The King's Little Sister

Meikhtila Supaya

 

Thibaw, the last king of Myanmar had two sisters, one older who was the Pakhan Gyi Supaya and the younger, called Meikhtila Supaya. She was undoubtedly one of the prettiest princesses of the Konbaung Dynasty. The official name of the older sister was Thuthiri Yadana Dewi while the king's little sister's name was Thiri Thu Yuzar Waddi. However the royals were known only by the name of the town each 'owned' as liege-lord, such as King Thibaw who 'owned' the town of Thibaw (Sipaw, in the Shan State) or for female offspring by the chronological order of birth such as First Royal Daughter, Second Royal Daughter etc.


In the palace, Meikhtila Supaya was about the same age as the younger sister of Queen Supaya Lat, the Yamethin Supaya Lay. This unlucky princess and her oldest sister Maing Naung Supaya Gyi were both married to King Thibaw for political reasons and neither of them were allowed to share his bed nor throne and never even called 'queen'. Maing Naung Supaya Gyi lived with her mother the dowager Queen Hsin Byu Ma Shin while Yamethin Supaya Lay shared a pavilion with the Meikhtila Supaya. The Chief Queen Supaya Lat shared the king's brick residence, breaking a tradition of all Burmese queens living in their own pavilions.

None of these four princesses were on good terms with Queen Supaya Lat, but the king's sisters were treated better than her own sisters who were also his wives, even if ignored.  When the queen was in a good mood she would lavish gifts upon her sisters-in-law but at other times would make snide remarks with thinly-veiled venom, especially against Meikhtila Supaya who was very beautiful, her body slender and her demeanour fragile; her waist could be circled by a pair of hands. 

 


When Queen Supya Lat was preparing to enter he birthing chamber for her firstborn, one ritual was to open the while umbrella at the head of the royal bed. 


                                                                        Thibaw;s redidence

The white umbrella


The Princess Meikhtila was honoured with this duty but the umbrella was heavy and she struggled to get it open; the queen who was watching the proceedings remarked, "Be careful, you will break at the waist."

 


Life at court was leisurely and luxurious, but the Princess Meikhtila was deeply religious. She recited sutras and looked after her household shrine devotedly. One evening she and her handmaidens heard a baby crying and she sent them out to look for it. The sound came from near a little bridge and under the bushes at its end, they discovered a gold Buddha image. As soon as the handmaidens lifted it up, the sound of crying ceased. It became a much cherished possession of the princess.



When the British colonised the whole of Myanmar in 1885 and exiled the king and queen to India, the two sisters decided to stay behind. At the time Princess Pakhan Gyi Supaya was 29 years old and Princess Meikhtila Supaya, 26.

Their world had been torn apart and scattered, from being the princesses of the highest rank, they were forced to leave all luxuries and ceremonies of court life behind to live in Mandalay city, just beyond the palace moat and walls. They already owned plots of land in Mandalay, as gifts from their father, King Mindon but there were no houses built yet and they dared not live on their own. They joined Queen Sein Don, one of many queens of King Mindon who was living in a rest house of a monastery; their own mother Queen Laung Shay had passed away by then.                                                                              Her special Buddha image


Since King Mindon created this royal capital he called Yadanabon in 1859 out of cleared scrubland, it was more commonly known as Mandalay, since it was at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Since its birth the city has been a bustling trade centre and the two princesses were suddenly thrust into a society that they had never encountered before. The older sister soon became the Maha Devi or Chief Consort of the Shan Prince Sao Khun Saing, who built her a huge mansion in Mandalay where she lived like the royalty she was, attended by many servants.


King Mindon , her father


The younger Princess Meikhtila was attended by loyal handmaidens and she was especially fond of one named Khin Lay Pu. The princess even visited her handmaiden's house, which would have been impossible during palace life. During these visits she met Khin Kay Pu's parents, wealthy merchants, as well as her brother, Kyaw Hlaint Maung Maung. The two fell in love and married; they had four children, three girls and one boy, the third child.  They settled in a mansion on the corner of 84th Street and 29th Street; it is still there.


Her older sister did not have any children, and adopted the only son of her sister, although the child was at home at each of the houses. At the age of two, he was playing with his nursemaid on the top floor of his birth mother's house and while leaning against a closed door that opened outwards, the lock happened to be loose and he fell to his death. When the Pakhan Gyi Supaya heard the news she came running and as soon as she entered the gate collapsed on the ground, weeping; both mothers were inconsolable. All three of her daughters married but only the second daughter had children. (The second child and eldest daughter of this princess is still alive, named The Eldest Royal Daughter (Thamee Daw Gyi) in the traditional way of royals, without the use of the commoners' U and Daw prefixes to the names.)

The Princess Meikhtila passed away at the age of 36 not long after the death of her son of a sudden cardiac arrest. On that day, neighbours saw her leaving the house in a horse-drawn carriage driven by what they saw as men dressed as celestials. They asked her where she was going, and she told them she was going to the Mya Thalun Pagoda in Magwe. As soon as the carriage drove off the neighbours heard weeping from the house and found out that the Princess Meikhtila had just expired. They were amazed, protesting that she just left on a carriage driven by celestials.

The Princess Pakhan Gyi Supaya once owned the 'A Ma Daw Win' or the 'Compound of the Older Royal Sister' in Mandalay. The Princess Meikhtila owned the compound called 'Yut' Compound but squatters who were her servants and also strangers lived there illegally so in time she and her family lost it. After her death her husband Kyaw Hlaint Maung Maung was cheated out of the sale of their house when he signed the deeds before receiving the money. He refused to sue, in spite of adequate witnesses, because he believed he was paying a debt from his past life.

The descendents of Kyaw Hlaint Maung Maung and Meikhtila Supaya still live in Mandalay and Yangon.

 

Photo of Buddha image by courtesy of Heiko Rudolph

 

Comments