Pleas for Maintenance of Ornate Teak Monastery in Magwe Division

Kyaung Daw Gyi Monastery at Pakhan Gyi in Magwe Division. (Photo: Zarni Mann / The Irrawaddy)

A large teakwood monastery in the ancient city of Pakhan Gyi in Magwe Division needs urgent maintenance to rescue its wooden floors from weathering, officials said, urging Burma’s Parliament to make funding available for the repairs.

Kyaung Daw Gyi monastery in Pakhan Gyi, Yayzagyo Township, stands upon 254 teak pillars and its walls and ceiling are adorned with magnificent hand-crafted wooden sculptures. However, the floors outside the main building are exposed to the elements and have deteriorated badly. The floors are breaking apart in some places, creating a hazard for visitors.

An official from the Department of Archeology, National Museum and Library, who looks after Kyaung Daw Gyi monastery, told The Irrawaddy that maintenance work should start this year, and that the department had begun taking stock of the damage.

“We are currently researching the damage, calculating how much [money] we will need and will submit the proposal to Parliament. Once the
Parliament approves, we will maintain it and strengthen the structure without damaging the original structure,” said Kyaw Oo Lwin, the department’s director general.

Kyaung Daw Gyi monastery was built in 1868 by Minister Phoe Tote during the reign of King Mindon.

Its pillars include one sandalwood pillar and another pillar of scented wood. According to legend, the two pillars possess powers of love and affection, and they have therefore been subjected to attempts to split off pieces of their wood. Although such acts are now strictly prohibited, the pillars remain badly scarred.

The monastery received a major renovation in 1992, ordered by the military regime’s former spy chief Khin Nyunt, with the floors and the roof replaced. The Department of Archeology, National Museum and Library has been responsible for minor repairs since then.

The monastery is said to be the largest wooden monastery in the
country, and remains mostly in good condition, compared to the Bargayar monasteries in Ava, the Salay monastery and Shwenandaw monastery in Mandalay. Renovation work on the Shwenandaw monastery is about to begin with the support of the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

The department is also considering maintenance work on another wooden monastery located in Pakhan Nge, a few miles from Pakhan Gyi, which is also in urgent need of care. That monastery is built on 332 teak pillars, and dates back to 1864.

However, government researchers say the monastery repairs will be time consuming and expensive, since the pillars are decayed and the structure may need to be completely rebuilt.

Although Pakhan Gyi is located just 10 miles north of Pakokku, where tourist cruises stop over night, visitors rarely take time to see the teak monasteries.

However, the department and the Ministry of Culture are hoping to receive the green light from Parliament to maintain of these ancient wooden monasteries before their condition worsens, and before the peak tourist season begins again in September.

“If the maintenance work could finish quickly it would be better. And if the work could finish before travel season, it would be much appreciated for the safety of the visitors,” Deputy Minister of Culture Than Swe told The Irrawaddy.

However, Than Swe said that the proposals to repair the ancient buildings can take a year to be approved by Parliament.

“We want to maintain every ancient building and archeological site across the country, but the limitations of budgets limit our enthusiasm. If Parliament does not agree, we can do nothing. And if the budget is too low, we can’t do as much as we wish to do,” he said.

“For these reasons, we have to request foreign countries’ help, as we did with Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay. We have to make priority lists and have to maintain them one by one within the limitations of our budget.”

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