Locals Unhappy About Ancient Pagoda's Golden Facelift
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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Locals Unhappy About Ancient Pagoda's Golden Facelift

By NA YEE LIN LATT Friday, March 11, 2011

Yaza Mani Sula Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda in Sagaing Division (Photo: chitkyiaye.com)

The Yaza Mani Sula Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda, a revered Buddhist religious monument in northern Burma's Sagaing Division, has become the latest victim of the ruling regime's meddling with national heritage sites, according to local residents.

The pagoda, which has been undergoing renovations since January, is expected to emerge from its facelift a bright golden hue after centuries of pristine whiteness. Local people say the transformation, ordered by the country's top general, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, will destroy its historic character and diminish its magnificence.

A poet living in Mandalay said that because of the pagoda's religious and historical significance, the public, senior monks and scholars should have been consulted before the changes were made.

“This is not the same thing as slapping a coat of paint on an ordinary pagoda along the roadside,”  he said. “Yaza Mani Sula Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda's white color represents purity, and brings tranquility to those who behold it.”

According to local rumors, the decision to paint the pagoda gold originated with Than Shwe's wife, Kyaing Kyaing, who wanted the change of color for “magical” reasons.

Yaza Mani Sula Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda, which was built by King Thalun in 1636, is recognized as one of Burma's most important ancient pagodas. However, according to Nyi Zay Min, a well-known writer on Burmese history, some of its features will be obscured by the makeover, which he said served no purpose.

“In my opinion, I'd like to keep it as it is. There was a reason Burmese kings didn't cover every pagoda with gold, and it wasn't because they couldn’t afford to. White pagodas are sublime to look at, and are not held in lower esteem just because of their color,” he said.

He added that the authorities should only try to restore such structures to their original glory, not try to “improve” them.

Others agreed that fundamentally altering the appearance of ancient sites reduced their value in the eyes of many.

“Foreign tourists want to see ancient architecture in its original form. That's why, for example, the Cambodian government has been very careful about its restoration of Angkor Wat,” said one tour guide from Mandalay.

“I often take tourists to prominent pagodas around Sagaing and Mandalay, but now I don't what I will say to them about Yaza Mani Sula Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda,” he added.

The renovation began after the Ministry of Construction and Minister of Electricity 2 Khin Maung Myint informed the pagoda's board of trustees of the changes that would have to be made. Since then, the Shwe Taung Development Co Ltd  has donated most of the funding for the renovation work, according to sources close to the board of trustees.

In return, the company has been awarded a number of lucrative contracts to run gas stations and build roads, bridges, buildings and toll gates, according to businessman close to the company.

“Some communities, such as Tin Tate village and Swan Chat village, have been living around the pagoda for generations. They have taken care of it for centuries, and they are really mad about the regime's ridiculous decision, but they can't do anything about it,” said one Sagaing resident.

Others also lamented the changes, but noted that this was not the first time the regime has literally defaced an ancient monument.

“Some people think they are making merit by doing this, but to us, it's just the opposite. It's like when they whitewashed the walls of the Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill, where many artists and writers used to visit to observe the ancient wall paintings,” said one writer from Amarapura, one of Burma's ancient capitals.

Another example of state-sponsored vandalism, he said, was the loss of the wall paintings on the corridor walls of Maha Myat Muni Pagoda due to inept restoration efforts.

An architect from Mandalay said that ancient sculptures and other artwork on the four gateways of the Mandalay Kuthotaw Pagoda, once popular with photographers, were similarly disfigured when the regime ordered them covered with red and gold paint.

“Each gateway measures about 20 feet by 30 feet, so you can imagine how much of our national heritage was lost,” he said.

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PB Publico Wrote:
Once gilding of the Kaung Hmu Daw is completed, the pagoda will be mistaken for the dome of an Islamic mosque by foreign tourists.
Some Burmese from other parts of the country visiting Sagaing for tghe first time would probably take it for a Bali too.

Kerry Wrote:
What further insanity is this?

moe Wrote:
I am out of word to express the stupidity, ignorance and ridiculousness of Than Shwe and his wife and those who are following their orders.... they are ruining our country,livelihood of the people,historical values ....and for that they will pay for it .. either in their life time or in next life (in hell)... they should accept there's no way out .. they cannot bribe their way out of hell!

Salai Lairam Wrote:
This is ridiculous! I wish Than Shwe watch National Geographic Channel and learn something from it. The old Senior General knows how to shoot and torture,but lack of the knowledge of how to cherish ancient artwork, traditional and archeological heritages.

Sai Lin Wrote:
Than Shwe and Kyaing Kyaing won't be touch if they know nothing can be save them from going to hell. I must tell Than Shwe and Kyaing Kyaing truth even Buddha Phaya can not be save them from hell if Buddha Phaya was alive today.

Moe Aung Wrote:
It would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

All this obsession with Mickey Mouse gold (disco gold as locals call it) is a very apt reflection on what these generals are - fake.

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