Salvaging a lost king

Art July 29, 2013 00:00

By Phatarawadee Phataranawik

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Udumbara had relinquished the throne of Ayutthaya, only to be captured by the Burmese

The resting-place in Myanmar of Siam’s King Udumbara is to be restored as a memorial ground and an “Ayutthaya cultural heritage centre” built nearby, at a cost of at least Bt39 million.

Myanmar’s government had planned to raze the historic tomb in Mandalay to make way for urban development. Architect Vichit Chinalai led a Thai team to the site at the edge of Taungthaman Lake last August, excavated a stupa and verified that this was indeed the tomb of the Siamese monarch.

Vichit and Myanmarese archaeologist Win Muang and Myint Hsan Heart sought authority to restore the site and set up the Udumbara Memorial Foundation to look after it. It has endorsed the project and plans to raise the needed funds.

Last month the team unearthed further evidence at the site, including an alms bowl containing human remains, fragments of a monk’s robe and a third artefact that remains unidentified but was once the property of another royal personage.

Vichit says the tomb resembles a small cetiya that’s larger and older than any other grave marker in the cemetery on Linzin Hill.

“Based on chronical records and our new discoveries, we can now say the tomb belongs to Udumbara,” Vichit tells The Nation.

“The alms bowl is made of terracotta and decorated with colourful glass mosaics, signifying it was used by a Mahatheara (high-ranking) monk,” Vichit says. “The glass mosaics are in the dok dua formation, just like the Yethaphan Pwint – the goolar flower in the king’s crest.”

Win Muang Kyi acknowledges that the bowl’s design is not Burmese.

Myanmar history records Udumbara being among 100,000 Siamese captured by King Hsinbyushin (1736-76) of Burma’s Konbaung Dynasty during the invasion of Ayutthaya in 1767. They were taken to Hsinbyushin’s capital, Ava.

Udumbara was a monk when he was taken to Burma.

He is often referred to as King Dok Dua, referring to the flower of the madua tree. Udumbara is “madua flower” in Pali. He was the youngest son of King Borommakot (1733-58) and a minor queen called Phiphit Montri, and yet came to be designated uparat (crown prince).

Such was the insecurity of his position upon assuming the throne when his father died, though, that Udumbara decided to abdicate in favour of his meddlesome elder brother Suriyamarin (1758-67).

He built a monastery called Wat Pradu Songtham and retired there, only to be seized by the Burmese when Ayutthaya fell in 1767 and led away to captivity, dying after 29 years in a foreign land in 1796.

The joint Myanmar and Thai working team has laid out plans for a 10-rai Mahathera King Udumbara Memorial Ground near the burial site and is seeking the permission of local authorities to establish a cultural centre. Surrounded by 200-year-old trees, it would show how the Siamese captives lived in and around Mandalay in the 18th century. The project includes restoration of the royal graveyard complex.

The first phase would focus on developing the grounds. Then the cultural centre would be erected utilising Ayutthaya-style architecture, while inside it would be decked with hi-tech displays.

“When we are granted permission and secure ownership of the site, the project will take at least two years,” says Vichit, who’s already devoted nearly a decade to the possibilities. Only since Myanmar began opening up to the world last year has he been able to imagine possibility becoming probability.

Scholars in Mandalay and Thailand are now hoping this project will not only prevent a great loss in terms of our history but also boost Thai-Myanmar people to people relationship and yet potentially huge tourism industry.