Photo: The highly revered Buddha image.

Mahamuni Paya

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If there was a league table of Burmese temples, then Mahamuni would have a firm hold on the number two spot, after Yangon’s Shwedagon. While it’s the overall site and giant golden chedi that are Shwedagon’s claim to fame, at the more modest Mahamuni Paya it's the central Buddha image that creates the prestige. Even for those very familiar with Southeast Asian Buddhist temples, the care, attention and awe bestowed upon this 3.5 metre-tall seated Buddha is astonishing.

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You’ll have seen plenty of pagodas throughout the region claiming to contain a Buddha hair, bone or fingernail but Mahamuni—translated as "sacred living image—is considered by the faithful to contain part of Buddha’s actual soul. The image is thought to be 2,000 years old and was brought to Mandalay by a Burmese king after sacking the Rakhine capital of Mrauk U.

Adding to the two tonnes of gold. Photo taken in or around Mahamuni Paya, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

Adding to the two tonnes of gold. Photo: Mark Ord

Beginning each day at 04:00, resident monks wash the face and brush the teeth of the statue to make sure it’s in tip-top condition for the coming day’s visitors. Pilgrims come from all over Burma, as well as all over the Buddhist world, to worship at the image’s feet and to stick gold leaves on the body. They’re never placed on the head though, so the Buddha's pristine, smooth face does not match its bumpy golden body where an estimated two tonnes of gold have been added to the original. Locals say that no matter how many extra gold leaf is applied to the body, the proportions of the statue still remains attractive. Indeed, all that extra weight doesn't give this particular statue even the tiniest glimpse of a Buddha belly.

Men are able to witness the growing Buddha body up close, but women are not allowed to cross the threshold; women wanting to add gold to the statue must pass it on through a male assistant. They can however watch men add leaf on the non-stop live video feed of the Buddha on any of the screens in surrounding corridors.

15:34 and all's well on the live video feed. Photo taken in or around Mahamuni Paya, Mandalay, Burma_myanmar by Mark Ord.

15:34 and all's well on the live video feed. Photo: Mark Ord

You’ll enter by a corridor filled with vendors selling Buddha snow domes and Buddha-in-aquarium table lamps and other remarkably tatty souvenirs as well as rogue old ladies flogging flowers and incense sticks. After this is the inner sanctum, with iron gates protecting the statue itself and crimson-painted colonnades surrounding the central shrine. The gates to the Buddha are ... Travelfish members only (Around 600 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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How to get there
Mahamuni is around 6 kilometres south of the city centre on 83rd Street, just off the main Sagaing Road 84th, so it's easy cycling distance. Expect to pay 10,000 kyat return in a taxi, though it's better visited as a stop off on the way to southern sights, in which case your driver shouldn’t add much extra.

Mahamuni Paya
Daily 04:00 to 20:00, Buddha image until 16:00 only.
Admission: Free

Location map for Mahamuni Paya

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