Among the many ancient monasteries in Mrauk-U, Bandula Monastery, which is situated in the south-western part of Mrauk-U,
received more recognition as it pays homage to a Sanda Muni bronze Buddha image cast during the Dhannywadi dynasty as well as a Buddhas’s tooth relic.
Bandula Monastery has a rich cultural heritage and houses a special exhibition hall that stores historical artefacts such as Buddha images,
human sculptures, royal items and coins from various Rakhine dynasties, as well as Buddha images, Buddha relics and Arahat relics that past Kings have paid homage to in the palace. Some of the other Buddha relics were donated or sold to the late Abbot by people who found them from old stupas.
There is also a row of 6 intricately crafted gold Buddha images from the Wesali dynasty (327AD to 828AD).
Believed to be the smallest in the world, these images can only be seen clearly under a magnifying glass.
The Buddha images from left to right, or past to future, consist of: Taekm Muni, Katku Than Buddha, Kawnaga Mana Buddha, Kasapa Buddha,
Sakyamuni Buddha and Maitreya Buddha. Precious as these artefacts may be, most are stored in squalid glass cabinets,
except for the Buddha tooth relic which is stored in a safety box. These cabinets are all congested in an ancient wooden structure with insufficient lighting.
Should there be fire or theft, the consequences are unimaginable.
There is a story behind Bandula Hill, the hill on which Bandula Monastery is situated on and from which the name is derived.
It was said that when King Min Saw Mon founded the Mrauk-U dynasty in AD1433, he wanted to prevent Mrauk-U from attacks and so he sought advice pertaining to the design and planning of the city.
He subsequently constructed five stupas and eight shrines within the town and its vicinity, as well as ten guardian Yakshas surrounding the town.
There was a Yaksa by the name of Bandula situated on a particular hill and so the hill was named as Bandula Hill.
King Sanda Suriya, who assumed the throne in BC580 was the first King of the third Dhannywadi dynasty.
During his reign in BC554, Buddha brought 500 Arahats to this land to preach the Dharma to the King and the people.
When Buddha was about to return, King Sanda Suriya requested Buddha to leave behind a resemblance of his image for people to pay homage to.
Buddha agreed. King Sanda Suriya thus consolidated all the gold, silver, bronze, metal and other jewellery in the country and made a big Buddha image out of them.
This Buddha image came to be known as Maha Muni Buddha image. The remaining materials were made into three smaller Buddhas known as Shinkyaw Muni,
Shwebontha Muni and Manaungmyin Muni. Finally, the King hid all the remaining materials under the Maha Muni Buddha image.
When the sixth King of the Dhannywadi dynasty, King Suriya Sakka, assumed the throne in 316, King Asoka gave him some Buddha relics and a Buddha image made after a similar one paid homage to in the celestial realm. The latter is named as Sula Muni.
The overjoyed King presented King Asoka with a Buddha image made in resemblance to the Maha Muni Buddha image.
King Suriya Sakka was extremely interested in Sula Muni. He used the remaining materials which King Sanda Suriya hid under the Maha Muni Buddha image to build five Buddha images,
in resemblance to the Sula Muni image. These five Buddha images were named as Sanda Muni, Tekka Muni, Tekwa Muni, Yaza Muni and Sula Muni.
These collectively came to be known as Mahajan Buddha images (jan: remaining).
These five Buddha images were paid homage to on Debababeta Hill, located close to Mrauk-U. They have been through the Dhannywadi, Vesali and Lemro dynasties.
In the year 1430, King Min Saw Mon of the Mrauk-U dynasty sent one of the five images — the Sanda Muni image — to Barbu Hill in Mrauk-U and constructed a stupa there to pay homage to the image.
The Sanda Muni image was eventually moved to the refurbished Ordination Hall in Banduala Monastery. King Bodawpaya, son of King Alaung Paya, subsequently conquered Rakhine in 1784AD and stole this Sanda Muni image together with other Buddha images.
The Sanda Muni image was actually made of gold, silver, tin, copper and zinc but the entire image was coated with a layer of plaster to prevent the British from using these metals to make weapons during the 1st Anglo-Burmese war in 1824 where the British controlled the Western part of Myanmar (including Mrauk-U). Rakhines hid the Sanda Muni image for about 10 years by submerging it in the “Wa” lake at the foot of Barbu Hill. When community peace was restored, the Rakhines pulled out the image, had it cemented over and gilted it. Then it was placed among other images standing in the sima, making it look like an ordinary marble statue. The responsible people protected this secret; after many years the whereabouts of Sanda Muni image became almost unknown. It was only uncovered in 1988 by the late Abbot, Ven. Sakapala.
When the gilt mortar covering of the image was removed, some damage, particularly to the back of the head, ears, some fingers and covering were seen. A Committee for Repair and Renovation of the image was duly formed. It repaired and renovated the image, using gold, silver and bronze donated by well-wishers.
Due to the skills of the bronzesmiths, the Sanda Muni image was restored to its former shining and magnificent state, ready for more veneration by one and all.
Later, even more noteworthy features of the image were claimed: shades of holy water lilies are observed on the breast; day by day, changes in the colour of the image are observed such as that of bronze, gold, white or dark These claims were made by members of the board of trustees, caretakers or pilgrims from near and afar. As such, the image was presumed to have not only “reappeared” but also brought forth more glorious power. It was said that the Sanda Muni image displays a unique characteristic. Whenever an important event is about to happen, the right eye of the image will become red in colour.
From AD1501 to 1513, King Min Yaza sent a Buddhist missionary group to Sri Lanka to assist in some problems which have arose in the development of Buddhism over there.
The delegation consisted of twenty Sanghas and a troop led by his Crown Prince Min Bar Gyi. When they restored the position and dignity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan King decided to bestow a Buddha tooth relic worshipped on Wanabaya Hill to the leading Sangha in the delegation as a gesture of gratitude.
This Buddha tooth relic came from a reputable Sangha named Dhammika who obtained the relic during the cremation of Buddha using his superpowers.
When he returned to Rakhine, Min Bar Gyi constructed a Pagoda on Wathula Hill to pay homage to the Buddha tooth relic. When he assumed the throne in AD1531,
he then sent the Buddha tooth relic to the palace. In AD1593, King Min Raza Gyi, the grandson of Min Bar Gyi, enshrined it in Anddaw Thein (Ordination Hall),
one of the ancient stupas to the north of Shittaung Pagoda, in 1598 AD.
When the Mrauk-U dynasty came to an end in AD1748, the royal line was cut off and the stupas and other architecture buildings, like the country, fell into neglect.
The Buddha tooth relic was subsequently found by an Indian Muslim living in the nearby village while he was looting for treasures.
He also took away two small diamond Buddha images and some precious jewels.
The angry villagers found their way to his residence and his wife, in panic, threw the bag containing the treasures out of the window.
People subsequently found the Buddha tooth relic and Buddha images glittering amidst some dense pineapple trees.
For safety reasons, people decided to send the Buddha tooth relic and Buddha images to Phayabaw Monastery where the Abbot could look after it.
Upon the demise of the Abbot, people again sent the Buddha tooth relic to LawkaManaung Pagoda located in the east, whilst the Buddha images stayed in Phayabaw Monastery.
Later, the Buddha tooth relic is sent to a shrine at the bottom of Hari Hill which was located to the north of the palace.
For 42 years, the Buddha tooth relic was constantly relocated.
In 1900, when the Buddha tooth relic went for its annual procession around the town for people to pay homage to,
a bridge named Nyuanbinzay collapsed under the weight of the procession team and the tooth relic was lost after people saw a glowing light and heard a loud noise.
A persistent medical practitioner by the name of U Thet-ka-phyu finally found it among the grass near a small hill by the name of Yat-ka.
He then took it back home to pay homage to.
In the meantime, there were some disputes between villagers from opposite sides of Nyuanbinzay bridge over the custodianship of the Buddha tooth relic.
This matter was brought up to court and subsequently to the British Royal Court,
where it was decided that the village who found the Buddha tooth relic will be given custodianship of it.
Subsequently, people brought the Buddha tooth relic to Abbot U Pandissa of Bandula Monaster,
who invited three goldsmiths in 1949 to construct a small stupa measuring 13 feet to hold the Buddha tooth relic.
This stupa is made from over 600g of gold, 2160g of silver, one diamond and 141 gems.
The Buddha tooth relic was subsequently transferred to the present third generation, Ven. Sakapala, who passed away in 2002.
Abbots of Bandula Monastery
Bandula Monastery was founded by Bhaddanta Punna, who had sila-morality and concentration and kept to the Vinaya disciplinary rules.
He first resided at Pakham Monastery, then moved to Padommar (now Bandula) Hill to live alone as a forest-dwelling monk.
Later his disciples built a small bamboo monastery for him. In 1887, under the initiative of goldsmith U Tha Baw and other donors of Taung-yat village,
a big monastery named Bandula Monastery was built for the monk. An Ordination hall to house Buddha images was subsequently built and it came to be known as Payamaya Sima or Padamya Sima. Ven.
Punna passed away at the age of 75.
His disciple Ven. Pandicca took over the duties of the presiding monk. Named Oo Maung Mya,
he received his education under the Abbot of Bandula Monastery. While studying at Than Kyaung of Sittwe, he was ordained as a bhikkhu.
He learnt the Scriptures at Mandalay, Pakokku, etc and Sanskrit and Pali in India and Ceylon. He had also visited Bodhigaya.
Being a prominent mahathera of Mahadvara sect when sangha organisations at different levels were formed, he was allowed to serve as a State Ovadacariya Sayadaw.
He was awarded the “Aggamahapandita” title in 1983. Another historic Buddhist event also took place under his leadership.
The Sanda Muni image which had lain hidden as a marble statue in the Ordination Hall for so many years was rendered possible to “reappear” in its polished and shining state to receive public veneration,
thanks to the efforts of his junior bhikkhu, Ven Sakapala, who subsequently became the next Abbot.
When Ven Sakapala was sweeping the floor among the Buddha images, he noticed a broken-off eye-object in front of the throne on which the “marble” Sanda Muni image stood.
On closer inspection, he found that it was indeed a bronze image. When this image was uncovered, the news spread and multitudes of people came to pay homage to it.
When Ven Pandicca passed away at the age of 93 on 1990, Ven. Badanda Sakapala took over and became the third Head Monk.
Initiated at the age of 14, he proceeded to do his studies at big monastic learning centres of Yangon, Mandalay and Wakema.
Later he was given the duties of Nayaka-executive (Mahadvara Sect) at different levels of sangha organisations and was a member of the Central Working Committee of Sangha.
He also went abroad on Buddhist missions in 1978 to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) including regions where many Buddhists lived.
His sect, the Maha Dawra Nikaya, of which he is the Chairman, is the biggest in this region. From 1988 onwards, Ven.
Sakapala began collecting Buddha relics, arahat relics, ancient Buddha images with different mudras and arahat images, based on his faith and experience.
As explained above, a sort of musuem has also been constructed in Bandula Monastery to house these religious objects for all to venerate.
In recognition of his endeavours he was awarded the title of “Mahasaddhammajotikadhaja” by the State in 2002.
Based on observation and experiences gained by visits to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand,
Ven Sakapala continued to endeavour for the preservation of Buddhist heritage objects systematically at Bandula Monastery.
He had coordinated and tried to form an ovadacariya committee for his musuem-building. Having worked in Bandula Monastery for 11 years,
he passed away in 2002 when the second Sutra Recitation Chamber was still under construction. Ven Sakapala had remained a true successor to his former elder bhikkhus,
who had initiated the commendable collection and preservation work connected with the Sasana. He had also rendered the Bandula Monastery well-known locally as well as internationally.
He had achieved the basic work needed for emergence of a musuem-building at Bandula Monastery. It is indeed a significant milestone.
Ven Fazhao appreciated all the efforts of Ven Sakapala. Hence, he donated 5,000,000 Kyats or S$10,000 for construction of the Gandhakuti Chamber to house the Sanda Muni image.
There was a welcome ceremony for the missionary group held in this Chamber in which a total sum of 737,000 Kyats or S$1,474 was donated.
Ven Fazhao also invited Ven Sakapala to for the Singapore Buddha Tooth Relic Exhibition before he passed away.
Ven Fazhao further donated 40,000,000 Kyats or S$80,000 for construction of a musuem where Ven Sakapala’s collection of religious objects could be exhibited,.
to be sited at the entrance of Bandula Monastery.
This was followed by a funeral procession which is also known as Phongri Byan Pwe (Phongri: Monk, Byan: Death, Pwe: Festival).
The order of the procession, starting from the front, goes thus:
(1) Board of Trustees holding Sasana flag;
(2) Rakhine drummers;
(3) Young monks from various monasteries;
(4) Board of trustees with senior monks of Bandula Monastery. Some trustees were in a car with the portrait of the late Abbot in front and yellow umbrellas on the car.
Those who were not in the car were holding the plague. All monks were in the car;
(5) Older monks from various monasteries in a car;
(6) Board of trustees;
(7) Car containing the body of the late Abbot. Pulled by women, some were from the Board of Trustees. Some were pulling from the front, some were pulling from behind.
It represented the conflicting wishes to let Abbot go yet not bearing to part with him.
This procession went round the town once for villagers to pay their last respects. Refreshments were served along the way.
The completion of the procession marked the beginning of a pompous carnival, something which was considered quite rare in a quiet town in Mrauk-U.
Held in a soccer field, there were food, games and entertainment. The entire carnival was filled with an exciting atmosphere and the hustle-and-bustle of villagers.
The songs and dances performed during the carnival were meant to praise the late Abbot so that he would be well remembered.
The same rationale applied for the overnight drama performance on stage consisting of songs, dance and jokes.
There was also a dance competition meant to achieve a carnival effect.
The dancers were supposed to dance with the coffin inside the hut but there were too many groups so it was not possible.
It was basically a Rakhine dance where the participants (divided into groups along the line of gender) danced until late at night and danced again in the morning after resting.
People offered money for their performances.
However, amidst the excitement, in a corner, a group of people, dressed in colourful Rakhine costumes and with heavy make-up,
were crying as they rocked the Abbot’s coffin in an emerald cradle, signifying their last respects and honour to a teacher, his past deeds and experiences.
The swing of the cradle was done in conjunction with the songs and dances performed and is considered the highest contribution made by laymen,
even more respectful than clasped hands.
When the carnival came to an end, it was time for the late Abbot to be cremated. Sanghas from other monasteries were present to take charge of the cremation ceremony.
During the cremation ceremony, anyone could purchase a doon at 500 Kyats or S$1 which would be ignited and shot towards the main structure,
as the highest form of last respects towards the Abbot. This process is known as doon taik pwe (taik: to fire, pwe: ceremony).
Report on Golden Pagoda Buddhist Temple Myanmar Missionary Tour, 10th March 2003 to 9th April 2003, Submitted by: Jason Chiew & Lee Wai Leng, Vaidurya Media House
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Tun Shwe Khine. A Guide to Mrauk-U, an Ancient City of Rakhine, Myanmar. Yangon: U Tun Shwe, 1993.
Gutman, Pamela. Burma’s Lost Kingdoms. Orchid Press, 2001, ISBN 974-8304-98-1, pages 73 – 162, map: pages 76 – 77.
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Arakan Eagle: May 2011
Rakhine State: Andawthein Pagoda AD 1596