Rangoon - Encyclopedia

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RANGOON, the capital of Burma, situated on the left bank of the Hlaing or Rangoon river, 21 m. from the sea, in 16° 47' N. and 96° 13' E. In 1880 the city was detached from the main district, called Hanthawaddy, and formed into a separate district, with an area of 19 sq. m. Pop. (1901) 234,881, of whom just half were immigrants from India. Rangoon, from being a comparatively insignificant place, has within less than half a century risen to be the third seaport in British India, being surpassed only by Calcutta and Bombay in the volume of its trade. During the busy season of rice-export, which lasts from the end of December to the middle of May, the pool forming the port of Rangoon presents almost as crowded a scene as the Hugli at Calcutta. Rangoon has the double advantage of being situated near the sea and being served by a great river navigable for 900 m. behind it. The approach to the port is not difficult at any season of the year. With flat and shelving shores, the shoal-banks off the main mouths of the delta form the chief danger to shipping, and this is guarded against by a good service of lighthouses and lightships. For a length of seven or eight miles the river is from a mile to a mile and a quarter in breadth, so that there is plenty of accommodation for shipping. Here is concentrated the whole of the rich trade of the delta of the Irrawaddy. Great part of the river frontage is occupied with rice-mills, teak wharves and similar buildings. The rice exported from Rangoon in 1904-5 amounted to 28 million cwt. with a value of nearly 7 million sterling.

The city is dominated by the great golden pile of the Shwe Dagon pagoda, the centre of Burmese religious life. Rising to a height of 368 ft., this magnificent building is loftier than St Paul's Cathedral in London, and its size is greatly enhanced by the fact that it stands on an eminence that is itself 168 ft. above the level of the city. It is covered with pure gold from base to summit, and once in every generation this gold is renewed by public subscription. Moreover, benefactions to this pagoda are one of the favourite methods of acquiring religious merit among the Burmese. The pagoda itself has no interior. It is a solid stupa of brick, in the form of a cone, raised over a relic chamber; and the place of worship is the surrounding platform with a perimeter of nearly 1400 ft.

Though traditionally a site of great sanctity, Rangoon owes its first importance to its rebuilding in 1753 by Alompra, the founder of the Burmese monarchy, who gave it the present name of Yan Kon, "the end of the war." An English factory was opened here about 1790. On the outbreak of the first Burmese War, in 1824, it was taken by the British, but subsequently restored. It was captured a second time in 1852, and passed along with the province of Pegu into the hands of the British. It was destroyed by fire in 1850, and serious conflagrations occurred again in 18J3 and 1855. Since the last devastation Rangoon has undergone considerable improvements. Until 1874, when the existing municipality was constituted, the administration was in the hands of the local government, which devoted itself to raising the centre of the town above the river level, providing land fit for building purposes from the original swamp, which was flooded at spring-tides, and making roads, bridges, culverts and surface drains. In 1892 was introduced the sewage system, which now includes 6 m. of mains, 22 m. of gravitating sewers, 44 m. of air mains and 44 Shone's ejectors. The water supply, drawn from the Victoria Lake, 5 m. distant, has recently been supplemented by an additional reservoir, 10 m. farther off. The city proper of Rangoon with the Kemmendine suburb is laid out on the block system, each block being Boo by 860 ft., intersected with regular streets. In the extensions to the east and west it has been decided to have no streets less than 50 ft. wide. The roads are still lighted by kerosene oil lamps, but electric lighting is in comtemplation. Electric tramways run to Pazundaung in dne direction and to Alon and Kemmendine in the other, as well as to the foot of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda hill. Latterly the erection of masonry buildings, instead of plank houses, has been insisted on in the central portion of the city, with the result that fires have decreased in number. There are two large maidans, or commons, which are used as military parade grounds and for racing, as well as for golf links and other purposes of amusement. There is a garden round the Phayre Museum, managed by the Agri-Horticultural Society, and an extremely pretty and wellkept garden in the cantonments under the pagoda. Beyond these lie the Royal Lake and Dalhousie Park, with 160 acres of water and 205 acres of well-laid-out and welltimbered park land. Dalhousie Park has recently been greatly extended, and the new Victoria Park, declared open on the occasion of the visit of the prince of Wales in 1906, is quite the finest in the East. There are two cathedrals, Church of England and Roman Catholic, and a Presbyterian church, besides the cantonment church buildings for worship. Religious buildings and lands, indeed, occupy an area in Rangoon out of all p oportion to its size. Buddhists, Hindus, Mussulmans, Parsees, Armenians and Jews all own lands and pagodas, temples, mosques, churches and synagogues. The Buddhist monasteries, in particular, occupy wide spaces in very central portions of the town and cantonments. Burial-grounds are equally extensive, and exist in every direction in what were once the outskirts, but are now fast becoming central parts of the city. The chief educational institutions are the Government Rangoon college, the Baptist college and St John's college (S.P.G.). Besides the general hospital, a female hospital in connexion with the Dufferin Fund has recently been built, and there are hospitals for contagious diseases and for lepers in the suburbs. The staple industries are mills for husking rice and for sawing timber, and petroleum refineries. Carving in wood and ivory, and embossed silverwork are also carried on. There are three municipal and eight private markets, which are being improved and extended. Everything, from sacking to jewelry, is sold in them. The introduction of pure water and the establishment of compulsory vaccination have greatly improved the health of Rangoon. But the death-rate is still high, due partly to the swampy nature of the outskirts of the city proper, and still more to the mortality among Hindu immigrants from the Madras presidency. The total rainfall in 1905 was 104.96 in. Rangoon is the headquarters of a brigade in the Burma command of the Southern army. (J. G. Sc.)

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