GOLDEN ROCK OF KYAIKTIYO, IRRAWADDY DELTA AND PEGU

GOLDEN ROCK OF KYAIKTIYO

GOLDEN ROCK OF KYAIKTIYO (160 kilometers northeast of Yangon) is a huge 20-foot-high gilded bolder teetering on the edge of a cliff. Topped by a 15-foot-high golden stupa and believed to be balanced on a single strand of Buddha's hair, the boulder is located on top of 3,600-foot-high (1095 meter-high) Kyatiktiyo Hill in the Paunglaung Mountains in the Mon State.

At first glance it looks as if the boulder will fall off the edge of the cliff with the slightest push, and it is even possible to pass a bamboo pole under the rock. But no matter how hard one pushes the boulder does not topple over. Now completely gilded with gold, the boulder is situated on the extreme verge of a sloping rock table, actually over hanging it by nearly half. By gently rocking the boulder a thread can be passed underneath. It seems that the additional weight of a few pounds, or a strong wind, would send the boulder sliding down from the place it has occupied for unknown centuries. Pious Buddhists attribute it to the power of the relic enshrined in the pagoda. This relic is a hair of the Buddha given to a hermit residing on the mountain by the Buddha himself as he was returning from the second heaven of the Nats whither he had gone to preach the law to his mother. In the early 2000s it was given some fresh layers of gilding.

A deep rock crevasse lies between the rock platform that supports the boulder and a pagoda on Kyatiktiyo Hill. A bridge with steel beams has been built between the boulder and the pagoda, and pilgrims from all over Myanmar come to Kyatktito Hill and walk across the bridge to say prayers and press gold leaf on the boulder. They walk barefoot and clockwise on a special marble path built around the bolder. Many foreign tourist say the rock is smaller than they thought it would be.

According to legend Buddha visited the town of Thanton near Kyatiktiyo Hill and gave strands of his hair to hermits who resided in six different hills. Instead of enshrining the hair, three of the hermits decided to keep the hair for themselves. Before they died, two of the hermits gave their hairs to the third hermit, latter called Buddhanana Hermit. Worried that the hairs might be lost after he died, Buddhanana asked the gods for help. Saaka, the king of all celestial beings, found a boulder in the shape of the hermit's head and drilled a hole in it for the hairs. The boulder of course was the one next to Kyaiktiyo Hill. In the Mon language Kyaiktiyo means "pagoda carried by a hermit on his head." The other two strands of hair were placed by Saaka, according to legend, on Koekhaoln Hill and Kusinaryon Hill.

Kyaikhtiyo pagoda is about 18 feet high, and 50 feet in girth. Situated on the hill of the same name on the ridge between Sittaung and Thanlwin, it is built on a huge, almost egg- shaped, rounded granitoid boulder perched on the very summit of a projecting and shelving tabular rock, which in itself is separated several feet from the mountain by a rent or chasm, now spanned by a small foot bridge of iron and on the further side drops perpendicularly into a valley blow.

Measurements of the Golden Rock: A) Volume of the Rock:244.58 M3; B) Density of the Rock: 2.5 Ton/M3; C) Weight of the Rock: 611.5 Tons; D) Height of the Rock: 8.15 meters (26 feet , 9 in); E) Kind of the Rock: Granite; F) Contact area: 0.714 sq-m (7.69 sq-ft); G) Volume of the Stupa: 9.26 M3; H) Density of the Stupa: 2.1 Ton/M3; I) Weight of the Stupa: 19.45 Tons; J) Height of the Stupa: 33 feet , 2 inches.

Visitors to the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo: Many monks come to Kyaiktiyo to meditate. Pilgrims make the journey to the boulder barefoot. Teenager boys come to check out the chicks. For many Burmese visiting Kyaiktiyo is the Buddhist equivalent of visiting Mecca. One monk told AP, “All our Buddhist people have a high feeling from being here.”Even though it possible to drive almost to the top many pilgrims take the arduous route over 20 hills to earn merit. The five-hour ascent to the Golden Boulder begins at the foot of Kyaiktiyo Hill at Kinpon Camp, which can be reached by train, car or minibus. The 7½-mile-long trail passes 27 stations, which were established as rest stops for pilgrims.

Along the way are armies of poor families that sell a variety of religious items, snacks and drinks as well as souvenir made from bamboo and elixers made from wild animal parts. Although the practice seems to defy the Buddhist prohibiton of killing animals it is possible to buy hornbill beaks, pangolin scales, eagle feathers and items made from civets, wild cats, porcupines, eagles and bears.

Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda attracts crowds of worshippers annually beginning from October to March which is the seasonal pilgrimage period. Especially on the full moon day of Tabaung, the platform of the pagoda is lighted with ninety thousand candles offered to the Buddha and thousands of worshippers gather around the pagoda offering fruits, foods incense to the Buddha. Sometimes reflected rays of color from the Buddha's image were said to have been observed by the worshipers.

Visiting the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo: Kyaikhtiyo pagoda is located in the small town called Kyaikhto, in the Mon State. This destination is 160 kilometers (100 miles) away from Yangon. The pagoda is 1100 kilometers above sea-level. It is a 11 kilometer uphill climb for the hikers from Kinpun base camp. There is also a steep winding road for 4-wheel drive cars from the base to the nearest point of the pagodas.

Recently, a road was built up to Rathedaung (Hermit Hill), which is a 45 minute drive from Kinpon Camp. The Golden Boulder is a 45 minute walk from Hermit Hill. Visitors who arrive at Kyaikto Railway Station have to travel by minibus to Kinpon Camp, which is 1½ kilometers from the gold rock.

There are beautiful views of forest, mountains, valleys and the Sittaung River from the pagoda platform, which also boasts a hotel, several guest houses, restaurants and souvenir shops. The Golden Boulder is one of Myanmar most sacred sights and pilgrims and visitors from all Myanmar come to view it. People who need assistance reaching the summit can pay a few dollars to be carried in a sedan chair. It is best to visit the site in the early morning or late afternoon when it is not so crowded.

Kyaikpawlaw Buddha ( in Kyaikhto) is well-known because of the living mole on the face of the Buddha image. Five astonishing facts about this image: 1) The eyes of the image are lively. 2) The image was moved by elephants, horses, and men but was not able to move. 3) The image is said to be floating on water. 4) No matter how many times, the mole on the Buddha's face is offered with gold foil, it never fades away. 5) The image is always facing to the region where Sri Lanka exists. While visiting Kyaikhtiyo, one can also plan to visit this astonishing image at Kyaikpawlaw Hmeshindaw Pagoda. It is more convenient to go to Kyaikpawlaw Hmeshindaw Pagoda after visiting Kyaikhtiyoe. "Hmeshin" means living mole. The pagoda is said to possess great influence because of the mole on the Buddha’s face. Every year, there is a festival held in the name of this Buddha image. Locals from all parts of the country visit the mysterious image with the moving mole.

IRRAWADDY DELTA

IRRAWADDY DELTA or Ayeyarwady Delta lies in the Irrawaddy Division, the lowest expanse of land in Myanmar. It that fans out from the limit of tidal influence at Myan Aung to the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, 290 kilometers to the south at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River. The delta region is densely populated, and plays a dominant role in the cultivation of rice in rich alluvial soil as low as just three meters above sea level, although it also includes fishing communities in a vast area full of rivers and streams. In May 2008, the delta suffered a major disaster, devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which reportedly killed over at least 77,000 people with over 55,900 missing, and left about 2.5 million homeless. Portions of the low-lying delta—50,400 square kilometers, 19,500 square miles—were destroyed by Cyclone Nargis. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Irrawaddy Delta produces 65 percent of Myanmar’s rice. The region also is home to 80 percent of its aquaculture, 50 percent of its poultry and 40 percent of its pig production, according to the FAO. The area has numerous rivers and channels and much of the transport in and around the area is by boat. There are many creeks and streams. The rich alluvial soil is ideal for rice growing. Many fish are shrimp are available. Dried fish and shrimp from the region are used to make sauces and paste.

The Irrawaddy Delta comprises the main arms of Pathein River, Pyapon River, Bogale River, and Toe River. Mawtin Point, formerly Cape Negrais, is a famous landmark in the Irrawaddy Division, and it also marks the south west end of Myanmar. The highest point of the delta, Waphu Mount 404 meters (1,325 feet) lies between Pathein and Mawtin Zun (point), on the western strip of the delta. A major portion of the area is covered with low lying lands just three meters above sea level. This alluvial plain is bounded to the west by the Rakhine Yoma and to the east by the Bago Yoma. It is dissected into peninsulas and islands by the large southward flowing rivers which are subject to tidal intrusion. The lower seaward third of the delta is completely flat with no local relief and stretches for 130 kilometers from east to west.

The waters of these rivers are very turbid due to a heavy silt load they carry and the sea is very shallow with depths less than 5.5 meters across the coastline and in the east for a distance of up to 28 kilometers offshore. As a result of constant accretion into the sea, the delta is advancing at a rate of 5–6 kilometers per 100 years, equivalent to about 1,000 hectares per year.

Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2,500 milimeters (100 inches), with a mean temperatures of 32 degrees C (90 degrees F). Most of the rain falls during the monsoons between mid-May and mid-November. It is cool and dry from mid-October to mid-February when temperatures begin to rise with premonsoon squalls in April and early May.

Major cities include Bogale, Maubin, Myaungmya, Moulmeingyun, Pantanaw, Pathein, Pyapon, Dedaye up to Twante, and Kyauktan. Islands: The principal islands include Haingyi Kyun, Leit Kyun (Turtle Island), Pyin Salu Kyun, and Meinmahla Kyun (Pretty Women Island). There is no extensive system of irrigation or water transport canals except Twante Canal, constructed during the colonial period. It is much beneficial to the delta region for communication and commerce through water transportation with Yangon.

Meinmahla Kyun Reservation is a national heritage site as well as a natural habitat to many mangrove forests and diverse sea life.

The delta was historically populated by the Mon. Politically, the Burman kingdoms in farther north the Irrawaddy river had controlled the delta area since mid-11th century for the most part with few exceptions. The control of the fertile area reverted to Bago-based Mon kingdoms in the 13th to 15th centuries (1287–1539) and briefly in 18th century (1747–1757).The delta was also where the British first got toe-hold of Burma. The British seized Haingyi Kyun or Negrais Island in 1753, after the Mon resisted their request to establish a trading post. The Burmese king Alaungpaya ceded the island to the British in 1757 but retook the island in 1759 by force when the king felt he had been betrayed by the British in his war against the Mon. The battle of Danubyu in 1825 in the delta was the last major stand by the Burmese against the advancing British forces in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). The delta was seized by the British in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852 and became part of British Burma.

The British colonial administration drained the marshes and swamps that dominated the area, and built dykes and embankments starting from 1861 for rice cultivation as the Burmans began to migrate south into British Burma in search of greener pastures. There now exist 1,300 kilometers of major embankments in the delta to protect 600,000 hectares of paddyland. Inhabitants

The Irrawaddy Delta is mainly populated by farming and fishing communities. Many villages and market towns are located along the main rivers. At 100 per square kilometer, it is one of the most densely populated regions in the country with a total population of 3.5 million. Current inhabitants include, apart from the Mon and Bamar, a majority Pwo Kayin, and Muslims.

As the region is Myanmar's largest rice producer, its infrastructure of road transportation has been greatly developed during the 1990s and 2000s. Two thirds of the total arable land is under rice cultivation with a yield of about 2,000-2,500 kilograms per hectare. Fishing is carried out from fixed fishing frames as well as from small boats. Prawn fishery and harvesting sea turtle eggs are also major commercial activities both of which are now threatened by the loss of mangrove forests as clearing of land proceeds for agriculture. Since communication throughout the delta is easiest by water, almost every household possesses a boat and major towns such as Bogale, Mawlamyinegyun and Myaungmya are served by steamer.

Irrawaddy Delta Cargo Boats are the backbone of transportation in the Irrawaddy Delta. Boat services are available for Irrawaddy Delta region from the boat dock in Yangon. Tickets are available at Lan Thit Jetty in Seikkan Township. Describing a trip on a river cargo boat after Cyclone Nargis, the Los Angeles Times reported: “The 30-foot boats I hired normally haul sugar cane, bananas or rice. No crew was willing to chance two trips, so after each four-night journey, we returned to Yangon, switched boats and set out again. The boats are not built for comfort. The holds are open to leave room for cargo, which meant my only hiding place was the cramped space beneath the top deck. About 15 feet across and 8 feet deep, with a wooden ceiling and peeling turquoise paint, it was a dark, sweltering cell barely big enough to sit upright in. [Source: Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2008]

The pilots sat on the roof above me. One, to keep his hands free for frequent bottles of cheap cane liquor, pinched a steel pipe between his toes, deftly working the Chinese-made 18-horsepower diesel engine that spun a long-tail propeller sluggishly churning the water. The machine pounded like a jackhammer. And since the four-man crew felt safer staying away from land, it thumped day and night, stopping only when we slipped into storm-ravaged villages.

Their courage braced by the cane liquor, the crewmen felt their way through the night. They poked at shallow channels with a bamboo sounding pole, comparing what they could see of the ruined landscape with foggy memories of trees that once pointed the way. Sunset was also the signal for the boats' full-time occupants to come crawling out of the cracks. Cockroaches the size of mice and spiders with legs as long as crabs' feasted on the crumbs of our food. At times, so many bugs skittered around that it sounded like a gentle rain. A green vine snake dropped in one night from an overhanging branch. The long, thin snakes are agile and only mildly venomous. A bite would be very painful but not fatal. Just the same, it would have blown my cover pretty quickly. A crew member who usually worked the hand pump to clear the constant flow of bilge water beat the serpent to death. Carefully keeping it at arm's length, he tossed it overboard with a stick.

PLACES IN THE IRRAWADDY DELTA

Twante (15 miles away from Yangon) lies in Irrawaddy Delta region outside Yangon. It is famous for its "Oh-Bo pottery". The boat trip there provides a view of life along the canal while Twante itself provides interest as a center of pottery and hand-woven cotton cloth. Twante is also famous for the 21-mile-long canal that runs between the Irrawaddy Delta and the Yangon River. Twante can be reached by land or river from Yangon. The streets of Twante are littered with so many beautiful pots of different sizes & shapes.

In Myanmar, there are four big Pagodas bearing the name “Shwe Sandaw”. They are one at Taungoo, an ancient capital about 180 miles to the north of Yangon, one at Pyay another ancient town about 160 miles to the north of Yangon, one at Pagan another old capital in Central Myanmar and one at Twante. As the name suggests these pagodas are the religious movements in which the sacred hairs of Lord Buddha were enshined.

Shwe Sandaw Pagoda in Twante claims that the Pagoda was built during the lifetime of the Lord Buddha. Venerable monk Leidi U Pannavamsa Maha Thera compiled a chronicle of Twante Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, based upon old Myanmar manuscripts such as palm leaves, parabeiks (folding papers) stone and bell inscriptions. U Lu Pe Win, director of the Archaeology Department and U Pan Maung of Thudhammawaddy Press edited and published it. In it is the legend which runs as follows:

In the year 118 of Maha Sakarit, in the 8 th year of his Buddhahood, Gotama Buddha made a journey to Martaban Zingyaik Hill range in the kingdom of Thudhamma-pura. He made a stop on that hill range and facing west gave a smile. When his cousin disciple Maha Thera Ananda who was with Lord Buddha asked Lord Buddha why he smiled, Lord Buddha explained that in two of his previous countless existences he had been an elephant and a deer which lived on a forested ridge called Mayuda where they died and their dead bodies were buried, and that two sacred hairs of his would be enshrined in a pagoda for worship during his lifetime and that more hairs and relics of his would be added to it after his demise.”Not long after this divine prophesy was made by lLrd Buddha, two merchant brothers Tikkha Panna and Sagara Panna with five hundred seamen went out to the sea for trade. On the way they met a galleon the crew of which informed them that Lord Buddha was sojourning on the Martaban Zingyaik Hill range. The brothers went there to worship Lord Buddha and offered him some cakes. Lord Buddha gave them his divine prophesy and on Tuesday the 14th waxing moon of Thadingyut (October) in the year 111 of Maha Sukart he gave them two strands of hair from his head. The two brothers carried the sacred hair relics in a ruby-studded gold casket and set sail. When they landed at the port of Thiho Nge Khabin, the King of Pokkrawaddy named Thamein Htaw Banna Yan and his chief Queen Meinda Devi, hearing the arrival of the Buddha's sacred hairs held a grand celebration to receive the Sacred relics. Then they found the Mayuda Ridge on which a pagoda was built. The two sacred hairs were enshined in it with many jewels and jewelleries dedicated to religion. It took nine years to complete the building from the laying of the foundation in the year 114 to the topping of it with a crown called “hti” in the year 123, on the full moon day of Tazaungmon (November).

One hundred and fifteen years later four more sacred hairs of Lord Buddha were added to the vault of the Pagoda. The story goes that seven Arahats (Saints) brought to the Mayuda Ridge four sacred hairs of Lord Buddha from the shrine at the court of King Thiri Dhamma of Thuwunna-bomi (Thaton). The Mon King Banna Kawde received the relics with delight and reverence. They were placed in a specially made gold receptacle guarded by three hundred warriors as guard of honor at each cardinal direction. Then on Friday the 3rd waning moon of Tubodwe (February) in the year 238 the relics were enshined in the Pagoda on the Mayuda Ridge.”The above is the legend of how Twante Shwe Sandaw was constructed. The chronicle goes on to record how the Pagoda was maintained and renovated throughout historic periods. But there are three long gaps in its record - Buddhist Era 101 to 936 which is a gap of 835 years, A.D. 1284 to 1354 which is a gap of 74 years and A.D. 1661 to 1763 which is a gap of 102 years. Except for these three gaps its chronology is continuous providing us with many historical data. Since the Pagoda is located on an earth fault it has suffered serious damage and destruction caused by seven major earthquakes in the period of 796 years (A.D. 1054 to 1850), - in A.D. 1054, 1394, 1512, 1564, 1596, 1773 and 1783. It was repaired renovated and regilt by 24 Myanmar Kings and reconstructed four times. The present design which is on the model of Shwedagon Pagoda at Yangon was introduced by King Hsinbyushin of Konbaung Period. It was he who raised its height to 136 cubits and built 40 surrounding minor stupas. The chronicle records six events of hoisting the new hti (umbrella or crown) on top of the Pagoda, and lists 24 royal donors, repairers, renovators or reconstructors including such famous Kings as Duttabaung, Anawrahta, Kyanzittha, Banna U, Rajadarit, Queen Shin Saw Pu, Dhamazedi, Tabin Shwehti, Bayint Naung, Anaukpetlun, Thalun, Hsinbyushin, Bodawpaya, Bagyidaw, Thayawaddy and Pagan. Recently the Pagoda was renovated and a new hti hoisted on its top. Thanks to a modern motor road and river crossing bridges constructed as part of infrastructure upgrading and regional development programmes, the Pagoda can be visited from Yangon by a regular bus route in less than an hour.

Zalun (80 kilometers from Yangon, only a day’s return journey with a ferry crossing at Nyaungdon on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy) is a small town in the Irrawaddy Region and good place to use as a base to explore Irrawaddy Delta life. For Myanmar Buddhists Zalun is a holy place as its principal Buddha Image, The Noble Mahn Aung Myin Buddha, is believed to be endowed with extraordinary strength and powers. It is enshrined in a large temple with a golden stupa rising from the center of the roof. The grounds are spacious and dotted with many large tamarind trees as well as a large Bo tree. Images of the four Buddhas, of this present world, the Noble Kawkusan, Konagon, Kassapa and Gautama are placed at significant points on the base. Pilgrims from all over the country and a large number from Yangon and nearby towns come to worship and pray there, especially on weekends. Whole families arrive in the morning, spend the day there and leave when the heat of the afternoon sun has abated.

The Maha Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was said to have been cast in Rakhine State on the orders of King Sandar Suriya at the same time as four others images. The first to be cast was the famed Maha Muni Buddha now at Mandalay. From the remaining metal the second image to be cast was known as Shin Kyaw, the third as Shwe Bontha and the fourth, the Mahn Aung Myin Image. The name Mahn Aung Myin signifies the Lord Gautama’s victory over the five Maras (evils). After the image was cast it occupied a place of honour on the right flank of the Maha Muni Image. Its total weight was altogether (666.6 viss, a viss being equivalent to 3.6 pounds.).

In the year 1785 A.D. (1146 M.E) after the son of Myanmar King Bodawpaya (King Badon), had put down the rebellion that had erupted in Rakhine, the Crown Prince, appropriated the Maha Muni Buddha Image and the Mahn Aung Myin and Shwebontha Images which were then ordered to be brought to the capital Amarapura. All three images were brought through the Taungup Pass with great difficulty and conveyed by a huge gilded raft from Pandaung river port to Pyay, where it sojourned on west bank of the Irrawaddy. On arrival at Pyay, it is said that the Rakkhine people who had accompanied the Buddha images sought an audience with the Crown Prince and appealing to his magnanimity and graciousness asked for the return of one of the Images to be conveyed back to their native land. The Crown Prince however said that the journey over the towering mountains and jungle had been truly arduous and that to transport even one of the Images back to Rakhine was impractical and well-nigh impossible. But to partly fulfill their desire he told them he would enshrine one of the Images, the left-flanking Shwebontha on the very spot where they had sojourned.

The Image was never returned to Amarapura for the British annexed the entire lower half of Myanmar up to Pyay and Toungoo which meant Zalun also came under British rule. The British occupation forces, as is the wont of all victors, confiscated objects, valuable and not so valuable, and bronze and brass were greatly in demand for the making of small coins. Thus in the Myanmar year of 1217 (A.D. 1856), the Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was seized by the British and sent by S.S. Shwe Chein to Bombay, (Mumbai), India. The Zalun town folk were devastated with grief but to no avail. On arrival in Bombay, it was first hoarded willy nilly in a warehouse together with many other Buddha Images and objects. These were melt down to make coins. But when it came to the turn of the Mahn Aung Myin Image, it was found to resist the fire in the forge, no matter how high the fires were stoked. This sacrilegious act was said to have been followed by violent thunder storms. Attempts were also made to fragment the image with hammer blows but not a dent was made. The popular folklore states that these acts of sacrilege had soon to be stopped because the then reigning British monarch Victoria suffered severe inexplicable migraine headaches and dreamt in her sleep that her malady would be cured only if the Zalun Image were sent back to its true abode.It is of course a matter of faith. But no matter what the reasons, the Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was restored to Zalun in tact. Since then the Mahn Aung Myin Image came to be popularly known as the "Zalun Pyi Daw Pyan Hpaya" (The Image that Returned To The Royal Home).

Pathein (about 3 hours drive from Yangon and 300 kilometers from Yangon by rail) lies in the southern Irrawaddy delta area. A located on the banks of the Gnawun river, 120 kilometers from sea, it was known in the British colonial era as Bassein. Centuries ago Pathein was known as Cosmin. Ralph Fitch. the first recorded British traveller who visited Myanmar between 1586 and 1588 called it Cosmin. Some authorities argued that this word Cosmin was a corruption of two Mon words kaw and thamein. The word kaw signifies an island and thamein a prince. In the mid-sixteenth century Bassein. like Dagon (later Yangon) was an insignificant port. These two ports could not measure up to Thanlyin (Cirion or Syriam). Dalla, Mottama (Martaban) and Bago (Pegu) were noteworthy ports in those days.

Today Pathein is the capital of the deltaic region. This port of call is reached by road. or by double deckers through the complex Ayeyarwady river deltaic region. The landscapes are all full of rice producers with crops such as sesames, peanuts, groundnuts, jute, maize, pulses, tobacco and chilies. Parasol production is synonymous with Pathein is also an important port of call for ferryboats carrying passengers or cargo plying between Yangon and the northern and eastern parts of the Myanmar. So it has a rather busy harbor area, which is fronted by a crescent of shop houses and go-downs. Rice from the delta region continues to be exported through the port of Pathein.

Some 300,000 people live in Pathein. which was established in 1852 as a garrison town by the British. Although the majority are ethnic Bamars (formerly Burmans) and mainly Buddhist, there is a significant number of Kayin (formerly Karen) who are either Catholics or members of the Karen Baptist Church. These are mainly lowland farming Karen who were encouraged by the British to move form Karen state in eastern Myanmar to help settle the delta region. which was in need of rice farmers.

Mawtinson Pagoda is the most famous pagoda in Pathein. If you follow the Pathein River till it empties into the Andaman Sea you’ll reach Cape Mawtin (Mawtinson), site of a well-known festival during the lunar month of Tabodwe (February. March). On the seaside of the Cape is a sandy beach and the revered Pagoda Maw Tin Son. It is very surprising to note that the pagoda is water-logged all the year round except in the days of the annual festival. The seawater is out well beyond the pagoda during the festival and lots of stalls selling local products, seafood, ornaments made of seashells are set up. Lodging houses, built of bamboo for the revelers, mushroom on the beach. Once the festival is over, the water moves up and covers the beach. It seems that the pagoda is located on the sea. From Pathein. there are roads to the popular beaches of Myanmar. Chaung Thar Beach and Ngwe Saung Beach. From Pathein. it will take only about 3 hours drive through the mountains and to the beautiful beaches.

PEGU

PEGU (80 kilometers north along the Yangon-Mandalay train line) is seldom visited by tourists. Established in the 6th century, it was the capital of southern Myanmar in the 13th century, when the Mons ruled the region. In 1757, it was sacked and almost completely destroyed by the Burmese monarch, King Alaungpaya.

Also known as Bago, Pegu is famous in Myanmar for its cheroot industry. Its most well-known tourist sight is the Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha, an 181-foot-long, 46-foot-high statue constructed in A.D. 994 that later disappeared under jungle growth and was rediscovered by railroad workers in 1881. Sometimes birds can be found nesting in its seven foot nose.

On a hilltop near the Reclining Buddha is Hintha Gone, a ruined pagoda that is watched by over by giant stone Hintha birds. There are nice views from pagoda as well as from another pagoda on Mahazedi Hill.Shwemawdaw Pagoda is also worth seeing. This golden domed temple is almost as big as Shwedagon. Enshrining two of Buddha hairs, it was completely rebuilt after being leveled by an earthquake in 1930.

Pegu was frequently mentioned by earlier Europeans visitors as an important seaport. Pegu kingdom was under the rule of Pagan empire during the reign of Pagan Kings, from King Anawrahta in 1057 to King Narathihapati in 1287 AD. Later it became the capital city of Mon. Many pagodas and monuments were built during the rule of Kings in Pegu. Today there are many famous Pagodas in Pegu such as 375-foot-high Shwemawdaw (Shwe Maw Daw) Pagoda, said to be 200 years old; the 180-foot-long Shwetharlyaung (Shwe Tha Hlyaung) reclining Buddha Image (A.D. 994); Kyaikpun (Four Sitting Image) without shelter (1476) ; Kalyani Sima (Ordination Hall with 10 large stone scriptures, 1476); the Kanbawza Thardi Royal Palace of Pegu Dynasty; and Pegu forest camp in the Pegu forest.

Mahazedi is a famous pagoda built by King Bayinnaung in 1560 A.D. It enshrines a tooth-relic brought from Sri Lanka. Tradition has it that Hinthakone is the hill where the two sacred mythical ducks called Hintha (Hamsa) alighted. when only the very top of the hill was above the ocean. The name Hanthawadi or Hamsavati, by which Pegu and her kingdom were known, originated from this name. Hinthargone Pagoda is just behind the Shwemawdaw Pagoda. There are good views over Pegu from the hilltop. Believed to be the tiny-spot of legendary source, the hillock is decorated with a small shrine wih the symbolic figure of the female Hansa bird perching on the back of the male one. The Myatharlyaung Buddha, located next to the famous Shwetharlyaung Buddha image, is another giant reclining Buddha image.

Pegu Region is an administrative division of Myanmar, located in the southern portion of the country. It is bordered by Magway Region and Mandalay Region to the north; Kayin State, Mon State and the Gulf of Martaban to the east; Yangon Region to the south and Ayeyarwady Region and Rakhine State to the west. Pegu Region is an economically strategic region with a network of motor roads and railways.

Pyay and Taungoo are nearby places to visit in Pegu State. Ruins of the ancient Pyu kingdom is found around 8 kilometers to the east of Pyay in the village of Hmaw Za. The ancient site is known as Thayekhittaya or Sri Ksetra. Ruins can be seen scattering in the area, and there is a small museum. Other places of interest include Kyatkhutwine Monastery, the local pottery Industry and Htauk Kyant Allied War Cemetery

Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha (in Pegu) was built by the Mon in 994 and restored several times but was overgrown by the jungle after the total destruction of Pegu by the Burmans in 1757. The 55 meter long and 16 meter high reclining Buddha is well known in Pegu. It was rediscovered in 1880 and restored again several times to bring it to its current state. It is reputed to be one of the most lifelike of all reclining Buddhas. The Myanmar people say that the image represents Buddha in a 'relaxing' mode.

Measurements of the reclining Buddha Image: A) Height at the shoulder is 52.5 feet (16 meters). B) Extent of the face is 22.5 feet (6.9 meters). C) Lengthwise dimension of the throat is 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). D) Length of the upper torso is 47.5 feet (14.5 meters). E) Length of the ear is 15 feet (4.6 meters). F) Length of the eyebrows is 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). G) Width of the mouth is 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). H) Width of each eye is 3.5feet (1.1 meters). I) Bridge of the nose is 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). J) Length of the sole of the foot is 25.5 feet (7.8 meters). K) Dimension of the palm lengthwise is 22 feet (6.7 meters). L) Height of the big toe is 6 feet (1.8 meters). Hours: 4:00am to 9:00pm, open daily. Admission Fees: US$ 2.

Shwemawdaw Pagoda (in Pegu) or 'Great Golden God Pagoda' has been growing for more than 1000 years and is now considered the tallest pagoda in Myanmar. The spire, which can be seen behind this impressive entrance portal, was originally built by the Mon to a height to 23 meters in the 8th century and was rebuilt higher several times until it finally reached its present 114 meter stature in 1954. The pagoda was originally built by 2 merchants, Taphussa and Bhalita, to house some hair relics of the Buddha. As with other pagodas, its growth in size occurred during numerous reconstruction periods, usually following great earthquakes. The most recent quake, in 1930, nearly leveled the ancient structure and it was not until 1952 that it again dominated the Pegu skyline. Legends say that enshrined beneath the towering pagoda are the hairs and teeth of the Buddha. Because of these relics. Shwemawdaw is visited by throngs of Buddhist pilgrims during all hours of the day and night. Hours: 4:00am to 9:00pm daily Admission Fees: - US$ 2.

Kyaik Pun Pagoda (in Pegu) contains of four gigantic Buddha images all in sitting posture facing the four cardinal points of the compass. They are seated back to back against a massive brick pillar. This unusual and impressive pagoda is only a few hundred feet off the Yangon-Pegu road. It was built by King Dhamma Zedi in 1476 A.D. They are kept in a fair state of preservation. Kyaik Pun pagoda is situated amidst the lush rugged countryside strewn with a large number of ancient ruins many of which are under repair. According to a legend four mon sisters were connected with the construction of the images. It was said that if one of them marry. one of the Buddha would collapse. Hours: 4:00am to 9:00pm daily. Admission Fees: US$ 2.

ARCHEOLOGICAL PEGU

Pegu is one of the richest archaeological sites in Myanmar. Apparently Mons were the first to settle at this site. Two Mon brothers Thamala and Wimala from Thaton. first founded the city about 825 A.D. In 13th century A.D. The site. which was then on the Gulf of Martaban. had already been earmarked as the location of a great city by Gautama. the historic Buddha. Pegu was made the capital of the Mon Kingdom and it came to be known as Hansavati (Hanthawaddy). It was also the seaport of ancient Mon kings. Then it became the Second Myanmar Empire founded by King Bayinnaung. See History.

Kanbawza Thadi Palace (in Pegu) is the famous palace of King Bayinnaung (1551-1581 A.D.). Built for the king in 1556, it consisted of 76 apartments and halls. It was burned down in 1599 and reconstructed between 1990 and 1992. King Bayinnaung was the founder of the Second Myanmar Empire, which stretched from the borders of India to parts of Thailand and Laos. In 1566 A.D. he built a new capital city called Hanthawadi in what is now Pegu. To the south of the Shwe-Maw-Daw Pagoda he built a grand palace, which he named Kanbawza Thadi.

Excavations at the palace site were started on 25th April 1990. The Archaeological Department has up to now excavated six mounds, which revealed the brick foundations and bases of the old palace. Many teak pillars, some with inscriptions, were also found. The Settaw Saung, one of the main rooms of the palace, has been reconstructed and the work is 90 percent finished. Also the main Audience Hall(the Lion Throne Room) is being rebuilt. The palace site is overseen by the Myanmar Archaeology Department and covers 9.6 acres. The reconstructed 16th century palace of Hanthawadi and the whole palace site will become a main tourist attraction in the near future. Hours: 9:00am to 5:00pm daily. Admission Fees: US$4 per person.

King Bayintnaung was a popular Myanmar king. After two years of his reign, in 1553, he built Kambowzathadi Palace which was the heart of Myanmar. The Italian merchant Caesar Fredaricke and the British merchant Ralph Fitch stated that the Hanthawadi City was a glorious and magnificent capital. It was a great city built on plain and flat site. The royal palace was at the center of the new city. The Chamber of the Royal Palace was grand and richly gilded. Some apartments of the palace were roofed with gold plates depicting the magnificence and beauty of the royal palace.

Hanthawady was a great commercial center in the 16th century. The palace site is 67.3 acres wide. Mound No. 1 is the site of the main shrine hall. When this was excavated archeologists discovered about two thousand damaged Buddha images. Mound No 2. is the site of royal chamber of princess. Her name is Razadatukalya. who was the eldest daughter of King Bayintnaung. Mound Nos. 3 and 4 are the sites of apartments of Chief-queens. It is assumed mound No. 5, as it is connected by a corridor to mound No. 4 is the site of chief queen’s chamber. Mound No. 6 is the site of the royal bed Chamber called Bee throne hall, Bamayarthanapalin hall, where the King’s living Chamber and bed room was well guarded by his most trusted persons. Apart from very important cases, such as military affairs, coming here was strictly prohibited to everyone including his queens and female attendants. When mound No. 6 was archeologists discovered 64 large teak pillars.

The most important findings at the site of the great audience hall site were 167 teak posts, of which 135 were inscribed in Mon and Myanmar languages bearing the names of towns, regions and the royal ministers who brought the large teak posts for the construction of the great audience hall. This is the largest building of the Palace. It was used as a State Audience Hall. Among the eight thrones, the Thiharthana throne, the Lion throne, is set inside the building. The Thihathana throne is made of Yamanay (gmeline abornea) wood. At the top and bottom of two pilasters attached to the upper part of the throne on each side, the figures of four celestial beings can be seen. At the top center piece there is the figure of the Thagyamin (King of the Celestial beings) on whose forehead a legend admonishing the King to rule the Kingdom with justice is written. That very fact shows that the Thihathana throne is virtually the symbol of national sovereignty.

In the middle of left pilaster there is a figure of a peacock representing the sun and in the middle of the night pilaster is the figure of a rabbit, the sign of the moon. They are depicting that Myanmar monarchs are the descendants of the Sun and the Moon. King Bayintnaung not only built a strong, united and enlarged 2nd Myanmar Empire. He also ruled his Kingdom with justice, and his subjects enjoyed peace and prosperity. He encouraged agriculture, trade and commence. Ministers and generals of various nationalities served under him and they were promoted to high positions. Theravada Buddhism flourished under his patronage as he made every effort to promote it. Therefore, his people adored and severed him willingly. In that way. King Bayintnaung realized his vision of establishing a strong, peaceful and developed second Myanmar Union.

A model of Kambawza Thardi palace is exhibited in the Nandawya Research Museum. The museum also houses the remaining parts of the original palace’s teak pillars and big teak posts presented by respective noblemen to King Bayintnaung. The 16th century sacred Buddha images revered by King Bayintnaung are also exhibited. They show the high artistic handiwork of ancient Myanmar culture. Utensils which includes glazed earthen utensils and potsherd of the Hanthawady Period are also displayed. Scales and weights used in trade shows the systematic ancient Myanmar economy. Bronze pots and bells are shown and Brahmany coins highlight the monetary system of Hanthawaddy Period. The art of blacksmith can be seen through chopper’s words, axes and iron bars used in building constructions.

Decorated earthernware pipes reflect the living standard of that period while Muttama glazed earthernware jars show the prosperity of the period. The earthernware jars were well-liked by foreign ships which embarked at the Hanthawady Port. Charts and maps which depict the conquest of the King are also honourably displayed.

PYAY

PYAY (260 kilometers north of Yangon and reached by train) was an ancient capital. Nearby are the scattered ruins of the ancient city of Srikhistra (Sri Kshetra). Beyond it is Guatama Hill, a 300-foot-high, 1½-mile-long cliff with hundreds of images of the Buddha extending its entire length. Commissioned by local nobleman and monarchs, some of the images are done in relief, others are busts inside of niches, many are painted or gilded. A new bridge is being constructed across the Irrawaddy here not far from Tax Point, where ships were once obliged to pay a toll before being allowed to pass.

Situated on the east side of the Irrawaddy River and formerly known as Prome, Pyay is an important commercial center for trade between the Irrawaddy Delta, Central and Upper Myanmar and the Rakhine (Arakan) State. There are several inns and hotels, with modern facilities for visitors, in Pyay. There are many ancient pagodas in the city, including Shwesandaw Pagoda, and a famous huge sitting Buddha Statue at Sehtetgyi Pagoda. Other interesting places in Pyay include Baw Baw Gyi Pagoda, Be Be Gyi Pagoda and Payama Pagoda. Other interesting places around Pyay are Ahkauktaung. Shwe Myatman Paya. Shwe Nat Taung Pagoda and Shwe Bonthar Muni.

Pyay is only 260 kilometers north of Yangon travelling along a well-maintained highway by car. You can see green paddy fields along the side of the highway. Several trains run daily from Yangon on the first railway line built in Myanmar in 1877. In the last few years the railway branch lines have been extended north towards Pagan. Pyay is about halfway between Yangon and Pagan. Visitors can stop over in Pyay and travel on to Pagan and Mandalay.

Pyay was anglicized as Prome after the Second Anglo-Myanmar war and in ancient times was known as Thaye-khittra (Srikshetra). Srikshetra, the ancient Pyu capital, is about eight kilometers to the east. It is an interesting place to visit because of their historical importance and archaeological sites. Archaeological discoveries indicate that the city attained its height of prosperity between the 5th and 9th centuries. In Tha-ye-khit-taya. one will find a palace site with prototypes of Pagan vaulted temples such as Lemyethna and East Zegu. The cylinder-shaped Bawbawgyi Pagoda and Payagyi and Payama stupas each have a high conical dome. There is an Archaeological Museum.

Shwesandaw Pagoda is situated on the eastern bank of Irrawaddy river and is one Myanmar’s most venerated places. Formerly known as Mya Thi Htin, it is 127 feet high, including its base its total height is 290 feet. There are 64 surrounding smaller pagodas around the main one. There is a chamber in the southern sector of the platform housing a duplicate of the Buddha's tooth relic of Kandy, Sri Lanka. Having been placed beside the original tooth-relic of Kandy for a time it is believed to have absorbed the aura of the original and become just as potent. The tooth-relic from the Shwesandaw Pagoda is customarily taken out from its chamber in the month of Dazaungmone (November-December) every year and ceremoniously taken on a tour of the city once every three years so that worshippers might pay homage to it and revere it with their own eyes. Shwesandaw means “Golden Hair Relics. Looking east from the terrace at Shwesandaw stupa you’ll see the enormous seated Buddha figure rising up from the treeline at Sehtetgyi Pagoda. Sehtatgyi means ‘Big Ten-storey.’

About a kilometer and a half from the highway turnoff by the old palace side stands a small museum and a map of the area. Inside the museum is a colletion of artifacts collected from Srikshetra exacavations. South of the museum. outside the city walls. are cylindrical Bawbawgyi Paya and cube-shaped Bebe Paya. Standing over 45 meters high. the brick and plaster of Bawbawgyi Paya is the oldest stupa in the area. Other cube-shaped pagodas in the area include one thought to have been used by a hermit, featuring eight Buddha reliefs along the lower half of the interior wall and a vaulted ceiling of brick.

Around Pyay: Shwedaung (14 kilometers south of Pyay) is a small town with two famous pagodas: The Shwemyethman Paya and the Shwenattaung Paya. Shwemyethman Paya means 'Paya with the Golden Spectacles'—a reference to a large white face sitting Buddha image inside the main shrine. The Buddha image wears a golden rimmed spectacles. Spectacles were added during the Konbaung era. There is a saying that this image can cure illnesses especially for eyes. Shwenattaung Paya means 'Golden Spirit Mountain'. This pagoda dates back to the Sriksetra era. Legend takes it back all the way to 283 B.C. from which it was reconstructed by a long range of Burman kings with the aid of local nats (spirits) A large pagoda festival is held here each year on the full moon of Tabaung (February/March).

The Bespectacled Buddha Image was built by King Duttabaung, founder of Tharekhitaya Dynasty. The king and queens Peikthano and Sanda Dewi had repaired the Shwe Nat Taung Pagoda west of Shwedaung and were having a rest when Queen Peikthano dreamt of a pagoda in the north-west. They looked for the place and found it there, marked by brilliance of the lights of the Buddha. So they built this pagoda. Soon, King Duttabaung lost his superhuman eyesights. Seers said he must offer glasses to the Buddha of the right size. Hence the glasses. In 1227, Zeya Nandameik, the Lord of Shwedaung, had the Image repaired with the glasses with gold frames. This is the only bespectacled Buddha Image in Myanmar.

Akauktaung Mountain (30 kilometers by boat, north of Pyay) stands on the bank of the Irrawaddy River. There are many huge carvings of Buddha images on wall of the rocks near the bank of Irrawaddy river, which can easily observe from the river by boat. Different sizes and styles of Buddha images are carved into the wall of the bank. Visitors can climb and visit Akauktaung pagoda, which lies at the top of the bank. On the way From Yangon to Pyay you will come across Paung Te. The sacred tooth relic of Buddha is enshrined in the Paung Te Swedaw Seddi.

TAUNGOO

TAUNGOO (175 miles north of Yangon on the Yangon-Mandalay road) is a train and bus stop and the only place for the tourists where you can get good accommodation on Yangon-Mandalay road. Taungoo (Kaytumadi City) was founded by King Mingyinyo in 1510 A.D. and later improved by King Minye Kyawhtin. All the four sides of the city wall are still very conspicuously seen, with the exception of the part of the southern wall. The wall is built of bricks. The moat surrounding the city is dried up, except in some of its sections on the eastern side, where it is purposely kept and properly maintained. About 6.4 meters from the wall city is the first moat filled with soft mud, which is about 9.6 meters wide. It is one of the main gateways to Bago Yoma and its teak forests and is worth exploring. It derives much of its importance these days from the timber trade and the teak forests on which its economy depends is seen on the mountain ranges lying to the east and west of the town. Sometimes you can see trucks carrying elephants which work these forests.

Pawdawmu (Shin Pyin) Pagoda (in Padaung, Bago Division) was said to be carved out by the nat king from the Buddha's sacred barge and given to King Alaung Sithu. The king revered it with a Shin Hla image in a cave at Chaukma above Sagaing, after having revered it in the palace. After some 600 years, it was taken away by kathes of Manipura. The king conveyed it back in Sakarit 1114, from there to his palace. In the reign of King Sinbyushin, son of Alaung Sithu, it was conveyed by U Nyein, hero of Thayezee (or) Taleesi Ward in middle Myanmar, by royal permission, to Thayezee (or) Taleesi Ward in Padaung. In 1186, due to colonialist wars of aggression, it got left unrevered and became covered with earth. In 1236, it was brought to surface again. Originally, it was named Stun. Pyu but it was also known-as Pawdawmu. In 1288, it got a new gantaguti building atop Thiri Mingala Hill and became one like today.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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