By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
Among ancient wooden monasteries in some areas of Myanmar, the buildings in Yadanabon and colonial eras were in the largest numbers. Of them, Manawramma Golden Monastery which was also called Ohnton Golden Monastery in Beikmanma Village of Myaing Township is the oldest.
The monastery built in 1738 AD is now more than 280 years old. Travellers have easy access to Beikmanma Village, one mile right of Pakokku-Myaing Road in Myaing Township by car and by motorcycle.
Historic Myaing City
As primate fossils as the earliest emergence of human beings throughout the world 40 years ago were found in Myaing Township of Magway Region, it was famous that human beings began in Myanmar. Myaing Township which positioned on 785.551 square miles of land possesses a large number of historical heritages and evidences.
Based on data of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Bagan King Alaungsithu on his tour of the site in current Myaing town saw an image of gold horse in the sky. The king renovated the pagoda in the place where the image was found in the sky and established a village. The environment of the village was covered with thick foliage of trees. So, it was named Hmaing Village. Later, the title of village changed to Myaing Village, according to the history of Shwemyintin Pagoda in Myaing.
The Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs designated Myaing as a town on 3 June 1972 and formed it as a township with one town, three wards and 329 villages from 81 village-tracts on 24 February 1974.
Myaing Township, 42.5 miles in length from the east to the west and 30 miles in width from the north to the south, shares border with Yesagyo Township in the east, Pauk Township in the west, Pakokku Township in the south and Pale and Salingyi townships in the north. The plain area of Myaing is close to 1,905 feet high Tantkyi Hill in the west.
With regard to the geographical conditions, the 19-mile Yama Creek flows from the west to the east in northern Myaing which is 886 feet higher than the sea level. Moreover, Myaing, Htanngetaw, Kyauksauk and Na-in creeks are streaming in the township. Many species of tropical trees grow in Myaing Township.
According to the data released in October 2017, there were 1,379 temples and stupas and 391 monasteries in Myaing Township, one of which was the oldest ancient wooden monastery called Manawramma Golden Monastery.
Manawramma Golden Monastery
Originally, the monastery was formed with 12 halls in construction of 17 sections from the east to the west wings and 13 sections from the south to the north wings, said Buddhist monk U Jatila, who maintains the monastery. Each section of the original monastery was six feet wide but as all the halls had collapsed, there remain 42 of 252 teak posts at present.
In line with the architectural structures of ancient Myanmar monasteries, Manawramma Golden Monastery might be consisted of the tier-roofed hall, Sanu hall, main hall and Bawga hall. Current building is main hall. A current door installed with a ladder might be the entrance to Bawga Hall.
The monastery took the style of Zetawun Hall with triple tiers, and the backdrop of the hall and doors were decorated with floral works. Five of six sections of the hall were framed with floral arabesques. The centre of the backdrop was decorated with peacock statues in various masterpiece designs.
Partitions inside the monastery were gilt and remaining parts decorated with golden paint. Veteran historian Dr. Toe Hla remarked that such a grand monastery was small but similar to that of kings. It might be built in the area gradually with far distance of wars in the condition without need to seek approval from the king.
Well-wisher of the monastery
Construction of the monastery in 1738 AD was in the reign of last king of Nyaungyan dynasty Maha Dhammarazadipati (1733-1752 AD). At that time, deteriorations happened along Chindwin River and Mu River due to attacks of Kathe on Myanmar. So, these regions lacked influence of the king.
At that time, U Hsu Thar and family together with relatives from Sinkan Village, near Beikmanma Village in the past, built Manawramma Monastery and copied the Pitakat treatises. The construction record showed it cost K 2,825 for construction of the monastery. The well-wishers donated the monastery to Abbot U Uttamalankara before completion.
Veteran historian Dr. Toe Hla copied the records on manuscripts in 1968 and translated Pali verses into Myanmar language for public observation.
Construction of the monastery started on 6 May 1738, Saturday, with the aim of giving the accommodation for mental wellbeing of Buddhist monks. It was donated to Ashin Uttamalankara on 18 June 1738, Sunday. Gilding the monastery finished on 2 July 1742, Friday and then the monastery was donated for the second time.
Art works in golden paint and records
It was assumed that the monastery faced the north because there remain some parts of ladder on the northern wing of the building. Inscriptions on construction and meritorious deeds were expressed on the posts and beams in the northeast of the monastery. As Abbot U Jatila who maintains the monastery showed the record in manuscripts of monastery donation, I took a documentary photo on them and then read the inscriptions for the monastery on the beam.
The inscriptions consisted of 13 lines in Pali, Pali & Myanmar and Myanmar languages, saying that may the monastery for the Buddhist monks be perpetual existence.
The end of the inscription shared merits gained to all living beings. The ceiling of the monastery was created with a footprint of the Lord Buddha but it cannot be seen today.
Cupboards for keeping palm-leaves of Tri Pitakat treatises
Although packets of Tri Pitakat treatises on palm-leaves donated by well-wishers were kept in gilt cupboards in Manawramma Monastery, broken palm-leaves can be seen till today. These palm-leaves bear round and beautiful manuscripts in Pali and Myanmar languages. But, it was difficulties to read the pieces of palm-leaves.
The teak cupboards in coffin, cupboard and rectangular shapes were gilt and the front view of each cupboard decorated with floral arabesques. Veteran historian Dr. Toe Hla remarked that coffin shaped cupboards might be original ones at the monastery and rectangular shaped ones built in Konbaung era might be donated by later well-wishers.
Manawramma Gold Monastery, the longest lasting one among ancient wooden monasteries in Myanmar, was built 280 years ago. It needs to continuously maintain such an oldest monastery for its existence so as to create chances for new generations to observe historical heritages of Myanmar.
Paper on Manawramma Golden Monastery (Dr Toe Hla)
Regional facts about Myaing Township (Ministry of Home Affairs) (Translated Than Tun Aung)