There are several buildings in the palace which survived wartime destruction but most are off limits to foreigners as the former Mandalay Palace is still a military garison, and some of the original barracks of the former British garrison of Fort Dufferin are still used. The Japanese, when they occupied the base, spent much of their time using prisoners to create a network of tunnels which are still used as storage areas.
The palace is unique in Burmese monarchy’s former palaces in that it contains tombs – royal tombs, which previous to King Mindon’s reign was thought unlucky to have within the “royal compound”.
The tombs are also an example of the complex nature of the relationships within the royal family. In the future we may have more access to the buildings of the palace. Today we shall look at the tombs of deceased royalty
Tragedy and neglect, the Royal Tombs.
The King’s tomb was originally a brick pyatthat, plastered over and whitewashed. A Shan prince, the Sawbwa of Yawnghwe, one of the faithful servants of the deceased king, obtained permission to decorate the tomb with glass mosaic. This gave the original structure great lustre especially in direct sunshine. On the left of the King’s Tomb is that of Queen Hsinbyumayin
Hsinbyumayin was the daughter of King Bagyidaw (1819-1837 A.D.) and died in Rangoon at the age of 79, in 1900, her body being brought to Mandalay for burial. Unlike many of the former royal family who were not allowed access to Mandalay by the British, this former queen was buried there as even her surviving relatives did not like her and were unlikely to start a rebellion in her memory. She went into exile with King Thibaw to India, but the British decided that Thibaw did not deserve to be fated with living with his mother-in- law so she was returned to Rangoon, respected as King Mindon’sQueen of the Middle Palace. She was the mother of three daughters, Supayagyi, Supayalat (who both became wives of King Thibaw) and Supayagale.
Hsinbyumayin is best known for helping organise the dreadful massacres after the death of King Mindon, who named no individual as his successor. Hsinbyumayin knew that the easily bullied Thibaw was attracted to her daughter Supalayat, and decided that she would promoted the cause of having Thibaw declared the official successor.
Immediately after Mindon’s death Hsinbyumayin assisted by various couriers organised the re-arrest of as many of the princes of the blood, rival queens and their daughters as could be found (initially arrests had been made before Mindon died as he was too ill to protest, but he rallied enough to have the captives released). They were imprisoned at the north west of the palace compound . When Mindon died he left forty widows, one hundred and ten surviving children, and one hundred and fifty surviving grandchildren.
Queen Hsinbyumayin , and the advisers decided that it would be best to kill the ones most likely to be threats. The weak Thibaw was also persuaded that this was the best policy and thus in February, 1879 a huge trench was dug to which some eighty victims were dragged and clubbed, tortured and ravaged by several imaginative executioners. Whether dead or alive they were tossed into the pit. To drown the cries a noisy festival was held in the palace. Some say that the executions took place on waste land west of the palace, but contemporary accounts mention the site as the local jail.
However, some days later the earth began to rise over the mass grave which had to be trampled down by the palace elephants. Eventually the bodies were removed to a common graveyard or thrown into the Irrawaddy.
Queen Medawgyi tomb
Both Medawgyi’s husband and her son eventually went mad. Her husband Tharrawaddy was deposed by her son Pagan after increasing lunacy- eventually Tharrawaddy was found sticking feathers on his naked body to look like a bird and thus overhear what the pigeons, and especially the sparrows were saying as he thought they were all British spies.
Pagan was deposed by Mindon after he became increasingly insane and cruel following the loss of the second Anglo Burmese war.
The tomb of the Laungshè Queen. She was the daughter of the Monai-bô-hmü Prince. She was a queen of inferior rank, but the mother of Thibaw, the last king of the dynasty. She died died in 1870. Thibaw’s mother had actually been divorced for infidelity as she had carried on a liaison with a monk but was only surprisingly punished with divorce. She became a nun.
Thus Mindon Min lies together with a wife who engineered the massacre of his family, and a wife he divorced for infidelity.
Standing close to the royal tombs is the former Royal Mint where the “duang dinga” or peacock rupees were minted (beginning in 1865). It became the bakery for Fort Dufferin
The area around the tombs seems to be a waste ground for unwanted military equipment.
There are various cannons, mostly of Burmese manufacture. The most ancient, with the rings, are from the former palace at Amarapura.
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