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May 29, 2020

Kaba Aye: Past and Present

Kaba Aye is not the name of a town but that of a considerably large area comprised of two residential quarters and some public places lying in the eastern part of Mayangon Township, Yangon Region. I am not sure whether it be an official term or a generic one. But, to my knowledge, it is so called after the Kaba Aye Ceti (World Peace Pagoda) standing on Sirimangala Hill occupying   part of its western territory. It would be difficult to demarcate its clear-cut boundary. But it is generally accepted by locals that it extends as far south as the Chawdwingon Junction, as far north as Nawadei Junction, as far west as the western enclosure-wall of the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s  precinct and as far east as Vejayanta Road linking North Ukkalapa and South Ukkalapa Townships.  Kaba Aye Pagoda Road running from the north to the south divides it in half- the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s precinct, the Jade Emporium, the Office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Head Office of the Meteorology and Hydrology Department being on the west and the two residential quarters on the east.
Kaba Aye is known particularly for the two sacred hills-Sirimangala Hill, which accommodates the State Pariyatti Sasana University, the Maha Passana Cave, the Kaba Aye Pagoda, the Office of the Ministry of Religious affairs, etc and Dhammapala Hill, which accommodates the Buddha’s Tooth-Relic Pagoda, the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery, etc.  The two residential quarters fall between the Kaba Aye Pagoda Road and Vejayanta Road which run parallel to each other. These two main roads are connected by Gandhama Road running from the east to the west. Mya-sa-bei Street, which runs parallel to the Gyo-pyu water pipe line laid along the city-circular rail-way and Vejayanta Road, links the bridge into North Ukkalapa Township with Parami Road running east-west.
I do not know exactly when Kaba Aye came into existence. It is, however, heard that before the First World War, the Naga Hlaingu Pagoda (near the former psychiatric hospital)  on Dhammapala Hill was excavated and some Buddha images going as far back as the 5th century A.D and some ancient house-hold utensils were unearthed and that archaeologists, therefore, on the evidence of those findings assumed this area as the site of a very old city, probably that of Ukkalapa City founded by King Ukkalapa some two thousand years ago. Though it is an oral tradition, I never try to fabricate any excuse to fulminate against it. The Melahmun Buddha Image built in memory of Queen Melahmun, mother of King Ukkalapa, is not too far from this site,  this suggesting  the truth of this traditional claim. Anyhow, it might be the oldest in Kaba Aye. Some elders who were born and bred in Kaba Aye interviewed by me replied that before the Sixth Buddhist Synod held in 1954, the whole Sirimangala Hill was densely clad in rubber and Mayan (Bouea burmanica) trees. At that time, apart from residences of a few British officers and well-off Indian merchants, all were wrapped in large rubber and Mayan trees intermingling with creepers, bushes and tall grasses. After the Sixth Buddhist Synod, the Kaba Aye Pagoda and other religious structures were built to commemorate this epoch-making event. It is said that some of the workers who contributed their physical labour to the construction of the religious buildings were the villagers who inhabited the neighbouring villages such as Yegu Ywama, Ywadan Shay, Tadagyi, Tadalay, Kanbe, Zwesone and  Chawdwingon which had existed long before the Second World War and that  some did not return to their native villages but settled down around the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s precincts even after the completion of their construction works. The Yegu Ywama Monastery and the Zwesone Monastery which have existed so far were built no less than 100 years ago. The Yegu Water Pumping Station which has been running up to today was built by the British Government in the early 1920s. It is also said that as the Kaba Aye Pagoda was built in the site of the residence of a post-office officer which had existed since the colonial period, one of the two bus-stops in front of the precinct of the Kaba Aye Pagoda was called “The Post-office Bus Stop (Sartaik Hmat Taing)”. When South Ukkalapa and North Ukkalapa were founded in the late 1950s during the times of the Caretaker Government, the area what is today Kaba Aye became a stop-over between the new towns. Due to easier accessibility, more people migrated into this area. Thus might Kaba Aye have come into being since.
I moved to Kaba Aye some 15 years ago. When my family started to settle in Kaba Aye, it was then a sparsely populated area. Traffic along Kaba Aye Pagoda Road in those days was not as half heavy as that of today. Apart from the buses on their regular lines, others came few and far between. As evening set in, Gandhama Road used to empty of pedestrians and vehicles. So  pedestrians often fell prey to hooligans or looters who were awaiting the chance to do their unscrupulous trades. The intersection of the Gandhama Road and the circular rail-way was said to be haunted at night. So let alone the chicken-hearted people, the brave ones avoided passing by it during the small hours. In the afternoon, the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s precinct was green and pleasant with leafy trees, under which could be found astrologers all dressed in white or in Yogi colour (dark brown) wearing some strings of beads around their neck or counting the beads of the strings in their hands, sometimes reciting a certain Pali verse and sometimes doing their astrological calculation with the air of authority. Their regular customers were couples of lovers who came to their quiet rendezvous in the pagoda precinct.  In their presence were sometimes seen anxious-looking lovers who wanted to know their fate in store sitting breathless in anticipation. The two big lakes behind the State Pariyatti Sasana University were full of clear water to their brim with their bunds shaded by many leafy trees growing on them. Melancholy calls of cuckoos wafting from the tall trees atop on the summery afternoons and flapping sounds of the wings of various birds were common to the visitors. It would seem to them as if they were in wilderness. One storey-brick buildings with a small garden covered with multi-coloured flowers in front, built to accommodate Sayadaws and professors from the university, on the other side of the lakes took on a fantastic view. When the New Year Day fell, the people from different parts of Yangon (from page 8)
thronged to these lakes with pomp and ceremony to free live fish. Therefore, they were known to people as the Nga-hlwuk-kan(Lakes where fishes are set free). There was still a sanctuary in it with some rare animals like deer, rabbits, etc. There was a regular ferry line between the Kaba Aye Pagoda and the Buddha Tooth’s Relic Pagoda for the pilgrims. Dyna  and Hilux cars packed with the pilgrims including monks and lay men and women, especially from  the country-side, plying along the part of Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, was a common sight in those days. The Kaba Aye Pagoda was the most crowded when the occasion of the Tabaung Pagoda Festival came on. Theatrical shows (Pwe) and feats of Chinlon staged on the three festive nights drew a large number of spectators. Rows of food-stalls were inundated with pwe-goers. The songs sung by male and female theatrical performers with the accompaniment of melodious sounds of drums and cymbals pierced into the stillness of the night. This did not annoy any of the inhabitants of Kaba Aye at all. Instead, they were active and agog with the celebratory mood.
Every morning, I strolled along the Vejayanta Road and Gandhama Road. Endless green water-cress plantations were still thriving lushly on the western side of the Vejayanta Road and on the right side of the Gandhama Road passing through the Ukkalapa Golf course and the Yegu Broadcasting Station.  I took physical exercises at a certain spot on the side of Gandhama Road across the Ukkalapa Golf Course from where I could saw the Kaba Aye Pagoda, the Buddha Tooth-relic Pagoda, the micro-wave tower from the head-office of the Meteorology and Hydrology and a few high-rise buildings silhouetted against the sky-line of Mayangon and North Ukkalapa Townships. Gandhama Road on whose side I took physical exercises was hemmed in by Padauk(Pitrocarpus macrocarpus), Kukko (Albizzia lebbek), Ngu (Cassia fistula), Yetamar (Cedrela febrifuga), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Banyan (Ficus obtusifolia), Sein-pan (Poinciana regia), Khamaung (Strychnos) and  some fast-growing trees of unknown species  covered with small violet flowers. Under my very nose across a stretch of water-cress was the vast compound of the Yegu Broadcasting Station fenced with low brick-walls, covering some hundred acres. Herons were standing with their tall legs above the water-cress eyeing the fish coming up to the water-surface. Sparrows were chirping away. Crows were cawing. Doves were murmuring. Mynas were making noises. Cool morning breeze was fanning. I felt as if I were enfolded in nature.  My taking exercises breathing fresh air coming uninterrupted across the vast, green compound of the Yegu Broading Station dotted with shrubs and enjoying the beauty of the trees of diverse species standing individually or in groves enhanced my love for nature and aroused the sense of readiness to start a new day with renewed energy. Early every night, I used to sit at a pickled-tea leaf salad stall by the side of the Kaba Aye Pagoada Road just opposite the Head-office of Meteorology and Hydrology near the Nawadei Junction, sometimes alone and sometimes with my youngest sister. With the exception of the buses running on the regular lines, a few cars shot at a high speed now and then, with the noises of their engines dying away into the distance. In no time, silence reigned again. Enjoying the beauty and serenity of the road snaking in the neon light shed by the road-side lamp-posts and breathing the soft waft of cool night zephyr, I sat in the reflective mood at the stall late into the night.  All in all, the people of Kaba Aye in those days, like me, could live in harmony with nature.
Over one and a half decades, considerable changes have taken place in Kaba Aye under my eyes. I am aware that changes became quicker during the office of the Union Government The land price in Kaba Aye is  sky-rocketing;  Well-off business-men bought the houses of poor locals for the price higher than they had expected; their shabby houses were pulled down and high-rise buildings constructed. The Parami Private Hospital near the Chawdwingon Junction, the Gamon Pwint Supermarket on the Kaba Aye Pagoda Road across the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s Precinct, the Gandhama Supermarket at the junction of the Gandhama Road and Yejayanta Road, the Jambusiri Sasana Beikman at Nawadei Junction, Myawadi Private Bank on Vejayanta Road and some car-showrooms and some 24-hour mini-markets on Kaba Aye Pagoda Road have appeared recently. After the Storm Nargis, most of large age-old trees  in Kaba Aye were uprooted, especially those growing in the Kaba Aye Pagoda’s precinct. Road-side astrologers are no longer seen under the trees inside the precinct. To my disappointment, the  water-level of the two large lakes behind the State Pariyatti Sasana University is being lower with the bunds dotted with heaps of  rubbish sending forth bad smell and the water in the lake  contaminated due to the rubbish thrown into it. For the better part of the day-time, Kaba Aye Road and Gandhama Road are full of endless streams of the vehicles of different sizes, shapes and types. Very recently, an over-pass linking the pavement in front of the Kaba Aye Pagoda ‘s precinct with the car-parking in front of the Gamon Pwint Supermarket has been built. Some  well-off locals rented their houses out to entrepreneurs, local and foreign. They are running garment and rubber factories day and night in the highly-fenced compounds of the rented houses, degrading the environmental qualities of the quarters, increasing the risk of fires and making a lot of noises. The areas of water-cress plantations on the side of the Vejanyanta Road and Gandhama Road are dwindling, some plantations turned into patches of land fenced by brick-walls. High-rise buildings, some completed and some still under construction, are mushrooming  on the Kaba Aye Pagoda Road.
Above all, during the time of the Union Government, Kaba Aye has become endowed with some characteristics of a city. Consequently, people from it have easier access to health-services and shopping-centres. More job-opportunities arise for its locals due to the increase in the number of commercial, health, transportation, social, educational facilities. Some roads are widened, some streets paved with concrete slabs and drainages repaired. However, green areas are shrinking and the number of houses increasing, with population density higher. With no large trees after the storm Nargis, it becomes hotter than before. I also notice that some high-rise buildings under construction on Kaba Aye Pagoda Road may be higher than the pinnacle of the Kaba Aye Pagoda when completed, causing a sacrilege. The contractors of these buildings should also ensure that they have sufficient space for car-parking and that the aquifers under the buildings not be exhausted due to the excessive use of underground water by those who are to live there. Mayangon Town was awarded the prize of being the most hygienic and cleanest out the towns lying in the boundary of the Yangon City Development Committee last year. This may be due partly to the cleanliness and greenness of Kaba Aye. At any cost, it is hoped by the author that Yangon city planners will continue to keep the existing ecological condition of Kaba Aye in the years to come.


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