Thursday, 8 October 2009

Yangon: Chaukhtatgyi Paya

The Chaukhtatgyi Buddha is revered as one of the most beautiful reclining buddhas in Myanmar. The crown on its head is studded with diamonds and other gems. With monetary contributions from donors from all around the world, this huge buddha statue is sheltered by a large roof supported by metal beams. The name of the donors and the amount of their contribution are written on the ceilings and cement beams of this hall.

The Chaukhtatgyi Buddha with crown embedded with precious stones

Metal structures which hold the hall together

Symbolic meanings found on the soles of the Buddha's feet

As we were walking around the large Buddha statue to admire its magnificence, a friendly Myanmarese came over to talk to us. After a brief introduction of ourselves, he went on to explain the huge chart where many symbols and meanings were derived by the royal astrologers before Buddha reached enlightenment. Knowing that R is Japanese, he switched his explanation from time to time to Japanese, which had both R and I impressed. He then ushered us to walked up this platform for better photographs and eagerly offered to help us take photos. Though I was moved by how passionately he was explaining the history behind Chauktatgyi Paya, I was often drifted in and out of his explanation because I couldn't quite catch some of the stuff he was saying.

A chart of the many signs found on the soles of the Buddha's feet with the Nirvana sign as foreseen by the royal astrologers

Sign of the planets found on the soles of the Buddha's feet by ancient royal astrologers

Explanation of the signs on Buddha's feet

A stone inscription written in English

Names of donors and the amount of their donation written on the cement beams

As we were about to leave the temple, he suggested that we visit the monastery nearby and offered to take us around. We were thrilled by the invitation. While I was trying to push the bad thoughts away, a part of me couldn't help but perceived his generosity and debonairness as a premonition. All the while, he kept explaining as he led us to an alley where some monks were resting. We entered one of the buildings to a spacious room. Monk cloaks were hanging in lines stringed from wall to wall. These sort of form cubicles of each monk's space. Some monks were talking to visitors while others gathered in a group, going on about their daily routine. We were brought to view the kitchen and to view the upstairs room. There, a few monks received us and were eager to talk to us. They asked us what we do at home, and how things were like at home and such. It was an eye-opening experience though it did feel a little awkward as the place was afterall a men's territory and some of the monks were half-naked with their chest bared. We took some photos with the monks before we left, again this was eagerly suggested by "our guide". It was at this point when I was having more doubts about the man. He claimed to be studying Buddhism and was a monk in training. It was either I misunderstood or he wasn't being very comprehensible, or maybe, that's exactly what he was claiming, which I found dubious.

After our photo session, another monk came in full gear with his food basket and fan, looking as though he has just returned from the early morning routine of asking for alms. The "guide" excitedly got him to pose and had us stand side by side with the monk for another round of photo-taking.

We knew we had stayed longer than intended and politely asked for our leave. When we got out of the monastery building, the "guide" attempted to entice us to extend our visit to the other buildings, which we courteously refused. At this instance, he politely asked that we contribute generously for his service and opened a tour fee of USD5 from each of us. That completely had the both of us stunned! R and I gave each other blank looks. The request was completely unexpected from the both of us. As though hypnotised, I reached out for my wallet to give the asked sum. R followed suit.

Back in the car, an inking feeling of being deceived was growing. I pushed the thought away, not wanting to ponder anymore. We didn't ask Min-U either if this is part of the culture. The thought quickly dissapated when the car started moving to our next destination. The whole time, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, seeing the rooms and learning about how the monks lived, talking to them and sensing their sincere eagerness to talk to us. It was an experience to have, so why the bad feeling?

Walking down an alley to visit the monastery

Kitchen of the monastery

View of the neighbourhood from one of the monastery buildings

Pots at the back of the kitchen

Interacting with the monks

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