Burma’s famous Padamya Nga Mauk disappeared in the night from 29 November to 30 November 1885, when after the British had occupied upper Burma, the Burmese king Thibaw, his chief queen Supayalat and the royal servants were about to start their journey into exile (first to Rangoon, then to Madras/India and, finally, Ratnagiri/India) and the royal treasures had been handed over to the British Colonel Sladen.
There are many descriptions of Nga Mauk’s unprecedented beauty and brilliance, this is one of them. When placed face down on a velvet covered pedestal Nga Mauk shines like a lighted lamp, when immersed in a glass of milk, the colour of the milk turns red and when held in the hand, a red liquid appears to seep through the fingers drop by drop. Wow, that is something, isn’t it?
You do now certainly think that is all well and good, Markus, but what exactly was or is Burma’s famous Padamya Nga Mauk? My brief answer is that Nga Mauk was or is a royal ruby. A ruby in size, colour and brilliance unprecedented, unrivalled and as it is said, “Worth a kingdom.”
It was the most precious gem of the Burmese Crown Jewels. Nga Mauk was set into a ring of pure gold and carefully kept in the royal treasures by the Burmese kings of the Konbaung Dynasty from king Bodawpaya, the 6st Konbaung king (reign 1782 to 1819) to king Thibaw, the last Konbaung king (reign 1878 to 1885), to be worn only at very special occasions. So, now you know that Padamya Nga Mauk is or was a ruby. Why do I always say, “Is or was?” The answer is that I do this for the simple reason that with the exception of the person who has stolen Nga Mauk no one knows whether Nga Mauk, this exceptionally beautiful and valuable ruby still exists. More details on this I will give you at the end of the article.
However, this article is much less about rubies against the backdrop of geology, gemology, mineralogy and chemistry (what would be boring) as it is about rubies (both in myth and reality) in connection with Burma, in general, and the story that the allegedly most precious ruby ever found has to tell, in particular.
As for the general description of what a ruby is I do not want to spend much time and confine myself to the following. The ruby is one of four minerals that make up the family of precious stones comprising diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald. It is a crystal of the category mineral variety and consists of the mineral corundum (aluminium oxide) with chromium. And it is this chromium that gives the ruby its name. The name ruby has its roots in the Latin word ‘ruber’ what means red. The colour of rubies range from pink to red and is the foremost criteria (followed by clarity, cut and carat) that is determining the price. With ‘9’ on the Mohs scale the ruby takes second place behind the diamond that is with ’10’ the hardest mineral on this scale.
Since at the time of this writing about 1.000 years is that what is nowadays called Burma (since 1989 also Myanmar) famous as source of rubies of the highest quality surpassed especially in terms of colour by no other country in which rubies are mined. When I say Burma as I have just done this is not quite correct because this may easily create the impression that rubies are found all over Burma, which is not true.
The site where the world’s most precious rubies have been found is located some 313 miles/500 kilometres north of Yangon, formerly Rangoon, and 125 miles/200 kilometres northeast of Mandalay; its name, Mogok. It is also called ‘The Valley Of Rubies’ and the Mogok Stone Tract.
Mogok city is situated at 4.000 feet/1.200 metres above sea level. It has at its centre a lake and is surrounded by mountains. The four highest of them are between 5.600 feet/1.700 metres and 7.500 feet/2.300 metres high and the climate here is cool. The famous gem-producing area is actually made up of several valleys and their towns and the total population of the valley is said to be about 550.000. Mogok is the site where also Nga Mauk, The Royal Ruby, has allegedly been found.
There have of course other famous rubies from gem-rich Mogok been in the royal treasure trove but not one of them came even close to Nga Mauk’s quality and value. These other rubies were the Hlaw Ka Tin Galay ruby 20 rati/18 carat, the Hlaw Ka Tin Gyi ruby 40 rati/36 carat and the Sin Ma Taw ruby 40 rati/36 carat, just to mention the largest of them. Nga Mauk is said to have the size of a Betel nut and a weight of 98 rati/88 carat whereas his ‘twin brother’ Kalahphyan has a weight of 82 rati/74 carat. More to Kalahphyan a few lines further into the article.
There are several stories about Nga Mauk in circulation one more unbelievable than the other especially as the weight of Nga Mauk and the early history of the uncut ruby are concerned. Every Burmese will proudly tell you his most probably exaggerated version. Some of the inconsistencies and variations in these stories pertain to the finder, his profession and how Nga Mauk was found, others to the number of pieces into which the uncut ruby was broken, at what time the pieces were cut, and which cut was used. Yet other inconsistencies relate to the history of the individual pieces of the stone, the king who reigned at the time the ruby was found and, finally, the person(s) who has/have stolen Nga Mauk. You see, Nga Mauk is through and through a mystery from the beginning to the end, the ruby’s disappearance. And even after the end it remains a mystery because (with the exception of the thief(s) or the present owner) no one knows where Nga Mauk is and what happened to it after it disappeared. Surely, Nga Mauk is somewhere. Will it resurface one day? Will it be forever lost?
In all of the stories on Nga Mauk are so many obscurities and inconsistencies that I would seriously doubt that Nga Mauk has ever existed would there not be some credible witnesses who confirm that they have seen and even touched the ruby. This means essentially that Nga Mauk did (or does) exist, that it was (or is) cut and of very high value and that the ruby disappeared in the night from 29 November to 30 November 1885. These are the facts and everything else is pretty much open to speculation for there is no proof of anything that is written and said about Nga Mauk. Did the Burmese royal couple steal it? Did members of the royal family steal it? Did high ranking members of the Burmese court steal it? Did Colonel Sladen steal it? Did other high ranking British officer steal it?
I have analysed the different stories (more precisely phrased legends) and compared one against the other in the effort to get as closest as possible to what has probably happened and how. Here now comes, at long last, that (abridged) version of the story of Nga Mauk, the fabulous Burmese ruby, that I think is the least unrealistic one of all of them. I am fully aware of the fact that even this story is in some parts obscure and inconsistent. I cannot say for sure what of it is true and what not; you have to reach your own decisions on this matter.
This story begins with the finder of the stone a certain U Nga Mauk (Mr. Nga Mauk) from Laungzin near Kyatpyin after whom the ruby was named. When Nga Maung found the stone that is said to have initially been weighing 620 rati/560 carats he was immediately aware that it was a ruby of exceptionally high quality and value. Usually, that would have been reason to be very happy but there was one big problem and that was a royal decree according to which a gemstone above a certain size and price did automatically belong to the king and was not allowed to be kept in private possession or to be sold. Those not strictly adhering to this decree were threatened with severest punishments. Obviously, Nga Mauk was neither willing to take the risk of keeping and/or selling the entire stone nor was he willing to hand the entire stone to the king. The most practical solution to this problem was to give one part of the ruby to the king and sell the other part in order to significantly improve his and his family’s financial situation; and that he did.
Using a natural crack in the uncut stone to his advantage he split the stone into a larger and a smaller part. He then handed the larger part that would later became the’ Nga Mauk Ruby’ to king Bodawpaya, while selling the smaller part that would later become the ‘Kalahphyan Ruby’ to Calcutta/India. If this would have been the end of this part of the story it would have been a satisfying outcome as both parties involved (the king and Nga Mauk) had greatly benefitted from the ruby. But unfortunate for Nga Mauk this was not the way it turned out. Somehow king Bodawpaya learned that Nga Mauk had tried to cheat him and ordered that not only Nga Mauk and his family but also the entire population of his village were to be burned alive. This was done but by sheer luck Nga Mauk’s wife Daw Nann seems to have escaped the execution. Here comes the Daw Nann legend (another legend) into the picture.
As legend has it Daw Nann was away from home to collect fire wood when her family and the other people from the village were arrested and put to death. The legend further says that watching from the top of a nearby hill the execution being carried out broke her heart into two pieces just like the Nga Mauk ruby had been broken in two pieces. The hill is since then called, ‘Daw Nann Gyi Taung’, meaning ‘the hill from which Mrs. Nann looked down’.
The king had also ordered some of his agents to travel to India and bring the second part of the ruby back to him. This mission was accomplished and the recovered gem became also part of the royal treasure. The ruby was cut and the king named it ‘Kalahphyan Ruby’, meaning ‘the ruby that came from the land of the Kalas’.
Now we are coming to the last part of the Padamya Nga Mauk story: the ruby’s disappearance. On 28 November 1885 British forces had captured Mandalay and surrounded the Mandalay Palace with the Royal City. Colonel Sladen who accompanied the British forces as Political Officer was sent by General Prendergast into the Palace to discuss with king Thibaw matters of unconditional capitulation to end the 3rd Anglo-Burmese war. On 29 November 1885, King Thibaw did publicly acknowledge his sound defeat by the British Army by capitulating to the British General Prendergast. Afterwards Colonel Sladen and other high ranging officers went to the Mandalay Palace to personally observe the preparations for the Burmese king Thibaw, his chief queen Supayalat and the royal servants to be sent into exile early the next morning. Being in the palace Colonel Sladen took the opportunity to take a close look at Nga Mauk and handed it allegedly very reluctantly back to the Queen’s maid of honour, Chuntaung Princess Thu Thiri Sanda Wadi. That was the last time that Nga Mauk was actually seen. Later, when king and queen were about to board the ship that was to bring them to Rangoon, Colonel Sladen returned and requested that Nga Mauk was (together with other royal gems) handed over to him for safekeeping. He was given the box in which the ruby used to be kept but no one saw the stone itself, only the box. Maybe Sladen checked whether the ruby was in the box, maybe he didn’t.
After the former Burmese king Thibaw had arrived in Ratnagiri in April 1886, he informed the British Political Officer H. Fanshaw on Nga Mauk and the other royal gems he had given to Colonel Sladen and requested that they be returned to him. In November 1886 the India Foreign Office replied that a ruby with the name Nga Mauk could not be found. The former Burmese king Thibaw did not allow this to pass in silence and in December 1886 investigation into the Nga Mauk case began.
Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Bernard assigned the task to investigate the case to the Political Officer Thirkell White in Mandalay. From then on till the death of Colonel Sladen on 4 January 1890, all persons involved in this case such as General Prendergast, Colonel Sladen, Colonel Sladen’s interpreter Nicholas, Commanding Officer Captain Budgin, Commander Lambert, President of the Committee in charge of confiscated royal properties, several officers of the British army, several members of the royal family, Thibaw’s ex-treasurer U Hla Bu, Thibaw’s former Minister of the Royal Treasury, Shwe Taik Wun, etc. were contacted and questioned and a lively exchange of letters and documents took place in the course of the investigation.
To cut a long story short, all activities with respect to finding Nga Mauk were to no avail and its disappearance and whereabouts remain a mystery.
I hope you have found my ‘Padamya Nga Mauk article’ informative and entertaining.