Friday, May 18, 2012

Buffalohair, From Myanmar: With Loving Kindness, The Shwezigon Pagoda

From Myanmar: With Loving Kindness, ‘The Shwezigon Pagoda’

Deep in the heart of Texas, where Bob Wills is still the king, nestled in the lush rolling green hills on the outskirts of Austin Texas at the Sitagu Buddhist Vihara, a pagoda is coming to life. On lone from Myanmar and the US, trained in the ancient art of Pagoda building, a hand full of craftsmen is building a replica of the original Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan. And it’s a labor of love.

The original Shwezigon Pagoda, or Paya in Bagan Myanmar, began construction in the reign of King Anawrahta and was completed in King Kyansittha’s rule during the Pagan Dynasty in 1102 AD. The magnificence of the architecture, sculptures and art has stood the test of time and continues to retain its grandeur. Buddhists far and wide continue to make the pilgrimage to this hallowed site as well as tourists who are fortunate enough to make the journey to Bagan. The Shwezigon Pagoda is a testament to the architectural achievements of the ancients and the sight of the Pagoda is truly breathtaking. Now, in its entire splendor, The Shwezigon Pagoda is being reborn in an epic construction project in the great state of Texas..

With expressed permission from the Venerable Ashin Ariyadhamma I was afforded the opportunity to explore this historic construction project. I also met with world renowned ancient architect U Win Maung, his son and the crew of craftsmen who are undertaking this architectural and artistic challenge. Though Maung could not bring all the craftsmen normally needed for such a build, undaunted he moved forward with a much smaller crew. Ironically the biggest obstacle was dealing with western building theorem and materials. Fortunately they overcame this issue and all that remained was duplicating the original Shwezigon Pagoda. Interesting part is the fact this pagoda is being reconstructed 1/3rd scale of the original in every fascinating and intricate detail. With the back drop of the pagoda the Sitagu Monastery appears to be in Myanmar, even the scent of ngapi wafts in the air.

Take a long hard look at the original Shwezigon Pagoda and you will notice the structure is covered in sculptures, shrines and elaborate tiles. Absolutely every aspect of the original pagoda is being painstakingly replicated just as the ancient artisans did back in 1102. The rich blend of Indian and Burmese architectural prowess is evident. This epic project is being sponsored by philanthropists from both Myanmar and the US but what really impressed me is the fact these artisans are working simply for the love of Buddhism and the people who would eventually use this structure. By western standards this project would cost millions of dollars just for the elaborate art work these craftsmen are producing on a daily basis.
This is truly a labor of love on a scale I rarely see and I was very impressed by the humility this group of master craftsmen exuded. In the spirit of true giving they left their beloved Myanmar and families so they could build this pagoda. There were a couple craftsmen from the US and they left careers and their families for this project also. We could learn more about true selfless giving from these noblemen from South Asia for they are a rare breed in this modern era. Fortunately I did take some video and did a few interviews but I still could not capture the totality of this build. From minute figurines to full blown Buddha statues and shrines, everything is being hand crafted exactly like the original Shwezigon Pagoda. It should also be noted the monastery is also expanding its meditation center with new bungalows for both the monks and visitors. A hall and library will also grace this meditation center along with other out buildings and a reflection pond.

There is no question I will be back to note the progress and do more interviews with the crew since I did not get them all interviewed on this visit. On a side bar; I did get the opportunity to visit with renowned artist *Sitt Nyein Aye and did a short story and video with him. But there is much to tell about this artist and it is clear I will need to spend more than just one day with him in the future. After all, he did introduce modern art to Burma in spite of disdain from the socialist regime. I’ve only skimmed the surface of this complex and talented individual and after reviewing his paintings I have many more questions to ask. And I know he has much more to tell as well.

But in the meantime I’ve included 4 short videos for your viewing pleasure. Granted two are in Burmese but they do show some of the art being produced at the Sitagu Buddhist Vihara in Austin Texas. The Venerable Ashin Cintita was also kind enough to give me an interview and he shed more light on this build. I will be back for on update on the construction and there is no doubt I will be there when the project is completed. I might even spend some time at the meditation center in an effort to get a handle on my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would be nice to find peace of mind once in a while and the setting of the meditation center is really quite tranquil even with the construction. I can only imagine how it will be whence it is completed.

Ashin Ariyadhamma Discusses Pagoda Project (English)
Ashin Cintita Discusses Progress in More Detail (English)
Sitt Nyein Aye, Art & Journey to the Shwezigon Pagoda Project (Burmese)
* Sitt Article;
Myanmar’s U Win Maung Views on Shwezigon Pagoda Replica (Burmese)
For more information;
Sitagu Buddhist Vihara
Ashin Ariyadhamma
9002 Honeycomb dr.

Ph:   512 301 3968

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