|Mandalay residents prepare to take part in a procession marking the city’s 150th anniversary on May 14, the first of three days of planned celebrations.
IT is a sun-drenched morning in the city of Mandalay, and thousands of people are lining the street on the southern end of the palace moat, anticipating the appearance of the king and his ministers.
In the meantime, the crowd is entertained by girls dancing to the music of a traditional Myanmar orchestra, the beauty of their dazzling costumes accentuated by the gleaming sunlight.
The royal parade, when it finally appears, consists of scores of soldiers on foot and horseback, while other men pull heavy cannons behind them. There are horse-drawn chariots and decorated elephants. And of course there are the king and queen, their daughters, and their royal retinue of ministers and servants.
It is a scene straight out of the 19th century, but the events actually occurred last Thursday to kick off three days of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of Mandalay by King Mindon.
The opening ceremony was held on May 14 at a decorated stage in front of Mandalay City Hall on 26th Street, where more than 600 state school students had assembled and were wearing traditional customs of the King Mindon period.
Among the onlookers was 61-year-old U Sein Myint, who said
he remembered celebrating Mandalay’s 100th anniversary at the age of 11.
“I am very proud of being a resident of Mandalay, where the Myanmar kings breathed their last breath, and where the palace of the respectable king still stands. I love Mandalay very much,” he said.
Ma Lay Kin, 37, said she was impressed by the king’s procession.
“I felt something in my heart when I saw the king and his army, but I can’t describe the feeling. I’ve never had that kind of experience before in my life,” she said.
The precise moment of Mandalay’s 150th anniversary fell on May 15 at 4:31:36am. It is said that King Mindon built Mandalay as the result of two dreams.
In one dream he saw a town at the foot of Mandalay Hill with an inner rampart higher than the outer one. In the second dream he stepped down from a white elephant he had been riding and was greeted by two women named Ba and Ma.
The women took Mindon by the hand and led him to the summit of Mandalay Hill, where a man gave him a handful of sweet-smelling grass and told him that if he fed it to his elephants and horses, the land would flow with milk and honey.
Mindon is said to have established Yadanabon Naypyi, or the Kingdom of Mandalay, in 1857 on the basis of these dreams. A stone inscription from the Ava era refers to the region where the city now lies as Mandalai or Mandalar, which means “circular plain” in the Pali language.
Mandalay was originally settled by Bamar Buddhists. After the city was annexed by the British in 1885, there was a great influx of Hindus and Muslims from India.
Life has not always been easy in Mandalay. According to a book titled Twentieth Century Impressions of Burma, a plague in 1904-1905 prompted about one-third of the population to flee the city for villages in northern Myanmar.
The devastation of World War II also sent much of the population fleeing from the city. The July 22, 1945, edition of Shweman Aungsi newspaper described happy residents returning to Mandalay after the city had been largely deserted for three years while fighting raged between the Japanese and Allied armies.
Today Mandalay has a population of about 1.3 million people. It is a thriving city of great cultural activity, home to many writers and artists, centre of handicraft production, and host to numerous festivals all through the year.
Other events during last week’s three-day anniversary celebration included musical performances, puppet shows, fun fairs and exhibitions of photographs and paintings at various locations throughout the city. A statue of King Mindon was also placed at Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill.
One event that attracted plenty of interest was a book fair held at Amarapura Hall.
U Hla Min Oo, the organiser of the book fair, said he displayed journals, magazines and newspapers published during Mandalay’s 100th anniversary in 1959, as well as periodicals published in the 50 years since then.
“We also displayed books by authors living in Mandalay, and film advertising posters that have become popular in Mandalay in the past 20 years,” he said.
Five bookstores were also invited to sell their books at the fair. One item of special interest that was available for purchase at the fair was a CD with the printed text of the 730 stone inscriptions erected by King Mindon at Kuthodaw Pagoda.