Expressions of Buddhism in the Streets of Mandalay, Myanmar
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 Hills; Mahamuni 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.
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.
A pair of Buddhist nuns takes care of one of the market stalls.
It’s only an ordinary temple…
… but it is still a great place to people-watch.
The wet grounds make for nice reflections.
Offerings include fresh flowers…
… and paper flowers made from Burmese kyat.
Back outside the temple, a young woman prepares leaves for betel chewing…
… while two other women toss garlic to clean it.
A faded painted Buddha in an empty lot signals that we have reached the marble-carving street.
Creating the large marble buddhas that are seen everywhere in Myanmar is labour-intensive.
But, in spite of the searing heat…
… workers will pause for a cheerful smile.
Hands at Work
Every section of carving is painstakingly polished and scrubbed…
… and the finished products are stunning; …
… beautiful …
… and all subtly different.
No face masks, no gloves, no protective eye-wear;
workers have to concentrate carefully …
… and the heat and dust must take a toll on their health.
Buddhas for Sale
As well as the large white buddhas, smaller figurines and prayer beads are for sale.
Amid the heat and dust, buddhas are readied for transport.
Towards the end of the road, women on scaffolding wash a large buddha…
… while another group polishes one.
And everywhere, Burmese people celebrating their religion – by making offerings and by making art.
Rather nice, really.