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A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.2

January-March 2003

Home | Contents | A Letter to Our Readers | Mindon's Mandalay | The Thrones of Myanmar Kings | Northern Magic
Folk Toys of Myanmar: Simple Pleasures | Kekku :The Gem in Pa O Land | The Wedding | Events Calendar

Kekku: The Gem in Pa O Land

By: Hpone Thant
Photos: Maung Maung Latt (Chit Nyo)

The Pa O people inhabiting the area around Taunggyi, Aung Ban, Pindaya, Kalaw, Hopong Townships etc in the Southern Shan State are very devout Buddhists. Visit any village in the Pa O area and the biggest buildings are the monasteries; huge halls, huge Buddha Images.

A two hours' drive from Taunggyi through a landscape dotted with clusters of villages and fields of red soil, brings you to Kekku. This place has been the center of worship for the Pa O living in the region for centuries. On a small plot of elevated land and overlooking the Hopong Valley, ancient pagodas, many in ruins, stand. Some pagodas are choked by the roots of banyan trees and other by creeper vines but one thing in common is that the stucco sculptures remain in relatively good condition under the ravages of time and weather.

Some recent researches say Kekku was built about 400 years ago. Unfortunately there is no written record to explain how such a proliferation of pagodas appeared in such a remote site, and who the donors were. A local rhyme says " the clicking of the betel cutters of the Pa O (Taung Thu) farmers" to memorise the number of pagodas here. This means there were 7623 pagodas in this complex! In 1918 a monk form a nearby village of Naung Hke, the Venerable U Thawna was able to register a total of 2402 and an engraved stone slab dated 1928 on the western side however says that there are 2548 small pagodas inside the complex. But at present approximately 2500 are still around and many are in ruins. Legends say that King Narapatisithu of Bagan built this pagoda. Others say that a couple of elderly Pa O farmers found this site after coming upon a golden pig digging at a huge white ants' nest. Anyhow there is a statue of this golden pig on the eastern side of the pagoda and pilgrims offer candles and flowers, as well as food, to this golden pig. Annually in March, on the Full Moon Day of Tabaung ( March) which is the last month of the Myanmar lunar calendar, the pagoda festival takes place. Normally the festival will begin two or three days in advance for this is not just a religious festival but also a social occasion. It is the time for all to have fun, exchange news and gossips, to trade. For the younger set it is the time to meet their friends from other villages or the boys to fall in love with the girls. As it is, all the people of the region arrive by the thousands, dressed in their traditional costumes. Some come in bullock carts while others arrive by more modern conveyances, on the village tractor!!

The bullock carts usually congregate under huge banyan trees that surround the Kekku pagoda compound. Many bring whole families; grandparents, small babies, even household pets. In the evening the girls, being girls, have to put on their make-up, to flutter like beautiful butterflies inside the festival grounds for in the festival grounds there are many performances going on; some traditional theatre and also modern music troupes. As dusk gathers the festival ground soon becomes hazy as families get ready to cook. Many bring wares to sell at the festival and take back home what they need. They also bring food, fruits and flowers, candles to offer at the shrines. A large pandal in front of the festival grounds is for the monks to stay and for the pilgrims to offer food to these monks as acts of merit. In the night the monks congregate here and recite Buddhist prayers and scriptures. They also give sermons to the devotees during the daytime.

But the most interesting time to visit this place is to get there before dawn of the Full Moon day of Tabaung. On that day the Pa O people in all their finery come with gaily decorated trays bearing morning food offerings for the Buddha Images. The precinct is filled with black clothed Pa O men and women. The candle lights illuminate the sombre faces of the pilgrims as they pray in front of the main pagoda and at other smaller pagodas. A group of Pa O are gathered around a small and partly ruined pagoda. A Buddha Image is visible, half buried under the rubble. This Image must have some special wish granting powers for the pilgrims to crowd around so much.

The sound of gongs and cymbals herald the arrival of various groups of Pa O from other outlaying villages coming to offer morning food for the Images. The eastern sky slowly lights up and the shadows slowly fade. But the people are still streaming into the grounds. A long line of monks file past the standing devotees to receive steaming hot rice for it is the ultimate merit to offer food for the monks so that they may continue with their studies and propagate the Buddhist beliefs.

Whatever the history of Kekku it is a fascinating place to visit; a place of deep devotion to traditional beliefs and ancient customs. It is a rare discovery in a land known for its hidden treasures.

Hpone Thant is a regular contributor to Enchanting Myanmar magazine on the country's customs, traditions and bio-diver-sity. He can be reached at: harry@swiftwinds.com.mm

Home | Contents | A Letter to Our Readers | Mindon's Mandalay | The Thrones of Myanmar Kings | Northern Magic
Folk Toys of Myanmar: Simple Pleasures | Kekku :The Gem in Pa O Land | The Wedding | Events Calendar

Enchanting

Myanmar

A Guide to Tourism Destination and Beyond

Vol. 2

No.2

January-March 2003

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