Vol. 2


April - June 2003

Home | Contents | Message of Felicitation from H.E Brig.Gen.Thein Zaw,Minister for Hotels & Tourism
Happy New Year to Our Readers | Pinya | Braving The Rapids | Is it a Hinmyo ? | Kayin Clothing
Bogyoke Market - Yangon's Oriental Bazaar | A Wonder World: Monywa Thanboddhay
Bringing In The New Year | Tender is the Night| Events Calendar



By Khin Thandar
Photos: Sonny Nyein

A pagoda complex in Monywa, an Upper Myanmar town 136 km northwest of Mandalay, rises like a fairy tale temple from the dusty land. A rainbow of colours flash in the sunlight from the glass mosaic set in the surface of the spires gives it a magical aura. The main stupa is surrounded by 845 smaller ones, all of them richly decorated in glass, gild, relief work and a myriad of colours.

Two huge white elephants so lovingly made that they almost look alive, guard the pagoda gates. Normally in pagodas, it is a pair of lions sitting on their haunches that guard the pagoda and it is an astonishing sight to see the elephants here. When you see the workmanship inside, you no longer wonder at the creativity of the craftsmen nor the support and full rein given to them by the Moe Hnyin Sayadaw, Abbot of Moe Hnyin Monastery, who commissioned this pagoda complex in the 1930s. It was said to have taken ten years to complete.

The pagoda is an endless source of wonder for children and all who take a child-like pleasure in wonderland.

For devoted pilgrims, the main stupa contains Buddha images of all sizes, from inch-high ones set in rows upon ascending rows on all available wall space, both interior and exterior. Huge images are enshrined within. Legend goes that the total number of Buddha images in this pagoda complex is nearly 600,000, or to be exact, 582,363.

A prayer hall of imposing dimensions stand next to the main stupa, amongst many smaller pavilions. What gives a festive air to the compound is that the prayer hall and all other structures are decorated with figures of people worked in stucco, caught in mid step so that they look about to walk away. Every single one of the stucco ladies and gentlemen, not to mention, monks, nuns, children, tigers and even a few stray dogs are painted in soft realistic colours. The wit of the artisans who created this complex is evident everywhere: in the group of fashionable ladies of the 1930s taking a stroll and just about to unfurl pretty parasols; two tigers trying to climb over a wall and looking so real you would swear their tails twitch; the hind end of a dog just as it sneaked into an open doorway, both dog and door created from plaster and paint. The 'portraits' of some of the donors of pavilions stand in their own corners, their full figures worked in stucco and looking lifelike with faces showing they are highly pleased at their good merit.

One can imagine the joy and amazement of the public who first saw this on completion, not to mention the fun the workmen had as they vied to complete one scene better than the next.

Once, the wide compound and many pavilions and rest houses gave sanctuary to thousands who fled the violence of World War II. Living there for the duration of the war, they had to keep to the strict rules of conduct laid down by the Abbot. Waste of water or fuel was not allowed, the place was kept pristine, and the children were tutored in their alphabets. Thousands lived out the war years within the pagoda precincts, watched over sternly by the Abbot and his monks.

The compound contains a large square pool where fish and turtles are allowed to live free from harm, as is usual with most famous pagodas. These pools are called Laik-kan, or Turtle Ponds. Pilgrims buy popped rice and watercress from sellers to feed the already satiated turtles. Here, the pond is decorated with pink stucco lotus flowers.

There are also a few old wooden pavilions with delicate, fancy fretwork, vying in charm with the stucco figures, flowers and animals.

One pagoda with a tower is called the Arlain Nga Sint, or the Five Stages Spiral Tower. Pagodas with such names are built to symbolise the one built in the heavens, it is said, enshrining the knot of hair that Prince Siddathta cut off before he discarded his prince's clothing to devote himself to a life of searching for Enlightenment. The hair had floated skywards, and was caught by the King of Celestials who built the Sulamuni Pagoda in the sky, which is set on a spiraling tower with five stages, each guarded by creatures such as Dragon, Garuda, and ogres. A stone inscription stated that work on this Arlain Nga Sint Pagoda in the Thanboddhay complex was begun in 1932 and completed in 1936.

You keep on discovering new delights, new scenes, and more stories unfolding before your eyes. It would take days to really enjoy all the scenes. When your legs get tired, there are wooden platforms built around huge shady trees where you can sit, doze or picnic. Friendly squirrels run down from the branches to beg a few crumbs and friendlier monastery dogs come around to wag their tails at you.

Around the prayer hall, in special niches there are single almost life-size figures of kings, queens, ministers and generals holding up sheets of stucco paper on which were written ethics by which people should live by, such as not to waste time nor to neglect studies. The stucco people stand there staring at you with solemn eyes, and no doubt you would come away a chastened and better person.

Vol. 2


April - June 2003

PINYA : A Short Period of History PINYA : A Short Period of History Kayin Clothing