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Dr. E Forchhammer and Islamic Monuments in Arakan


By Aman Ullah

Dr. Emil Forchhammer, a German-born Swiss Professor of Pali at Rangoon College, in his report of Arakan, which was publish in 1891, described not only all the historical, social, cultural, archaeological aspects of Arakan but also its religious side. He touched from the dawn of history to end of its independent. The report was organized into 3 chapters; in chapter I he dealt with specially Mahamamuni Pagoda and other Buddhists momuments, in chapter II Mrohaung and in chapter III with Launnyet, Minbya, Urittaung, Akyab and Sandoway and in the 1970s reprint version it contains 115 pages.


In the chapter II, at page 15, Forchhammer wrote about Mrohaung as follows:-

“The most important archaeological remains in Arakan are found in Mrohaung, the capital of the once powerful Myauk-u kings. The Mahamuni and all other pagodas mentioned in the Selagiri tradition are remembered and visited for purposes of worship by the Arakanese and Buddhists in general because their foundation or history is connected with the supposed advent of Gotama in Dhannavati; they afford, however, few instances of decorative art and few examples of constructive skill.”

About the splendid temples those the peoples of that time seldom to worship Forchhammer mentioned that, “For the splendid temples of Mrohaung, built by the kings of the Myauk-u dynasty, the natives have more superstitious awe than religious reverence; they seldom worship at these shrines and they allowed them to fall into disrepair; while they contribute freely to plaster, whitewash., or gild the architecturally worthless Urittaung or the Sandoway pagodas, they will not raise a hand to prevent the wanton destruction, by treasure-hunters, of the temples, which bespeak the power, resources, and culture of their former rulers. The architectural style of the Shitthaune and Dukkanthein pagodas is probably unique in India, and the two shrines are undoubtedly the finest ruins in Lower Burma. They were not constructed by the Arakanese, but by ” Kulas ” from India; the natives were forced to burn the bricks and bring the stones from distant quarries; Hindu architects and Hindu sculptors raised and embellished the structures ; to the Arakanese, compelled to years of unpaid labour, these pagodas are an unpleasant reminiscence of the tyrannic and arbitrary rule of several Myauk-u kings.” 

About the name of Mrauk u, he mentioned that, “The Arakanese name vas Mrauk-u, or monkey’s egg (the Burmese name for potato),the origin of which is very obscure. It stands at the head of a branch of the Kaladan river, about 50 miles from its mouth, almost at the farthest limit of tidal influence, on a rocky plain surrounded by hills. The principle creek is formed of two branches, which unite below the hills and pass through the town (see British Burma Gazetteer, 4.23).” 

A Brief history of Mrauk U

“The ruins of Mrohaung, as we now see them, date chiefly from the 15th and 16th centuries. Cities have, however, been founded at very early dates on the same plain. Parin (Barin, Paraung), east of Mrohaung on the Le`mro, formed one of the “Catur-gamas” or “‘four cities.” In the year B. E. 315 (A.D 957) King Amrathu, a Chief of the Mru tribe and connected with the Vesali dynasty through his mother Candradevi who had been raised to the position of chief queen in the palace of Culataincandra, founded a city 4 miles to the north-east of the spot where the palace of Myauk-a now stands ; the embankments of the town form a pen-tagon and are still traceable ; but, it was soon abandoned owing to the want of sweet, water and to the prevalency of fever,. ” which befell alike men, horses, and elephants.” King Paipyu, a nephew of Ararathu, selected, in the year B. E. 326, mother place for his capital on the low hills to the south-east of the former Myauk.-u. Twelve years later (B. E. 338) the Shans invaded the country and compelled Paipyu to abandon the newly founded city; it remained for 18 years in possession of the invaders.”

“Subsequent kings built the Paiicanagara, Kyeitmyo, Parin (the new), and other towns on the Anjanadi (Le`mro). In the year B. E. 768 (A. D. 1406), the city of Launggyet was destroyed by Talaings and Burmans. King Minzawmun, the son of Rajathu, the last but one of the Launggyet dynasties, fled to Suratan (i.e., the dominions of the Sultan). In B. E. 792 (A. D. 1430) he returned to Arakan supported by the Mahomedan ruler of Delhi. He ascended the Anjanadi, and guided by the prognostications of his astrologer Candindaraja, entered a creek to the west and selected a site between the Shwedaung and Galun hills for the erection of a royal residence and a city. King Minzawmun is the first of the Myauk-u dynasty; a century later King Minbin, or Sirisuriyacandramahadhammaraja, the twelfth king of this line, constructed fortifications, roads, and embankments; by his ortifr were built the Tharekop and Shwedaung pagodas. The 14th king, Zawhla, had the Alayceti and Myaukceti, the Dukkankyauhg, Taungkyaung, and Kulamyokyaung erected (B.E 917—926, A. D. 1555— 1564), Minpalaung (B. E. 933) repaired the Urittaung and Mahahti pagodas. Minrajagri, the 17th of the Myauk-u dynasty (B. E. 955 — 974), raised the wall which enclose the palace from 9 to 12 cubits and perfected the system of fortifications begun by King Minbin; he built the Parabo pagoda and repaired the Andaw, Sandaw, and Nandaw cetis at Sandway. Minkamaung, his successor, built the Thuparama ceti, Shwepara, and Ngwepara (B. E, 974 — 984). Siridhammaraja restoredthe Selagiri shrine (see page 14) in the year 986 B. E. King Candasudhamma, to the Arakanese better known as ” Pazamin,” had the Shweguha pagoda erected and also the Ratanazanu ceti ; he repaired all pagodas in Arakan reputed to contain relics of Gotamah he also constructed (B. E, 1038) a new palace within the old enclosures and had his effigy in stone set up at the gates facing the cardinal points (see Plate X, No. i). Varadhammaraja repaired the Urittaung pagoda and erected the Mangalaramaceti (B, A. 1053). Candavijaya (B. E. 1072, A. D If 10), who reigned 21 years, is said to have constructed and repaired in Arakan 800 pagodas, image Houses, tanks, and monasteries. After his demise no religious or other buildings of importance have been raised. In the yea; A. D. 1784 the Burmans conquered Arakan and Myauk-u became the site of a Burmese Viceroy. A year before the occupation of Arakan by the Government of India the higher Burmese officials repaired the large tank in the south-east corner, II terrace, of the palace enclosure and had the meritorious deed recorded in a long inscription on a slab of alabaster {see Plate X, No. 4).”

Santikan Mosque

Forchhammer described all the Buddhist pagodas, monuments and temples in the chapter II as far as he can. Alongside of these at page 39, he also mentioned a non- Buddhist temple, i.e., an Islamic mosque called Santikan mosque as follows:-

“Two and a half miles to the east-south-east of the palace is another non-Buddhistic temple. It is a Mahomedan mosque, called Santikan, built by the followers of King Minzawmwun after he had returned from 24 years of exile in the Suratan (Sultan) country (from A. D. 1-406 to 1430). South of the road which leads to Alayse’yua are two large tanks with stone embankments; between them is the mosque surrounded by a stone wall 4′ high. The temple court measures 65′ from north to south and 82′ from east to west (for plan of building and photograph see Plate XXVtl, Nos. 49 and 50). The shrine is a rectangular structure with 33′ front and a length of 47′; it consists of an ante-room which occupies the whole breadth of the east front 33′ by a depth of only 9′. A passage, 6′ high, 3′ 3″ broad, leads from the north, south, and east to the ante-room; the walls are 4′ 8″ thick; the passage is vaulted; the arch consist of a series of wedge-shaped stones; the room is also vaulted, but outside the roof over it is a slanting plane from the cupola of the central chamber to the eastern front wall of the building, which Is only 9′ high. Through the centre of the west side of the ante-room a passage, 3′ wide, 6′ high, and 6′ 10″ long, and also vaulted, brings us to the principal chamber; it measures 19′ on each side; a narrow opening in the north and south walls admits some light ; on the west side a semicircular niche, 2′ wide across the opening, 1′ deep, and 5′ high, is let into the wall, but it contains nothing. The ceiling is a hemispherical low cupola constructed on the same principle as the domes in the Shitthaung and Dukkanthein pagodas. The whole shrine is built of well-cui stone blocks, the floors inclusive, but it is absolutely bare of all decorative designs or anything else of interest. The temple has of late years been put to some extent in repair by Mahomedan tradesmen of Mrohaung and is now in their custody; a Mussulman lives on the premises to keep them in order; it is now used as a house of worship.”


In Chapter III, under the sub head of Akyab at 59, Forchhammer wrote as follow:-

“The town of Akyab is a modern place and owes its origin and growth chiefly to the removal, in the year 1826, of the British garrison from Mrohaung (Myauk-u), the climate of which proved pestilential to the troops, to a small fishing village at the mouth of the Kaladan river now developed into the capital of the Arakan division.”


At page 60, he mentioned an Islamic monument, Buddermokan as follows:-

“There are a few modern temples in Akyab which are interesting inasmuch as their architectural style is a mixture of the Burmese turreted pagoda and the Mahomedan four-comered minaret structure surmounted by a hemispherical cupola. Plates XLII and XLIII show examples. The worship, too, is mixed; both temples are visited by Mahomedans and Buddhists, and the Buddermokan has also its Hindu votaries.“The Buddermokan (Plate XLII, No. 88) is said to have been founded in A. D. 1756 by the Mussulmans in memory of one Budder Auliah, whom they regard as an eminent saint.”

Forchhammer further mentioned about a very interesting account of Colonel Nelson Davies the then Deputy Commissioner of Akyab as follows:-

“Colonel Nelson Davies, in 1876 Deputy Commissioner of Akyab, gives the ‘following account in a record preserved in the office of the Commissioner of Arakan and kindly lent me : ” On the southern side ” of the island of Akyab, near the eastern shore of the Bay, there is a group of masonry buildings, ” one of which, in its style of construction, resembles an Indian mosque ; the other is a cave, constructed of stone on the bare rock, which superstructure once served as a hermit’s cell. The spot “where these buildings are situated is called Buddermokan, Budder being the name of a saint of ” Islam, and mokan, a place of abode. It is said that 140 years ago or thereabouts two brothers •’ named Manick and Chan, traders from Chittagong, while returning from Cape Negrais in a vessel ” loaded with turmeric, called at Akyab for water, and the vessel anchored off the Buddermokan rocks, ‘ On the following night, after Chan and Manick had procured water near these rocks, Manick had a dream that the saint Budder Auliah desired him to construct a cave or a place of abode at the ” locality near where they procured the water. Manick replied that he had no means wherewith he could comply with the request. Budder then said that all his (Manick’s) turmeric would turn into ” gold, and that he should therefore endeavour to erect the building from the proceeds thereof, ‘ When morning came Manick, observing that all the turmeric had been transformed into gold, consulted his brother Chan on the subject of the dream and they conjointly constructed a cave and ” also dug a well at the locality now known as Buddermokan.” 

Forchhammer also mention about charge of the Budder mokan that, “There are orders in Persian in the Deputy Commissioner’s Court of Akyab dated 1834 from William Dampier, Esquire, Commissioner of Chittagong, and also from T. Dickenson, Esquire, Commissioner- of Arakan, to the effect that one Hussain Ally (then the thugyi of Bhudamaw circle’) was to have charge of the Buddermokan in token of his good services rendered to the British force in 1825 and to enjoy any sums that he might collect on account of alms and offerings.”

“In 1849 Mr. R. C. Raikes, the officiating Magistrate at Akyab, ordered that Hussain Ally was to have charge of the Buddermokan buildings, and granted permission to one Mah Ming Oung, a female fakir, to erect a building; accordingly in 1849 the present masonry buildings were constructed by her; she also redug the tank.” 

“The expenditure for the whole work came to about Rs. 2,000. After Hussain Ally’s death his son Abdoolah had charge, and after the death of the latter his sister Me Moorazamal, the present wife of Abdool Marein, Pleader, took charge. Abdool Marein is now in charge on behalf of his wife.” 

He also mentioned the general features of the exterior buildings as follows:-

“Plate XLII shows the general features of the exterior of the buildings; the interior is very simple: a square or quadrangular room. There are really two caves, one on the top of the-rocks (see photograph) ; it has an entrance on the north and south sides ; the arch is vaulted and so is the inner chamber ; the exterior of the care is 9′ 3″ wide, 11’ r 6″ long, and 8′ 6″ high ; the inner chamber measures 7′ by 5′ 8″ ; height 6′ 5″ ; the material is partly stone, partly brick plastered ‘over ; the whole is absolutely devoid of decorative designs. The other cave is similarly constructed, only the floor is the bare rock, slightly slanting towards the south entrance; it is still smaller than the preceding cave. The principal mosque stands on a platform; a flight of brick and stone stairs leads up to it; the east front of the temple measures 28′ 6″, the south side 26′ 6″; the chamber is 16′ 9″ long and 13′ wide; the ceiling is a cupola; on the west side is a niche, let 1’ into the wall, with a pointed arch and a pillaster on each side; over it hangs a copy in Persian of the grant mentioned above. A small prayer hall, also quadrangular, with a low cupola, is pressed in between the rocks close by; all tht:(these) buildings are in good order. The curiously shaped rocks capped by these buildings form a very picturesque group. The principal mosque has become the prototype for many Buddhist temples like the one on Plate XLIII; this pagoda is the most perfect type of the blending of the Indian mosque and the Burmese turreted spire.” 

Mosque at Sandoway

Under the sub head of Sandoway at page 62 Forchammer mention a Muslims mosque as follow:

“At the foot of the hill, on the east side, stands a small image-house containing an image of Gotama constructed of bricks and covered with plaster; it was built on the site of an old shrine at the beginning of this century by the Burmese Sitke` U Shwe Bu; the shrine is peculiar; it represents a combination of the style of the Native image-house and the Mahomedan mosque (see Plate XLIV, No. 92). The passage leads to a square chamber; the ceiling follows the contour of the central cupola. The shrine is called Parahla {i.e., the beautiful pagoda) and is kept in good repair.” 

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