Marred by General, Myanmar's Famed Dome-Shaped Pagoda to be Restored to Former Glory 

By Zarni Mann 2 October 2018

MANDALAY — Sagaing is planning to repaint the famed Kaunghmudaw Pagoda white, a dome-shaped stupa once marred by a former military leader with gold paint, as the pagoda trustee committee in the upcountry town received the green light from the regional government.

The trustee committee told The Irrawaddy that it had a preliminary meeting with influential abbot Sitatu Sayadaw and that it will receive support from experts.

“With the guidance of Sayadaw, we will collaborate with experts to repaint the pagoda, making sure the original structure is not affected,” said U Tin Myo Lwin, the chairman of the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda Trustee Committee.

According to the trustee committee, the permission from the regional government was dated Sept. 18 and received on Sunday.

“We are targeting to finish repainting by the end of this year, however, it will depend on how we have to strip the gold paint in order to not damage the structure,” explained U Tin Myo Lwin.

“If there is damage after removing the gold paint, it will take more time. We will have to make sure that we repaint safely and effectively after getting suggestions from experts,” he added.

Since January, Sagaing city elders, along with local religious affairs and civil society groups, held a signature campaign to raise the issue of repainting the pagoda.

The previous pagoda trustee committee had been told that the pagoda would be repainted white once the gold began to fade. Later reports that it would be repainted gold sparked the signature campaign.

After the current pagoda trustee committee was elected in June, the uncertainty faded when the regional government granted permission to repaint it white.

“We are very glad to receive permission so that we can see Kaunghmudaw Pagoda painted white again. We are happy to restore Sagaing’s heritage,” said U Tin Myo Lwin.

Kaunghmudaw Pagoda, more than 380 years old, was originally painted white. In December 2010, after a visit by former Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the pagoda was painted gold. Rumors spread during that time that the senior-general ordered it painted gold according to an astrologist’s suggestion in order to bring prosperity.

At that time, about 7 billion kyats were received in donation for gold paint. Only about 350 billion kyats were used. The remaining donations were used for repair, maintenance and gold plating.

Locals, historians and visitors criticized the gold paint, but no efforts to repaint it white were taken under former President Thein Sein’s administration.

When the National League for Democracy party was elected, local lawmakers from the party took the issue to the Sagaing regional Parliament.

The 46-meter high pagoda is a major tourist attraction in Sagaing, located on the outskirts of the town. It was built by King Thalun in 1636. It was originally painted white and surrounded by greenery.

Buddhists believe that golden pagodas are a sign of prosperity and that donating for gold paint or gold plates will bring good merit and prosperity.

But experts believe the pagoda should be returned to its original color to restore the heritage value.

“There are those who believe in painting pagodas gold, but preserving the original color will not curse people. I am glad to see Kaunghmudaw Pagoda returned to white, which was glamorous and grand,” said Tampawaddy U Win Maung, a famed historian and Myanmar traditional art expert, who will be on the team to restore the original paint color to Kaunghmudaw Pagoda.

“It should be easy to scrape the paint and repaint. I hope there will not be a delay,” he added.