The palace followed the pattern of it’s predecessor palaces in Burma, 12 gates named for the signs of zodiac, and square in shape, this royal residence was the largest (in acreage) ever constructed in Burma. Some of the original buildings were of considerable antiquity – even though the palace was built in 1858, many of the wooden structures were dismantled and reassembled royal buildings previous sited in Innwa ( Ava) and Amarapura – former royal capitals. This was also the custom of the court and even the citizens of the former capitals – if the monarch moved then they had top move as well. –
From the battlements the western approach road inside the palace leads towards the reproduction royal buildings. When this site was the royal palace this was the approach to the rear of the palace complex as the buildings originally faced east (the most auspicious direction in Burmese belief).
The original Mandalay Palace was destroyed during WW2, initially by Japanese bombs 1942, and then what was left was set on fire during the siege of this, then a Japanese fortress, in 1945, by allied artillery, aerial bombs and Japanese arson.
The approach to the reproduction palace
When this was occupied by the British following the third Anglo Burmese war and the palace became Fort Dufferin. To the left of this road was the central jail. All along the right of the road were the barracks for Indian troops. As you move down the road you come to the reproduction of the “Relic Tower”.
The Native Indian Lines
These building are located where the original barracks were located. To the east of the palace buildings were the barracks of British infantry. Many of the building remaining after WW2 are still in use by the Burmese army, but are in locations off limits to non Burmese.
The Relic Tower
The Tooth or Relic Tower was originally built to continue the tradition to have Buddha relics within the palace. However in Mandalay it never contained relics of any kind, but it is an interesting example of Burmese architecture. However, it’s original location was at the east of the present reproduction buildings, and was opposite the next building, the Watch tower (also called the Clock Tower or the Drum Tower) which is also a reproduction.
The Clock Tower
The Bahozin, the clock tower, was originally located near the east gate of the palace stockade (the original main palace buildings were surrounded by a 20ft high teak stockade inside the main walls).
The tower was used to inform the time by sounding regularly a gong on the quarter hour and a large buffalo hide drum on the hour. The time of the watch was kept by a use of copper bowl drilled with a tiny hole which, when floated in a bowl of water, dropped to the bottom on the quarter hour.
It was a common method of time keeping in Asia and notoriously inaccurate as it depended on human awareness, but was eventually assisted by use of a sundial, and ultimately a clock supplied from Rangoon . By these methods the guards were changed every three hours.
The Palace Buildings
The original throne was used three times a year for receptions of Sawbwas (Shan chiefs), ministers and members of the royal family. Over the throne is a massive roof – the Shwe Pyatthat (seven golden roofed spire) – which was regarded by the Burmese as the centre of the Universe. In front and at he sides of the original throne was the Hall of Audiences. When the British took the palace it was turned into the garrison chapel .
The Anauk Samok
The site of the reproduction Lion Throne Hall building was actually the location of the Anauk Samok, the Place of the Chief Queen, which contained the Lily Throne, one of eight thrones within the original palace complex. Following tradition the palace was built on an east west axis, with the western most buildings occupied by females members of the Royal family. When the British occupied the palace the Anauk Samok became the Upper Burma Club. It suffered a direct hit from Japanese bombs in April 1942 during an air raid which killed 2,000 in one day in Mandalay. This and subsequent raids spelled the end for the royal palace buildings as the Japanese especially targetted Fort Dufferin.
Further within the complex is a representation of King Mindon, the monarch who ordered the building of the palace, in the Zetawunzaung (Goose Throne Room or the Room of Victory) where Mindon usually held his state receptions. The Goose (in actuality it was a Ruddy Sheldrake) was the symol of the Talaings of lower Burma ( the Mons), just as the peacock was of the Burmese. The Burmese conquered the Mons and therefore did not let them forget with this symbolism.
Foreign ambassadors were received in the original room. They had to sit on the raised floor within four central posts in front of the throne, while the princes and ministers were on the sides of it, according to their respective ranks. It is difficult to imagine the gilded splendour given the reproduction with aluminium molding instead of intricate carving, steel pillars instead of teak, and the general atmosphere of a royal audience. Perhaps this can help.
General Horace H. Browne, in his diary (1859-79), thus describes shortly his reception in the Zetawunzaung when he presented to the King the letter from Queen Victoria in April 1872
“This was carpeted, and was already nearly full when we entered. Opposite the entrance was a gilded door, and in front of it a golden couch and some of the paraphernalia of Burmese royalty. On the right of the couch, and at right angles to it, were seated the royal bodyguard, holding enormous swords. Opposite to them, on the left of the couch, were several of the King’s sons in full Court dress. We seated ourselves on the carpet as well as we could, 20 feet in front of the couch, at the end of the lane formed by the body-guard and the Princess, placing the letters on their golden salvers in front of us. The Thandaw-zin, or royal voice-bearer, now requested to be allowed to look at the letters, so that he might be able to read them off-hand without hesitation.
Five minutes afterwards the gilded doors behind the couch were drawn aside, and the King appeared at the end of a gallery, advancing with a slow, majestic gait in our direction. He seated himself leisurely on the couch, and at once addressed me, referring to my former visit, and saying he was glad to see me again. Than-dawzin then read out the letters from the Viceroy and Mr. Gladstone. The King interrupted the reading once, asking whether the letter was from the late or the present Viceroy. Before the reading of Her Majesty’s letter ( Queen Victoria), the King appeared nervous and ill at ease, as if he expected there might be something unpleasant in it, but this appearance vanished as the letter was being read, and he was manifestly pleased with its contents. So also were the assembled courtiers, from whom a murmur of satisfaction arose as soon as the reading was completed.”
King Mindon used a telescope to view audiences
These receptions were very large, and Mindon used to look at people with the aid of a telescope.
There are some original buildings in the royal compound, all made of brick and concrete which were situated at the south of the platform which wa the foundation of of the royal building complex.
There are few building surviving from the fire of WW2 – anything built of wood perished, including the watch tower built by King Thibaw.
Save for the brick buildings painted white, all others are reproduction and faceto the west, the complete opposite to the originals. It is unknown why, possibly due to superstitions of the military junta in 1990 not wanting to suffer the fate of the Burmese monarchy.
The Watch Tower
The Watchtower, built quickly on instruction of King Thibaw so he could see illuminated celebrations outside the walls at the end of the Buddhist Lent ( Vassa) is a reproduction, it was originally at the south east of the palace complex.
It became the method by which the King saw the outside world, as he feared venturing outside the palace – the years of his reign were marked by civil unrest
Queen Supalayat views to British
From the original tower Queen Supalayat was said to have viewed the British advance on Mandalay, the dust raised by the foot soldiers and the smoke of the steamers on the river.
In the post below we will discover other structures which survived the war, and which are viewable (presently) only to Burmese nationals.
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