Burmese Buddhist Inscriptions Win Unesco Recognition

By Yan Pai 24 June 2013

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) last week added Mandalay’s Maha Lawkamarazein, considered the largest book on Earth, to the organization’s Memory of the World Register (MWR).

Also known as the Kuthodaw inscriptions, the 729 stone slabs were installed at the foot of Mandalay Hill by King Mindon, who reigned as Burma’s penultimate king from 1853-1878.

According to Burma’s Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library (DANML) under the Ministry of Culture, the stone slabs, which contain the entirety of the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, were inscribed in 1868. Each stone slab was housed in a masonry shrine within the vicinity of Kuthodaw Pagoda, which stands to this day.

The MWR honor marks the first time that Unesco has ever recognized an aspect of Burma’s cultural heritage. It reportedly took about three years of lobbying by Ministry of Culture officials to win over the UN body.

“This international recognition has made the high standard and preservation of Burmese culture known to everybody,” Kyaw Oo Lwin, the director-general of the DANML, told The Irrawaddy. “Such heritage will help develop the country’s tourism industry in many ways.”

Items selected for inclusion in the Unesco register are typically divided into immovable and movable categories. The ancient cities of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Thailand, the Taj Mahal in India and other monumental structures are considered immovable, while historical speeches and documents of prominent world leaders; historical movies, videos and sound recordings; and palm and stone inscriptions, like the Kuthodaw, fall into the second category.

Kyaw Oo Lwin added that the Ministry of Culture is also seeking Unesco’s recognition of other Burmese cultural treasures such as the golden palm inscription of King Alungpaya or Aung Zeya (1752-1760), which is currently in Germany; the Mya Zaydi or Yaza Kumara stone inscriptions (1112) in Bagan, Mandalay Division; and the Mingun Bell in Sagaing Division.

The ancient city of Bagan was nominated for Unesco’s consideration during the rule of Burma’s military regime but failed to win the designation of World Heritage Site. The UN body cited a lack of systematic restoration efforts as the reason for its denial.