the current venue. So, the monastery was named Maha Minhtin monastery. Veteran writer Sayagyi Natmauk Tun Shein disclosed monastery well-wisher elephant minister U Min Htin was eldest son of Taungtha and Nyaungok governor Maha Minhla Thiri Thinkhaya U Bo. Moving process of the monastery took two years. All the processes finished in the reign of King Thibaw in 1878 AD.
After completion of construction, the monastery was offered to venerable monk U Tissa. The elephant minister extended Zetawun building with roofs.
The monastery was constituted with tier-roofed building, Sanu building, Zetawun building and Bawga building in addition to a circular corridor.
For the time being, tier-roofed building, Sanu building and some part of the circular corridor collapsed but Zetawun building constructed of 110 posts with about two feet in diameter remains unchanged. There remain 143 of 462 posts from the monastery. Each posts used at Maha Minhtin monastery were about 30 feet long teak one. It is estimated that the original wooden monastery with triple tier-roof might be larger than the present one three times.
Old Maha Minhtin Monastery
The wooden old monastery moved to the current place more than 140 years ago was in a square shape. For the time being, the brick ladder installed at the west wing of the monastery was totally damaged. Two repaired ladders can be seen there.
The circular corridor was about 10 feet wide in the north. Southern part of corridor and the ladder to the corridor were damaged. The western part of the facility was narrower than that of northern part.
The curtain of the main building formed with two rooms was installed with doors. The interior structure of the monastery was similar to that of Golden Monastery at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Posts of Maha Minhtin monastery were larger than those of Golden Monastery but former’s posts were not created with arts and crafts decoration. The east Marabin hall was similar to formation of Bagaya monastery in Inwa.
The door for entrance to the building was decorated with statues of celestial beings. Wooden top corner pieces decorated at the room can be seen in good conditions.
A large throne decorated with a backdrop was kept on three feet high and about 15 feet wide stage in the east Marabin hall. The throne was fenced with wooden fashioned posts. It was adequate for keeping a large Buddha image or giving a seat to a monk for delivering Dhamma Desana.
The hall stored some ancient objects and current utensils in addition to a post box.
Maha Minhtin monastery was grand with Myanmar arts and crafts but it was not crowded with visitors similar to that of other wooden monasteries.
The Department of Archaeology and National Museum renovated posts of the monastery, placed concrete at the foot of posts and filled soil under the monastery in 2003-04 fiscal year.
Three sides of the monastery were surrounded by brick drains like moats filled with water.
Although a current abbot maintains the monastery, interior of the monastery is lack of lighting and sanitation. Feathers, spider nets and waste of pigeon on the floor may cause difficulties to visitors for observation.
Authorities concerned should maintain Maha Minhtin wooden monastery which was moved similar to Golden Monastery built by King Thibaw in Mandalay in 1878 so as to show Myanmar handicrafts of the monastery to local and foreign travellers. (Translated by Than Tun Aung)
The Royal Palace built with fences (Natmauk Tun Shein)
Monasteries decorated with Myanmar handicrafts (Maung Yin Hline, Pyinma Myaing)
Myanmar’s ancient monasteries showing Myanmar culture (Natmauk Tun Shein)