March 23: Mahamuni Pagoda and Kuthodaw Pagoda
Today is the day of transfer to the Mandalay Hill Hotel for an overnight before going on to Inle Lake. On the way to the hotel, we visited the pilgrimage site, The Maharani Pagoda which is the country’s second ( to Shwedagon ) most revered shrine. Though probably made 500 years after Buddha’s death, the stately bronze Buddha traditionally is believed to be one of only five of his likenesses cast during his lifetime.
Only men are permitted to touch this image and to apply gold leaf. Seen to the right of the middle head is the carnation shaped wheel reminding the faithful of right behavior to attain enlightenment. While there is doubt surrounding the date of its casting, it is known that the Buddha was brought to the Mahamuni Temple as plunder by Bodawpaya’s raid of 1784. [Check out yesterday’s excursion to Mingun to see the great unfinished pagoda started by Bodawpaya.]
The courtyard off the main temple was a colorful interlude, as pilgrims in their best finery pay a visit to this important temple.
Behind me as I took this picture are several statues, Hindo-Buddhist, originally from Angkor Wat, Cambodia. They were plundered by Bodawpaya’s men from Arakan in the 18th century, and are worn by worshippers rubbing various areas in the hope of curing medical afflictions.
Our next stop was Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery (Golden Palace Monastery), the sole remnant of the personal apartments of King Mindon (we’ll tell more about him later today), preserved from Allied bombing during WWII by Mindon’s son who had it dismantled and reconstructed outside the palace walls. The rich carvings and remnants of gold coverings are a silent reminder of the past.
Next stop: Kuthodaw Pagoda. King Mindon was the penultimate king of Burma, 1853-1878, who attempted to modernize his kingdom. Relevant to today’s excursion, he built the gilded stupa, Maha Lawka Marazein, at the foot of Mandalay Hill as the centerpiece of the walled Kuthodaw Pagoda which is comprised of a complex of 729 whitewashed pagodas, each containing an alabaster slab inscribed with a page of the Tripitaka, the Theravada Buddhist Canon. It is thought by various scholars that these teachings of the Buddha were reduced to written form in the period from 300 to 100 BCE. Originally the characters were covered in gold leaf, the pagodas’ finials topped with jewels, and bells, all of which were lost at the hands of the British in 1885.
Now, on to Mandalay Hill, which involved 10 of us riding in the back of a small truck with facing bench seats up a winding narrow road to the Pagoda. I decided to go up to the observation deck while Amy elected to stay at the entrance to the site. While she was there, she received numerous requests to be photographed with the locals, I believe, as she has light skin, red hair and blue eyes, and freakles.
We approached the Sataungpyei Temple and terrace by elevator. The site seemed tranquil now, but plaques memorialize the hand-to-hand fighting between the Japanese and victorious Gurkha and British troops during WWII.
The Sataungpyei Temple, by now, looks similar to many of the Buddhist religious sites.
And there was a panoramic view of the valley below.
We arrived at the Mandalay Hill Hotel for a delicious lunch and after a short rest we were bussed to Mr. Myint’s Gallery where we had a private showing of the many beautiful hand made tapestries. By now, our suitcase was stuffed, so we bought a very small picture of a peacock, the symbol of royalty in Myanmar.