Sagaing Locals Campaign to Repaint Kaunghmudaw Pagoda White

By Zarni Mann 11 January 2018

MANDALAY — Sagaing locals are beginning a signature campaign to raise the issue of repainting the famed Kaunghmudaw Pagoda.

The campaign is organized by a committee of Sagaing city elders in collaboration with local religious affairs and civil society groups.

“We will start collecting signatures on January 17, in every corner of Sagaing and at the pagoda as well. At the end of this month, we will send them to the chief minister of Sagaing Region to receive permission to repaint the pagoda white,” said U Zaw Win, the secretary of the committee of Sagaing city elders.

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.

Locals, historians and visitors criticized the new 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 to office, local lawmakers from the party took the issue to Parliament.

According to locals, they were told by Parliament, government officials and senior Buddhist monks that the pagoda would be repainted white once the gold began to fade. However, recent news that it might be repainted gold against sparked the signature campaign.

“There is no clear decision on if or when it can be repainted white. That’s why we have sought permission from the chief minister and government officials,” said U Zaw Win, adding that the committee would take the issue to the Union level if permission was not granted by the regional government.

The trustee committee of Kaunghmudaw Pagoda said it is satisfied with the gold paint, but that it would follow the decision of the government.

The chairperson of the trustee committee, U Toke, said there were also concerns about effects on the original structure if the gold needed to be scraped off and that experts would need to be consulted.

The dome-shaped, 46 meter 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.

“We were very sad when we saw Kaungmudaw Pagoda in gold instead of white. Having gold paint on the pagoda is good, however, we do not like it for we have seen the scenic beauty of the white pagoda for centuries,” explained U Tin Myo Lwin, one of the town elders.

“Moreover, painting gold over the historical white is somehow destroying the heritage. So, we just want the original color back,” he added.

Hsu Ngat, a historian and author, said it is important to restore the original color.

“Painting it gold was done according to one man’s wish. To repaint it white is the desire of majority. The responsible officials should listen to the voices of the majority, if not, it will be a shame,” said Hsu Ngat.

“Moreover, restoring back to its original color is conserving this centuries-old pagoda as well,” he added.