Suitcase and World: The Mahamuni Buddha.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Mahamuni Buddha.

Young Buddhist nuns praying before the Buddha image at Mahamuni Temple.

Our last sightseeing stop, before we broke for lunch and a midday siesta was the Mahamuni Temple.  I had no idea what to expect so all I can say, now that I've seen it is....Wow!  You'll have to read on to find out what I saw.

The entrance to the temple was well, not very temple like.   Just before entering, we walked passed a set of shrines, around which people were going around their daily lives including catching a nap.

Inside the entrance was what you might best describe as a mini mall, filled with vendors selling pretty every type of souvenir imaginable.  Ironically, it's against the law to sell anything with the image of Buddha on it so....not that I was in the market to buy anything with a Buddha on it or of a Buddha but if I was, I would out of luck.

At the end of the arcade of shops, down a long corridor, we soon arrived into a space filled with women sitting on the floor.  In the far distance, I could had a glimpse of a large gold object.  I was surrounded by walls of gold.  Everything around me glittered.  It was overwhelming.

We moved in closer to get a better view.

Zaw pointed us to join the women on the floor and so Ayşe and I did.

I could easily make out a face but that was pretty much it.  Somewhere under all that gold is a statue of Buddha.

I watched several men place pieces of gold leaf on the statue.  I'm sure that at one point in time, this statue had the distinct outline of a human being but over time, with people dotting gold leaf all over it, any resemblance to a human body was erased.  No one can reach the face so that's why it's still recognizable as a human face.

I've not been able to find out exactly when the temple was built but this Buddha image supposedly dates back to 554 BC. 

According to ancient tradition, there were only five likenesses of the Buddha, made during his lifetime.  Two were in India, two in paradise, and the fifth is the Mahamuni Buddha image in Myanmar.  The legend is that the Buddha visited the city of Arakan in 554 BC. King Sanda Thuriya requested that an image was cast of him. After casting the Great Image, the Buddha breathed upon it, and thereafter the image became the exact likeness of the Mahamuni. Over the centuries, the image has suffered damaged and has been moved from one location to another as temples were destroyed or pillaged. Somewhere along the line, it ended up in this spot in Mandalay and hopefully, it will stay here and remain undamaged.

Here are the details of the Mahamuni Buddha image as described in Wikipedia:
"The Mahamuni Buddha image is housed in a small chamber, seated on a throne in a divine posture known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra. This posture or mudra symbolises Buddha's vanquishing of Mara. The legs are crossed with feet turned inwards, and the right hand touches the ground ritualistically, as a witness of his past deeds. The image is cast in bronze and weighs 6.5 tonnes and is erected on a 1.84 metres (6.0 ft) high pedestal and reaches a height of 3.82 metres (12.5 ft). Its shoulders measure 1.84 metres (6.0 ft) and its waist measures 2.9 metres (9.5 ft). It is draped in royal costumes with "Brahmanic cords (salwe) and regalia crossing his chest". The image is crowned, bejewelled with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. The left hand appears imprecise, unusually large, and is seen resting in the lap with an upturned palm.

Gold leaves are regularly applied to the face of the Mahamuni Buddha by male devotees. Consequent to the frequent application of gold leaves, the coating of gold (thickness 15 centimetres (5.9 in)) has given a shapeless contour to the Mahamuni image. However, it is also noted that the right hand, crown and other iconographic characteristics of royalty are free of gold leaf covering, which gives an impression that these were later additions to the original image of the Mahamuni. In 1884, when the pagoda was burnt down, 91 kilograms (201 lb) of gold was recovered from the site, which represents the continued historical veneration and perpetuation of the cult of Mahamuni."

While Ayşe and I sat among the women devotees, Zaw took my brother to the chamber where the Buddha was housed.  Apparently, only men are allowed to touch the Buddha.  What the ???  To compensate, Zaw took us to the entrance to chamber.  Ayşe and I were allowed to just stand at the entrance and peek it.

This woman found her quiet spot to pray before Buddha.

It was a non-stop flow of men entering the room, dabbing gold leaf on the Buddha, praying and then leaving.  From a side view, you can actually  make up the form of a sitting human and you can see the cap on the head of Buddha.

They should stuff gold in the gaps so he doesn't look quite so lumpy :-)

We stayed at the entrance for a few short minutes and then followed Zaw on a walk around the temple.

A Mahamuni Temple of the 21st century.  There's a live feed of what's happening inside the chamber.

We ended up on exactly opposite side of the chamber door that we had stood outside just a few minutes ago.  This time, we got to see the opposite profile of the Buddha image.

On our way out of the temple, walking back towards the van, we crossed paths with a group of young nuns.  In Myanmar, the nuns dress in pink colored robes. Giggly girls they were.  No different than teenagers in any other part of the world.&nbsp

Ayşe was so taken by their cuteness, she asked to pose with them for a photo.  The graciously but very awkwardly posed for the photo.  I imagine the monks get all the attention here; the poor nuns are not paid much mind so standing for a photo is not something they are all that accustomed to.  As with so many locals who pose for tourist photos, these four shyly chuckled when they saw the image of themselves on the camera. 

Next, it was finally time for our lunch break.  We went to a local restaurant, that caters to tourists, for a typical Burmese meal.  We each ordered a meat dish and then shared a few set veggie dishes.  Don't ask me what we ate.  Some of it was delicious.  Others were definitely an acquired taste.  We're still adjusting to Burmese flavors.

After the main course, we were presented with a lacquerware box.  Inside were some fried (?) lentils, peanuts and I think some fermented tea leaves - those green things in the photo below were definitely an acquired taste.  I really liked the segmented box idea - going to have to look for something like that when we go to Bagan which is well known for its laquerware.

There was also a little box that looked like a wooden mangosteen.

Inside were small chunks of jaggery which the Burmese put in their mouths before taking a sip of black tea.  The heat of the tea melts the sugar and sweetens the tea in your mouth.  Like many a kid, I preferred to just suck on a chunk of the jaggery :-)

After lunch, Zaw deposited us back at the hotel.  We would meet back up with him later in the afternoon.  The idea behind the midday break is to escape the oppressive heat and humidity.  The Wilted Lily was definitely appreciative of the idea!  Back in the cool room, I decided to take a quick nap.

Our sightseeing day is far from over!