Kuthodaw Pagoda and the World’s Largest Book

13 Jun 2019 by Admin

Lying at the foot of Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda (also known as Kuthodaw Paya or “Royal Merit Pagoda”) is the home of “the world’s largest book” inscribed with the teachings of Gautama Buddha. The Pagoda was built by the order of King Mindon Min in 1857 as part of the traditional establishment of Mandalay Royal City.

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Kuthodaw Pagoda Glitters in the Twilight

Feared that the philosophy of Gautama Buddha could not be passed on to the next generations with the British’s invasion to South East Asian region, The King built Kuthodaw Pagoda with the intention of preserving the entire text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism by carving them on huge marble slabs.

The Gilded Pagoda - The Center of Kuthodaw Pagoda Complex

At the heart of Kuthodaw Pagoda complex is a pagoda covered in gold with the height of 57 meters. The pagoda was constructed in 1859 basing on the model of Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan.

It has a stupa in bell shape resting on three tiers of receding squares. Four huge golden Chinthe (the Burmese mythical lions) stand at four corners guarding the pagoda. On each side, there is a staircase rising to the pedestal of the stupa. The gilded pagoda is crowned with a multi-tiered ornamental spire in the shape of an umbrella, also called hti in Burmese.

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The Gilded Pagoda is Situated at the Heart of Kuthodaw Pagoda Complex

On top of a post in front of the pagoda is a Garuda, a mythical avian creature in Buddhist and Hindu legendary tales, gripping a Naga (mythical serpent). Adjacent to the pagoda is a small well-designed open pavilion containing a Buddha image placed on an adorned pedestal in the posture of “calling the earth to witness”.

The World's Largest Book in Kuthodaw Pagoda

Encircling the gilded pagoda are 729 shrines, each housing one standing slab of marble with Burmese inscription on both sides. As a whole, the 729 inscribed marble slabs compose “the world’s largest book”, with each marble slab represents one page of the book. The inscription of the slabs are texts from the Sutta Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka which are three parts composing the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, a book written in Pali language conveying the teachings of Gautama Buddha. 

There is a copy of Kuthodaw Pagoda and the world's largest book located nearby with the marble slabs inscribed in Burmese language.

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The View of Kuthodaw Pagoda (both original and copy) from Above

The “book” was made by the order of King Mindon Min in a large shed near Mandalay Palace. Commencing in 1860, it took eight years for the work to be completed. The texts were carefully edited by senior monks and consulting the Tiptaka manuscripts written on dried palm leaves which were preserved in royal libraries. Then, the texts were meticulously copied on marble slabs for stonemasons to work on. On each side of a slab of marble, there are about 80 to 100 lines of Burmese script which were carved and filled with gold. A scribe had to spend three days to copy the script onto the marble slabs and a stonemason could chisel 16 lines per day.

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A Row of Dhama Ceti on the Ground of Kuthodaw Pagoda

Each marble slab has the height of 153 centimeters, the width of 107 centimeters and the thickness of 13 centimeters. They are placed in small white shrines called Dhama Ceti or Kyauksa in the Burmese language (in which “gu” means cave). The white shrines were constructed in rows surrounding the gilded pagoda, with the aisles wide enough to walk through. Each Dhamma Ceti , with elaborately embellished gates on all four sides and an ornamental spire with a precious gem on top, stores a marble slab. The 730th slab does not present the content of Tiptaka, but the realization of the book instead.

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An Inscribed Marble Slab

On their invasion in 1885, the British took away gold, jewel, and gems from the hti of Kuthodaw Pagoda and stripped away the gold from the letters on the slabs. Today, the inscription has been refilled with simple black ink made from paraffin lamps and straw ash. Several pieces of gem still remain.

How to Get to Kuthodaw Pagoda

Kuthodaw Pagoda is situated in the East of Mandalay Royal Palace and in the North part of Mandalay which is near to Sandamuni pagoda, Atumashi monastery and Shwenandaw Monastery.

  • Opening Hours:This pagoda opens from 8 am to 8 pm everyday 
  • Entrance Fee: US 5$ per person.

Interested in visiting Kuthodaw Pagoda? Contact us today to secure a place on our Burma Cruises taking you there and many other tourist attractions in Myanmar.

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