Project to Restore Shwe Kyaung Resumes

By Zarni Mann 22 November 2017

Mandalay – Conservation work on Mandalay’s famed Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery has resumed after being suspended for a year due to delays in grant disbursement for the project.

“We had to slow everything down for over a year between the two grants. We are now resuming the project,” Jeff Allen, a program director at the U.S.-based NGO World Monuments Fund (WMF) told The Irrawaddy. Allen was speaking on Wednesday at an event in Mandalay, where experts from Italy explained the conservation of wood carvings at the building.

According to WMF, about 50 percent of the restoration work has already been completed over the last few years.

“We are also preparing to restore the ruined part of the veranda. Hopefully in the coming January, we will receive permission from the Ministry of Culture and be able to begin the work then,” Allen said.

In the meantime, restoration work on the nayas, decorative mythical creatures, on the base pillars of Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung, has begun, with the technological assistance from experts from Italy.

“Cleaning and preserving the nayas is very delicate work. We have to work carefully to maintain the original artifacts,” said Urszula Strugala, one of the Italian experts.

“During the cleaning, we found that layers of yellow paint and earth oil, which were not part of the original paintings but put there during the 1990s, have somehow blocked the moisture inside the wood and affected the nayas,” she said.

The heritage project, which was initially expected to take two years to complete, began in February 2014 as a collaboration between Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture, the U.S. Embassy and the WMF.

In September 2014, some of the decaying pillars were due to be restored with teak logs from Loikaw in Karenni State. However, the process was delayed for about a year because of holdups with supply.

The major restoration of the monastery resumed in January 2016 and was suspended again due to the shortage of funds.

Early support for the project came from the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, which joined hands with Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture to preserve the 19th-century traditional teak wooden building, also known as the Golden Palace, which was constructed during the reign of King Mindon.

At the time, U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell said the WMF, which is based in Washington, would implement the US$500,000 project, adding that the budget would also cover training for Myanmar officials and craftsmen in preservation techniques.

The Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery was originally covered with gold leaf and glass mosaics, and is known for the intricate wood carvings on its walls and roofs that show Buddhist myths. It was built as a royal chamber for King Mindon and located within the Mandalay Palace complex.

Under Mindon’s son, King Thibaw, the building was moved to a site outside of the Mandalay Palace moat and was turned into a monastery. During World War II, aerial bombardments destroyed most of the historic buildings inside the Mandalay Palace complex, leaving the Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung Monastery as the only remaining original structure from the 19th century palace.

In 1996, Myanmar’s Archaeological Department submitted the monastery for inclusion on Unesco’s World Heritage List, where it remains under consideration by the U.N. body.