August 19, 2016

Yey-lei Pagoda in The-gon Town

Maha Saddhamma Jotika dhaja
Sithu Dr. Khin Maung Nyunt

There is a town named The-gon [oJukef;jrdKU] to the west of The-gon township in Paung-de sub-district of Pyay, in Bago Region, Myanmar. The town The-gon is accessible by rail from Yangon, a distance of 141 ½ miles, and from Pyay 19 and a quarter miles and a shorter distance by car on a good tarred road running between Yangon and Pyay and beyond.
The entire Pyay region is more undulating and less level, surrounded by low hill ranges of not more than 500 and above feet high, with the River Ayeyawady flowing by on the west. This mighty river is fed by tributaries of different sizes especially in high monsoon. Some lofty mountain ranges tower on the west of the river. The portion which faces the entire Pyay area is dotted with a scatter of religious monuments of some antiquity, whose legends are associated with the history of Pyay and neighbouring towns.
The-gon was originally a big thriving village, but being urbanized quickly because of its strategic location and agricultural hinterland. Its ground is even and the soil is fertile, thanks to the existence of natural aquatic bodies and good soil brought by streams and rivulets of Bago Yoma hills during rain. In its township there is a big lake called In-ma, ten miles long and four miles wide, and in good monsoon its water volume is 12 feet deep. But in severe summer its water diminishes to the point of a complete dry-up, providing fertile land for farming.
The census of 1931 showed that within an area of 299 square miles of The-gon township, there were 56 villages. But since then both population and villages have increased. Majority of The-gon inhabitants are Buddhist with few Kayin Christians and their main occupation is cultivation. In town are some traders and brokers of local agricultural products. Domestic craftsmen and artisans dwell in surrounding villages.
Paddy is the main crop grown both by wet cultivation in monsoon, and dry cultivation by irrigation through canals from In-ma lake, where fisheries are harvested on a large scale. Farms produce a variety of fruits and vegetables and home gardens in the backyard supply seasonal fruits for local bazaars.
Two noted religious monuments in The-gon town are Moe Kaung Zedi to the north and Maha Kan Lei Zeai to the east. It is the latter that should be included in the list of Yey-Lei Pagodas of Myanmar. Locally known as “Kantharyar Yei Lei Kyun Zedi Taw [the Pagoda on an island in the middle of a pleasant lake] this monument has gone through many changes, repairs and renovations in its long history.
The early history of the pagoda, like those of other yei-lei pagodas, is linked to the legends of the founding of Sre Kestra [Pyay]. The legend has it that:
“In the Buddha sasana year 101, King Duttabaung founded the city “Sre Kestra”. Being a patron king, he promoted Buddhism by building nine Buddhist pagodas in which he enshrined sacred relics. These nine pagodas were (1) Baw Baw (2) Nyi Nyi (3) The The (4) Yaw Yaw (5) Thaw Kya Mar (6) Thara Mar (7) Myinbar Hu (8) Myu Thi Zin and (9) Mya Thein Tan. Some of them still exist today.
To his queen of North Palace, Amaradevi, a son was born and he was named “Dwakasan”, and to his queen of Middle Palace, Peithano, a son was born and he was named “Dwakarit”. The two sons when grown up, renounced their mundane lives to become forest monks, who after long practice of the Buddha Dhamma attained sainthood.  Dwakasan became Ashin Sandaseri and Dwakarit became Ashin Sandakarit. They resided at their forest recluses on the mountain called “Manithaylar” [today called Shwe Kyaung saung hill].”
The legend claims that King Duttabaung was the contemporary of King Kalasoka of the Kingdom of Vesali in India, who convened the second Buddhist Synod [council]. The city Sre Kestra [Yathey Myo] which Duttabaung built, comprised seven districts around it. The-gon was situated in one of the said seven districts collectively known as Moe Gok.
On his journey to visit his two saint sons residing at their forest recluses on Mt. Manithaylar, King Duttabaung made a stop and stationed at the place where Kan thar Lake today is, for some time. The king noticed a very pleasant hillock between the two ravines. The king build a pagoda of 7 cubits high, on the hillock, in which he enshrined sacred relics of the Buddha. A reservoir was constructed by blocking the two ravines with strong dykes. Heads of districts and villages in the neighbourhood contributed their labour in erecting the reservoir.
In volume 13, on page 180 of the Encyclopedia Britannica compiled in 1973, a small black and white photograph of this pagoda is found in connection with two photographs of insertion on The-gon Myo. The photograph presents a not so big nor not so small gilt pagoda on an island in the middle of a lake abounded with lotus flowers. A roofed wooden bridge spanning the lake reached out to the pagoda against the background of green foliage.
Recently, the Board of Pagoda Trustees of Kan Thayar Yey-lein Kyun Zedi, The-gon town has compiled a three-page pamphlet dated 25 April 2010, Sunday in the form of a computerized handout. Thanks to Monk U Khemacara of Sitagu International Buddhist Missionary Centre, North Dagon, Yangon, Myanmar, the writer received a copy of the pamphlet with five photographs of the pagoda and its on-going repair and renovation works.
According to this pamphlet, the second repair and renovation works were undertaken in Myanmar Era 1270 [1908A.D.] what along interregnum between King Duttabaung’s time and the British colonial period, during which the lake and the pagoda might have remained in oblivion! Surely there must have been some records of the history of the lake and the pagoda in those long centuries, challenging the attention and interest of the researchers.
The pamphlet records that in 1908, U Shwe Da, the township officer of The-gon town and headmen of seven villages and headmen of 100 households [ya ein-gaungs] Pagoda Trustees, donors, devotees and well-wishers worked together to enlarge the original reservoir to a large circular water body of seven furlongs in circumference. U Saing and wife Daw Mei of Nyaung Kan village donated their fields and farms as glebe lands for the enlargement of the lake.
U Shwe Da, U Saing, Daw Mei, village headmen, head men of 100 households and pagoda trustees renovated the pagoda, raising its height to 15 cubits. Later, the Pagoda Trustees led by U Aye, the trader of The-gon town dredged and extended the lake. Annual pagoda festival was held in the month of Tazaungmon [November].
In the Myanmar Sakarit year 1289 [1927 A.D.] the height of the pagoda was again raised to 60 cubits encasing the original structure and the precinct of the pagoda was redesigned octagonal. The leading personnel who took the initiative and active participation in the work were U Hpo Saung, the Wun-dauk of Criminal Court, The-gon town[retired], and wife Daw Saw Shin, U Hlaing, township officer, The-gon town and wife Daw Po, U Kyaw, Honorary Magistrate of The-gon town and wife, Daw Sein, U Hpo Thit, B.O.C Engineer of The-gon town and wife Daw Ngwe Hpyu, and U Ba Thein, bailiff clerk of The-gon town and wife Daw San Shwe.
Saya U Hpo Htun, master of bronze smithy of Pyay, who sculpted the hti [umbrella] for the pagoda, U Hpo Yin, the headman of Pauk Taw village, U Oh, the headman of Thein gon village, and wife Daw Aye Mei, U Taint the veterinary surgeon of The-gon town and Buddhist devotees of seven districts made their combined effort in raising the height of the pagoda to 60 cubits and re-shaping the platform to octagonal design.
The leading mason who renovated the pagoda was Saya Kywar of Pakokku town. He took the design of the first Phaungdaw U Zedi at Tat village. Wun-dauk U Hpo Saing advised him to study the architectures of pagodas in upper Myanmar. Master mason finally decided to copy the design of the said pagoda at Tat village. In the Myanmar Sakarit year 1291 [1929 A.D.] a hti [umbrella like crown] was super-imposed on the top of the pagoda with pomp and ceremony.
For the temporary residence of the pilgrims and visitors to the pagoda, there were six zayats [rest houses] built on the embankments – two zayats built by Nyaung Kan village, one by Tei Thee Pin village, one by Shwe Kyo Pin village and two by The-gon town.
In days of yore, pilgrims and visitors, putting up at rest houses on the four embankments had to use ferry boats and rafts to cross the lake to reach the pagoda. Donors of Tei Thee Pin village and Nyaung Kan village by turn offered free ferry service for them.
When the annual pagoda festival is held in the month of Tazaungmon, the villagers of Tei Thee Pin village celebrate the festival of Tavatimsa [Celestial kingdom of Saka Deva, the Thunder god], while the villagers of Nyaung Kon village celebrate Shin Malè festival by a procession around the town. On the lake are ceremonial procession of decorated Karaweik Barge followed by boats and rafts on which are staged performances of music and group dances. Spectators crowd on the banks of the lake to watch the spectacular displays of the festival on land and in the lake. In later years, the date of the yearly festival was changed from November to January. Since then the annual festival is held yearly without fail. The last festival held in January of the year 2010 commemorated its 49th anniversary. Now in current year 2015 January its anniversary has reached 54th.
In this sacred lake, five different kinds of lotus flowers [Kya Myo Nga Pa] bloom in profusion in the month of Thadinkyut [October]. They are (1) white lotus [Nymphaea alba] (2) Red lotus [Nymphaea Rubra] (3) Blue Lotus [Nymphaea stellata] (4) Padoma Lotus [Nelumbium speciosum] and (5) Poun Najei Kya [Ixora Arborea]. Today, around the rest houses on the west bank of the lake habitate bream fish [Rohtee cotio]. In the immediate vicinities to the south of the pagoda in the lake are frolic populations of nga kyee [fresh water catfish (Heteropneustes fossilis)], nga khu [small catfish (clarius batrachus)], nga yant [banded snake headed fish (ophiocephalus striatus)]. Pilgrims and visitors feed these aquatic creatures with popcorn and other fish food available at the nearby stalls. Today Talavia fish, nga myit chin [carp: labeo rohita], nga kyin [Hamilton’s carp: cirrhina mrigala] and nga pyayma [climbing perch Anabastestudineus] thrive abundantly in the lake.
There was a severe drought in 1936 which nearly dried up the lake. Big wells were dug in the lake for the survival of the watery lives in it. In 1950, U Khin Aye and U Sein Htun, members of the Pagoda Trustees led the construction of a wooden bridge between the west bank, spanning the lake, and the pagoda platform. Though the bridge was roofed, a violent storm destroyed it. In 1959 the bridge was rebuilt of cement concrete. Thus pilgrims and visitors could easily and safely reach the pagoda, just by walking on the bridge.
All round development works have been taken since 1992. To the south of the lake, the place where the annual festival is held, a big cement concrete bridge named “Maggin 2” had been built reaching out to the pagoda precinct. To the east of the precinct, a dhamma sala [preaching hall] was built. To the north is a vihara for the residence of a monk. At the foot of the pagoda is a shrine to shelter the statue of Shin Upagutta. In front of the bridge to the west, an image house with Zina Man Aung Buddha Image in it, to the west of the lake are one zayat of bathrooms, one Aye Zedi in front of the bridge and one rest house [zayat], one nat spirit shrine for  two nat-spirits brother and sister, guarding the lake and a shrine for Bodaw, the benefactor Grand Pa’s spirit.
Today, Kantharya Yey-lei Kyun Pagoda is undergoing renovations and development under the leadership and guidance of Sitagu Sayadaw Dr Ashin Nyanisara. With money, material and dedicated labour contributed by monk and lay disciples of Sayadaw, Buddhist devotees and well-wishers at home and abroad, the pagoda is being repaired and reinforced. At each of the octagonal corners, a dhamma sala [preaching hall] was built, thus totalling eight halls. In November 2010, all works were completed and hti hoising ceremony and the 49th Buddha Pujaniya were held on a grand scale.
It is hoped that the current disaster of cyclonic flood sweeping across the country would not badly destroy religious monuments and buildings around aquatic bodies in The-gon town, even if it could spare no mercy on them.


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