In the Name of Mandalay
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Tuesday, June 25, 2019


In the Name of Mandalay

By Yeni/Mae Sariang JUNE, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.6


Preserving Burmese traditions in Thailand


In 1886 the British finally conquered Mandalay, the historic capital of the last independent Burmese kingdom. San Toe, a servant of the beleaguered King Thibaw and a devout Buddhist, fled the newly colonized city, bringing with him an image of the Buddha crafted by Mandalay artisans. He worked in the logging business as an employee of the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation before settling in the town of Mae Sariang in northern Thailand. There he built a Burmese monastery in 1909 to house his cherished Buddha image.



Historically, the Burmese have viewed the city of Mandalay as a source of pride and an important link to Burma’s rich cultural and religious traditions. The name of the monastery in Mae Sariang, Wat Mandalay, reflects this connection and honors the lineage of the monastery’s central religious artifact—the Mandalay-made Buddha image.


The original monastery has since been replaced by a new structure, built up over the years by a succession of Burmese monks. Visitors to the monastery in Mae Sariang, which stands in the center of the quiet border town near the Salween river, will easily recognize its Burmese roots in the architecture of the site—the wooden monastery, Buddhist sculptures by Burmese craftsmen, the golden stupa and a statue of the Buddha sitting under a Banyan tree in the middle of the compound.


“When I first came here, the town was sleepy and isolated,” said the Venerable U Nyanika, Chief Abbot of Wat Mandalay. The monastery has developed under the guiding hand of the noble 83-year old monk. U Nyanika came to Bangkok in 1959 to study the Thai language. In 1961 he moved to Mae Sariang to preside over Wat Mandalay, where he has remained—except for six years in Penang, Malaysia—until today.


Despite the fame of its revered Buddha image, the real pride of the monastery is its banyan tree, reputed to be a scion of the original Bodhi tree under which Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, attained enlightenment.


A cutting from that tree was taken to Sri Lanka more than 2,000 years ago by the daughter of the Indian emperor Asoka.

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