A Visit to Zalun and Dhanubyu


Dr. Saw Mra Aung

When our mini-bus left the toll-gate at the edge of Hlaingtharyar, it was nearly 5:30 am. But everything around was still in obscurity of darkness except the faint light shed by the road-side lamp- posts lining the Yangon-Pathein high-way. After the bus had covered half a mile, all the lamp-posts on both road-sides were with no more light.  With clouds of mist raised from the swampy lands in some places, it seemed to be even much darker. I looked right and left for some time but saw nothing apart from the vague silhouettes of tall trees. So I, with my eyes closed, let my mind wander wherever it fancied me. The bus went on quickly in the dark. Sometimes, I fell into doze. Sometimes, I was awakened with a jerk when the driver applied the brake. When it neared the Nyaungdon Bridge at 7 pm, the sun, like an orange ball, started to peep out slowly from the eastern horizon, dispersing darkness from the world. All things were then visible to us. Just before the bridge, the high-way branched out into two- the one leading to Pathein and the other to Hinthada. Our bus followed the latter.
We were now on the way to Zalun and Dhanubyu on the western banks of the Ayeyawady River. The Nyaungdon Bridge and the Yangon-Hinthada rail-way were found spanning the Ayeyawady River, being parallel to each other. It was wonderful for us to see against the dawning sky the rail-way elevated some height from the land and river-surface, even higher than the bridge.  We also espied the Bo Myat Tun Bridge, another Ayeyawady-crossing bridge, some distance on the left.  A large sandbank was formed in the river, making it narrower and shallower. At the sight of the Ayeyawady River, I remembered the claim of G.E Harvey in his book titled “ The History of Burma” that
“Ayeyawady” derived from the Sanskrit term “Iravati” meaning” River of Refreshment”, which was named after the “ Ravi River” flowing in Panjab in India.
I saw some fish-breeding lakes on the other banks.  The traffic on the high-way became heavier with the sun rising higher. In some places, the bus had to go slowly as the road was being upgraded with the use of heavy machines. I observed some heaps of granite, gnesis and some high-graded metamorphic rocks to be used in paving the road on the road-side. Some local people were commuting to and fro on motor-cycles and a sort of locally made vehicle called  Toke-toke, etc. The road was lined with such trees as Kukko(Albizzia lebbek), Malaysia Padauk, teak, Mezali
(Cassia siamea), manogo, plum, etc. Except the road, all were low-lying. So some of them were inundated with water. I was aware that some of the inundated areas were turned into fish-breeding lakes bounded by embankments.  On both sides of the road were stretching many deep green fields of French bean, green-pea, and ground-nut but a few fields turning yellowish green. Many farm-hands were pulling bean-plants in some fields while some were threshing the already-pulled ones by hand as well as by machine.  In addition to bean-fields, there were also a few betel and gourd plantations on the road-sides. Sun-flower plantations and corn-fields were also sporadically found amongst bean-fields on the road-sides. With their economy thriving and transport improving, villages on the road seemed to become more developed and populous and bigger to the extent that they seemed to join one another with no gap between them. Some bean and pulse brokerage-houses and rice-mills were found at the edge of some villages. Due to development, some villages took on the town-cum-village looks with satellite towers, multi-medium rooms, factories, hospitals, schools, new brick-houses, company-offices, etc.  We made a stop-over at a tea-shop on the high-way outside Dhanubyu at 7: 30 am to fill our empty stomach.  Then we continued on our trip along the high-way skirting round Dhanubyu and reached Zalun at 8: 10 am. Upon arrival at Zalun, we went straight to the Man Aung Myin  Pyidaw Pyan Phayagyi. When we reached the precincts of the Buddha image, some child-peddlers ran after us to sell their snacks and goods competitively. We had to elbow our way rapidly through the pilgrims to escape from them. The Man Aung Myin Pyi Daw Pyan Buddha Image was housed in a gilded pavilion with a multi-tiered roof standing sublimely in a large precincts fenced by enclosure-walls. Its interior and interior walls were gilded. They were embellished with murals depicting some episodes from the Ten Great Jatakas and the Buddhavamsa including the Great Victories of the Buddha, etc. Some stone-inscriptions recording the history of this Buddha image were set up on the terrace. The stone-inscriptions read thus: Just the Buddha departure from Dhannavati, at the request of King Candasuriya, the Buddha had the Mahamuni Buddha image cast out of alloy of five noble metals(Pancaloha), together with other three images such as Shin Kyaw Muni, Shwe Bon Tha Muni and Man Aung Myin Muni to leave behind in Dhannavati for public devotion on his behalf. When King Bodaw occupied Rakhine in 1784, son of King Bodaw conveyed the Maha Muni Buddha Image, the Shwe Bon Tha Muni Image and the Man Aung Myin Muni to Amarapura through the Tanuggup Pass. When they came to Padaung across Pyi, the crown-prince left the Shwe Bon Tha Muni Image at a small village near present Sinte on the entreaty of the Rakhines. Then the Maha Muni Image and the Man Aung Myin  Muni Image were carried on to Amrapura. On their arrival at Amrapura, the Maha Muni Image was housed at a brick-pavilion in a locality today called Myauk Pyin Quarter in Mandalay and the Man Aung Myin Muni Image was kept at a golden pavilion in the palace.  When the British occupied Mandalay, the Man Aung Myin Muni  Image was taken to Zalun by Zalun Myothugyi U Shwe Pwint. But after the British had occupied the whole Myanmar, they forcibly brought the Man Aung Myin Muni Image, other bronze Buddha images and other copper and bronze utilities to Bombay in India. It was kept in relegation in a Godaung. When Queen Victoria came to Dehli on a visit, she suffered from irremediable headache. One night, she dreamed that she had to send back the Man Aung Myin Muni Image to Myanmar; otherwise, a great danger would befall her empire and her. So the queen, out of fear, asked her men to search for the image to find it and, after combing through many antiques kept in the Godaung for hours, it was found among other Buddha images issuing rays of various colours. Due to this phenomenal occurrence, the image was immediately sent back to Hinthada and then to Zalun in Myanmar.  So it was later known as the Pyi Daw Pyan Buddha Image meaning “The Buddha Image Which Returned to his Own Country”
Then we proceeded to the U Thila Pagoda standing in Lanmadaw (South) Quarter in Zalun at 9:30 pm. When we got there, I saw a few pilgrims on the terrace paying homage to the pagoda and to the statue of U Thila kept in a pavilion on the side of the terrace. I worshipped the pagoda and encircled it clock-wise. Meanwhile, I found two stone inscriptions erected in a shed, recording the life accounts of U Thila.  These epigraphic records said thus: U Thila was an Arahat known to Myanmar, especially  for his supernatural power during Colonial Period. He, as a forest-dwelling monk, submitted himself to ten Dutingas (Austere Practices) ,was strict with Vinaya (Rules of the Holy Order), and the founder of the Kyakhetwaing Pariyatti Learning Center in Bago which was reputed for its meticulous observance of the Vinaya.  One day, while he was crossing the rail-way near Khun-daing Village in Bago Township, the express train coming from Mandalay came to a halt by itself and could move on only after his crossing. The passengers on the train marveled at this miracle and could not help but bow to him in veneration from where they were seated.  On another occasion, hunter U Kaw shot him meditating in a bush three times with his rifle, mistaking him for a deer but the rifle did not work. Only when he shot upwards to the sky, the rifle worked normally. When he often came across some wild elephants which ran amock in the forest, they did not harm him but were humbled due to the power of his Metta(Loving-kindness).  On some nights also , tigers and boas came and stayed with him in the forests. While he was on a visit to Zalun to demarcate the boundary of an ordination hall, he demised on the 3rd waning day of Kason in the year of 1269 M.E. After his body had been cremated, numerous his bodily relics remained. All his relics including ashes issued brilliant rays. Even the dirts of the earth where his body was cremated miraculously sent forth brilliant rays at night. So the villagers from all parts of Myanmar thronged to the cremation site and dug the soil including the dirts of the relics to the extent that it was reduced to be a hole. So a small pagoda was built over it and named the U Thila Pagoda.  I again worshipped the statue of this Sasana hero in great adoration. At 10 am, we left the U Thila pagoda for Dhanubyu.
We had lunch at an inn near the clock-tower in downtown Dhanubyu. Then we drove to the Ohmardanti Beach on the bank of the Ayeyawaddy River. When we got to it at 12, I found some make-shift stalls lining the footpath leading to the beach. The beach was packed with holiday-makers from neighbouring towns and villages. We took a motored-boat to the newly-formed island, which was a fifteen-minute ride from the bank. The island was edged with stretches of sands. We drank coconut-milk at a stall roofed with thatches on the island. I observed some people sporting happily in the water and some playing football in the sands in the heat of the sweltering sun. At 1 pm, we made our way to the Sadhammajotikarama  Monastery where there was the tomb of Mahabandula who died from the bomb-shell of the British on 1st April, 1826 while the Myanmar army led by him was launching a counter-resistance on the colonialists who raided the town from the direction of the Ayeyawaddy River. When we paid respect to Ven. Dhammalankara, Presiding Sayadaw of the Sadhammajotikarama, he related to us that the tomb of Mahabandula was lost amongst buses in oblivion for some years and that only after a British Ayeibai(Deputy Commissioner) named Mr. Robert discovered it during the Colonial Period, he renovated it with an epitaph recording the brief life account of Mahabandula on both faces -in Myanmar on the front and in English on the back- erected at the head.  On the right of this monastery was the Mahabandula Park where the statue of Mahabandula riding a horse was set up on a stone pedestal at the centre.  At 2pm, we continued on our trip to the Pyi Lone Chan Tha Pagoda standing on Yangon-Hinthada high-way in Yedwingon Village tract of Dhanubyu Township. It was a gilded pagoda rising to the height of 55 cubits and 2 maiks. It is said that the original pagoda was built by King Siridhammasoka and renovated under the auspices of Khin Ma Kan Sayadaw and his lay disciples such as U Aung Zan, U Maung Gyi and U Bo Shein in the year 1275 M.E.To our amazement, it was surrounded by four pavilions housing 399 marble slabs, on both sides of which were inscribed the Three Baskets of the Dhamma in Pali with Myanmar alphabets. At these marble slabs, I was reminded of 729 marble slabs recording the Tipitaka erected within the precincts of the Kuthodaw Phayagyi at the base of Mandalay Hill after the Fifth Buddhist Synod held in Mandalay in  1871. It is known that the donors of these marble slabs were U Zan and Daw Hnin Ei and that they contributed 150 kyats for each slab and the expenditure to be incurred for construction of the four pavilions to house the slabs. I looked at the statues of the two donors in awe of their undiminished ardour for the perpetuation of the Sasana. After studying these slabs, we had no place en route to drop in on. So we started our home-ward trip at 2: 13 pm.
Our mini-bus was bound for home along Yangon-Hinthada high way. Many villages such as Nandawgon, Htaukshagon, Phayathonezu, Nyaungchaung, Yayle, Thabyu, Kawkaleik, etc situated on the road-side swirled behind quickly. Now and then, the parts of Yangon-Hinthada railway parallel to the car-road came into sight. At 2: 40 pm, the bus arrived at the Nyaungdon Bridge. I looked down and saw a ship dredging sand along the fringe of the island formed in the mid of the river. We made a brief stop at a tea-shop on the side of Nyaungdon, at the junction of Yangon-Pathein and Yangon-Hinthada high ways. When we left the tea-shop, I had a chance to look at the scenes veiled by darkness and mist in the morning. I noticed there were more gourd, betel, ridged gourd, and papaya plantations and corn and paddy fields on the side of Nyaungdon. When our bus passed by Thazin Yekyaw Village, I saw many fish-breeding ponds and lakes with fowl-farms constructed either on their bunds or on the water-surface. Some trees like areca-nut, banana, papaya and mangoes were growing on the bunds of the ponds and lakes. Herons, individually or in group, were also found standing in the shallow areas of the lakes. Some villagers were going about in boats along the canals leading to the lakes and ponds. A large fish-feed factory, which produced the feeds required for all the fish-breeding lakes in the environs, was also found on the side of the road. There were also Thabyei(Eugenia) plantations. When it came to 4pm, we reached Sarmalauk Junction. It assumed a new look with new and modern buildings with its economic boom, bolstered by its improved transport and rice fields, bean fields and fish-breeding lakes and ponds in its neighbourhood. At 4:30, we arrived back safe and sound at Hlaingthayar.
In brief, as we could feast our eyes on the beautiful scenery on the way, it was a really rewarding and restful trip for us. It is noticed that since the Ayeyawady delta was formed of young sedimentary rocks aged 300,000 years, it had not yet undergone any geological activities. So much of the land remained flat as alluvial plains criss-crossed with rivers and creeks favouring agriculture and fishery industry. Today, due to better transport and foreign direct investment, the socio-economic patterns of these regions have changed. The author think that if the agricultural produces and fishery products of these regions could be developed into value-added products with the use of  modern technology, these deltaic regions would be more prosperous and developed in not so distant future.

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