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World’s Biggest Book in Myanmar

Kuthodaw-Pagoda

Kuthodaw Pagoda, formally titled Mahalawka Marazein is a Buddhist stupa, located in Mandalay that contains the world’s largest book. It lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill and was built during the reign of King Mindon. The stupa itself, which is gilded above its terraces, is 188 feet (57 m) high, and is modelled after the Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung-U near Bagan. In the grounds of the pagoda are 729 kyauksa gu or stone-inscription caves, each stone slab representing one of its pages. It was registered in UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 2013. The large grounds offer good views upwards of Mandalay Hill with its many temples and pagodas. The King built the Kuthodaw to leave a great work of merit for future generations. King Mindon ordered the “book” to be made. The works started in 1860 and took 8 years to complete. The texts were copied from ancient manuscripts written on dried palm leaf, the letters chiselled out of the stone and inlaid with gold leaf. Each marble slab measuring 153 centimeters tall and 107 centimeters wide is enshrined in a structure called Dhamma ceti or kyauksa gu in Burmese, “gu” meaning cave. The white shrines are lined in rows around the complex, with corridors in between wide enough to walk through. Each Dhamma ceti houses a single slab behind openable gates. Several sources suggest the important role of the Fifth Buddhist Synod, which King Mindon called in 1872, in the development of the Kuthodaw. It perhaps was at this meeting of 2,400 monks from throughout the country that both authenticated the texts and began the construction of the encasing shrines. The shrines have an entrance on all four sides with elaborately decorated arches over them and are topped with an umbrella, an ornamental spire. One more slab tells the story of how the world’s largest book came about. When the British army seized Mandalay in 1885, the grounds of the Kuthodaw were used as a garrison. The British vandalized the Kuthodaw complex, stole the gold, jewels and other gems from the umbrella of the pagoda and removed the gold from the letters on the slabs.

After the British had left restoration works started mostly funded by donations from Burmese people. The pagoda was regilded, the letters on the marble slabs redone in black ink instead of gold. The stupa itself, connected to the outside entry by means of a long corridor, is set in the middle of a thirteen acre field of 729 pitaka pagodas or shrines (Dama Cetis).

It is a pretty impressive temple that highlights the devotion to Buddhism by the past Myanmar Kings. An unusual temple compared to those you see across this religious country as it is actually a big book surrounding the temple in the age of no internet. Good to wander around and look at the various stupas. With the money donated by the public, each standing inscription slab has been protected by an ornamental umbrella of stone in order to preserve the inscriptions from time’s impact. Grown star-flower trees were systematically between one cave-shrine housing the inscription slab and another. Nowadays when visiting the pagoda, tourists can pay obeisance to the Buddha Image, and spend the time to enjoy sweet recreation below the sweet-smelling, cool, shady trees. The covered walkway at the south entrance leads you directly to the main stupa, set in a tree-studded courtyard. The careful rows and methodically placed trees provide a pleasant and attractive spot for an afternoon stroll.

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A wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, like these sweet mornings of spring which I enjoy with my whole heart. I am alone, and feel the charm of existence in this spot, which was created for the bliss of souls like mine.