Marble Books at Kuthodaw and Sandamuni, Mandalay

high-definition creative commons photographs from Mandalay, Myanmar, showing the Buddhist scriptural texts carved on marble in two temples, together with further information and a map.


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This is re-edited from the Wikipedia article on The World's Largest Book at the Kuthodaw Pagoda:

It stands upright in the grounds of the Kuthodaw (Royal Merit) Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill. It has 730 leaves and 1460 pages; each page is approximately three and a half feet wide, five feet tall and five inches thick.

The pagoda itself was built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city which also included a pitakat taik or library for religious scriptures, but King Mindon wanted to leave a great work of merit for posterity meant to last five millennia after Gotama Buddha who lived around 500 BC.

When the British invaded southern Burma in the mid-19th century, King Mindon Min was concerned that Buddhist Teachings would also be detrimentally affected in the North where he reigned. As well as organizing the Fifth Buddhist Council in 1871, he was responsible for the construction in Mandalay of the world's largest book, consisting of 729 large marble tablets with the Tipitaka Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism inscribed on them in gold. One more was added to record how it all came about, making 730 stone inscriptions in total.

The marble was quarried from Sagyin Hill 32 miles north of Mandalay, and transported by river to the city. Work began on 14 October 1860 in a large shed near Mandalay Palace. The text had been meticulously edited by many senior monks and lay officials consulting the Tipitaka kept in royal libraries in the form of palm leaf manuscripts.

Scribes carefully copied the text on marble for stonemasons to work from. Each stone has 80 to 100 lines on each side in Burmese script, chiselled out and originally filled in with gold ink. It took a scribe three days to copy both the obverse and the reverse sides, and a stonemason could finish up to 16 lines a day. All the stones were completed and opened to the public on 4 May 1868.

Thirty years later in 1900, a print copy of the text came out in a set of 38 volumes in Royal Octavo size of about 400 pages each in Great Primer type. The publisher, Philip H. Ripley of Hanthawaddy Press, claimed that his books were "true copies of the Pitaka inscribed on stones by King Mindon".

* * *

There is, unfortunately no corresponding entry for the rock-carved books at the nearby Sandamuni Pagoda, which contains not just the Tipitaka, but the commentaries and sub-commentaries as well. How it is that the former is classed as the World's Largest Book and not the one at the Sandamuni is a mystery.

The history of the Pagoda is written up in stone in the compound and here is a transcript (slightly corrected for spelling and diction):

Historical Record
Historical Record

Nanmyaebonthar Sannandawya Sandamuni Pagoda

1. On the full moon day of Nayon in M.E. 1229 [C.E. 1867] King Mindon dismantled the temporary palace called Nanmyaebonthar and built a 100ft pagoda in its place.

King Badon, the grandfather of King Mindon had a Buddhist statue cast at Mingun. That image was made of 11,368 viss of iron and was entitled "Sandamuni", which means the image is graceful like the full moon.

It was moved from Amarapura and enshrined in the present [Sandamuni] Pagoda. That's why it is entitled Nanmyaebonthar Sannandawya Sandamuni Pagoda meaning the pagoda as graceful as a fullmoon in the place of the Nanmyaebonthar Palace.

2. In M.E. 1275 [C.E. 1913], in the compound of Sandamuni Pagoda, Venerable Hermit U Khanti managed to inscribe Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma from [the] Tipitaka with [a] complete explanation (Atthakatha and Tika) on 1772 stone slabs and a historical record was [also] inscribed on an iron sheet and a stone slab.

3. These stone slabs are:

4. In [a] seven acre ... compound there are:

which altogether contains 891 slabs, and

297 four-pillared pagodas housing three slabs each which contain 891 slabs.

All these pagodas are made of brick and called Dhammazedis. These pagodas contain records of [the] Buddha's teachings.



Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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