Mahamuni – The Temple and Monastery of Mandalay
The Mahamuni is a Buddhist temple and monastery of about 400 monks. It holds what is said to be one of only five likenesses of Buddha made during his lifetime. As such, it is one of the most highly venerated temples by all Buddhist citizens of Myanmar, and serves as a major pilgrimage destination for Buddhists throughout Myanmar and visitors from all over the world.
The image has resided in its current site at the monastery and temple since shortly after 1784, when it was relocated from its former home in the ancient Kingdom Mrauk U.
The Temple and Monastery Complex
The complex of buildings includes classrooms and living quarters for the resident monks and students of Buddhism. The monastery provides religious education to about 400 monks.
The complex also features arcades that sell religious items such as flowers, candles and incense that can be used as offerings, as well as robes, sandals and other items sold for the use of the monks living and studying on the grounds of the complex.
The arcades also include restaurants and tea shops and some shops selling keepsakes and souvenirs to tourists. The shrine is located in the center of the complex and fronted by an expansive lawn. The entire complex is located in the southern portion of Mandalay between 82nd and 84th streets, near the Mandalay University.
The Buddha Image and its Shrine
The Buddha image is housed in a shrine that was specially constructed to house it. The intricately-designed walls and ceilings of the shrine are a testament to the devotion of the architects and artisans of the past.
The image itself is a bronze-casting of the Buddha in a seated position on a pedestal that is 1.84 metres tall. The image weighs 6.5 tonnes and towers over its visitors to a height of 3.82 metres.
A popular ritual over the centuries is for male devotees (for only male devotees are allowed to touch the image) to apply gold-leaf squares to the Buddha. The result of these ongoing applications is that the contours and features of the images arms and torso have been softened.
The Daily Rituals of Mahamuni Temple
Buddhist pilgrims come from all over Myanmar on a daily basis to pray for good fortune, make merit and bestow offerings of candles, flower rosaries and incense. Devotees often pray from religious textbooks to show their devotion to the teachings of Buddha.
The senior monk in the monastery performs an unusual daily ritual at around 4 AM every morning that has been taking place since 1988. The ritual includes the cleaning of the Buddha image’s face with fresh towels and the brushing of its teeth and takes over an hour.
During the cleaning process, sandalwood paste is applied to the image’s face and it’s sprinkled with scented water. The towels that have been used in the ritual are given to devotees who take them back to their home shrines.
The image was damaged by fire and thieves in past centuries and although the cleaning ritual is done out of reverence, it gives the senior monk an opportunity to check on the well-being of the image.
Unfortunately, most visitors aren’t able to observe the ritual as the monastery and temple grounds are only open from 6 AM to 8 PM.