< Maung Than Weik >
The tall and slim pagoda can be seen from afar even before entering Theinni, an ancient hill town over 40 miles from Lashio in northern Shan State. Situated high on a mountain slope in the northern sector of Theinni, the pagoda, titled “Kaunghmu Htut” has an unusual architectural design when compared with most of the pagodas around the country.
After ascending the mountain through a snaky motor road, we reach the pagoda built under the patronage of Mine Phone Sayadaw, an eminent Buddhist monk from eastern Shan State.
According to some local accounts , ruins of an ancient pagoda said to be over 2000 years old were found at the place where “Kaunghmu Htut” is now standing. Locals also claim that the idea of building the pagoda at the present site in the present shape came to the Sayadaw in vision, and that the design was drawn by the Sayadaw himself. Additionally, they believe that the ruins are the remaining parts of a pagoda built by the natives with the help of missionaries sent to the area by King Asoka.
On the large brownish-red foundation structure stands the golden stupa which has four stories of chambers, each accommodating a standing Buddha image and facing a different direction. The first floor has 12 chambers; the second floor, eight: and the third and fourth floors, four each.
On top of the uppermost storey comes the florally decorated structure supporting the parts where the scared umbrella, hngetmyatnar and diamond bud are erected.
Painted brownish-red, white and gold colour on the surface areas, the pagoda has altogether 28 standing Buddha images as a symbol of paying obeisance to the 28 Buddhas described by the Buddhavamsa.
Another significance of the pagoda is that all the four sidewalls of its square-shaped foundation are studded with mounted half-figures of white elephants.
The surrounding area of the pagoda is mostly forested and there is a natural stream thundering down the mountain slope. As for the monks of a nearby monastery, the stream is a source of clean water for drinking and many other purposes.
There are also two strange-looking shrines for local (nats) spirits in the area. From the mountain, picturesque Theinni with its medium-size lotus lake lies silently amidst vast paddy fields.
In fact, the town Theinni has a long history as it was the seat of the Shan chieftains. Once, the town was besieged by a large invading army with flags and banners fluttering high in the air.
The general of the enemy troops stationed on the hills surrounding the town was demanding total surrender or to face annihilation.
At that time a prophecy came out saying that the only means to crush the enemy troops was to trample on their flags and banners. But how could it be done without defeating them first?
Fortunately a wise man appeared before the chieftain and advised him to dig a shallow lake on whose surface the enemy flags and banners were reflected. Then he asked the chieftain to order his men to trample on the images of the enemy flags and banners. This gave Theinni men and women enough morale, courage and strength to eliminate a much larger army.
Some speculate that the wise man was no other person than the court minister U Paw Oo who was on a visit to the area or was exiled as a light punishment for annoying the King.
Perhaps, Theinni may have many more interesting places and stories to show and tell visitors. “Seeing is Believing”. So, come, visit the town and discover its secrets.
The Myawady Daily