Buddhist temples in Myanmar are clearly loved and well cared for. Offerings of gold, flowers, and incense are everywhere, and the walls and floors are so shiny you can see yourself reflected in them: often the product of donated labour.
Mahamuni Temple, Mandalay, and Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, in the nearby Sagaing Hills, which I visited one day in September last year with photographer Karl Grobl, guide Mr MM, and a group of other photo enthusiasts, are two cases in point.
When travelling to new places, it is tempting to rush around and see as much as possible, but I was so taken by the shiny floors in the corridors of Mahamuni Temple (Pagoda), that I stood in a corner for a while, just watching people pass over them.
Mahamuni Temple is a major pilgrimage site because of its revered Buddha image, the Maha Myat Muni (or Mahamuni) Buddha. According to legend, the Mahamuni, or “Great Sage”, is one of only five likenesses of the Buddha made during his lifetime. (Archaeologists, however, date the image at around 150 AD, 600 years after the Buddha’s death.) The 4-meter high, 6.5-ton, bronze image is seated on a 1.84-metre high pedestal in a small chamber, and crowned in gold, decorated with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. Every morning at 4:30, monks wash its face and brush its teeth with care.
Gold leaves (like those pounded out at the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop) are applied to the face and body of the Mahamuni Buddha by male devotees daily. So much leaf has been applied over the generations that the shape of the Buddha has become lumpy and distorted, with the gold as much as 15 cm thick in places.
Late afternoon of the same day, our little group visited the beautiful U Min Thonze Cave and the nearby Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, possibly the most important of the many pagodas, temples and monasteries that dot the Sagaing Hills.
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda sits at the top of the Nga-pha (Frog) Hill, and, even without the telescopes available, visitors get wonderful views over the Irrawaddy (or Ayeyarwady/Ayeyarwaddy) River and the temple-dotted Sagaing Hills.
It is easy to feel uplifted in such beautiful places where people’s devotion to their religion is so palpably expressed.
Truly places that allow for reflection.