Myanmar seems to have a fascination with gold. Yangon has the Shwedagon Pagoda. Bagan has the Shwezigon Pagoda. And on my recent visit to Mandalay I realised that here lay the Kuthodaw Pagoda – and this was not any less impressive than the others. In fact, it even lays claim to having the “World’s Largest Book” in its ranks!
This resplendent pagoda seems to be a beacon of light that shines unabated in the shadow of Mandalay Hill. It’s true that there are so many temples and pagodas in Myanmar, that it is very easy to get ‘templed out’, but when you come across a religious site that at least looks different to most others in the region then it will surely get your attention! At least Kuthodaw did with me!
This awesome site known as Kuthodaw Pagoda lies at the foot of Mandalay Hill and was built during the reign of King Mindon. The stupa itself, which is gilded above its terraces, is 188ft high, and is modelled after the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan. In the grounds of the pagoda are 729 stone-inscription caves, each containing a marble slab inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. Hence, the claim as having the “world’s largest book”!
King Mindon ordered this “book” to be made and the work took 8 years to complete, having began in 1860. The texts were copied from ancient manuscripts written on dried palm leaf, the letters chiselled out of the stone and inlaid with gold leaf. The white shrines are lined in rows around the complex, with corridors in between wide enough to walk through. It is a bewildering experience for me to walk through this complex, although I did not try to read the book.
At the centre of the complex is a gilded pagoda measuring 57m tall. This pagoda was built in 1859 and its bell shaped stupa rests on a base of three square receding tiers. At the four corners of the pagoda are four large golden mythological lions that guard the pagoda. On each side a stairway rises to the base of the bell. The pagoda is topped with a large ornamental spire shaped like an umbrella. On top of a pole in front of the pagoda is a Garuda (a bird from Hindu mythology) grabbing a Naga serpent. There is so much to see at Kuthodaw Pagoda, it really pays to have a keen eye!
The pagoda is located very close to the Mandalay Royal Palace in the North part of the city, and in the same region as the Sandamuni Pagoda, the Atumashi Monastery, and the Shwenandaw Monastery, so it’s good to bear this in mind when planning your itinerary. The Kuthodaw Pagoda pagoda opens daily from 8am until 8pm and the entrance fee is US$5 per person.