Mahamuni (Big) Paya, Mandalay
Getting up at 3:30 in the morning when in holidays, to be before 4:30 at the temple to attand the Buddha-washing ceremony did sound like a crazy plan. But it turned to be not only of the best experiences from the trip to Myanmar, I would even say one of the best experiences on my life.
Tips: go very early (the place gets packed), wear adequately (I was wearing a dress with long skirt and a long-sleeved cardigan, my friend a long-sleeved shirt and a longyi) and be very respectful. Do not forget this is a very important religiuos ceremony for most of the attendants. Our driver took us to a good place, and amazingly some of the people moved to give us an even better view point. I asked (sign language and a shy smile) pointing at my camera, and the lovely old nun I was sitting next to me give me permission to take pictures with an ample smile.
I still did not find the time to process the pictures...
This buddha is said to be encased in gold leaf inches thick and I can believe it.
Unlike most pagoda's only the men can get close to or actually touch the Buddha.
Very early in the morning, the monks here wash the face of the image and clean it's teeth, you can witness this but you have to be there bloody early.
The entrance hall houses a covered market that is interesting and well worth a browse. Also outside there is an outdoor market that really comes alive at night time.
The indoor covered market is one of the few places to buy laquer ware.
If you go in the main entrance, there is an entrance fee for foreigners that is included in the Mandalay ticket. My trishaw driver used a side entrance both times I was here and I cost me nothing. Also the second time I was here there was a $1.00 US camera fee being charged, didn't happen the first time I was there, perhaps I was just lucky.
Accoding to the legend during the visit of the Gautama Buddha to Dhanyawad in Rakhine State (554 Bc) in his mission of spread Buddhism, after his teachings the Buddha where insisted by the king to leave his image for people to worsip. He meditated under a Bhodi tree for a week, where a life-like image were moulded, finally the Buddha breathed upon it creating the exact likeness of the Mahamuni. Actually men cover the statue with golden leafs and the Buddha keeps growing making it "the living Buddha" very revered by pilgrims around all Myanmar and other parts of Southeast Asia.
The Mahabuni Temple is located southwest of Mandalay and is a major pilgrimage site. The original temple was built in 1784, and was connected to the Palace of king Bodawpaya by a brick road, the temple was destroyed by fire and reconstructed again in their new location.
The complex contains several buildings and a monastery the Thudhamma. The Central Shrine or Sanctum Sanctorum is where the Mahamuni Buddha Statue is located, surrounded by 234 gilded arcades decorated with carved columns containing kiosks and religious shops sellings rosaries, flowers and gold leafs.
There is also a museum in the complex and a small building that contains five bronze Khmer statues taken from Angkor Wat.
Located in the northwestern corner of the Paya, this building shows five bronze Khmer statues that were enshrined in Angkor Wat. The Statues went first to Ayuthaya then to Bago and then to Rakhaing State (ending finally here). There are two lions, a statue of Shiva and other of Airavata (the three-headed elephant). It´s said that if you rub the part of the statue you want, it will cure that part of your own body. So always there is a row of pilgrims waiting for the healing touch.
This translates into the Great Sage Paya, but also locally referred to as Pagagyi - or Big Paya. It is undoubtedly the centrepiece of Mandalay's attractions, and a must see for visitors.
The major attraction here is the central shrine housing the Manamuni Buddha image - much venerated by the Burmese. The 4 metre bronze image is believed to have been cast as early as the 1st Century, and was originally transported to Mandalay from Arakan in 1784. Although the base is bronze, devotees have managed to coat it in an estimated 6 inches of gold leaf!
Only men can actually ascend the stairs to pass by the image to pay their devotions and apply the gold leaf. Women must observe from below.
We were actually gently accosted by a monk inside this paya, who eagerly took my husband up to the Buddha image, and ushered me to the front to see part of a ceremony. I chanced to see the cash padded mesh purse sewn into the chest part of his "monk" robe - and opted to leave my "donation" in the asignated box, rather than the purse!
Maha - it means large , muni - sitting.
Large - it means 4 meters height , sitting - still sitting.
You can stick on this Large Sitting Buddha small thin leaves of gold to make him golden , if you are not female. I don`t know why , but I don`t advice to any feminist to bring an action against Buddha or all buddhist believers , it must doesn`t work. At last , too many men are all around , dear feminist women !
Oh , yeah , and don`t forget to take sacred water from Mahamuni ( if you are not female again ) . Every morning ( or every night ) , going to do something important in your life ( to change your sex , for example) , you need to drop this water on your crown for good luck..
At least make a visit to this pagoda which is famous for the 4m bronze Buddha which has been covered over time with a 15cm thick layer of gold leaf.
At the entrance you will have to take off your shoes. There will also be a large number of people wanting to sell you seed bracelets, butterfly hairpins or money to look after your shoes. Smile and don't lose your cool. Remember your life is far better than theirs.
Beware of the number of orphans and beggars who appear to reside there for most of the day. (Read my tourist trap)
Note also that women cannot go up close to the Buddha and apply the gold leaf.
Arguably the biggest draw in Mandalay, Mahamuni Paya, also known as Payagyi (Big Paya), is a "must see" for anybody visiting the city. It is included in the 10USD "combo ticket" (see seperate tip), although I went with a local guide and wasn't asked for it.
The Paya, like most of Manadalay, is comparatively modern, having been built in rebuilt in 1884 following a disastrous fire. The original had been built in 1784 by King Bodawpaya.
It is qute a sizeable complex with the entrance halls filled with all manner of shops and, interestingly, a small cluster of fortune tellers. Even the entrance halls are richly decorated and I was much taken with the frescoes there including the one pictured with the old steam locomotive in it. It seemed to me a slightly odd, although pleasing, juxtaposition of the Eastern style of fresco with something so prosaic as a locomotive.
The centrepiece of the paya is the absolutely breathtaking central Buddha image, which the faithful continually cover in small pieces of gold leaf, which grows layer upon layer until the whole effect is absolutely magnificent (see photo). Apparently, it was originally bronze (not that you'd know it now) and was seized from Arakan State in 1784, hence the founding of the paya. The gold leaf is currently about six inches deep!
The monks who look after the image go through a strange ritual every morning, washing the Buddha's face and brushing his teeth! If you want to watch this curious spectacle, however, you'd better get up early - it happens at 0400 in the monring.
Ladies, please note that only men are allowed to approach the image and go round the little platform to the rear of it to place the gold leaf. Women perform their devotions from in front of the image.