Every morning before dawn the traditional face washing rite for the Mahamuni image is carried out between 4am- 4:30am. This incredible experience is observed by people from all over Myanmar who travel to visit and worship at the one of the country’s most revered Pagodas. The Pagoda is located in the city of Mandalay close to the Irrawaddy river. The city itself has many attraction which makes it a popular place to spend time in Myanmar and it is one of my favourite cities in Myanmar to visit. The Mahamuni Pagoda was built in 1784 by King Bodawpaya, more than 70 years before the founding of Mandalay. The purpose for the pagoda was to house the revered Mahamuni Buddha.
The face washing ritual takes around one hour and is a unique insight into Buddhism in the region. It comprises of two parts. The first is to wash the face with special fragrant water and the second is the brushing of the mouth and teeth. The Buddha is sat in a meditation position with has a round face and pierced long ears. Made from brass 6.5 tons in weight and 1.8 meters in height it wears a hat and dresses a golden robe.
When the ceremony starts everyone must be in front of the Buddha and monks are assisted by several men dressed in white and wearing formal headdress. On the sounding of the drums the monk approaches the image with clean towels which he is given by the local devotees. He covers it with a yellow cloth and water is sprayed onto the image of the face to wet it. Then with the clean towels he wipes the face in a very soft manner. Particular attention is made to the mouth and teeth as they are cleaned with a paintbrush before cleaning the face once again. Then sandalwood paste is applied to the statue and it is cleaned one more time with towels then eventually splashed with special fragrant water. You can actually ask for the water used in this particular ceremony to take home with you if you wish.
While the ceremony is taking place there is a melodic chanting as the devotees are in prayer and they offer food, flowers and gifts. Towards the end of the ritual the monk dries the Buddha face with a fan and men move close towards the Buddha image and pray. Once the ceremony has taken place the used towels are returned to the devotees who keep these towels to take home to their shrines. Here the ceremony is completed and the monks head outside into the city to collect the alms for the day.
It is forbidden for women to approach and enter the section in front of or near the Buddha, they are allowed to kneel, sit or stand behind the enclosure 30 metres from the Buddha image. Another tradition is to apply gold leaves onto the image. Over the years the huge number of Buddhist devotees that have come to the pagoda and applied the gold leaves have caused the thickness of the body to increase and become lumpy.
Outside the pagoda there are six statues that were originally guardians of Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia. Legend has it that by rubbing a wounded body part over the warrior statue, the image will cure the afflicted area. It is said that the images were nothing more than figures and only obtained its healing powers until it was placed in the temple.
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