“Kandawmin Gardens” may be a Burmese version of “Cantonment Gardens”, the name given when they were created in colonial times. The gardens are near enough to the Shwe Dagon that those who are buried there are considered to be under the shadow of the famous and much worshipped temple and thus this honour is reserved for special individuals.
Four such tombs lie on The Shwe Dagon Pagoda Road where the gardens border the busy traffic, the drivers and passers- by barely noticing them. Well, let us see who is there.
The oldest belongs to the primary Queen of the exiled King Thibaw, the controversial Queen Supalayat who was exiled to Ratnagiri in India in 1886 with the monarch, and returned to Burma three years after his death, in 1919. She died in 1925 having lived as a recluse in Churchill Road, now called Komin Kochin Road – insisting that any visitors show respect due to a Queen.
The British regarded her as a cruel and vengeful woman, having together with her mother and certain senior courtiers organized the ritual massacre of hundreds of relatives of her father King Mindon, when he died. This was to assure that the new King, Thibaw, the son of a disgraced queen of Minon’s would have no challengers. Supalayat’s mother, Shinbyumashin, Queen of the Middle Palace had chosen Thibaw as the successor so that when he married her daughter ( she had three) her influence would still be maintained.
Supalayat takes charge
Thibaw was to marry the eldest daughter, but at the ceremony Supalayat pushed in and was married together with her elder sister, and after this Supalayat took charge of everyone, including the King, and denied her sister visiting rights to the monarch. When Thibaw secretly took another woman when Supalayat was confined to give birth, she found out and had the woman and all connected with the matter executed.
When the British forced Thibaws abdication in 1885, unlike her husband, Supalayat kept her composure, asking a British soldier to light her cheroot as she was taken away with the King in a bullock cart.
Supalayat was allowed to return to Rangoon in 1919, after Thibaw’s death in 1916, but not allowed to return to Mandalay, the old royal capital, as the British feared unrest. For the same reason she was not allowed burial in Mandalay, but she was given a state funeral in Rangoon by the British, attended by the Governor , and buried with full honours in the Cantonment Gardens. Well, it’s more than she gave to her relatives, most of them got a sandalwood club on the throat.
The tomb is a Burmese pavilion with a seven tiered payatthat erected in 1925.
The most internationally known Burmese?
To the right of the royal mausoleum is that of one who would, before Aung San Suu Kyi came to prominence, lay claim to be the most internationally known Burmese citizen
U Thant, a former Secretary General of the United Nations. He was active during the Cuban Missle crisis and highly thought of by the international community. However the jealous Burmese dictator Ne Win did not share this view, and when U Thant died in 1974 from lung cancer his body was seized by the military for a simple burial with no honours. Rangoon University students snatched the body determined to build a suitable mausoleum, but the army stormed the students base, killing many in the riots which followed and martial law was declared.
U Thant was hastily buried by the army in the mausoleum where he now lies.
The mother of Aung San Suu Kyi
The mausoleum of Khin Kyi lies to the left of the Queen Supalayat’s.
She was the wife of Bogyoke Aung San, who she met in Rangoon General Hospital when she was a nurse in 1942 when he was in command of the Burmese who were allied with the Japanese, fighting the British. A talented woman in her own right, she became a government minister and Ambassador to India. She was the mother of four, two of whom survived into adulthood, one being Aung San Su Kyi. She died in 1988, with crowds attending her funeral in thousands despite the military trying to prevent their gathering. Her husband, assassinated in 1947, had spent his formative political years helping to found the Burmese socialist party, and the Burmese Communist parties, so Khin Kyi will have little problems lying next to the final mausoleum to the left of hers.
Thakin Kodaw Hmai
Regarded as possibly the most famous Burmese poet and literary figure, he became fervently anti British after witnessing the forced departure of the last King of Burma by the British from Mandalay.He continued his political activism through out his life.
He assisted Aung San and the 30 comrades in their struggle against colonial rule. After independence in 1948 he was saddened by the civil war which broke out soon after, and spent the rest of his life time trying to get reconciliation between the rival factions.
He traveled widely an was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize, an honorary doctorate from the University of Hamburg. When the military took over in 1962, he was the only one that the dictator Ne Win would listen to and could not silence.
He died in 1964 – his last wish being for peaceful reconciliation within Burma. In 1976, and the centenary of his birth, over one hundred students were arrested for holding a peaceful ceremony at the mausoleum.
He was described by Anna Allots as , “a man of many skills – a true Buddhist and a staunch patriot; poet and playwright; historian and teacher; pioneer writer and satirist – he is the single most revered literary figure in modern Burma”.
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