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 to spectacular effect and are well worth a visit.
Each "page"—more than a metre wide and nearly two high—relates a tale from sacred teachings and represents the entire 15 books of the Buddhist Tripitaka. It’s said to have taken eight years to write and took six months for relaying monks to read it.
The pages were originally inscribed in 1857 in Pali using gold ink, as King Mindon feared the loss or damage of these Buddhist texts 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 shrines. Subsequent restoration succeeded in restoring only some of the pagoda’s former glory.
The covered walkway at the south entrance leads you directly to the main stupa, set in a tree-studded courtyard and modelled apparently after Shwezigon Pagoda at Bagan. The careful rows and methodically placed trees provide a pleasant and attractive spot for an afternoon stroll. In the evening, the setting sun adds to the majesty and creates a striking scene for photos.
Sandamuni Pagoda is the younger pagoda complex just across the street from Kuthodaw, and it somehow gets much less attention despite containing more than twice as many marble slabs. The 1,774 "pages" are also inscribed in Pali with commentaries on the Tripitaka; some call it “Volume II” of the world’s largest book.
Ukhan Ti, a hermit who spent much of his life building religious monuments on nearby Mandalay Hill, oversaw the construction of this pagoda in 1913. Sandamuni’s shrines are arranged closer together, giving it a more congested feeling than Kuthodaw Pagoda, but the result is equally impressive.
Kuthodaw and Sandamuni are near the base of Mandalay Hill, very close to the Golden Palace, making them a convenient stop after the Royal Palace or prior to heading up the hill for sunset. 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.
How to get there
Kuthodaw Pagoda fills the block between 60th and 62nd Streets and 10th and 11th. Sandamuni Pagoda is just across the road between 64th and 66th.
By Mark Ord.
Last updated on 24th September, 2016.