Mandalay and the Art of Building Cities in Burma

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François Tainturier

Drawing on original Burmese texts and illustrations, recent scholarship and mapping, Mandalay and the Art of Building Cities in Burma argues that the founding of Mandalay shifted critically in emphasis and scale from a protocol that established the royal city as a ‘cosmic city’ to one that materialized the royal capital as a sanctuary. In the process, the founding protocol used Buddhist narratives as models for action and drastically altered patterns of spatial order prevalent at former royal capitals.

The book renews scholarly discussion on Southeast Asian urban traditions and offers a critical investigation into the ‘cosmic’ dimensions of one of the region’s centers of power. It provides further insight into how rulers articulated lineage, power, and promotion of Buddhism by creating potent landscapes. The systematic planning of Mandalay and construction of its potent landscape constituted the expression, not formulated in words but in tangible form, of the throne’s claim of Burma as a ‘Buddhist land’ (Buddha-desa) at a time when Lower Burma had been annexed by non-Buddhist believers.

“François Tainturier has provided an historically grounded, thoroughly original interpretation of the last Burmese royal capital, seeing it not merely as an expression of age-old cosmic symbolism, but as an imaginative response to unprecedented psychological and cultural pressures created by British encroachment.”
– Victor Lieberman, author of Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830

“This stimulating book – drawing on a wealth of evidence in Burmese, and including a rich discussion of Pali and Sanskrit materials – should interest intellectual historians and scholars of Buddhism and sovereignty, as well as historians of art, landscape, and urban planning. Tainturier evokes a dynamic arena of imitation and innovation at Mandalay, amidst the growing power of British India in Burma.”
– Anne M. Blackburn, Cornell University

"What conception existed behind the plan of Mandalay, the last ancient royal capital in Southeast Asia? Overcoming such superficial interpretation as a representation of Indian cosmic model by previous studies, this book vividly depicts the elaborate strategy of King Mindon to establish the legitimacy as a ruler of Burma with religious authority and virtue through materializing a city of Dhamma or Buddhists' sanctuary." 
Masahiko TomodaDirector, Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation 

François Tainturier
 is the executive director of the Inya Institute, a Yangon-based higher learning institute dedicated to advancing the social sciences and the humanities as they are related to Myanmar.

Publication year: 2021
272pp / 235 x 187 mm (portrait)
80 colour images, 5 b/w images

Published with the support of the Chen Cheong Swee Fund of Yale-NUS College and the Royal Asiatic Society