Ruins of the Great Temple of Mengoon
Artist: Grant, Colesworthy (1813-1880)
Medium: Watercolour with pen and ink
Drawing in pen-and-ink and watercolour made by Colesworthy Grant in 1855, depicting the Mingun Pagoda at Mingun in Sagaing Division, Burma (Myanmar). The drawing is from an album of 106 landscapes and portraits of Burmese and Europeans documenting the British embassy to the Burmese King, Mindon Min (reigned 1853-1878), titled "A Series of Views in Burmah taken during Major Phayre’s Mission to the Court of Ava in 1855". The mission started from Rangoon (Yangon) and travelled up the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River to the royal capital of Amarapura in central Burma, founded by King Bodawpaya (ruled 1782-1819) in 1782 on the east bank of the river. Mingun is a short distance north of Amarapura on the opposite bank of the Irrawaddy, and is best known for its immense and incomplete pagoda begun by Bodawpaya. He intended it to be the tallest Buddhist monument in the world, rising to a height of 150 m, but died in 1819 before it could be finished. It is purportedly the largest mass of brickwork in the world but was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1838. This sketch by Grant shows the abandoned pagoda riven by cracks and splits caused by the earthquake and its base overgrown with vegetation. It was described by the artist as follows: “This stupendous ruin, which it has been shewn is visible at a distance of ten miles, stands on the western bank of the river, at the distance just named, northward of Umeerapoora. It was built by King Men-tara-gyee; and though it had not reached one-third its intended height, (which it is supposed would have been at least 500 feet) he is declared to have occupied about twenty years in its construction. There was a prophecy, however, that on its completion the Royal founder would die. His Majesty therefore was in no hurry for its fulfilment. The King died in 1819; and the enormous mass, when it had reached no higher than the square basement, was riven - torn, and shattered by a frightful earthquake in 1839, which shook nearly the whole kingdom. Captain Yule states that the height of the ruin is about 105 feet from the ground, and that 'the solid contents must be between six and seven millions of cubic feet of brickwork.' The terraces from which it rises are almost entirely hidden by the jungle which for thirty-six years has most probably been growing about it. The whole ponderous mass is solid, with the exception of the small chambers in which it is rumoured that enormous treasures are buried...” The mission to Amarapura took place after the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 and the annexation by the British of the Burmese province of Pegu (Bago). It was despatched by the Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie, on the instructions of the East India Company, with the aim of persuading King Mindon to sign a treaty formally acknowledging the extension of British rule over the province. It was headed by Arthur Phayre (Commissioner of Pegu and later first Chief Commissioner of British Burma), with Henry Yule (Under-Secretary of the Government of India Public Works Department) as Secretary. In addition to diplomatic duties, the mission attempted to obtain accurate information about the country, culture and people of a land little-known to Europeans, and to this end Grant was sent as official artist and Linnaeus Tripe as photographer. Grant (1813-1880) had come to India in 1832 where he lived in Calcutta and worked as a professional artist and freelance journalist, travelling to Rangoon in 1846. In recognition of the skill shown in his drawings, the Burmese King presented him with a gold cup and ruby ring. Together with a privately-printed book of notes, the drawings give a vivid account of the journey, and a number were used for illustrations to Yule’s ‘A Narrative of the mission sent by the Governor General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855’ published in 1858.