Postcards from colonial Burma

New York Public Library’s Digital Collections recently rolled out a number of public domain works. I was pleased to find a beautiful repository of postcards from colonial Burma by D.A. Ahuja, a Rangoon-based photographer.

According to Chasing Chinthes:

[Ahuja] started as Kundundass & Co. in 1885 and in 1900 changed the name to his own, D. A. Ahuja. He bought rights to other photographers’ photos and had them hand coloured and printed in Germany. The quality was the best you could get at the time, and his images outshone other companies from France, Japan, Germany and England. In 1916 he bought out Watts & Skeen. His photography studio was still running as well…

(By the way, Chasing Chinthes also has an absolutely astonishing collection of Burmese postcards by Ahuja, alongside others.)

It’s remarkable to see how how little has changed in most of the featured landmarks today.


Mahamuni Temple

Arracan Pagoda–Mandalay.

Mahamuni Buddha Temple

The Mahamuni Temple’s main hall still features the iconic 7-tiered roof, which shields the revered Mahamuni Buddha Image from the elements.

Buddha’s image inside Arracan Pagoda.

Mahamuni Paya

The Mahamuni Buddha Image today has become so heavily gilt with goldleaf that the image’s surfaces now bulge.

The Konbaung throne

King Theebaw’s throne–Mandalay.


A reconstruction of the Konbaung throne at Mandalay Palace today.

Shwenandaw Monastery

King Theebaw’s Monastery–Mandalay.


Shwenandaw Monastery is undergoing major restoration work, under a US-funded grant. The formerly gilt monastery was once the living quarters of King Mindon Min in the Royal Palace. After his death, his son, Thibaw Min, reassembled the building as a monastery outside the palace grounds, purportedly because he feared the chamber was haunted by his father’s spirit.


Holy Trinity Cathedral

Cathedral Church–Rangoon.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church

I suppose at the time the post card was taken, the bell tower of Rangoon’s only Anglican cathedral, Holy Trinity Cathedral, hadn’t been fully constructed.

High Court

Chief Court–Burma.

Supreme Court Building

The former High Court building housed the country’s Supreme Court until 2006. It still remains an impressive vestige of Rangoon’s British colonial legacy, flanking the Mahabandula Garden to the west. [Thanks for the correction, Ko Thurein Aung!]

General Hospital

General Hospital, Rangoon–nurses’ quarters.

Yangon General Hospital

I’m not sure if the nurses’ quarter was part of the extant General Hospital complex, but it’s a beautiful structure.

Jubilee Hall

Jubilee Hall, Rangoon.

The Jubilee Hall in Rangoon was unfortunately demolished in 1985, and replaced by the Army War History Museum. Located on Shwedagon Pagoda Road near Kyaku Dhammayon, it was built in 1897 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Victoria. According to the Burmese Wikipedia, Rangoon University’s first convocation was held at this venue, on November 28, 1921. The building later housed the National Museum.

Other regions

Gubyaukgyi Pagoda, Pagan

Kubyaukgyi [also Gubyaukgyi] Pagoda at Pagan.


As the comparison indicates, Gubyaukgyi Pagoda has been restored in subsequent years, including the finial roof.

Shwesandaw Pagoda, Prome

Shwesandaw Pagoda at Prome [Pyay]. 004DSC_6859.jpg

Shwesandaw Pagoda, at Prome’s city center, looks astonishingly unchanged over the years.

Theindawgyi Pagoda, Bhamo

Bell Pagoda — Bhamo.

Theindawgyi Pagoda, Bhamo


Bhamo’s Theindawgyi Pagoda (သိမ်တော်ကြီးဘုရား) still sports a unique pagoda design, reminiscent of pagodas built by the Pyu people, such as the Bawbawgyi Pagoda.



4 thoughts on “Postcards from colonial Burma

  1. Sharman Minus says:

    Thank you for looking at the postcard page on my blog. I subscribe to your blog and love reading your opinions on life in Myanmar. I like the comparisons between the old postcards and modern day views of the scenes.. The postcard collection is continually growing because now I’m a collecting addict! I didn’t know about the New York Public Library’s collection, so will have a look. Did you know that a descendant of Ahuja had a photo studio in Yangon until he recently died? A short documentary was made about him, “The Old Photographer,” by Thet Oo Maung.

  2. Hpoun Kyaw says:

    I doubt it’s Shwenandaw Monastery or King’s Thibaw’s Monastery in Mandalay because if I’m not wrong, Shwekyaung has only 1 main building or Saungma and it doesn’t or didn’t have front building normally used for Buddha image to be placed there and Bawgasaung or back building used as a store.

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