Some twenty one miles north of Mrauk-U and about six miles east of Kyauktaw is an old city of Dhanyawaddy. The earliest city in Rakhine, Dhanyawaddy is situated west of the ridge lying between the Kaladan and Lemro rivers, occupying the well-drained foothill area and backed by the ridge. Remains of the walls and moats of this city can still be seen on many sites. The remains of brick fortifications arc still seen along the ridge which protrudes into the city itself.
The old city was of fairly large size, almost circular in shape, with the eastern wall made of brick at the base of the ridge. On the western side only a small portion of the outer wall remains because of the ravages of the Thare creek, a tributary of the Kaladan. The creek might once have formed the moat on the west side, while on the other three sides the moats had existed although they are now silted over and occupied by paddy fields.
Dhanyawaddy was made up of an outer and inner cities. Looking at the outer city, we find that the east- west diameter is 1.3 miles and north-south diameter is 1.55 miles, so that the shape is that of an irregular circle. It has a perimeter of about 6 miles and encloses an area of about 1.7 square miles.
Within the city, a similar wall and the moat enclose the palace-site which has an area of 64 acres. This inner city, palace-site, is rectangular in shape. The east-west length is about 2,000 feet while the north-south length is about 1,700 feet. The 200-feet-wide moat, circling the inner city, is now covered with paddy fields.
The inner-city was a special site for the royal family. People lived within the outer city which also enclosed the fields they cultivated. The area of the inner city was only 64 acres. In those days of insecurity, when the country was often subjected to raids by various hill tribes, the people felt safer within the walls. By enclosing the paddy fields, the people would have an assured food supply, even under siege, thus permitting them to withstand the siege. Normally, the city, Dhanyawaddy, would have controlled the valley and the lower ridges supporting a mixed wet rice and taungya cultivation, with local chiefs paying allegiance to the king.
At the north-eastern corner of the palace- site is the Mahamuni Shrine, on a small hillock, Sirigupta, once the centre of the royal worship which had played a central role throughout the history of Rakhine. This position, in which the shrine sits at NE site of the palace, is the characteristic position found in many other major shrines of urban Buddhist centres in South-East Asia, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka. This tradition may be related to the early royal ancestors. It can be seen in the aerial photographs that this system has been closely followed by the present shrines.
Although Dhanyawaddy is located about 60 miles from the sea at present, the city might have been a sea port at one time. Small sailing ships could have come right up the Thare creek to the city. In any case Indian culture and influence had penetrated the city by sea as well as by land. Perhaps it was the earliest city built in Indian style, a civilized urban type.
According to Rakhine chronicles, this Dhanyawaddy is the third Dhanyawaddy (B.C. 580 to
325 A.D.). The city was founded by the King Sandasuriya. Nevertheless, after deciphering Anandacandra inscription of Shitthaung Pagoda, Dr. E.H Johnston dated the founding of Vesali as 350 A.D. Dr. Sircar of Indian Archaeological Survey also agrees with him. He is not in agreement with the local chronicles, but he has suggested the date of the founding of Vesali to be about 370 A.D.
If Johnston and Sircar's dates concerning the founding of Vesali are accepted, Dhanyawaddy must have been the capital of Rakhine only up to 330 or 370 A D.
Traditionally, the city is called Dhanyawaddy (grain-blessed). The term applies very fittingly to Dhanyawaddy, which depended principally on the extensive regions of rice land surrounding it. With a rainfall of over 200 inches a year, the corp never failed. Moreover, there were other things that helped maintain itself successfully.
The problem of fresh water supply was acute on the Kaladan plain because of the tidal creek. For water supply, Dhanyawaddy had to rely upon a lot of reservoirs that stored rain water.
The palace-site, at the centre of the city, was the focal point of an irrigation system which can be discerned in aerial photograph. Water collected in the wet season had been stored in four main reservoirs in city proper, situated on all four sides of the palace site. The reservoirs on the north, east and west are still in use today, the southern one has recently been silted over. The larger one on the east, situated along the inner moat, also appeared to have supplied water to the palace complex.
Dhanya palace entrance with the Mahamuni pagoda in the background
The introduction of wet-rice agriculture and subsequent urbanization is reflected in the chronicled traditions regarding the naming of the city. During Gotama Buddha's stay in Rakhine, He was said to have declared to his disciples:
"In Jambudipa, among the sixteen countries of Majjhimadesa the food offered to the monks consists of a mixture of maize, beans, corn, and millet. But in this country, the food offered consists of various kinds of barley and rice; my preceding elder brother Buddhas ( Kakusan, Gonagamana and Kassapa) had called this country (or this city) Dhanyawaddy and as the inhabitants have never suffered from famine, this region shall in all times continue to be called Dhanyawaddy (i.e. grain-blessed) "
Note: This article, "An Old City of Dhanyawaddy" from the book named "A Guide To Mahamuni: The Highly Venerated Golden Image Of Buddha With Wuthentic Long History" By Tun Shwe Khine ( M. A)