Myanmar Military Chief Places ‘ Hti ’ at Bagan Temple Known for Divine Blessings 

By Zarni Mann 27 February 2020

MANDALAY—Seeking divine blessings, Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his wife on Thursday placed the “Hti” umbrella atop Bagan’s ancient Htilominlo Temple, following in the footsteps of some of Myanmar’s most powerful figures including his predecessor, Senior General Than Shwe.

Known as a “Hti” in Burmese, the umbrella is considered the most important part of the pagoda to Myanmar Buddhists, and is placed atop the highest part of the religious structure.

The religious ceremony to put up the new umbrella was also attended by U Than Htay, the chairperson of the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); U Nyan Tun, the former second vice president of Myanmar; and other serving and retired military officers.

The 46-meter-high Htilominlo pagoda was built in the 12th century by King Htilominlo, also known as Nadaungmya, or Zeya Theinkha Uzana.

Legend has it that Prince Zeya Theinkha Uzana was chosen to be the future king of the Bagan dynasty by guardian spirits. According to the legend, the dying king ordered his five sons to stand in a circle around a white umbrella and prayed to the guardian spirit of the umbrella, asking it to tilt toward the son who was worthy of being the king of Bagan.

The umbrella tilted toward prince Zeya Theinkha Uzana, who was chosen and known as King Htilominlo from that day. In Burmese, the name Htilominlo refers to the person that the spirit of the umbrella wishes to be king, at a time when the country needs a king to rule. According to the legend, Htilominlo Pagoda was built on the spot where the white umbrella was placed and the king was chosen.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing showers banknotes on the audience at a gathering to commemorate the Hti-hoisting ceremony at Htilominlo Temple on Thursday. / Aung Shine Oo

Throughout history, after the fall of the Bagan Dynasty, kings and rulers from the Ava to the Konbaung era paid homage and made donations at the Htilominlo Temple, believing their offerings would earn them favors from the guardian spirits and their reigns would last a long time.

The tradition continues to this day. Partly due to astrological predictions, as well as the legend, the temple has become the pagoda of choice for some of Myanmar’s most powerful leaders, including the late General Ne Win, former commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe and former President U Thein Sein. A visit to the temple has become de rigueur for officials when they are in town, and making offerings there has become a ritual among Myanmar’s powerful.

Former President U Htin Kyaw paid a visit to Bagan after the plain was jolted by an earthquake in 2016 to inspect the damage to structures in the area, including Htilominlo Temple.

President U Win Myint was in Bagan in August 2019 to inspect restoration work on damaged pagodas after the ancient city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He too stopped at Htilominlo Temple to check on the restoration work there.

In 1996, a new Hti was placed by U Aung San, the then minister of culture, on behalf of then dictator Snr-Gen Than Shwe. It was toppled during the earthquake in August 2016, which damaged dozens of pagodas and temples on the Bagan plain.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s successor, and rumor has it he is eyeing the country’s presidency in the near future.

According to the temple’s trustee committee, the weight of the new Hti hoisted into place by the current military chief conforms with UNESCO’s conservation recommendations.

“The new Hti is much lighter than the old one and we are making sure the structure of the pagoda is not harmed by the machinery used to place the umbrella,” said U Tin Hla Oo, the secretary of the trustee committee.

“We are glad the pagoda is now complete with its glittering Hti, after the damage due to the earthquake,” he added.

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