Mandalay

Maha Myat Muni

The Maha Myat Muni Paya, often referred in English simply as the Mahamuni Pagoda, is the holiest pilgrimage site in Mandalay, and the second holiest in Myanmar after the Golden Rock. It is located 3km south of the city centre on the road towards Amarapura. The name Mahamuni (also written Maha Muni) means Great Sage Pagoda, and is also known as the Rakhaing (Arakan) Pagoda or Payagyi (also written Phaya Gyi), or Great Pagoda. The Mahamuni Pagoda was built in 1784 by King Bodawpaya. The principal image within the pagoda is the Mahamuni Buddha, also called Mahar Myat Muni Buddha. It is the most reverred Buddha image in Mandalay. This Buddha image was taken by King Bodawpaya during his invasion of Rakhaing, and is an object of intense devotion to pilgrims from all over. The Mahamuni Buddha was cast during in the life-span of Buddha. It shows the Buddha in a seated posture called Bumi Phasa Mudras, which symbolizes his conquest of Mara. The Mahamuni is 4m high, and is cast in bronze. The statue weighs 6.5 tons. Its crown is decorated with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. According to belief, the Mahar Myat Muni Buddha Image was being cast in front of Buddha himself and is the closest portrait of the Buddha. Hence the face of the image is most revered. Every morning at 4:30am, a team of monks would wash the Buddha’s face and brush the teeth. Countless thousands of devotees apply layers of gold leaf on the image to gain merit, so much so that the image has been completely covered with 15 cm thick gold and its original shape is now distorted. The Mahamuni Pagoda is open daily from 6am-8pm, and entrance fee is US$4 for foreigners not accompanied by a tour package.

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Kuthodaw Pagoda.

The Kuthodaw Paya (also called Kuthodaw Pagoda) is a huge walled temple complex at the base of the southeast stairway to Mandalay Hill. Kuthodaw Paya was built by King Mindon at about the same time as the Mandalay Royal Palace. The central stupa of Kuthodaw Paya is called Maha Lawka Marazein Paya, and that name is often used to refer to Kuthodaw Paya itself. The Maha Lawka Marazein Paya was built in 1857, and was modelled after the Shwezigon Pagoda of Nyaung U, in Bagan. According the an on-site stela, the Maha Lawka Marazein Paya is 187ft high, including the platform on which it stands, while guidebooks usually list its nett height as 30 m (100 ft) high. The Kuthodaw Paya is often called the World’s Largest Book. That’s because the Maha Lawka Marazein Paya is connected to the entrance by a long corridor, and is set in the middle of a thirteen acre field that contain 729 pitaka shrines, called dama cetis. These shrines, built in 1872 during the Fifth Buddhist Synod, each contains a marble slab inscribed on both sides with the Pali script text of a portion the Tipitaka (Pali spelling, or Tripitaka, in Sanskrit), Theravada Buddhism’s sacred texts. Taken together, the pitaka shrines contain the entire text of the Tipitaka and thus form “the world’s largest book.” The stone slabs were carved from white Sagyin Hill marble found just a few miles north of Mandalay. The project began in October 1860 and was carried out in a special hall within King Mindon’s Royal Palace. Each slab measures 5 ft (1.5 m) tall by 3.5 ft (1.1 m) wide and 5-6 inches (12.7 – 15 cm) thick. The project was completed in May 1869. If spread out horizontally, the slabs would cover a third of an acre (.1 ha). Vertically stacked, these “pages” would rise 340 ft (103m) high! There is a US$5 entrance fees for foreign travellers not within a tour package to visit the Kuthodaw Paya.

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Mandalay Palace.

The Royal Palace of Mandalay, also called the Mandalay Palace, was built by King Mindon to represent Mount Meru, the centre of the universe, according to Brahman-Buddhist concept of the cosmos. This is something that is similar to Angkor and Borobudur. The site itself was chosen based on auspicious omen and astronomical calculations. Mandalay Palace was built of teak wood on raised brick plinth gilded with gold and vermilion. The queens’ chambers are laid out according to priority – 1 Southern, 2 Northern and 3 Lesser queens in the West. All the structures within the palace, including the court, fortified walls with ramparts, moat, water systems, roads, gardens with shady tamarind trees, recreational playgrounds, swimming pools, mint, security ports with infantry, cavalry, archers, artillery, sheds for royal elephants, stables, audience halls, throne halls, religious edifices and monastery and devotional halls were superbly planned and executed to minute details. Mandalay Palace took five years to construct, from 1857 to 1861. The palace ground is a meticulously calculated perfect square enclosed by fortified high walls, now called the Mandalay Fort. The walls are almost 2 km long on each side, and face the four cardinal directions. There are 12 gates, three on each side, marked with signs of the zodiac. Right at the center of the palace, above the throne room, also called the Lion’s Room, is a gold-plated seven-storey, 78 m (250-ft) high pyathat (tower). It is placed here, according to geomancy, so that the wisdom of the universe can be funneled directly into the king’s throne to assist him in decision-making. Outside the palace, the city itself was also laid out in blocks of squares. A canal supplies water for the moat of Mandalay Palace. The moat also serves a double purpose as a good protection from enemy assault. From the eastern moat, one can get a lovely view of Mandalay Hill in the distance. Today the palace has been renovated and restored. It shares the ground with the Mandalay Fort, which is still occupied by the army. The museum within the palace is open Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm. A scale model of the old palace shows the location of the interior buildings, and provides a glimpse at King Mindon’s concept of “centre of the world”. King Mindon’s mausoleum is also within the Mandalay Palace. Entrance Fee to the Mandalay Palace is US$5 for foreigners not following a tour package.

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Shwekyimyin Monastery.

The Myanmar chronicles say that this Pagoda was built by Min Shin Saw, the eldest son of King Alaung Sithu of Bagan(A.D 1112-1167). Having fallen into disfavor of his royal father Min Shin Saw was exiled to Htun Ton Pu Tet, east of Mandalay. There he resided in state, doing many works of social and religious merits such as repairing old religious monuments and monasteries, building new ones including Shwe Kyi Myin Pagoda, constructing the Aung Pin Le and Ta Mok So lakes to supply water for cultivation by a system of irrigation channels.

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Atumashi Monastery.

The Atumashi Kyaung, or Atumashi Monastery, is a monastery in Mandalay. It is located next door to the Shwenandaw Monastery, and a short distance from the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Atumashi Monastery is often also called Maha Atulawaiyan Kyaungdawgyi, or Incomparable Monastery. It was built by King Mindon (1853-1879) in 1857, a few years after he founded his capital in Mandalay, having shifted from Amarapura. The Atumashi Kyaung was one of King Mindon’s last great religious construction project. Instead of the graduated wooden spires called “pyatthat” or the multi-roof design of traditional Burmese monastic buildings, the Atumashi was a great structure surrounded by five graduated rectangular terraces. Within it was treasure worth a king’s ransom, including a 9 m (30 ft) high Buddha which was clothed in silk and coated with lacquer. The Buddha has a huge diamond set in its forehead. There were four complete sets of the Buddhist scriptures (called Tipitaka in Pali, Tripitaka in Sanskrit) in their teak boxes. Unfortunately, a big fire broke out in 1890 that took with it all of Atumashi Kyaung’s valuable contents. For years thereafter the ruins of Atumashi Kyaung lay exposed to the elements, including the charred teak pillars, grand staircase and colonnaded walls. It was only in the 1990’s that plans were afoot to rebuild the Atumashi Kyaung. The Burmese Archaeological Department embarked on the reconstruction in 1996 using convict labour. Although the reconstructed Atumashi Kyang looked impressive, it does not come close to recreating the magnificence of the original building.

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Kyauktawgyi Pagoda.

Located near the south stairway (Zaungdan) of Mandalay Hill is Kyauktawgyi Pagoda. The pagoda was the merit of the King Mindon who was also the builder of Mandalay. The construction of Kyauktawgyi Pagoda started in 1853 but could finish only in 1878, partly due to its massive size and partly to the palace rebellion of 1866. It was modeled after famous Ananda Temple of Bagan, with the main structure being a huge sitting Buddha Image, carved from a single massive block of marble. The original marble stone was brought from the Sagyin Mountain Query twelve miles north of Mandalay City. The huge marble stone was carried on a massive raft along the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River to the river bank near Mandalay. From there, it took 10,000 men 13 days to carry the stone to its current place near the base of Mandalay Hill. Originally modeled after the Ananda Temple of Bagan, the pagoda differs considerably from Ananda Temple at the time of completion. In the centre of the Pagoda structure is a shrine which houses the huge marble sitting Buddha which was carved from a single marble stone. The Buddha is a Bhumisparsha Mudra which is a gesture of “calling the earth to witness” (Buddha’s hand touching the earth). The main focus of the Buddha is the hands. As a result, the eyes of the Buddha image are almost closed – a strange form in Burmese Buddha images most of which normally have wide open eyes. From this main structure, there run four corridors (Zaungdans) on each side of the central shrine (North, South, East and West). The corridors are covered by roof and form connections from the Garden of Arahats (that surrounds the main pagoda) to the central structure. The Garden of Arahats is named after the individual shrines that house each of the eighty Arahats (disciples of Gautama Buddha). In each side of the pagoda in the garden, there are twenty individual shrines with one Arahat in each, making twenty Arahats in each side, with a total of eighty. These are the main disciples of Gautama Buddha.

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Sandamuni Pagoda.

The Sandamuni Pagoda (also Sandamani, because it contains the largest iron Buddha, the “Sandamani”), or Paya, is located to the southeast of Mandalay Hill and bears a resemblance to the nearby Kuthodaw pagoda because of the large number of slender whitewashed ancillary stupas on the grounds. The pagoda complex was erected on the location of King Mindon’s provisional palace, the “Nan Myey Bon Tha.” which he used until his permanent Royal Palace was completed in the center of the Royal City (now Mandalay Fort). It was built as a memorial to King Mindon’s younger half-brother, statesman, reformer, stimulating personality and confidante, the Crown Prince Kanaung, who had helped him seize power from Pagan Min in 1853. Two of Mindon’s sons, Princes Myingun, (or Myint Kun) and Myin Kon Taing disappointed in being excluded from the succession, launched a palace revolution against their father on June 8, 1866, and assassinated Crown Prince Kanaung and three other princes: Malun, Saku and Pyinsi. The princes were buried on the grounds where they died. The royal residence was demolished the next year as the court was moved to the new Royal Palace. In 1874, King Mindon had the pagoda built near the graves of the Crown Prince and the other members of the royal family who lost their lives in the 1866 coup. It was perhaps as a result of this coup that Mindon did not appoint another successor until, upon his deathbed in 1879, the scheming Central Queen secured the appointment of her weak son-in-law, Theebaw, and her daughter, Supayalat, as successors with her as regent. The unpopular regime collapsed in the British annexation of Mandalay and Upper Burma in 1885. The Paya is also famous for the Iron Buddha Sandamani cast by King Bodawpay (1782-1819) of the Konbaung dynasty in 1802, and which King Mindon and brought from Amarapura to his new pagoda and shrine in 1874. This was the seventh and last of the many journeys of the Iron Buddha, frequently moved because of wars and the shift of capitals in the nineteenth century. Accompanying this largest solid iron Buddha image were eighty statues of saint disciples, which are now sheltered in mini-stupas around the pagoda. The statue reportedly weighs 40,924.8 lbs or 18.562 metric tons. It now is covered with gold foil attached by believers over the decades. Additionally there are 1774 marble slabs inscribed with Commentaries and Sub-commentaries on the Tipitaka (Pali spelling, or Tripitaka, in Sanskrit), the “Three Baskets of Buddha’s teaching” in the Pali language. Each is 5.5 ft high 3.5 ft wide and .5 ft thick. Some have called the grouping “Volume II of the World’s Largest Book,” in a clear reference to the adjoining Kuthodaw Pagoda, which contains the full text of the Tipitaka itself on 729 slabs. The project and the housings of the slabs were the result of the successful campaign in 1913 by the famous Hermit of Mandalay Hill, U Khanti (or Kanti), who also designed the iron covered causeways and devotional halls and the book-like layout of the tablets. A renovation campaign begun in 1991 changed some elements of the Sandamuni. The uncompleted stupas housing the slabs were completed and the existing ones were repaired. It now is in a good state of repair. In addition, the tombs of the Crown Prince and the three princes were moved to a mausoleum.

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Shwenandaw Monastery.

The Shwenandaw Kyaung (also written Shwe Nandaw Kyaung or Shwenandaw Monastery) is an exquisite monastery built of wood, and is one of the oldest wooden buildings in Mandalay that was spared from damage during the Second World War. It was also where King Mindon died. The Shwenandaw Kyaung was originally located within the grounds of Mandalay Palace.
King Thibaw (who succeeded King Mindon, and whose tyrannic rule effectively brought his reign to an end) moved the Shwenandaw Kyaung its present location – just as well, because the Allied bombings of World War II destroyed all the buildings of the original Mandalay Palace except for this lovely monastery. The fame of Shwenandaw is in its intricate woodcarvings. Hardly a square inch of the monastery is not spared from ornamentation of figures and flowers. The walls of the Shwenandaw was once gold plated and adorned with glass mosaic, both inside and outside. All that is left today is the gold layered on the high ceiling. King Thibaw’s couch and royal throne are still inside the monastery. Although the Shwenandaw today is incredibly fragile, it lends an air of elegance to the 19th century workmanship and stands as a masterpiece of wood art.

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Kaungmudaw Pagoda.

The Kaungmudaw Pagoda is located about 10 km from Sagaing, Mandalay Division, which is not very far from Mandalay city. This is one of the most well known among of the Sagaing stupas, with its large white-washed edifice and large dome. The dome rises 151 feet and was modeled after the Great Stupa in Sri Lanka. Around the base of the Zedi are 812 stone pillars. Images of Nats can be seen in the 120 niches that circle the base. The enormous dome rises 46 m (151 feet) in the shape of a perfect hemisphere and was modeled after the Maha Zeti Pagoda in Ceylon. Also known as Rajamanisula, the pagoda was built to commemorate Inwa’s establishment as the royal capital of Myanmar. Around the base of the pagoda are stone pillars, each of which is 1.5 m high. The details of the pagoda’s construction are recorded on them.

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Mandalay Hill.

Mandalay Hill was the reason that the city of Mandalay was founded in the first place. In 1857, King Mindon founded Mandalay to fulfil an ancient Buddhist propecy that Gautama Buddha had visited Mandalay hill 2400 years before that with his disciple Ananda, and had proclaimed that on the 2400th anniversay of his death, a great city of Buddhist teaching would be founded at the foot of the hill. King Mindon took it upon himself to found this city, believing that in so doing, he would achieve enlightenment. Mandalay Hill is located to the north of downtown Mandalay, The 230 m (790 ft) high hill provides a panoramic view of the surrounding region, and is a favourite viewpoint for visitors to watch sunrise and sunsets over the plains below. At the top of the hill is the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, meaning “wish-granting pagoda”. Visitors may reach the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda on foot, through the covered stairways, or take the car up, and reach the pagoda by escalator (yes indeed, a series of modern-built escalators were installed to take visitors up the hill). Kilometre-long covered stairways allow visitors to ascend Mandalay Hill on foot. There are two main stairways from the south. It begins under the two very big statues of white chinthes, the guardian beast that is half lion and half dog. The journey to the top consists of 1729 steps but is not particularly difficult. As this is sacred ground, you are required to remove your shoes. Still, the roof keeps the stairway cool under the shade. Halfway up the hill, you will come upon the first large temple, which enshrines three bones of the Buddha. These three bones originally came from a stupa in Peshawar, in modern-day Pakistan. When Gautama Buddha died at the age of 80 in Kusinara, India, he did not provide any instructions on how to dispose of his body. His follows decided on cremation, but before when only his bones remained, a downpour extinguished the flames. The Mallas of Kusinara took possession of the skeletal corpse, and refused to share it with anyone until it almost caused a war. Only then did they agree to divide the relics into eight equal portion, and these went to the following kings who built stupas to enshrine the relics.

1. Ajatasattu, king of Magadha.
2. The Licchavis of Vesali.
3. The Sakyas of Kapilavastu.
4. The Bulis of Allakappa.
5. The Koliyas of Ramagama.
6. The brahmin of Vethadipa.
7. The Mallas of Pava.
8. The Mallas of Kusinara.
Three centuries later, King Ashoka opened the relic chambers of the eight stupas, and distributed their contents among 80,000 stupas in South and Southeast Asia. King Kanishka, a Buddhist king of the Kushan dynasty, has several of the relics brought to Peshawar, where he built a 168 m (550 ft) stupa to enshrine them. The stupa was destroyed by Muslim conquerors in the Battle of Hund in the 11th century. The Peshawar Museum excavated the site of the stupa at Ganji Gate in 1908, and found the casket containing the relics. The relics meant little to the Muslims, so the British authorities at that time presented them to the Burmese Buddhist Society. The Burmese then built a temple halfway up Mandalay Hill to house the relics. The view from Mandalay Hill is one of the most breathtaking sights in Myanmar. Immediately to the south is the city of Mandalay. To the west is the Ayeyarwady River, which forms a silvery ribbon in the evenings. Beyond it are the pagodas of the Sagaing and Mingun hills. On the northern side are the rice fields of the Ayeyarwady plains. To the east rises the Shan Plateau.

 

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Shweinbin Monastery.

In the year 1815, master craftsmen were commissioned to construct a very enormous, exquisite and elegant wooden monastery by two wealthy Chinese jade merchant. The wooden monastery is exceedingly ornamented with elaborate wood-carvings and wood-work along the balustrades and roof cornices and horizontal moldings in relief. It is just west of Thakawun monastery and south of 35th Street. Just as Khmers sometimes copied and translated wood-carvings into stone, Myanmar translated some masonry elements into wood.

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Yankin Hill.

The Yankin Hill is located in the East of Mandalay. Yankin Hill meaning “away from danger”, shows harmony and peacefulness of Mandalay. There are many carved figures of fishes on the hill. It was placed by Min Shin Saw, son of King Alaung Sithu during the Bagan Era. It is believed that first the figures of the fishes were kept in the Royal Palace during the Yadanarbon period. But later on for the sake of the people and on their believes, Min Shin Saw placed the figures on Yankin Hill. Whenever there was a draught, the people of Mandalay carried the figures around the city and then went to Yankin Hill. It was believed that by doing this, it could bring rainfall to the city. There is a bus route winding up the hill from both the South and North side.The hill is about 215 meters high and ranging from North to South about 2013 meters wide. The Mya Kyauk tube well is situated near the Yankin Hill and visitors can also pay homage to the Atula Maha Mya Kyauk Pagoda.