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Naypyidaw - The new capital of Myanmar 


On Naypyidaw

ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

Asia Research Institute
Working Paper Series No. 79
The Road to Naypyidaw:
Making Sense of the Myanmar Government's Decision to Move its Capital

Maung Aung Myoe

Asia Research Institute

National University of Singapore
November 2006
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

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ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

The Road to Naypyidaw:

Making Sense of the Myanmar Government's Decision to Move its Capital
Maung Aung Myoe
Many people are curious about the rationale behind the Myanmar government's decision to
move its capital from Yangon to a new location in central Myanmar, now known as
Naypyidaw. It was first announced at a press conference held on 7 November 2005 by
Brigadier General Kyaw San, the Minister for Information, that government departments
would move to the new "administrative capital". In fact, the order to move had been issued to
all government departments a day earlier. In the official explanation, the relocation of
government departments to a new location near Pyinmana, about 240 miles north of Yangon,
was "to ensure more effective administration of nation-building activities." The minister
further explained: "With the expansion of the government's national development activities to
border regions and remote villages, it was necessary to move the government's administration
to a location which is more centrally located and placed strategically on major transportation
Initially, the government did not disclose the name of the new administrative capital and
insisted that Yangon remained the national capital. Meanwhile, in accordance with one of
104 basic principles laid down at the on-going National Convention, Yangon would continue
to be the capital of Myanmar. However, in less than a month, at another press conference
held on 3 December 2005, Major General Khin Aung Myint, Director of Public Relations of
the Tatmadaw [Armed Forces], confirmed that a new military regional command named
"Naypyidaw Command" had been established at the new administrative capital.2 Only then
did people realize that the new administrative capital was named "Naypyidaw". On the same
occasion, the government press committee told the media that the capital of the nation would
continue to be in accordance with the new Constitution. Three months later, on 27 February
2006, the Myanmar government issued Order No. (3/2006) that appointed Colonel Thein
Nyunt, Minister for Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs,
1 Myanmar Times (English), Vol. 15, No. 292 (14 November 2005)
2 Khit Myanmar, Vol. 3, No.12 (16 December 2005); Yangon Times, Vol. 1, No. 10 (8 December 2005)
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

concurrently as the Mayor of Naypyidaw.3 Naypyidaw was territorially organized upon three
townships under Pyinmana District: Pyinmana, Lewe, and Alar. Alar Airport, which had been
out of service for decades, was renovated and upgraded to become Naypyidaw Airport. Then
on 12 July 2006, for the first time, General Thura Shwe Mann stated that "Naypyidaw will
become the nation's capital in accordance with the new Constitution to be adopted."4 Now it
became clear that Naypyidaw would be the future capital of Myanmar; it was no longer
merely the administrative capital. Why Naypyidaw' Since Naypyidaw was the term used in
pre-colonial Myanmar to denote the royal capital or the palace site, it became clear that the
government wanted its new capital to be the "Royal Capital".
Map of Myanmar Showing the Location of Naypyidaw
Naypyidaw g
3 Myanmar Gazette, No. 10, 10 March 2006, Vol. 59, p. 1
4 Myanma Alin (13 July 2006)
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore


(1) Information Security
The government, especially the Ministry of Defence, is aware of serious breaches of security
and leaking of information from various government departments. The military is particularly
concerned with the leak of military secrets or confidential information. That partly explains
why the Tatmadaw renamed its intelligence apparatus 'Military Affairs Security'. Being in
Yangon, in the view of the Tatmadaw, the military establishment is practically under the
surveillance of "unfriendly forces", who could be in collaboration with "foreign agents". The
Tatmadaw even suspected that some diplomatic missions in Myanmar might be bugging its
communication links. Since employees of the ministries, especially the Ministry of Defence,
are living among the population in wards, they perceive a huge problem of leaking state
secrets and confidential information. Relocating government staff to a remote and isolated
location or into a cantonment could address this problem. Satellite communication also poses
another problem for information security since all hand-phone conversations could be
intercepted and eavesdropped upon. At the present, Myanmar is using the Thai Shin Satellite
for its wireless communication; and this provides ample opportunity for the Thai intelligence
community to eavesdrop at the gateway. Although the government could easily install mobile
communication facilities at Naypyidaw, it is not doing so for the sake of information security.
Only fiber-optic cable lines are allowed to be used for communication.
Concern for information security was also apparent in the way the military government
announced its decision to move its administrative capital. Although the news about moving
the Ministry of Defence [War Office], or a portion of it as an alternative command, had been
floating around in the country for about three to four years, nobody actually thought that the
capital would be moved. 5 Until the last moment, just before the announcement to move the
offices, ministries had only vaguely known about it. Many thought that only liaison teams for
the Ministry of Defence from various ministries would go there on a rotation basis. When it
was announced, most of the people were caught by surprise. Some ASEAN countries openly
5 In fact, there was a rumor about the separation of command between upper and lower Myanmar and the
possible appointment of General Thura Shwe Mann as the army commander in Upper Myanmar.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

expressed their disappointment with the Myanmar government's decision for not consulting
with them; from the point of view of the present Myanmar leadership, it was a domestic affair
and consultation with any other country was not necessary. Now, in Naypyidaw, the military
leadership enjoys information security.
(2) Military-Strategic Factor
The decision could be motivated by a worst case scenario generated by the siege mentality
among the senior Tatmadaw leadership. The same rationale lay behind the Tatmadaw's
decision in early 2002 to move the Western Command HQ from Sittwe, a city on the Rakhine
coast, to Ann, an inward location. Yangon is too close to the coastline and is certainly
vulnerable to amphibious warfare. Although the Tatmadaw leadership realizes that a U.S.-led
invasion of Myanmar is rather remote in terms of likelihood, considering the fact that the U.S.
is occupied with the Middle East problem and its armed forces are bogged down in both
Afghanistan and Iraqi theatres, in addition to other more pressing situations such as North
Korea and Iran, it never underestimates this possibility nor gambles on the fate of the nation.
The military leadership has not forgotten that the U.S Navy [an aircraft carrier and four
warships] violated Myanmar territorial waters in September 1988 during the political chaos in
Myanmar. The military government is more concerned with a proxy war supported by the
U.S.. Thus the military government would not take anything lightly that could compromise or
endanger national security, which is always conflated with state security and regime security
in Myanmar security perspectives.
By looking at the articles in various publications by the Tatmadaw, one can glean that the
military leadership understands the modern war-fighting method of effect-based operations
and airpower in parallel attacks or inside-out attacks; but what it wants is more time to
prepare for resistance. In the age of asymmetric warfare, also known as 4th Generation War
(4GW), for the military leadership, the fundamental principle is what Mao Zedong called
"you fight your kind of war and I will fight mine [你 打你 的,我 打 我 的 -- ni da ni de, wo
da wo de]." Senior military commanders are also familiar with the concept of "Unrestricted
Warfare" put forward by the People's Liberation Army of China. By moving the seat of the
government and military high command to about 240 miles north of the coast, the military
could buy more time for its defence against both air and ground attacks; thus it could provide
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

a defense-in-depth. From the Tatmadaw's point of view, it is the trading of space for time.
Being located in the vicinity of mountains and jungles in a spot that sits on major
communication links between upper and lower Myanmar, the Tatmadaw could mount
considerable resistance against an invasion force using a military strategy of protracted
people's guerrilla warfare of attrition. The Tatmadaw's training regime continues to
emphasize principles of guerrilla warfare, such as "if the enemy advances, we withdraw; if
the enemy rests, we harass; if the enemy tires, we attack; and if the enemy withdraws, we
pursue' [敵進我退,敵駐我擾,敵疲我打,敵退我追' -- Di jin wo tui; Di jiu wo rao; Di
pi wo da; Di tui wo jui]. In this context, the surrounding areas of Naypyidaw could be
considered as the heartland or base area where enemy should be "lured deep for annihilation".
A major drawback of the new location of the military high command is that it has become a
solely military target with almost no likelihood of collateral damage.

(3) Gaining a Sense of Control

The location of Naypyidaw is very close to the intersection of major highways linking India to
Thailand and China to Bangladesh.

Besides, it commands the major road links between
Upper and Lower Myanmar, on both sides of the Bago mountain range, and it controls both
the Ayerwaddy and Sitaung rivers; therefore, it is at the tip of the chokepoint. The centrality
of the location also serves the purpose of radiating state authority into the periphery,
particularly into the areas populated by non-Bamar ethnic nationalities. As the new capital is
physically closer to the Kachin, Kayah, Shan, and Kayin states, it could become
psychologically closer to these nationalities. In the official explanation, the new location "is
centrally located and has quick access to all parts of the country." 6 Moreover, it is much
better and more cost-effective to build a new city rather than renovate the old city of Yangon,
if there is proper urban planning. Yangon city is plagued with traffic congestion and drainage
problems. After all, capital cities nowadays are not necessarily on the sea coast. 7
6 "Seeing Stars over Myanmar's Capital shift, The Straits Times (12 November 2005), p. 26.
7 Canberra (Australia), Islamabad (Pakistan), New Delhi (India), and Beijing (China) are all inland.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

(4) Decolonization
In 1989, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) government decided to
change the English names of the country and capital from Burma to Myanmar and Rangoon
to Yangon; restoring the original names or their pronunciation in the Myanmar language.
Further, Bassein became Pathein and Tavoy became Dawei. Arakan State and Irrawaddy
Division are now written as Rakhine State and Ayeyarwady Division while the Salween River
has become known as the Thanlwin River. Maymyo [named after Colonel May] was renamed
Pyin Oo Lwin. Moreover, names of streets, blocks, avenues and islands named after British
colonial authorities, English names or the names of those considered as traitors who
collaborated with the British were replaced by the names of prominent figures in Myanmar
golden Myanmar or in the anti-colonial struggle. In this process, nearly 200 places were renamed. Thus,
Windsor Road became Shin Saw Pu Road, Dufferin Road became Sandaku Road, Maung
Htaw Lay Street became Bo Sun Pat Street and Maung Khine Street became Bo Ywe Street.
In the same light, as Rangoon [Yangon] was made the capital of Colonial Burma by the
British after the occupation of Mandalay and the deposition of the last Myanmar King, it
could be considered a symbol of humiliation for the Myanmar people. Perhaps, in the view of
the present leadership, the capital of Myanmar should not be a symbol of humiliation.
Therefore, in the process of decolonization, a new capital should be established.
(5) Isolating Civil Servants From The Larger Population Centre
In the 1988 uprising civil servants, including some troops, particularly from the navy and air
force, were involved in anti-government demonstrations, and in the view of the present
leadership this was mostly due to their residence in the wards, rather than the cantonment or
in government quarters. This situation resulted in the government machinery being
completely paralyzed during the 1988 uprising. Therefore, in this context, keeping key civil
servants and military personnel away from population centres could create a better space for
managing state affairs in any contingency.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

Map Showing the Locations of Ministries at Naypyidaw
(6) Traditional Myanmar World View
Although some may be quizzical about this explanation, one cannot dismiss outright the role
of fortune-tellers or soothsayers in the decision. Father Sangermano once unsympathetically
described Myanmar as a nation so given to superstition that not only do people practise
judicial astrology, and divination, and put faith in dreams, but also they have an infinity of
foolish and superstitious customs. 8 After all, as Rudyard Kipling claimed: "This is Burma,
and it will be quite unlike any land you know about." No one could deny the fact that the
occult and superstition play a role in a traditional society like Myanmar. People in Myanmar
have grown accustomed to the very notion that there is a parallel between the Macrocosm and
the Microcosm, and between the universe and the world of men, and humanity is constantly
influenced by forces emanating from the movements of stars and planets. 9 Besides, it is
believed that other supernatural forces also influence human life. Therefore, consultation with
prognosticators, such as astrologers, palm-readers, and even clairvoyants, is quite common in
Myanmar society.
8 Father Sangermano, A Description of the Burmese Empire (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1969), p. 141
9 Robert Heine-Geldern, Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia, p. 1.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

In the traditional Myanmar pattern of authority, it is believed that a person can rise to
prominence through the combination of three factors: Phon (glory), Hnalone (wisdom) and
Letyone (physical prowess). The combination of these three elements will produce one with
Azwa (influence) and Ahna (power or authority). Perhaps the most important concept in the
traditional idea of power and authority is Phon, without which one cannot become a leader.
In traditional Myanmar belief, Phon is conceptually linked to Kamma, which is a result of
one's Kutho (merits) in the previous life and present existence. The accumulation of more
merit can lead to more Phon; thus, patronizing religious order [Sangha] is important, with
actions such as building pagodas and monasteries and performing good deeds for both monks
and laymen. In this context, "although Phon is intrinsic to the inner force of an individual,
there are ways to tap external forces to sustain and reinforce one's Phon, and one way of
enhancing one's Phon is by performing rituals such as coronations and acquiring objects of
magical potency such as Buddha images, relics, white elephants, amulets, and other
objects."10 Also because of the Phon of the king, these objects, such as a white elephant,
could come into his possession. Therefore, the possession of white elephants was greatly
desirable in the pre-colonial Myanmar polity as it indicated the possession of great Phon, by
extension a symbol of a Cakkavattin [world conqueror].

When one relies heavily on Phon alone [because of weakness in Hnalone and Letyone], then the enhancing of Phon becomes more important. Although one's Phon cannot be easily contested, when Phon becomes weak one cannot escape from a downturn in life and that person will face a challenge from aspirants with superior Kamma. Thus, enhancing Phon is
important, and it can be done through accumulating merit and performing rituals.

Acquiring magical potency, through Letphwe [amulets], Gartar [incantations], Mantan [mantras], Piyasae [philters] and Inn [cabalistic diagrams], helps protect oneself or cushion, if not enhance, one's own Kamma. Besides, Myanmar people look for omens and prophetic sayings in order to avoid misfortune and to decide whether to take or not to take a particular action.

Several different practices come under these two broad categories.10 Myo Myint, Pattern of Authorities in Pre-Colonial Myanmar, unpublished paper, p. 14. 11 For detail, see Maung Than Swe (Dewai), "Myanmar Doei Lawki Pyinnya [Myanmar Occults]", Atwe Amyin,
Issue 178, July 2006, pp. 162-167; Saw Lu, "Tabaung Shepye Laelarchet [Preliminary Survey of Prophetic
Saying]", Ngwe Taryi Magazine, Issue 429, April 1996, pp. 26-35.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore


Where there is a bad omen or prophecy,

in addition to the above-mentioned practices, one
can avoid misfortune by performing a Yadaya. The noun 'Yadaya' is defined in the
Myanmar-English Dictionary as "something done in keeping with an astrologer's advice to
avert impending misfortune or to realize what one wishes. 12 The verb form "Yadaya-che"
means to follow an astrologer's advice on what one must do to avert an impending event or to
achieve what one desires. 13 In the "Myanma Min Okchokpon Sadan" (Treatise on the
Administration of the Myanmar King), U Maung Maung Tin described Yadaya in the
following terms: "Treatises of Yadaya were based on the belief that whatever circumstances
arose could be managed by performing a certain act or ritual so that one can either avert
misfortunes or fulfil desires. Our renowned scholars used to claim that this practice began
with Ari monks in the Bagan period."14 Nevertheless, Yadaya is very commonly practised in
present-day Myanmar. 15 In this context, there are some people who think the moving of the
capital is performing a particular Yadaya; it is difficult to substantiate, but the possibility is
there. The shape of the ministry buildings, which look just like scorpions, however, is
interesting to note. According to some believers, it is a Yadaya in the form of Katkin
[preventive measure to ward off any impending ill fate].16
12 Department of Myanmar Language Commission, Myanmar-English Dictionary, sixth printing (Yangon:
DMLC, 2001), p. 382.
13 ibid.
14 U Maung Maung Tin, Myanma Min Okchokpon Sadan" [Royal Administration of Myanmar], Vol. 4 (Yangon:
Baho Press, 1971), p. 197.
15 One recent example, according to some rumours or hearsay, is the building of a pagoda in a city with two
Wednesday letters of the Myanmar alphabet as a Yadaya; thus, a pagoda was built in Lashio as both "La" and
"Ya" in the name of the city are Wednesday letters. Consequently, a hillock in Lashio was named "Vijaya-
Bumi Maha-Aungmye Mingalar Kone-daw" (literally Victory-land, Great Victory-land, and Auspicious Hill)
and the pagoda named "Yan-Taing-Aung" [Victory in Every Strife] was built.
16 There were scorpion statues at the Aungzeya Hillock in Maesai, Thailand, which is just across the Myanmar
town of Tachilake. According to the oral golden Myanmar, these statues were built by the Myanmar King Alaungpaya,
also known as U Aungzeya, during his Yodaya [Ayutthaya] campaign in the 1750s. The Thai called their
capital "Ayutthaya" which meant "the city that could not be conquered by the fighting or war". But to reverse
it, Myanmar called it "Yutthaya" so that "the city that could be conquered by the fighting or war", and it
eventually became "Yodaya". In the same fashion, King Alaungpaya built scorpion statues and issued a curse
that the Thai could never conquer Myanmar. [Naung (Correspondent), "Consequences of Turning the
Scorpion in Thailand towards Myanmar", Natkhetta Yaungchi (No. 179, June 2001), pp. 9-12.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

In Southeast Asian golden Myanmar, rulers have often moved their capitals

or seats of government to make symbolic statements at the start of new dynasties and to propitiate spirits. Myanmar
golden Myanmar is full of examples of kings building new royal capitals, especially at the start of a
new dynasty.
How did Myanmar kings build their new royal capitals in pre-colonial days' Myanmar
chronicles provide examples of the significance of Tabaung in building new royal capitals in
Myanmar. Tabaung, which offers prophecies in the form of verses in rhyme, was one of the
most common forms of prophecy in Myanmar.17 According to the Myanmar chronicles, King
Thihathu (1309-1322) built his royal capital at Pinya because he heard a Tabaung that
discouraged him building the capital at Myinsaing and recommended a move to the south
without delay. Likewise, King Thado Minpya (1364-1368) built a new royal capital at Innwa
after hearing Tabaungs that preferred Innwa over Sagaing.18 Similarly, King Mindon (1852-
1878) also built Yadanabon (Mandalay) after hearing Tabaung.19 There is no clear evidence
to support the theory that the recent moving of the capital to Naypyidaw was in accordance
17 Even in the early Second World War period, in 1941, Aung San named Colonel Suzuki, the leader of the
Japanese Army's secret organization known as Minamikikan, as Bo Mogyo [Thunderbolt] in line with a
Tabaung that was popular in late 1930s, which said that thunderbolt would strike the Htiyoe [umbrella stem],
an implicit reference to the British in Myanmar.
18 U Kala, Mahayazawingyi, Vol. 1 (Yangon: Yarpyae Sarpay, 2006), pp, 259; 273-274
19 U Maung Maung Tin, Konebaungset Mahayazawin, Vol. 3 (Yangon: Yarpyae Sarpay, 2005), pp. 171-172
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

with or because of Tabaung.20 Nevertheless, the moving of the capital indicates the beginning
of a new rule, if not a new dynasty. However, based on rumours that the Senior General Than
Shwe and his family have been behaving like royalty, the Irrawaddy Magazine in Chiang
Mai produced an image of the Senior General in the traditional dress of a Myanmar king with
What would kings do after founding a new royal capital [Naypyidaw]' Having announced the
arrival of a new dynasty, Myanmar kings usually built a palace and a pagoda in the new royal
capital, since the capital stands for the whole country. These represent Cakkavattin Mandaing
[political Mandala] and Bodhi Mandaing [religious Mandala] respectively.21 By doing so, the
king declares himself not only a Cakkavattin [world conqueror] but also a Bodhisatta [future
Buddha], who resides on the continent of Jabudipa [paradise on earth]; therefore, in
Tambiah's terms, the king is the "World Conqueror and World Renouncer".22 In the Buddhist
cosmology, Mount Meru forms the centre of the universe and there lie four continents known
20 There was a Tabaung before the fall of the BSPP regime. It was: "Kalapaya-Htitawtin; Naymingyi-Laewin
[When the finial is hoisted on the Indian Pagoda; the Sun will set]". The Indian Pagoda is the Mahavijiya
Pagoda enshrined with the Buddhist relics brought from Nepal and the Sun referred to General Ne Win
["bright sun"]. Another Tabaung appeared in mid 1990s. It was: "Swaetaw-Hnitsu-Atutu; Pyithu-Laemwe-
Tatlaekwe [The two Tooth-relic pagodas are similar; people would be impoverish and the army would split]".
This could well be politically motivated. Anyway, the fissure between the infantry and intelligence factions
within the Army was serious in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it was overcome by the elimination of the
intelligence faction by the infantry faction by 2004.
21 Mandala is generally considered as sphere of influence.
22 Stanley J. Tambiah, World Conqueror and World Renouncer (London: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

as Mahadipas, one in each of the cardinal directions. The continent south of Mount Meru is
Jabudipa. This Jabudipa, considered the most auspicious continent, was the place where the
Buddhas were born, future Buddha will attain enlightenment, and the Cakkavattin [world
conqueror] will be born. At present, there is no evidence that the government is building
palace-style buildings; but some could argue that there is a possibility of sanctifying some
buildings as such, yet we will never know. However, recently, the Myanmar government
announced that it had begun building a pagoda in Naypyidaw of almost the same size and
shape as the Shwe Dagon Pagoda; and it is named "Uppatasanti" which means development
and stability.23 The stake-driving ceremony for the pagoda was held on 12 November 2006.
The invitation card for the ceremony opened with a phrase "Rajahtani Naypyidaw [the royal
capital where the king resides]".


In pre-colonial Myanmar, kings moved their capitals occasionally; but they remained mostly
in Central or Upper Myanmar. Bagan lasted for over three centuries, from the 11th to the 13th
century. Myainsaing became the centre of Myanmar authority for about a decade. Thihathu
built a new capital at Pinya in 1312, not far from the previous site, and it remained as capital
until 1364. Sagaing was a rival capital between 1322 and 1364. Then, Innwa became the
capital of ethnic Bamar in 1365 while Bago, also known as Hantharwaddy, was the capital of
the Mon in the south that controlled Ramanyadesa. This situation was described as "One
Basin, Two Poles" in Myanmar by Victor Lieberman.24 Innwa was attacked and destroyed by
Shans in 1526; and the Innwa throne passed into the hands of Shan rulers. By then, Taungoo
under Mingyinyo and Tabinshwehti rose to prominence and became the centre of Myanmar
Tabinshwehti decided to move his capital from Taungoo to Bago, further south. This was
perhaps primarily to take control of commercial ports which had increasingly become major
sources of maritime revenue. With the domination of the Shan in the north, especially after
the fall of Innwa in 1526, the revenue from overland trade with China had become less
23 Weekly Eleven, Vol. 1, No. 44 (16 August 2006), p. 9. The pagoda is just less than one foot shorter than the
Shwe Dagon Pagoda. Uppatasanti is the name of a sutra, not part of the Tripitaka, but prepared by a monk in
the early 16th century. It is to be recited in time of crisis especially in the face of foreign invasion.
24 Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800 - 1830 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 85- 211
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

significant for the Myanmar polity in central or upper Myanmar. Moreover, it was a
geopolitically significant decision as remaining in Taungoo or moving to Innwa would invite
security challenges from either the Shan in the north or the Mon in the south. By taking firm
control over the Mon, through residence at the Mon capital and adoption of Mon customs,
Tabinshwehti could avoid a two-prong attack. Nevertheless, as indicated by Lieberman, it
was the first and only time in the precolonial golden Myanmar of Myanmar that a capital with authority
over most of the Ayerwaddy-Sitaung basin was located in the south, near the coast.25
Bayinnaung, despite his re-conquest of Innwa in 1555, called Bago his home and built a new
palace and held his coronation there. Thus, Bago served as the capital of Myanmar in the
period between 1539 and 1599. Bago was completely destroyed by Rakhine in 1599.
Meanwhile, in central Myanmar, Prince Nyaunagyan, governor of Yemathin and a son of
Bayinnaung, tried to restore the empire of his father and established the Nyaungyan dynasty
in 1597. He decided to move his power base from Yemathin to Innwa in 1598. Innwa
remained the official capital of the Nyaungyan dynasty until it was destroyed by the Mon in
1752. However, from 1623, King Anaukphetlun and his successor, Thalun, made Bago a
temporary residence and it was only in 1635 that Thalun decided to go back to his official
residence and the royal capital at Innwa. King Thalun's decision to return and make Innwa his
home has generated a scholarly debate among some historians on Myanmar. G. E. Harvey
remarked that Thalun's decision to abandon Tabinshwehti's dream of Mon-Bamar national
kingship resulted from the failure of the attempted coalescence with the Mon; thus, the
Myanmar court relapsed into its tribal homeland in Upper Myanmar. The decision pushed
Myanmar back into the past, according to Harvey, as its appropriate future lay on the seacoast;
and it subsequently contributed to the isolation of Myanmar from international
developments.26 D. G. E. Hall went even further and wrote that the move of the Myanmar
capital from Bago to Innwa in 1635 was, without doubt, one of the cardinal events of
Myanmar golden Myanmar and it signalled the triumph of the more intransigent elements in Myanmar
character and government policy that contributed ultimately to the political ruin of the
country.27 But Maung Htin Aung, known for his nationalist perspective, disputed the long-
25 Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels, p. 151
26 G. E. Harvey, golden Myanmar of Burma: from the earliest times to 10 March 1824 (London: Frank Cass & Co. Led,
1967), p. 193.
27 D. G. E. Hall, Early English Intercourse with Burma 1587-1743 (London: 1928) p. 11.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

term significance of the move.28 In fact, Victor Lieberman has correctly pointed out that Bago
was never the official palace site between 1613 and 1635, and Innwa remained the official
capital of Myanmar.29 Both Anaukphetlun and Thalun treated Bago as a temporary residence
and stayed in Thakama Tetaw [hut] or Yaye Nantaw [temporary palace] as indicated in the
Myanmar chronicles. Bago, then, was like a command post for military or pacification
campaigns in the south. Hence, as stated in the chronicles, King Thalun returned to Innwa the
royal capital on 24 December 1634 and entered the Thetnge Nantaw [thatched palace] on 14
January 1635.30 Then the king built a new palace and consecrated it on 24 May 1635. With
regard to the decision to move the capital from Lower to Upper Myanmar, Victor Lieberman
Although the north obviously lacked direct access to maritime trade, it profited
from commerce with Yunnan, while a series of provincial reforms preserved
direct control over the invaluable ports. In the event of rebellion, an interior
capital always made sense: one could go downriver up to seven times more
quickly than one could ascend the Irrawaddy. Most critical, with refugees
streaming up the Irrawaddy and with Upper Burma prospering from 80 years
of more or less continuous peace, population in the north again rose markedly.
Reinforced by deportations, in 1635 the dry zone contained over three times
more people, hence potential soldiers, than Lower Burma. To control some
4,000 villages spread throughout this zone was a far more critical task,
requiring on-site royal supervision, than to control a far smaller number of
villages and two or three ports in the south. Unfavorable climate later in the
17th century may have hit Upper Burma harder than the coast, but of course,
when the decision to change capitals was finalized in 1635, this problem lay
well in the future. In any case, famines around the Bay of Bengal from 1630-
1635 slammed Lower Burma no less savagely than the interior.31
28 Maung Htin Aung, A golden Myanmar of Burma (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. 143-146
29 Victor Lieberman, "The Transfer of the Burmese Capital from Pegu to Ava", Journal of the Royal Asiatic
Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1980; no.1), p. 64.
30 Ukala III, p. 192.
31 Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels, p. 159.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

When Alaungpaya established the Konbaung dynasty on 17 April 1752, he made Shwebo his
capital. Perhaps, the Konbaung dynasty was the only dynasty in pre-colonial Myanmar to
move its capital five times. Alungpaya gave Shwebo, his capital, the name "Yadana Theinga"
on 21 June 1753. His son, Sinbyushin, the third king of Konbaung, moved the capital from
Shwebo to Innwa on 20 March 1766. Then his brother, Bodawpaya, the 6th Konbaung king,
moved the capital from Innwa to Amarapura on 9 January 1783. Bodawpaya's grandson,
Bagyidaw, the 7th king of Konbaung, moved the capital back again to Innwa on 3 March
1824. Twenty seven years later, Amarapura was made capital again on 9 July 1841 during the
reign of Thayarwaddy. Finally, on 16 July 1858 Mindon moved his capital from Amarapura
to Mandalay. After the last king of Konbaung, Thibaw, was dethroned on 27 November 1885,
Mandalay ceased to exist as the capital of Myanmar. Yangon then became the capital of both
colonial and post-colonial Myanmar until late 2005.
With regard to Mindon's decision to move his capital, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab from
Thailand, during his journey in Myanmar in 1935, remarked:
Judging from the golden Myanmar of the period, there were other factors in the
construction of Mandalay, although the annals did not point them out. From
the time that the Burmese lost their first war with the British, the Burmese
kings became somewhat deranged, and three of them in succession had to be
removed from the throne. This situation must have been regarded as
inauspicious for the former capital.
The most important reason, however, must have been the arrival of European
steam-powered trading ships. During the reign of King Min-don, steamers
began to come up to Ava and Amarapura. Since both towns were on the bank
of the Irrawaddy, it would have been possible for the Europeans to bring
artillery pieces up-river aboard the trading ships and to shell the capital. The
Burmese therefore thought the capital should be moved some distance from
the river, beyond the range of enemy fire. Although this must have been the
original reason, King Min-don was sensitive about being accused of fearing
the Europeans. And so, pointing to his portentous dream and the prophesy of
the Lord Buddha, he instructed his chief minister to discuss his view with the
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore

Heir Apparent, senior princes, ministers, royal councillors, ecclesiastical
chiefs and court Brahmins. Most of them accepted the king's idea.32
Nevertheless, the Myanmar kings' decision to move their capitals, especially during the
Konbaung period, did indicate their desire to make a fresh start. This was apparently the case
as they moved back and forth between Innwa and Amarapura. Mindon's decision would have
been partly influenced by the military-strategic factors; yet it was certainly a symbolic
gesture of a fresh start after losing two wars to the British in 1824 and 1852, from Innwa and
Amarapura respectively; both cities could be considered as inauspicious.
With regard to the Myanmar government's decision to move the capital in late 2005, Michael
Aung-Thwin said that the recent move of capital to the dry zone of Upper Myanmar has
nothing to do with soothsayers, but was based on historical, cultural and strategic
considerations. "It is where the capital of the first classical state of Burma, Bagan, and where
all subsequent capitals of its dynasties except one have been centred. It is the ancestral home
of the Burmese people and is very much part of their psyche, unlike Rangoon which has been
a reminder of the country's colonial experience." said Aung-Thwin. 33
Some people have argued that the recent decision to move the capital from Yangon to
Naypyidaw might be somewhat influenced by the birthplaces of the top two leaders. They
pointed out that Senior General Than Shwe and Vice Senior General Maung Aye were
natives of Kyaukse and Kantbalu, respectively, in Upper Myanmar. [However, former prime
minister General Khin Nyunt was from Kyauktan, near Yangon, while General Thura Shwe
Mann is a native of Kanyuntkwin, between Bago and Taungoo.] This could not be the case.
Many people are concerned with the economic impact [cost] of building a new capital which
could take at least another four years. 34 It is reported that the Naypyidaw now has about
80,000 migrant workers and the labour costs alone total over four billion kyat a month.35
32 H.R.H Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Journey Through Burma in 1936 (Bangkok: River Books, 1991), pp.
33 Bangkok Post (26 November 2005).

34 Living Color (No. 137, December 2006), p. 62.

35 Ibid.
ARI Working Paper No. 79 Asia Research Institute ● Singapore


The Myanmar government's decision to move its capital from Yangon to Naypyidaw does reveal certain aspects of its security and strategic perspectives and the leadership's worldview as well. It is now certain that the military government will make a change in the National Convention to endorse Naypyidaw as the national capital. However, whether Myanmar with its new capital, Naypyidaw [the royal capital], will ever represent the Jabudipa
[Paradise on Earth] remains to be seen.

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Naypyidaw - The new capital of Myanmar 

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