By Maung Tha (Archaeology)
I remembered a writing pad I preferred with a cover illustrated with thriving toddy palm plants in a row on both shoulders of the road leading to Kyaikmaraw used in my childhood when the automobile I rode entered Kyaikmaraw along that road. Whenever I arrived in Kyaikmaraw on duty, I pleasantly passed the road flanked by toddy palm plants.
Kyaikmaraw of Mon State is 15 miles southeast of Mawlamyine, on Attaran River. Kyaikmaraw in Mon language means famous pagoda in Myanmar language, according to Myanmar Encyclopaedia. The town on 516.04 square miles of land is located between 16·07’ and 16·34’ north latitude and 97·39’ and 97·50’ east longitude. The township is formed with two wards and 44 village-tracts.
Dawna mountain range is stretching in the east of the township and Taungnyo mountain range in the west. Rubber and toddy palm plants scatter in farmlands and horticultural farms. The majority of people are Mon ethnics who grow durain, pomelo and rambutan plants which give satisfaction to consumers. Kyaikmaraw Township sharing border with Kawkareik Township in the east, Mudon Township in the west, Kyain-seikkyi Township in the south and Mawlamyine and Hpa-an townships in the north is 15 feet higher than the sea level. Travellers can go to Kyaikmaraw from Mawlamyine, Hpa-an and Kyain-seikkyi through waterway. Khayon Cave in Letpan Village in Kyaikmaraw Township is under conservation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture.
Kyaik in Mon language means pagoda in Myanmar language. There are three townships with letter of Kyaik in Myanmar. Kyaiklat Township is located in Ayeyawady Region and Kyaikmaraw and Kyaikto townships in Mon State. Towns and villages with start of Kyaik take positions in Mon Stte and Ayeyawady and Bago regions. The pagodas with the title of Kyaik in start such as Kyaikhtiyoe, Kyaikthallan, Kyaikhtihsaung and Kyaikkhauk can be seen in various sites.
Empress Shin Saw Pu and Hsutaungpyae Pagoda
We visited Hsutaungpyae Pagoda in Kyaikmaraw, on the opposite of Myoma market in downtown of the town. The archway was 18 feet high and 50 feet wide. We saw a large gong on which Empress Shin Saw Pu’s gong, Kyaikmaraw was expressed. Many people assumed such gong was donated by Empress Shin Saw Pu in renovating the pagoda but no evidence was found. The bronze gong bore inscriptions, saying that the gong was donated by Mytita Linmyaing Latkhattaung Sayadaw of Myawady to the Sayadaw of Hsutaungpyae Phayagyi Monastery in Kyaukmaraw.
A stone plaque on the left of entrance to the precinct of pagoda mentioned meritorious deeds of Empress Shin Saw Pu at Kyaikmaraw Pagoda, praying for contributors to her meritorious deeds and curse for destroying the deeds in Mon language but historical evidences of the pagoda.
Shin Saw Pu was born of Hanthawady King Razadiriz and queen Thuddhamaya in 755 Myanmar era. She took the title of Hsinbyushin Byeenya Htaw at 59 (1452 AD) and became empress of Hanthawady. She united Pathein, Mottama and Hanthawady of Yamanya Division.
Empress Shin Saw Pu arrived in Kyaikmaraw in 817 ME and ordered architects to renovate the Buddha image of Kyaikmaraw Pagoda. As of renovation, the empress took Nine Sabbaths for nine days. A total of 108 members of the Sangha surrounded the pagoda for nine rounds to recite stone inscription in Mon language she wrote. Nine Buddha images decorated nine gems were enshrined at the pagoda. The empress held the Buddha Pujaniya festival for nine days. The history of the pagoda mentioned that the empress prayed for strengthening her royal palace after renovating the Buddha image on full moon day of Thadingyut in 817 ME. Her praying achieved successfully and the pagoda was named Hsutaungpyae.
People in successive eras said Attaran River overflowed in 680 ME, flooding Kyaikmaraw and surrounding caves. When water subsided, Mon ethnics found a wooden Buddha image in dangling position of legs and two hands on both sides on a mound where existing Kyaikmaraw Pagoda was located. So, those people gave a log as a throne to the Buddha image for obeisance. Some people said they carved the Buddha image like Buddha image of Kyaikmaraw Pagoda. However, no firm evidence was found for carving of the Buddha image yet.
Girls of pilgrimage flocks took photos together with Shin Saw Pu gong when we observed the gong. Due to large number of pilgrims at the gong, we missed chance to take photos together with the gong and then entered Gandakuti Chamber of the Buddha image through two arches. We saw an ogre on a lion statue which rides a white elephant on the right side of the first archway. A king of celestial beings was seen on the right side of the second archway and Brahma on the left side.
Gandakuti Chamber where Hsutaungpyae Buddha image is being kept is 120 feet long, 66 feet wide and 75 feet high. It is a brick chamber with five tiers of roof. An umbrella was hoisted atop the tiered roof. The Buddha image is 24 feet high. The height between base of the sitting position and the head was 16 feet and the height between feet and knees, eight feet. The diameter of the Buddha image is eight feet.
The eyes of the image was made of tourmaline, and the head above forehead, Russian diamond rounded by pieces of real diamond, the single hair which grows between Buddha’s eyebrows, a piece of ruby rounded by pieces of diamond and the forehead, coloured glass balls.
The Hsutaungpyaw Buddha image facing the eastward was surrounded by 50 small Buddha image. A total of 43 more Buddha images were kept on the central terrace. That is why the pagoda was built with 94 Buddha image including Hsutaungpyae Buddha image. The Hsutaungpyae Buddha image was flanked by two great Savaka namely Shin Sariputtara and Shin Moggalan before Shin Ananda in posture of paying homage to the Lord Buddha. The backdrop of the image was depicted with plots of Vidhura Jataka. The backdrop and images were made in the time of Sayadaw U Ketumala.
The Sayadaw renovated the prayer hall in 1261 ME and substituted the old wooden posts with new brick posts. The walls of the prayer hall were decorated with mosaic works. The original wooden Buddha image was enveloped by brick image.
The Asana (feet) posture of the Buddha was the most significant. The Buddha’s legs were carved down from the throne. Tu Mudra of hands was also significant on the throne. The body posture of the image was magnificent but no one knew the purpose of carving.
As people across the nation pay visits to Kyaikmaraw Pagoda, a wide Dhammayon was built west of the pagoda for stay of pilgrims. The old Dhammayon was rebuilt as a new one with 134 feet in length and 68 feet in width.
The lake for Shin Upagutta, a 45 feet high ancient Hsutaungpyae Ceti, 27 feet high Pyilone Chantha Pagoda and Rahanta ordination hall with 27 feet in length, 27 feet in width and 15 feet in height were built in the precinct of the pagoda.
A brick Pitakat chamber was seen in north of the ordination hall and south of the pagoda. I viewed round Tri Pitakat treatises, Buddhist literature and books in Mon languages in the chamber.
We paid homage to Kyaikmaraw Pagoda for its significant posture of legs. While paying homage to the pagoda, I praised for a great meritorious deed performed by Mon empress Shin Saw Pu last 560 years and prayed for perpetual existence of ancient Kyaikmaraw Buddha image. (Translated by Than Tun Aung)
Regional Facts about Kyaikmaraw Township
History of Kyaikmaraw Hsutaungpyae Pagoda