Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Elaborate Face Washing Rite in Mahamuni Pagoda

Early morning in the Mahamuni pagoda (Mandalay) is peaceful, solemn and sacred irrespective of outside life.
Mandalay is the city located in the central country beside the gentle Irrawaddy river. The city has retained so many precious things which remain mysterious in eyes of foreigners.
Mandalay has Shwenandaw monastery - where keeps extremely sophisticated wooden sculptures, Kuthodaw Paya pagoda – where reserves the world’s largest set of Buddhist scriptures including “729 pages” engraved on big marble, the Royal Palace – the symbol of a kingship period, U Bein bridge – the world’s oldest and longest wood teak bridge, Mahagandayon monastery in Amarapura, Mingun Bell in the opposite riverside, and specially the Mahamuni pagoda with a great Buddha image.

The image has a unique posture: the Buddha sits for meditation. He has a round face and pierced long ears. He wears a hat and dresses a golden robe. The image was cast of brass 6.5 tons in weight and 1.8 meters in height. The stupa where contain the statue has 3 passage-ways at two sides and in front of it. The ceiling, walls to the body of the image all emit radiantly golden lights.
Millions of Buddhism devotees came to the pagoda and applied laminated gold leaves commonly the size of 2 thumbs on the Mahamuni image, causing the thickness of the body to increase by 6 inch (15 cm).
In Mahamuni pagoda, women are not allowed to approach and enter the section in front of and near the image while men have this right. Women are just only permitted to knee, sit or stand behind the enclosure 30 m from the Buddha image. However, the number of women buying gold plates is much more than that of men. Several special men are always available in the pagoda to do the duty of applying gold leaves on the image replacing for women.
The traditional face washing rite for the Mahamuni image is carried out daily in early morning at 4 AM or 4.30 A.M, comprising two main parts: washing the face and brushing the teeth.
When everyone gathers fully ahead of the image, the ceremony starts to be carried out with elaborate rituals lasting over an hour by a senior monk dressed in monastic attire. He is assisted by several men dressed in white and wearing formal headdress. A scaffolding is placed in front high to the chest of the Buddha in order that the senior monk can stand on it at an appropriate altitude to reaches the face easily.

As soon as the drums are stricken, the senior monk enters the sanctum and begin the ceremony with a series of fresh towels, offered by devotees. Firstly, he covers the body with yellow cloth. A shiny metal vase containing water is used to spray on the face to be wet. After that, the monk uses a clean towel to wide carefully and moderately the whole face from forehead to eyes then two bridges of nose. Particularly with the mouth, the monk holds a soft paintbrush, lightly brush the teeth many times before cleaning with fresh towels sequentially again. Next, sandalwood paste is applied to the statue and it is cleaned one more time with towels then eventually splashed with scented water.
Photo: Wikipedia

During the ceremony, the chanting sounds sotto voce. Everyone all highly concentrates. Devotees offer food and other items. It is said that the rite has existed since the Buddha statue was brought to the pagoda; and only the monk having the high position in Mandalay Buddhism Community can assume this important job.
At the eventual rite, the monk employs a fan to gently dry the Buddha face, while many local men reach very closely the Buddha image, knee down and implement a praying rite. After the ceremony is accomplished, the used towels are returned to the devotees who keep these towels with homage in their home shrines. The ceremony finishes, monks commence walking on streets with bare foot and begging for alms.

About Mahamuni pagoda: - The pagoda is located between 82 street and 84 street in Mandalay city. - It opens for visiting from 6 AM to 8 PM. - February is the time of the festival in Mahamuni pagoda, attracting thousands of Buddhism devotees to participate.


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