(A PROJECT to apply gold paint to an iconic pagoda in Sagaing – for the first time in its 375-year history – should be completed by the end of March, trustees say.
Volunteer workers finished removing a lime coating from the exterior of Kaungmudaw Pagoda, which has been white-washed since its construction in 1636, in late December and gilding has now begun, said U Tote, chairman of the pagoda’s board of trustees.
“The lime coating was 0.25 inches (64 millimetres) thick. We removed all the lime until we reached the bricks below and then we smoothed the surface with sandpaper before painting with gold,” he said.
Gilding of the lower part of the stupa was completed on January 27, said volunteer Ko Nay Win.
“It has been only a week to complete painting the whole part of the lower dome with the help of many people. But few people dare climb up the dome,” he said.
The project will see the stupa covered in four layers of gold paint – the three inner layers with a water-based paint and the outer layer with an oil-based paint.
With the circumference of 268 metres (880 feet), more than 800 gallons (3656 litres) of gold paint will be required, at an estimated cost of K200 million. The project will also see the 7m high hti (umbrella), which was previously covered in bronze, coated in gold leaf.
“We have now received K600 million from donors. Everyone donates voluntarily – we don’t force anyone to do so,” U Tote said, adding that the remaining K400 million will be kept for future projects.
“As well as donating money, members of the local community come and volunteer. More than 100 people are working at the pagoda every day.
“We have wanted to gild the stupa for many years but couldn’t do it up until now because we didn’t have the funds,” he said, adding that trustees had consulted with senior monks before going ahead with the project.
“We consulted venerable monks and they said they would be happy to see the pagoda coated in gold – even small pagodas across the country are gilded. After we had permission from the government we then put advertisements in the papers inviting people to donate.”
However, not everyone is enthused about the painting project. Tour guides say the pagoda is iconic partly because it is not painted gold, and may lose some of its lustre in the eyes of tourists.
“When we think of this pagoda, we always think of its white-washed appearance so it will definitely take some getting used to. It’s kind of like a man who normally wears Myanmar traditional dress putting on a Western tuxedo,” said English-speaking tour guide U Nyi Nyi Aung (Tharawun).
But one of 10 senior monks supervising the project dismissed these concerns, saying the pagoda would have been gilded from day one – if the money had been available to do so.
“In Myanmar, even a small pagoda in the remotest part of the country has a glistening stupa. This is one of our historic pagodas so it should also be painted gold. A gold-painted pagoda is better than a white-washed one, don’t you think?” said U Ottamasara, 60.
Built in 1636 by King Tharlon, Kaungmudaw is the largest stupa in Myanmar in terms of circumference and is 57m (188 feet) in height.
The distinctive dome-shaped stupa is thought to be a replica of Ruwanwelisaya, also known as Mahathupa, in Sri Lanka, but according to another popular story it was modelled on the breast of King Tharlon’s favourite wife.
Volunteer Ko Khin Maung Than, from Sagaing, said he was proud to be able to provide his labour for the gilding project.
“I can’t afford to donate money so I decided to volunteer instead and I help remove the lime and carry water to where it’s needed,” he said. “I’m glad to see the most famous pagoda in our region glittering with gold, instead of being white-washed.”