Maha Suddhamma Jotikadhaja Sithu,
Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt
Visitors and tourists metaphorically call Inlay Lake the Venice of the East. In pi ovt. that case, Venice in Italy deserves the metaphor “Inlay Lake of the West”. Marco Polo, a Venetian adventures-travellor of renown, who accompanied the Tartar warriors and Mahayana Buddhist monks sent to Tampadipa [Ancient Bagan Kingdom] by Emperor Kublai Khan of China, wrote in his travelogue his wonderful eye witness account of the glory and greatness of Bagan monuments. If he had stretched out his legs Inlay Lake that time he would have metaphored the Lake “Venice of the East”.
The writer of this article
who had been to Inlay Lake in
his country and Venice in Italy
no less than five times would like to share with the readers his knowledge and experience of the “two Venices” or “the two Inlay Lakes”.
After Indaw Gyi Lake in Kachin State Inlay is the second largest water body created by falls, streams and rivers of surrounding mountains to the East and West. Geologists say that the Lake used to be a hundred square mile big, but due to climatic, geographical and human impacts the Lake to-day measures 9miles long and 3 1/2 miles wide. It is 2915 feet above sea level. Its depth varies from 20 feet in high monsoon and 12 feet in summer. It is not a still lake. Many streams flow into it and many flow out of it, of which the Bilu Chaung is the principal out let to operate Lopita Hydro-electric Power Plant in Loikaw in Kayah State.
Recently both Indaw Gyi Lake and Inlay Lake have received their deserving place in the List of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage of wetlands.
These two places of nature-man creations have the following commonalities:—
Firstly, Venice and Inlay are amphibious-aquaticterrestrial towns. Just as Venice was founded on islets on a cluster of lagoons connected with the sea, so also was Italy town founded on man-made islets in the Lake. Early settlers of Venice were from mainland Italy who skillfully made firm foundations on the islets, with wood stones and any available materials to withstand storms, sea waves and quakes or any natural disasters. Venetian friends of the writer showed him some original foundations of Venice, now gradually eroded due to centuries of decadence, therefore suffering from frequent inundation [aqua altar]. Early Venetians made lands on lagoons and built Venice.
Similarly, original settlers on Inlay Lake were not local native, but from Dawei, a sea port town far out to the south, on the Taninthayee coast line. These Dawei sea borne people chanced to come up a long way to Inlay Lake and created floating islets on the Lake’s surface for habitation and cultivation. The ingenuity and method of creating a living space on water of early settlers of Venice and those of Inlay Lake were strikingly similar.
Secondly, life styles that these two peoples developed were also strikingly similar if not totally identical. It is an amphibious life. They both are water borne as well as land based. In Inlay Lake their animals in fields and on farms, as well as pets at home live like them, amphibious life. Caltles, buffaloes, pigs, chicken occupy below their stilt houses and pets especially feline live with their masters. Though cats by their feline nature do not like water, they know how to live on water surface and how to travel on water. Both Venetian cats and Inlay Lake cats have clever sense of direction in their watery journeys. As water crafts are the only means of communication and transport these feline creatures of Venice and Inlay Lake know how to travel especially in their mating seasons. They jump into the gondolas in Venice or into the leg rowed boats in Inlay Lake that go to their chosen destinations. They return home by jumping onto the boats bound for their home islets.
Thirdly both gondoliers of Venice and leg-rowers of Inlay Lake are cat lovers. They always welcome their free, cat passengers. They treat them kindly, feed them and think that these stray cats are lucky “mascot”. Little cat houses are seen at some jetties in Venice where traveller cats can rest overnight: Cushions of hey and food and water also provided. Fourthly in Inlay Lake, there is one big monastery, famous for circus performance of cat acrobats. It is said that generations of acrobatic cats live at that monastery-not at other places. Visitors and tourists throng that monastery to watch circus of these cats perform their acrobatic acts at the signals of their masters. They even make jumps through fire rings. The writer noticed that venetian cats are music lovers. With the family of their master they come to enjoy Promenade, Philhamonic Concerto out in the open till late night. Feline pets seemed entrapped in music perhaps dreaming sweet dreams.
May we now turn to the interesting legends and history of Inlay Lake. Myanmar word Lay stands for number 4 as well as for Kalay meaning small. Because we have the largest natural Lake called Indaw Kyi in Kachin State, the second largest Lake in Southern Shan State came to be called In Kalay [Small Lake]. But its legends and history tell us that it was four villages founded by the earliest settlers on the Lake. So it was called In Lay Ywa [Four villages on the Lake]. In course of time In Lay Ywa corrupts into Inlay which comes to acquire the meaning Small Lake. The four villages of the earliest settlers on the Lake are —
1. Namt Pan
2. Wampt Long
3. Naung Taung and
4. Haing Ya (Hè Ya).
You can still see and visit them to-day.
Two legends tell that in days of yore some adventurous Dawei people came up to this Lake for trade. Dawei is a sea port town on the coast of Taninthayee, southern most of Myanmar. These early arrivers liked the environment of the Lake which is similar to that of their native town. So with the permit of the local chief they founded four villages on the Lake by creating floating islets. Their houses were stilt, built of light natural materials of the locality such as bamboo, soft timber, cane and thatch. Aquatreplants afloat on the Lake were gathered together and affixed to the ground by poles and layers and layers of soil and silt were heaped on them. On firmer islets they built stilt houses and on weaker ones they did agriculture horticulture and animal husbandry. So began In Lay Ywa (Four Villages) on the Lake.
The next legend is connected with the history of Bagan. King Alaungsithu [1112-1167 A.D] of Bagan dynasty was a traveler king. With his royal Barge and a flotilla of water crafts he made inspection tours of his domains. He visited seaports on Myanmar coast line. It is said that his voyage reached out to some archipelagoes in high seas. Sakka deva Thunder god appeared before him and presented him sandal wood, out of which five sacred statues were carved, inside them sacred relics of Lord Gotama Buddha were encased. The four statues represent the four Buddhas already revealed — Kaukusanda, Konagamana, Kasapa and Gotama. The smallest fifth status represents the future Buddha Meteya. The King kept them in a shrine at the bow of his Barge for daily worship. These statues came to be known as Phaung taw Oo phayars.
The King sojourned for some time at Dawei seaport, finding that Dawei people were sea borne and brave fighters on sea, the King began recruiting them into his flotillas. Thus emerged in Myanmar navy of old days,
1. Myauk Dawei Yey Kyaung [North Branch of Dawei Navy because the recruits were from the north part of Dawei and
2. Taung Dawei Yey Kyaung [South Branch of Dawei Navy because the recruits were from the south part of Dawei.
When the King returned home, on the way he stayed for a long time in Inlay Lake area. He allowed his followers to settle down on the Lake. Dawei settlers built their houses facing south direction where their native town was because they felt very nostalgic. In-thas speak with Dawei dialect and tone. Shans call them “Mant Naung” meaning Myanmars living on the Lake. Similarly some archers of the King’s army settled in the areas Pintaya Pwe hla Ywa Ngan Yey U. Baw Saing which we now call Danu autonomous state. Danu were warriors of archery [fighters with bows and arrows] in royal infantry. To the east of Inlay Lake there is a Pagoda named Kwe Chan Mwe daw Paya. It was a sort of monument where the King gave order and royal permit to his followers to settle at the places they liked. There used to be a stone inscription at this Pagoda.
The King’s plan to enshrine the five images in a pagoda on the hill did not succeed because the chosen site was inauspicious. Therefore the images were left in the custody of a head monk named Ariyadhajadhamma Yanthi of Mahagama Village.
In 1359 A.D four images were discovered in a Cave, when villagers cleared the wild vegetation for reclaiming land. How and why these four images were moved to the cave is not known. The Sawbwa of Nyaung Shwe built a pavilion in his palace compound to shelter the four images for public worship, every year on the 7th Waxing moon of Thadingyut [October].
Due to political unrest the four images were moved to lntein village in 1515 A.D. A Board of Trustees was formed in charge of the Images. The fifth image left in the monastery in Maha gama village was also brought to join the four Images Every year in October on the 7th waxing moon of Thadingyut, public homage festival was held at the pavilion in the palace compound of the Sawbwa. Then the Images were conveyed on a ceremonial Kara Weik Barge for tour, with overnight stop at each of six stations in the Lake.
During the tour of one year a strange phenomenon took place. On the way to Nyaung Shwe, to the east of Lin Kin, Village, the Barge was capsized suddenly by an unexpected storm and the Barge was sunk. Only four images were salvaged. But when the four images were restored to the Shrine, the missing fifth image covered with under water moss was found in its original place. This strange happening was repeated in the following year. So the belief was established that fifth image presenting future Buddha [Meteya] was the guardian and it should never be moved from its place in the shrine.
Year by year pilgrims and Visitors increased. Festival days and tour stations also increased year by year- from 6 days to 15 days and from 6 stations to 21 stations. The temples at Mahagama Village and at Bant pon village were destroyed by fire in 1771 and 1881 A.D respectively. In 1890 A.D a one story temple was built at Nant Hu Village. After over six decades of existence the temple fell into ruin. The present two story grand Temple was built of brick and cement concrete in 1951 and completed in 1956.
Over two week long Inlay Phaung Daw U Pagoda Festival in October yearly attracts visitors and pilgrims far and near, at home and abroad not only to watch but also to participate in the festive activities in and around the Lake. Pilgrims gild the images with gold foils. Believers donate yellow pieces of cloth as robes to the Images and take them to keep as amulets to protect them from all dangers.
Visitors and tourists are attracted by the spectacular sight of the ceremonial tour of the four Images conveyed on the decorated Kara Weik Barge followed by a long retinue of colorfully arranged water crafts laden with devotees and performing artists displaying their best, boat races by leg rowers, on water bazaars selling fresh fruits, vegetable, flowers, local snacks and sweets, clusters of shop houses of different sizes and designs built on stilts where you may buy at bargain prices a variety of utility and vanity goods, ranging from clothings or cloths of pure cotton or pure silk, T shirts, jeans, jerkins, jewellery of artificial, semi-precious or precious stones, bronze and silver wares, facial make up or cream of local thanakha or forcing cream and all sorts of souvenirs.
Floating islands of agri, holti and vege and floral cultivations, the leg rowers of slim boats, and whirling clouds and hovering white gulls are the most eye-catching sights for the snap-shooters. You are reminded of gondolars and gondoliers in Venice. Given a good mood, the leg rower of Inlay, like gondolier of Venice sings old folk song or even amorous song if a newlywed couple is on his boat.
Star less hotels and inns of any type await you in the hotel zone both on land and on water where you find comfortable accommodation and good meal and beverages governments’ delight but not cheap in peak season.
Inlay Lake is an all season centre of attraction for visitors. Of course, festival days in October it is crowded. If you want to avoid noises and voices and enjoy only 14/ relaxation open seasons in Summer and Winter are recommended. Warm sunshine, cool breeze, blue sky, blue mountain ranges, green foliage and clear lake water will largely reduce you stress and strain. Above all inlay Phaung daw Oo Yeylai Phaya beacons you to the bliss of solitude and peace.