Going on a Pilgrimage
C. T. Aung
(First published in The Light of the Dhamma, Vol. III, 1983)
An opportunity to take a trip is always a welcome one. Recently I was given a chance to go to Moulmein on duty. Following the principle of "Combining business with pleasure," I imagined that I was going on a pilgrimage.
Even before reaching Pegu, one was able to see the Shwemawdaw Pagoda from a distance. This historic edifice was rebuilt in the 1950 in place of the one ravaged by the Pegu earthquake of 1930. One could also see the roof of the Shwethalyaung Image among the trees not so far away. This great Reclining Buddha is a unique one in this Land of Pagodas. Among the historic sites of Pegu, which is an old capital of the Mon Kings, is the Kalyani Sima (Ordination hall) so named after Kelaniya River in Sri Lanka.
If one is equipped with a knowledge of history, even if it is only a meagre one, the visit to a place can be more meaningful. As the train marched on towards the Sittang Bridge, one could see nothing but vast stretches of paddy fields. This side of the Bridge is the Pegu Division while the other side is the Mon State. This vital link of communication was destroyed by the British during the last war under the "Denial Scheme". it was rebuilt in the post-independence period, making travel between the capital and Moulmein most convenient. As soon as one touched Mon State, one could see mountain ranges on both sides of the railway line. In some areas one could see a vast stretch of water on the right-hand side, which is the mouth of the Sittang River. A long row of rain (kukko) trees had been planted since the colonial days for the dual purpose of preventing erosion and providing shade.
At Kyaikto Station a friend remarked that this was an out standing one in Burma in that the building was located above the railway lines. This is the station from where one has to go to the famous Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, built on a rocking boulder which itself is perched on the edge of another rock. During the dry season thousands and thousands of pilgrims from all over Burma make their way to this shrine.
As the traveller passes Mayangon Station he remembers that he is very near Yekkanthema and Winka Villages where several excavations have been made by the Archaeological Department. From Taungzun one can see the historic Kelasa Pagoda. It is believed that this was the original site of Suvannabhumi, not the present-day Thaton.
At the initiative of a monk, the jungle around here has long ago been declared a wild life protected
area. The Kelasa Hill slopes down gradually till it touches the field, supposed to be the surface of the sea in ancient times. The shape of this slope is somewhat like an elephant trunk. A historian and scholar used to describe this area as "the Gibraltar of Burma".
As the train proceeded one could see the newly built, impressive Alantaya Pagoda at Kyaikkaw. This was constructed under the leader ship of a Sayadaw, who continues to build religious centres in the nearby areas.
At Thaton one could see the Myathabeik (Emerald Bowl) Pagoda standing majestically on top of the hill. The Shwezaryan Pagoda in the town itself is a historic one, whose festival is held annually in the month of Tabaung.
From Thaton to the terminus at Martaban, the motor-road and the railway line run almost parallel to each other. On the left hand side are mountain ranges with pagodas on their tops while there are paddy fields on the right-hand side, stretching as far as the Gulf of Martaban. the Zingyike pagoda on top of the hill of this nane is one of the most well-known shrines in Mon State. The Htanbingyaunggyi Salt Farm in Paung Township is contributing its share towards the country's economy, Myatheindan Pagoda on the river bank at Martaban is another historic shrine. Martaban, which now has the status of a village only, used to be the capital of a chiefdom in the days of yore.
From Martaban one has to take a barge to cross over to Moulmein. The capital of Mon State is situated at the confluence of three rivers, namely, Salween, Gyaing and Ataran. Viewing Moulmein from a distance during fine weather can be one of the most memorable experiences. Before getting to Moulmein Jetty one passes near the Crow Island, with its pagoda and monastery. The island is so-called probably because crows return here for the night after a day's work in the city.
The Strand Road at Moulmein is one of its main attractions. From there one proceeded to the Guest House. Moulmein, the third largest city in Burma, has a population of some 200,000 people. From Shwenattaung Pagoda in the suburbs, one could see the Kinmungyon Reservoir, which is supplying water to the city. It was constructed as long ago as 1903 when the population was very much smaller than it is now. How wonderful it would be if this deficiency could be remedied, I told myself.
A visit to the Ridge is a "must" for every traveller to Moulmein. There is a macadamised road along it, making it suitable for walking as well as jogging. On every prominent place there is a pagoda or Buddha Image. From the Ridge one can see the whole city and beyond. There is a Buddha Image here built in pre-war days by the famous Hermit U Khanti. My friends and I then proceeded to Kyaikthanlan Pagoda, which I had visited many times during my boyhood days. It will be remembered that Moulmein came under the British since 1826 when the First Anglo-Burmese War ended. An English author wrote long ago that a view from the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda (which he called Moulmein Pagoda) was one of the most beautiful in Burma. There is a bell on the platform of this pagoda with English inscriptions on it. Thanks to the trustees and the pious public, the Pagoda is very well maintained. A lift is now being installed for the convenience of the aged and the infirm without having to climb the stairs before reaching the pagoda platform. We then proceeded to the Maha Myatmuni Image, which is a replica of the one at Mandalay.
On the next day we left by car for Kyaikmaraw on Ataran River,
l2 ¾ miles away. At two points there were rows of toddy palms on both sides of the road almost touching one another at the top. The scenery is so striking that on one occasion the Trade Corporation concerned used it as cover for a writing pad. The Hsutaungpyi (Wish Fulfilled) Image at Kyaikmaraw is another famous holy place in Mon State.
Moulmein, Martaban and Pegu and several localities in-between, are outstanding places in history. A trip along this area is not only a feast for the eyes but a tonic for spiritual revitalisation. This humble writer would be prepared to go there any time without a moment's hesitation.