Expressions of Buddhism in the Streets of Mandalay, Myanmar

With her shoes in her hands, a young burmese woman walks through a Burmese Buddhist temple with a large bunch of weeping goldsmith flowers, Mandalay.

Flowers for Offerings
With her shoes in her hand, a woman walks through a Burmese Buddhist temple with a large bunch of weeping goldsmith flowers (padeign gno in Burmese) as offerings. Visits to local temples are a part of every-day life in Myanmar.

Religion has been at the centre of countless world conflicts since time immemorial – as I was reminded by an article about religion and politics posted on Facebook this morning. Religion is also integrally entwined with the role politics plays in managing societal organisation and ensuring civil order: in many parts of the world, religion shapes every aspect of people’s daily lives, instructs them on how to behave, and provids a purpose and a focus for their artistic expression.

Nowhere is this more true than in Myanmar.

The trappings of religious practice are in evidence everywhere in the public and private spaces throughout this predominantly Buddhist country. Even when you are not visiting one of the many beautifully built, lavishly decorated, and lovingly maintained temples (e.g. Shwedagon, Yangon; Kyakhatwine, Bago; Shwemawday Paya and Shwethalaung Buddha, Bago; Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery, Naung Shae; Three Temples, Mandalay; Saiging HillsMahamuni Temple and Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda; or Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun), you will notice Buddhist iconography and religious items all around.

A short walk through the streets of Mandalay illustrate the religious richness of Burmese traditions.

I had some time to spare before my group was expected to meet for a visit to the marble-carving street – ten photo-enthusiasts under the leadership of photographer Karl Grobl and Burmese guide Mr MM – so I took myself for a wander through an ordinary Mandalay neighbourhood, where, unsurprisingly, I found a temple.

Street Market with monks

Markets at the Temple
Any time you are anywhere near a temple, you will find monks’ robes, candles, offerings and all manner of religious supplies for sale.

Portrait: Two Burmese Buddhist nuns, Mandalay

The Nuns
A pair of Buddhist nuns takes care of one of the market stalls.

Cool brick space inside a Mandalay temple with arched doorways.

Temple Walls
It’s only an ordinary temple…

Burmese buddhist Monk Walking  barefoot across a temple compound, Mandalay.

Walking Monk
… but it is still a great place to people-watch.

Barefoot Burmese woman in a temple courtyard with a bunch of weeping goldsmith flowers, Mandalay.

Walking Woman
The wet grounds make for nice reflections.

Wilting and yellowing lilies in a Burmese temple, Mandalay

Fading Flowers
Offerings include fresh flowers…

Paper flowers made from Burmese kyat., Mandalay

Money Flowers
… and paper flowers made from Burmese kyat.

Portrait: young Burmese woman preparing betel for chewing, Mandalay

Preparing Chew
Back outside the temple, a young woman prepares leaves for betel chewing…

Two young burmese women seated on the ground sorting through a huge mound of garlic, Mandalay.

Sorting Garlic
… while two other women toss garlic to clean it.

Marble seated Buddha, painted, in an empty lot, Mandalay

Marble Buddha
A faded painted Buddha in an empty lot signals that we have reached the marble-carving street.

Three burmese people sanding and polishing a large marble buddha, Mandalay.

Perfecting Buddha
Creating the large marble buddhas that are seen everywhere in Myanmar is labour-intensive.

Environmental Portrait: burmese man at a marble factory, Mandalay.

But, in spite of the searing heat…

Portrait: Burmese woman in a woven hat, Mandalay.

… workers will pause for a cheerful smile.

Burmese Hands at Work rubbing a delicately carved marble buddha, Mandalay.

Hands at Work
Every section of carving is painstakingly polished and scrubbed…

Head-shot of a painted white marble Burmese Buddha, Mandalay

Burmese Buddha
… and the finished products are stunning; …

Heads of three shiny new Burmese marble Buddhas, Mandalay

Burmese Buddhas
… beautiful …

Brand new seated marble buddhas, Mandalay

Burmese Buddhas
… and all subtly different.

A burmese man with a hand-Sander, polishing a large marble buddha.

No face masks, no gloves, no protective eye-wear;

A burmese man with a hand-Sander, polishing a large marble buddha.

workers have to concentrate carefully …

burmese man with a hand-sander,  sanding a large marble elephant, Mandaly.

… and the heat and dust must take a toll on their health.

Small green marble Buddhas and black prayer beads for Sale, Mandalay

Buddhas for Sale
As well as the large white buddhas, smaller figurines and prayer beads are for sale.

Three burmese men crating a large marble buddha, Mandalay

Crating Buddhas
Amid the heat and dust, buddhas are readied for transport.

Five burmese women on wooden scaffolding wash a large seated buddha, Mandalay.

Towards the end of the road, women on scaffolding wash a large buddha…

Three burmese women polishing a large marble buddha, Mandalay

… while another group polishes one.

Text: Metta - wishing you loving kindness.Buddhas everywhere.

And everywhere, Burmese people celebrating their religion – by making offerings and by making art.

Rather nice, really.


Pictures: 17September2012

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