Indaw Gyi Lake, the largest wetland of Myanmar


Maha Saddhamma Jotika Dhaja,
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

This year 2016, February Myanmar printed media reported that Indaw Gyi Lake had been enlisted in the world wetlands on the occasion of the UN Wetlands Day. Mo Yun Gyi in Bago Region was the first to join that list. Now Indaw Gyi Lake has become the second. The report gives natural resources-flora, fauna and minerals as well as its natural beauties.
The writer of this article is so pleased with the report that he could not help writing this article for the readers of the highly esteemed Daily The Global New Light of Myanmar.
The writer had visited Indaw Gyi Lake at the time of the festival of Shwe Myitzu Pagoda in the middle of the lake. He did some research at the local forest department and local Buddhist monasteries. Below are the data and knowledge he had collected from them.
The largest natural lake not only in Myanmar but also in South East Asia, Indaw Gyi is in Mohnyin township in Kachin State. The largest wetland ecosystem in the country, its water surface and water body measure 100 sq miles and its forested areas cover 214. 67 sq miles – a total of 314. 67 sq miles. The lake is accessible by train and car in open season.
The lake is a paradise for nature lovers and a virgin field for environmentalists. Thickly covered with temperate and semi-ever green forests , flora varieties include teak, taung tamar, Sei Khar Thin Kon, Ma-u, Baing, Ngu, Yamanay, Kanyin, Hpet Win, Hpan Kha, Htauk Kyant, Kha Paung, Sagawa, Hpet Hpyu, Myauk Nyo, Thittazin, Kyeelan, Kyee Htein, etc. and several other fruit, flower, medicinal trees, plants and creepers. Fauna varieties range from tiger, leopard, bear, wolf, gour, banteng (wild ox) to wild goat, mountain goat, sambhur, barking deer, wild dog, jackle, hogbadger, porcupine, many kinds of monkey, many winged creatures – birds, bees, butterfly and insects. The lake also abounds in aquatic and amphibious lives.
Fascinating legends enshroud Indaw Gyi Lake. First the arrival of Lord Gotama Buddha on the summit of Nalagiri Mountain with his cousin Shin Ananda. When the Buddha gazed at the vast plain below, Shin Ananda asked the Buddha why he gazed at the plain. The Buddha predicted that “360 years (about B.C. 184) after my demise this plain would become a big lake and where I had stopped there would emerge an island in the middle of the lake on which a zedi would be built. This zedi would be wellknown in the history of my sasana.”
The rest are fairy tales of Naga Serpents. To narrate them briefly, there was a Naga kingdom under the oceans where Naga King “Erapatta” ruled. As Naga population multiplied, spilling over the Kingdom King Erapatta told his family and courtiers to go out and look for new places for habitation. There Ngas, father and two sons went out in quest of a new living place. They came upstream the Ayeyawady River. When they arrived at a place near Indaw, they turned it into a lake. Today this lake is called Manlei Inn (refv,ftif;).
Later the two sons left there to look for another place where they would set up their own Kindgdoms when they reached where Indaw Gyi Lake is today, they found an extensive plain surrounded by forested lofty mountains. They also met beautiful guardian angles of the mountains. There was romantic love affairs between the two Naga brothers and angles. They caused rain for days until the vast plain turned into a big deep lake i.e. Indaw Gyi in which the two Naga brothers set up their kingdoms.
The legend turns to many adventures, warfare and love affairs. Palm leaf manuscripts such as Shan, Kachin and Myanmar found at the local monasteries and their translations give slightly different versions of the same legend.
Shwe Myit Zu Pagoda on the island in the middle of the Lake is one of many Yeylai Pagodas in Myanmar – Yeylai means in the middle of the water body. There are Kyaik Khame Yeylai Pagoda, Kyauk Tan Yeylai Pagoda and Myat Maw Tin Zun Yeylai Pagoda in lower Myanmar. Three Yeylai Pagodas in Upper Myanmar are Inlay Phaungdaw U Yeylai Pagoda, Anya Thihataw yeylai pagoda on an island opposite to Thabeik Kyin town and Shwe Myitzu Yeylai Pagoda in Indaw Gyi.
The history of Shwe Myitzu Yeylai Pagoda began with the arrival of Buddha Sasana there. Forest monks residing in the forests meditated and began building small religious monuments with the help of villagers. It was about the time of King Mindon (1853-1878 A.D) that one monk named U Sobhita resided in the valley of these mountains to the west of Indaw Gyi Lake. His forest recluse was so far away in the wilderness that only few humans occasionally visited him. It is said that this monk preached Dhamma to guardian deities of the mountains and Lake who offered him fruits and water. U Sobhita thought he should introduce Buddha Sasana to the lake area. He told the local people that the would build a pagoda on an island in the lake and requested their help. So begun the building of Shwe Myitzu Pagoda in the Buddha Sasana yer 2421, Myanmar Era 1230 (1868 A.D.) on Saturday 11th waxing of Tabaung (March). On the 8th waning of waso (July) the pagoda was completed. It was 10 cubits high. Because sacred relics enshrined in its were miraculously granted by Shwe Dagon Pagoda where U Sobhita prayed for them, The Pagoda was named Shwe Myitzu.
The first festival was held from 8th waxing to 1st waning of Tabaung. Later, Shwe Myitzu was renovated and embellished by donors. In Myanmar Era 1235 (1872 A.D.) one Maung Shin Nyee of Nant Phaung village raised the height of the Pagoda to 18 cubits 2 mites and 4 thits.
Apart from the sublimity of the Pagoda and scenic beauty of the Lake and the surroundings, one strange phenomenon that appears when the festival time approaches is the occurrence of two sand pathways in the Lake leading to Shwe Myitzu Pagoda – one for human pilgrims and visitors and one for deities and nats-spirits. The two sand corridors are formed by waves in the lake which move opposite bringing up sand and soil making two pathways in the lake. After the festival they disappear gradually.
Devotees and pilgrims believe that there are nine wonders of Shwe Myitzu Pagoda. They are:-
(1)    the appearance of two pathways in the lake leading to the Pagoda at festival time;
(2)    inspite of heavy rain and storm, lake water does not touch the base of the Pagoda;
(3)    there are now crows at the festival time; they come back after the festival;
(4)    all ethnic groups regardless of their faiths come to the festival and they are happy;
(5)    all aquatic creatures especially fish frolic around the island but no one catches them;
(6)    visitors of all religions visit the Pagoda; they all feel happy and peaceful;
(7)    there appears a pool of shallow water at the entrance to the island to remind you to take off your footwears;
(8)    a red line appears in the lake around the island meaning the deities pour medicine into the lake to purify the water; and
(9)    if Wednesday falls on the full moon night of Tabaung, some pilgrims witness emissions of rays of light from the Pagoda and some Arahat Saints coming down to worship the Pagoda.

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