Kuthodaw Pagoda: The World’s Largest Book in the Heart of Mandalay
Kuthodaw Pagoda, also known as the world’s largest book, is a captivating embodiment of Myanmar’s rich spiritual legacy and devotion to the preservation of Buddhist teachings. Constructed during the reign of King Mindon, the pagoda’s foundation was laid in 1857, coinciding with the establishment of the new royal capital in Mandalay.
King Mindon, a devout Buddhist, initiated the construction of the Kuthodaw Pagoda during the Fifth Buddhist Council he convened in 1872. The Council’s purpose was to recite and approve the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism, the Pali Canon. The King aimed to preserve the scriptures in an enduring form for future generations, leading to the creation of the world’s largest book.
In the precinct of the Kuthodaw Pagoda, 729 marble slabs inscribed with the entire Pali Canon were housed in individual white stupas. These inscriptions were completed in 1868, thus effectively converting the pagoda into a giant book and making it an invaluable resource for the study of Theravada Buddhism.
The Kuthodaw Pagoda offers a unique blend of spiritual significance, historical intrigue, and architectural splendor. Its claim as the home of the world’s largest book is not only a monumental achievement in the preservation of Buddhist teachings but also a testament to Myanmar’s dedication to religious scholarship.
The pagoda complex, with its hundreds of shrines housing marble inscriptions, is a sight to behold. The central golden stupa, standing 57 meters tall, is a magnificent spectacle of traditional Burmese temple architecture.
Visitors to the pagoda have the rare opportunity to delve into the depth of Buddhist philosophy as inscribed on the marble slabs. Although the texts are in Pali, interpretation plaques and available guides can help non-Pali readers understand the essence of these teachings.
Location and Route
The Kuthodaw Pagoda is located in Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, at the foot of Mandalay Hill. It is part of a larger historical and religious site that includes several other noteworthy landmarks, such as the Atumashi Monastery and Sandamuni Pagoda.
Mandalay enjoys excellent connectivity through air, road, and rail routes. Mandalay International Airport hosts flights from various domestic and international locations. Intra-country travel is facilitated by regular buses and trains to and from major cities.
Once in Mandalay, reaching the Kuthodaw Pagoda is a straightforward affair. Local taxis, cycle rickshaws, and even bicycles offer convenient modes of transport. The city’s grid layout and the pagoda’s prominent location make it easy to include in any sightseeing itinerary in Mandalay.
When to Visit
The Kuthodaw Pagoda welcomes visitors throughout the year, but the most comfortable time to visit is between November and February. During these months, the weather is relatively cooler and drier, ideal for exploring the expansive pagoda complex.
If you wish to witness the pagoda in its most festive avatar, consider planning your visit around the Thadingyut Festival, usually held in October. This festival of lights marks the end of Buddhist Lent, and the entire pagoda complex is illuminated, adding to its ethereal beauty.
What to See
Upon entering the Kuthodaw Pagoda complex, the central golden stupa is the first sight that catches the eye. Inspired by the Shwezigon Pagoda in Nyaung-U, it is an exquisite piece of Burmese architectural grandeur. The intricate detailing and the towering presence of the stupa add a majestic charm to the pagoda complex.
The defining feature of the pagoda, however, is the 729 white stupas housing the inscribed marble slabs. Walking around this vast “library” of Buddhist teachings can be a deeply enlightening experience. Each slab, inscribed on both sides, represents a page of the “book,” offering a comprehensive overview of Theravada Buddhism’s scriptures.
To the southeast of the pagoda is the 8-meter (26-foot) tall guardian lion, also known as Chinthe. This mythical creature, half-lion, half-dragon, is a common protective figure in Burmese temples and adds a mythical allure to the pagoda complex.
To sum up, the Kuthodaw Pagoda offers a unique spiritual and cultural experience. Its historical significance, coupled with its architectural grandeur and deep-seated religious sanctity, makes it a must-visit site for any traveler exploring the enchanting land of Myanmar.