When you think about what the world’s largest book may look like, you’re likely to imagine a massive leather tome tucked away in some library. In actuality, the world’s largest “book” is in Mandalay at Kuthodaw Pagoda. It consists of 729 standing stone “pages”, each with their own private stupa known as a kyauksa gu. They span across the vast pagoda grounds in long organised rows and are well worth a visit.
Each more than a metre wide and nearly two metres tall, the thick stone slabs are each one page from the Buddhist Tripitaka (teachings). Kept in original Pali language and first inscribed with gold ink, these historic carvings were constructed in 1857, when King Mindon feared the loss or alteration of Buddhist documents during the British takeover.
When Mandalay was annexed by the British in 1885, Kuthodaw Pagoda became off limits to Burmese. A direct appeal to Queen Victoria led to the withdrawal of troops from Kuthodaw, but not before soldiers plundered the pagoda and the gem-crowned kyauksa gu. Restorations succeeded in bringing the pagoda back to the healthy but less glamorous condition that you’ll see it in today.
Its large teak doors are open daily from 06:00 to 17:00. The covered walkway at the south entrance leads you directly to the main stupa, modelled in the same fashion as the Shwezigon Pagoda of Bagan. The organised rows and methodically placed hkayei star flower trees and mahua trees provide a great spot for a picnic or a bit of an afternoon stroll. In the evening, the setting sun adds to the majesty and creates a striking scene for photos.
Kuthodaw is near the base of Mandalay Hill, making it a good stop after the Royal Palace or along your way to the top of the hill for a grand sunset view.
Sandamuni Pagoda, the younger pagoda complex just down the street from Kuthodaw, somehow gets much less attention despite containing more than twice as many stone slab pages. Sandamuni Pagoda contains 1774 marble slabs inscribed with commentaries and sub-commentaries on the triptika – some call it “Volume II” of the world’s largest book.
Ukhan Ti the Hermit, who also spent most of his life erecting religious structures on Mandalay Hill, built this pagoda in 1913. Sandamuni’s kyauksa gu stupas are much closer together, giving it a more crowded feeling than at Kuthodaw Pagoda. The crowded stupas do give a more intense experience and make it a quicker stop on the itinerary; that is, unless you take advantage of the tightly-knit spires for photographic opportunities.
We do recommend finding time to visit Sandamuni pagoda, but if you’re on a tight itinerary and have to choose between the two, Kuthodaw is hands down the one to visit.
By Christopher Smith
Last updated on 14th September, 2014.