20 January 2016

Barefoot with Buddha in Burma

Buddha is BIG in Myanmar.

This Buddha doesn't look very comfortable.
This reclining Buddha, still under construction, will be 180 meters long. 
The world's largest. 

Okay, picture this:
It's not finished, so there's rebar and concrete, bags of cement, workers and scaffolding everywhere. Since it's a sacred place, shoes must be removed. 

Even the construction workers go barefoot. 

Barefoot! 

The flip-flop is the national shoe of Myanmar. Driving motorcycles or paving roads, everyone wears flip flops. 
Pilgrims, welders, concrete workers - on this enormous construction site -
...everyone is barefoot.  

Many of the staircases are unfinished. 
Open balconies stretch railing-less over chasms. 

It's unsafe beyond imagination, but kids are running around (barefoot). 
Everyone seems to think it's quite normal. 


Inside the massive Buddha, there are four floors with depictions of hell. 
Scenes from some of the 500+ reincarnations of the Buddha's life. 
(There are apparently 13 levels of hell.) 

It's graphic and somewhat frightening. 
It's also very odd, just being inside a huge Buddha.

Buddha's hand positions all have a special meaning.
Buddha statues crown every mountain top in Myanmar. 
Temples contain thousands of Buddhas. 
There are city squares full of hundreds of stupas. 

(In Myanmar, temples and stupas are both called pagodas. 
Pagodas are hollow, so you can go inside, and stupas are solid.)


Golden stupas - forever.
Caves are filled with thousands of Buddhas. 
There are Buddha amulets, shrines.
Even rural fields are filled with rows and rows of Buddha statues. 


These caves were dark - I used my cell phone to see my way through.
Buddhas - all the way up to the ceiling. Over 500,000 here.
The week is divided into 8 days.
Each day has its own color, number, and spirit animal.

Wednesday is divided into 2 days.
The spirit animal of Wednesday morning is an elephant with tusks.
Wednesday afternoon's animal is an elephant without tusks.

At the pagoda, you give your offerings at the shrine dedicated to your day - the day you were born.

Saturday shrine. I was born on a Saturday.
Everyone gives constant offerings to these Buddha statues. 
Flowers, incense, food, but mostly gold and money. 

Small sheets of solid gold leaf are for sale. 
These are pressed onto the Buddha statues. 

Some statues are full of layers and layers of gold leaf.
The original shape is long gone.

This Buddha is unusually auspicious  and has become quite lumpy with gold. Only men are allowed.
Each pagoda has a story. 
The story of these 5 lumpy Buddha statues at the Hpaung Daw Oo Pagoda is bizarre.

And this - in a country where bizarre is an everyday thing.

These were originally 5 sandalwood Buddhas. Now unrecognizable under layers of gold. They're VERY heavy.
Where the 5 sandalwood Buddhas live.

The Royal Bird Barge
Once a year, the 5 Buddha statues are taken out on a procession aboard this royal golden barge. 

One year, a storm came up, and the Buddha statues fell into Inle Lake. 
Divers were only able to retrieve 4 of the statues. 
Disheartened and upset, they returned the 4 statues to their proper place in the palace -

-only to find the 5th statue - back right where it belonged.

Off on a horsecart - bet we can find another Buddha.



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