Stupa worship

On June 30, 2016 Owen Jarus, contributor of Live Science ( reported on a saríra container found under a stūpa in the Chinese city of Nanjing. He writes that “… [a] stūpa, [is] a Buddhist shrine used for meditation.”

In 1963 Akira Hirakawa publishes his book “The Rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Its Relationship to the Worship of Stūpas”. On the basis of his research in canonical and monastic literature Mr. Hirakawa surmises that the early Mahāyāna scriptures recommend the worship of stūpas. To reach this conclusion he mystifies both Sukhāvati Sūtras (the “Small” and the “Larger” one) and says that the physical structure of the stūpa resembles the structure (the build-up) of both sūtras. However, the word stūpa is nowhere to be found in these manuscripts. Mr. Hirakawa furthermore points to passages in the Mahāsángika vínaya, the monastic rules of a late Small Vehicle School. Of this School nothing more is heard after the seventh century AD when itinerant monks report on settlements and monasteries outside China. Mr. Hirakawa’s research was mainly about Chinese Buddhism.

The Lotus Sūtra, unlike the two Sukhāvati Sūtras, dedicates an entire chapter to the stūpa. In Hendrik Kern’s translation — about which I have my hesitations(1) –- chapter 11 has the passage: “At the sight of that great Stūpa of precious substances, that meteoric phenomenon in the sky, the four classes of hearers were filled with gladness, delight, satisfaction and joy. Instantly they rose from their seats, stretched out their joined hands, and remained standing in that position.

These hearers did not rise from their seats out of veneration for the stūpa but rather for Buddha’s voice that resounded from within this edifice. The voice reminded the audience of the universality of Buddha’s Teachings -– that is, the universality of the teaching of the Lotus Sūtra –- and about the imperative to hold, guard and disseminate this teaching.

In his “Nāgārjuna in Context” (2005, pp.18/19) Joseph Walser states that Mr. Hirakawa’s “view [on stūpa worship] remains a classic forty years even after it was written”. That is to say: Buddhists worship stūpas. This is and was the opinion among a certain number of academics, not all of them. Learned monks from outside this group would smile at the thought of song and dance performed by the laity as an expression of stūpa worship. However, his pointing to Hirakawa’s research shows us why and from where Owen Jarus had his “… [a] stūpa, [is] a Buddhist shrine used for meditation.”

In 2015 we witnessed how bone-splinters attributed to Sakyamuni Buddha were transferred from one country to another as a gift of one Buddhist monastic community to another.
In the case of emperor Zhenzong it was a senior monk with the name of Deming who made the offering. Master Deming functioned as abbot of the Chengtian-temple, and he was “Holder of the Purple Robe”. Either abbot Deming brought his saríra, the physical relic, with him after travelling far and wide, or he obtained it from an itinerant monk, or he purchased it from an equally itinerant businessman. “Holder of the Purple Robe” means that this elder was entitled to the 24-stroke kasáya robe, the jia-sha in Chinese, worn by seniors who preside over large ceremonies. “Purple Robe” is not an indication of belonging to this or that (sub-)School.
Unlike the standard procedure in which relics are placed inside the stūpa, it appears that the Bao’en temple had underground rooms. It is said that the saríra mentioned in this piece were placed in one of these rooms. Hence Mr. Jarus’ use of the word “shrine” may be correct.

To this day there are several Chengtian-temples in China. Abbot Deming and his supporters had the saríra-holder made, and on July 21, 1011 the holder and its content was brought to the stūpa/pagoda, and as stated above it was placed in one of these underground rooms, i.e. “shrines” which, to repeat, is very unusual.

Certainly one may have doubts about the authenticity of abbot Deming’s saríra. A commentary accompanying Mr. Jarus’ article suggested that a DNA-test may be conducted against “DNA from the living Shakya clan, and also with the cremated bone material held by the Thai royal family and originally found at Priprahwa …” However, I doubt whether today’s Nepalese Sakya clan is the successor in straight line of the Sakya clan that lived 2600 years ago, and as far as the “Priprahwa” (must be Pipraháwa) relics go, there are but few who believe that these are Buddha’s relics.

Buddhist media outside China spent but a minimum of attention to the discovery under the Grand Bao’en in Nanjing (Bao’en means “Paying a Debt of Gratitude”). One not only doubts the authenticity of this relic, but there is furthermore the teaching about the transiency of all things, even of Buddha’s bones. Another teaching says that Buddha advised his followers/monks to not venerate his physical form but rather live according to his advice; this would be the only and true veneration of Buddha.

So here we have the mind-boggling situation of Buddhists approaching a stūpa or a temple with folded hands. They do not worship the stūpa or the temple as such, they show respect towards the content, towards what this content stands for, or to what it should stand for. Do they dance and sing around the stūpa? I’ve never seen it or heard of it. Certainly, monks in Chiang Mai used to circumambulate the stūpa on the grounds of their vihāra. They however did not worship the stūpa, but recited the Vessántara Játaka, the “Birth Story” that tells of Prince Vessántara, and how he eventually gave his wife and children away — and received them back because his offering was pure and without regret or anger. (As for the Chiang Mai stūpa: Now you have a 14th cent. stūpa on your wat (temple complex), showing a rather interesting architectural style, so you incorporate it in some way in your annual calendar of events.)

To illustrate it further: you may light a candle for your deceased family members. Do you worship the candle?

1. A Sanskrit dictionary says that varāh is the word for “meteor”, but I’m quite certain that Hendrik Kern’s manuscript did not contain this varāh. I’m afraid we will have to do with something like bhavaketu, phenomenon in the sky.

Fu Hui – assembling and harmonizing

The term Fu Hui has proven to be an expression that slipped out of today’s Chinese-English dictionaries, even out of that of Lin Yutang who gave religious terminology a little bit more attention and space than e-editions such as Yabla.

It appears that the term Fu Hui occurs in both Buddhist and Taoist parlance, it might even have been used by Confucianists , but this is a guess on my part and by no means certain.

To give a brief summary of the use of the term: A new Taoist temple somewhere in Malaysia opened in 2010 its doors with a “fu hui vegetarian dinner”.
A “ch’ih fu-hui” (Wade-Giles transliteration) is a lay supporter who in Buddhist ceremonies occupies a place of honour.
The Buddhist Jing’an Temple in Shanghai has a more than 10 metres high “Fu Hui Baoding” in its inner courtyard (see picture). A “baoding” is a tripod that serves as incense vessel.

jing'an fu hui baoding

In his “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons” (edition Columbia Univ. Press 1959) Liu Xie (Wade-Giles Liu Hsieh, approx. ca. 465-522) explains it thus:
“What is the meaning of fu-hui? It means a comprehensive view of a literary piece as a whole with respect to both its language and its ideas; it provides an underlying principle to unify all its parts, it defines the conditions governing what should be included and what excluded, and works elements from all the various fields into harmony; in short, it organizes the whole piece in such a way that, though composed of a variety of elements, it will not as a whole fall short of the proper standard.”

One would say that here are the words of a Confucianist. However, Liu Xie spent more than ten years in the company of a Buddhist monk like Sengyu who had his temple on Lushan. Once in the capital the Wu emperor saw to it that Liu Xie re-edited a number of Buddhist texts. At the end of his career as a scribe Liu Xie became a monk and received the Dharma name Huidi (Hui-ti in Wade-Giles transliteration).

We might therefore summarize the extended meaning of Fu Hui with “assembling and harmonizing of disperate parts”.

In her “Early Buddhist Art of China and Central Asia” (Vol.3) Marylin M. Rhie remembers us of the fact that it was the monk Sengyu who in the last days of his life demanded that the “assembly of monks chanted the Wu Liang Shou Jing”, the Sutra of Eternal Life [Sanskrit: Sukhāvati-vyuha, or Amitayus Sutra. Hence Liu Xie had been educated into the Pure Land tradition and definitely, at the behest of the emperor who must have been intent on amalgamating religious strands that seemed useful in his reigning, incorporated Confucianist notions into his editions of Sutras and other texts such as the above “The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons”.

Ksémendra’s riddles

The Vaisnavist (devotee of the Hindu god Vishnu) Ksémendra, who at the same time happened to be an admirer of Buddhism as it was presented to him, composed in the year 1052 a series of verses on the subject of Dependent Origination.

The Chain of Dependent Origination is presented in its twelvefold appearance, a half-loop forward starting with ignorance leading ultimately to death, and a half-loop backwards beginning with death (and rebirth) which inevitably leads to ignorance in the end. Both semi-loops vacillate back and forth, back and forth until the truth about this chain is seen and hence broken.

Ksémendra’s poem is kept at several places in blockprint-copies in both Sanskrit and Tibetan. This author collected his bundle of verses under the title “Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā“: Narrations on the glorious exploits (avadāna) of the bodhisattva, narrations that are like the fabulous creeper (kalpalatā) [which according to the earlier strands of Vaisnavisme granted all wishes].

Mr. Marek Mejor has done the world a service by transliterating Ksémendra’s poetry. His bundle appeared in 1992 in Tokyo, at the International Institute for Buddhist Studies. In his bundle he not only presented us with a transliteration, but also ventured into a translation. Considering the play on words so appreciated by writers of Sanskrit who with their intertwining of names, concepts and verbs rather venture into riddles than into literature that is comprehensible to all, the unravelling of all this is no minor task.

To illustrate Ksémendra’s word play we may repeat the first Sanskrit stanza of his opus magnum:

sarvam avidyamūlam samsārataruprakāravaicitryam /
jñātum vaktum hantum kah sakto nyatra sarvajñāt.

Marek Mejor translates:
Who is able, except the Omniscient, to know, to tell of, to destroy all the varieties of different kinds of the world-tree, having as its root(s) ignorance?

It may well be that Marek, with the above kalpalatā (creeper) in mind, and coming across both the word -mūlam (root) and the difficult to understand composite samsārataruprakāra-, decided that where there are roots there must be a tree.

I present another solution to the riddle:
All rootcauses of ignorance, manifold [as they are throughout] samsāra, are verily made manifest by the All-knowing; who else but [he] sees and knows them, speaks of them and [personally] made an end to them.

(Samsāra is the endless roundabout of the world and everything on it.)

To repeat with the Sanskrit components added:
All (sarvam) rootcauses of ignorance (avidyamūlam), manifold (vaicitryam) [as they are throughout] samsāra (samsārata), are verily (kāravai) made (kār[a]) manifest (ruprat)/
by the All-knowing (sarvajñāt); who else (kah) but (nyatra) [he] sees (sakto) and knows (jñātum) them, speaks (vaktum) of them and [personally] made an end to (hantum) them.


Pasanna and prasada

Not all who study the Pali texts belonging to Southern Buddhism agree on all translations of for example the word pasanna. It is noteworthy that the word is clearest connected with the ancient Gandhārī word of prasan[n]a that morphed into the Pali pasanna ( Prasanna however remained intact as part of Sanskrit, or either, it flowed from it: prasanna — clear, bright, pure. One of the Sanskrit-Hindu texts speaks of prasanna with regard to the “tranquil limbs” of Buddha, which, according to this list is one of his “80 minor marks”.

There is the interpretation of the Pali concept of  citta-pasanna, a heart full of grace. Pasanna (clear, bright) occurs in the well-known word vipasanna which is loosely translated with “seeing clearly”.
Pasanna is also rendered as “flowing out, streaming, issuing forth”. In the late Pali text the Visuddhimagga (409) it stands for “happy, gladdened, reconciled, pleased”.

In the Pali Dhámmika Sutta Buddha speaks of the layman who cannot live the life of a monk because his duties prevent him from doing so. Nevertheless, says the text, if he joins in and shares the ceremony of upósatha (full moon recitations performed by the monk- and nunhood) with pasanna citta, a purified heart, a pure mind, he is well on his way to enlightenment (though possibly not in this life).

In the Aggapassadasuttam we find the sentence (bhikkhave – monks:) buddhe pasanna, agge te pasanna: Buddha is purified, be you purified (i.e. emulate this example).

The Diamond Sūtra, one of the two sections of the early mahāyana Prajña paramitā-collection has the Hybrid Sanskrit composite bhasyamanesvekacittaprasādamapi: allowing the well-prepared, well-purified (strain of) thought(s) or mindset to surface. In this sentence the well-prepared, well-purified or bright is a rendering of the Sanskrit prasāda (clearness, brightness, pellucidness, purity) which in Pali translates as passāda. It is almost identical with pasanna. Both concepts refer to a purification process of thoughts that lead to purified or clear faculties such as hearing more clearly, smelling more clearly, tasting more clearly (and hence making better choices in life). The early texts of Southern theravāda Buddhism show a number of occasions where this link between purity and the physical faculties occur.

Comfort and ease

The meaning of zì zai (Chin.), resp. chaje (Kor.)


The 20th of March 2016 a Korean Buddhist group proposed to build a hospital for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks. The group dubbed this initiative the “Ulsan Chaje Bhikku Hospital“, Ulsan being one of the big cities in South Korea, and chaje (Kor.), resp. zì zai (Chin.) meaning free, unrestrained, comfortable, at ease. Hence we must translate the phrase as “the Ulsan Hospital for bhikkhus (monks) where their health is restored to its former comfort, ease.”

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism under the guidance of Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2014 Princeton) translates chaje and zì zai in an altogether different way. Nonetheless the lemma accompanying this sentence in which we come accross “ba da zizai wo” (Chin.), resp. “p’al tae chaje a” (Kor.) clearly refers to the physical prowess of “buddhas and bodhisattvas”. This lemma says:

Ba da zizai wo (J. hachidai jizaiga; K. p’al tae chaje a) In Chinese the “eight great types of autonomy of the self”. In distinction to mainstream Buddhist teachings about the absence of a perduring self … the Chinese recension of the Mahāyana Mahāparinirvānasūtra teaches a doctrine of a “great self” (dawo, S. mahātman) that is realized through enlightenment. According to the Chinese renderings, a buddha, having realised this great self, is capable of eight kinds of miraculous transformations (ba shenian; ba zizai): (1) self-manifesting (he has the power to make his body appear as multiple emanations; nengshi yishen wei duoshen); (2) infinite enlargement (his physical body appears to fill the myriad world systems; shi yichenshen man daqian jie); (3) levitation and translocation (viz., to transport himself to remote places through space; dashen qingju yuandao); (4) incarnating into myriad species or categories of sentient beings (xian wulianglei changju); (5) intentional synesthesia (e.g. to see with his ears, to smell with his eyes, etc.; zhugen huyong); (6) attaining any ability imaginable, but without giving rise to the (conceited) thought of attainment (de yiqie fa wude xiang); (7) elaborating on the meaning of a single scriptural stanza for innumerable eons (before exhausting his knowledge and eloquence; shuo yiji yi jing wuliang jie); (8) pervading all of infinite space (shenbian zhuchu youru xukong). Other Mahāyana scriptures outline similarly fantastic and dramatic depictions of greatly apotheosized buddhas and advanced bodhisattvas.

The “Princeton” “eight great types of autonomy of the self” ought therefore be translated as “the eight  great attainments, while demonstrating physical ease and comfort“. This is in accordance with descriptions in the Mahāyana sūtras such as the Avatamsaka Sūtra and others.

In translating correctly we do not draw the “wo” (Chin.), resp. the “a” (Kor., litt. I or me) into the atman/anatman (Skr. for self/not-self) discussion, but merely acknowledge the fact that “wo”/”a” stands for this particular individual in its physical appearance: a buddha, or a bodhisattva in his highest “stage” of attainment. The sūtra says that it is capable of performing supernormal feats. The above-mentioned “dawo” (Chin.) is therefore not to be translated as “Great Self” in the sense of the Sanskrit mahātman, but rather as physically infinitely large, great, all-pervading. And indeed, in Chinese religious circles this greatness is taken literally (1); it literally permeates the cosmos: look at me — dawo, immense me!

Close-reading of the Mahāyana sūtras results in the realisation that here we find not only wishful thinking with regards to supernormal prowess. In first and last instance it is a visualisation-meditation: wish it were true; if I apply my thoughts well enough, maybe, just maybe, it will come true; at least in my own practice buddha is indeed immense, his words resound throughout the cosmos, to be heard by all and sundry.

(1) Chinese pre-Buddhist philosophy and folk-religion knows gods like the earth-god or the mountain-god that necessarily demonstrate themselves as physically immense. Buddha cannot be smaller; his appearance needs to include, or better, needs to visually obliterate the popular gods that fade in his presence. One day on a Taiwanese mountains the popular gods were carried out of their own shrines to be placed at the feet of the Buddha image in the temple hall that opened its doors for a day long Buddhist cultivation. The populace — that fiercely would not accept a no for an answer — placed their folk gods in the temple hall to receive the empowerment of Buddha; their gods would become better gods through being present.

Sāgara, samudra

Sāgara (Skr. and Pali) and samudra (Skr.) or samudda (Pali) are the two words that early Buddhist writers used when describing huge water surfaces. As of the earliest translations into German, French and English sāgara and samudra have almost exclusively been rendered as ‘ocean’. More recent linguistic and geographical studies show however that during the rainy season rivers running over their floodplains also belonged to the category sāgara and samudra: a person standing on one bank could only imagine the further shore.
As a result of visions of this immensity of samudra[s] (samudda[s]) stories and parables came into existence. We know a story in which the sāgara/samudra is the recipient of anything and everything without showing preferences. It symbolises the epithome of equanimity. There is another story in which even the slightest drop of water eventually dissolves into this ocean — and is thus liberated. Nevertheless, this latter image is basically a Hinduïstic concept, as we shall see below.

“It is like the water flowing from the lake Heatless; by four great river currents it suffices the continent, inexhaustible, ever increasing, benefiting infinite beings, and finally pours into the great ocean: that water from the very beginning is headed for the ocean.”

This short passages is to be found in the Avatámaka sūtra [Garland sūtra], the book The Ten Stages. That is to say, it at least belongs to the second or later Tibetan inspired version translated under the supervision of Shiksha-nanda (652-710). Shikshananda headed the royal translation bureau in the northern Chinese capital of Luoyang. It is possible, and even highly likely that in his translation office there were Tibetans among his scribes who had finished their studies at Nalanda in Northern India but who were not yet prepared to go back to the precarious living conditions in Tibet.

An earlier Avatámaka sūtra translation, this time under the supervision of Buddha-bhadra (359-430), came to be written (and printed) in Xi’an, another former capital of Northern China.
Nalanda as “university” may have existed in Buddhabhadra’s 4th-5th Cent., but as Buddhism entered Tibet (and today’s Bhutan) not before the 6th Cent., it is highly unlikely that Tibetan Buddhist monks were present in Buddhabhadra’s translation office. Hence the shortness of the Buddhabhadra-version as compared to Shikshananda’s manuscript. It lacked at least the versified resumés of the later extended version. We may assume that Shikshananda’s translation received additions and embellishments written by Tibetans who remembered “Lake Heatless”, i.e. Lake Manasarovar with its four great rivers. Manasarovar is also called Anotatta (Pali), Anavatapta or Manasa (Skr.).


To take up the image of ‘heatless’ (Heat, root: ‘tap‘). The Advaita-tradition of Hinduïsm has a saying that runs as follows: “the heatless, smokeless light of the Divine Effulgence, of “Vedanta Incarnate“. Whether the “heatless” in this sentence should rather be compared with the “tapas“, the extreme physical effort of the saintly sadhu, which thus is rejected, is a discussion that we will leave in the capable hands of Hindu scholars.

Dissolving into the ocean. The said Advaita-tradition is all about stressing the concept of non-duality, i.e. the One.
In particular the Buddhist Lankāvatāra sūtra contradicts this concept of Oneness in the Hinduïstic sense of the word. Or rather, becoming One is strongly rejected. The “Lanka” rather stresses a “not-two = not-two; it is not One either”. Chapter III illustrates it in different ways. E.g.:
“There is an exalted state of inner attainment which does not fall into the dualism of oneness and otherness, of bothness and not-bothness; …” (III, 172)

“There is nothing but that which is seen of the Mind itself, the duality too is of the Mind; …” (III, 181, 65)

“… some philosophers … declare this to be Nirvāna: that there is a primary substance, there is a supreme soul, and they are seen differently by each, and that they produce all things from the transformations of the qualities. … All these view … are not in accord with logic, nor are they acceptable to the wise.” (III, 183-184 Tr. D.T. Suzuki)



Michael W. Charney, in his article on Mrauk-U (Journal of Burma Studies, Illinois 1998) speaks of the “rulers of the Early Mrauk-U Dynasty (c.1430-1603)” in their capacity of developers of several trade routes. It must have been these rulers who developed the several Buddhist sites, possibly by building on ancient edifices and vihara that have disappeared under the brickwork of later ages.

Since there is hardly any English language information on the ancient Buddhist site of Mrauk-U in the Myanmarese Arakan state the relevant pages of U Aung Thaw’s book are repeated here, together with the pictures that illustrate the chapter on Mrauk-U in his “Historical sites in Burma”, written and published in 1972.

The pictures of artifacts and monuments  were taken before serious restauration activities began. Some smaller items may have disappeared, some monuments may have collapsed.

Some English language information on the ancient site of Bagan (Pagan) can be found on the site Scroll for the history of the Pyu to page 4 of this blog.



HISTORICAL SITES IN BURMA is written by Aung Thaw, Director of Archeaeology. The Mrauk-U chapter: pp. 117-125

  • Mrohaung = Mrauk-U
  • Arakan, also Rakhine
  • Dinnyawadi, also Arakan / Rakhine
  • Mahāyānism: one of two main strands of Buddhism
  • Hinayana, also Theravāda; the other main strand of Buddhism
  • Bengal = the undivided West-Bengal (India) and (Bangladesh) before the separation of India and Pakistan
  • Pagan, also Bagan
  • naga = mythical snake or dragon
  • kinnara = mythical bird
  • Játaka = Birth story; legends about Buddhas former existences
  • stūpa, see





According to local chronicles Arakan (Dinnyawadi) has a long history as an independent state from very early times before the Christian era. But we learn form an number of inscriptions and antuarian remains that a Hindu of Hinduised dynasty was ruling ar Vaisali (Wethali) [north of Mrohaung/Mrauk-U] about the 2nd century B.C. It was succeeded by the Candra dynasty in the middle of the 4th century. There were 16 kings in this line and the total regnal years was given as 230. Dven Candra ([Birmese:] Taing Sandra) was the first king and the 16th and last was Dhrti Candra. After some years of interregnum there succeeded a third dynasty which lasted from the end of the 6th century to the beginning of the 8th century. Anánda-candra, the last king of that dynasty, recorded the genealogical list of his predecessors in his Sanskrit inscription on a four-faced stone pillar originally set up in Vaisali. Centuries later it was removed to the Shitthaung pagoda at Mrohaung where it is now preserved. The chroniclas give a much later date for the Candra dynasty but the inscriptions are corroborated by the coins of those kings. These early kings professed Mahāyānism.


The Arakanese established themselves about the middle of the 10th century and soon after moved successively to the new capitals of Pyinsa, Parin, Hkrit and Launggyet. Their religion became more Hinayanist and by the 11th century Arakan became feudatory to Pagan. The Kings of Ava tried to reassert their suzerainty and invaded Arakan in 1404. Minsawmun left Launggyet and took refuge in Bengal which was already under Moslem rule. When Nazi-ud-din became Sultan of Bengal in 1426 Minsawmun prevailed upon him to restore him to the throne of Arakan as his tributary, and after many years of exile he was ultimately re-installed in 1430. It remained the seat of the Arakanese rulers until 1785 when Arakan was invaded by Bodawpaya. The Arakanese kings of Mrohaung, though Buddhists, saw it fit to use Mohammedan names in addition to their own names and even struck medallions bearing the Mohammedan confession of faith in Persian script.


Mrohaung lies on the rocky plain or watershed between the Lemro and Kaladan rivers intersected by ranges of hills and numerous canals. The hills provided natural defense and rendered the city the most secure spot of the capital of Arakan. The openings in the hills surrounding the town also contain remains of defense. The ruins of the fort are still [1972] in existence: they consist of three square enclosures, one within the other, surrounded by masonry walls of very considerable thickness, built of hewn stone and brick set in mortar. As each successive enclosure is higher than the preceding one the topmost is about 50 feet above the level of the lowest platform. Of the old palace itself only traces of the walls remain.

As in old Burmese capitals the architectural activity was the outcome of strong religious fervour. The monuments which dotted the plain and capped the ranges of hills mostly date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Their interest lies in the fact that some of them are unlike in style to anything met with in the rest of Burma: they were temples as well as forts ate the same time. Most of them are of stone and brick, but those entirely built of stone are generally the best preserved monuments at Mrohaung.


Shitthaung temple, lying on a hillock to the north of the palace site is more a fortress than a pagoda. The main edifice faces the steep, almost inaccessible hill on the east. The first terrace is reached by a flight of steps on the south. A covered path leads to the upper terrace which rises thrity feet above the lower court. On the west and south sides of the principal platform are stone walls 9 feet thick and originally 12 feet high. On the north and south walls are small brick pagodas, the gaps between them being filled with stone slabs sculptured in bold relief on both sides. Some of these slabs are still intact [in 1972], while other have fallen down and are buried in the debris. The side of the slab facing the inner temple usually represents a Buddha, the outer side an ogre, a naga or mythical birds or beasts. The inner temple court east of the main shrine is occupied by a wooden prayer hall which houses innumerable Buddha images. The shrine itself has a gallery all round the structure and a dark passage which leads to the inner chambers. The sanctum enshrining the main image is accessible through a passage opening from the east. Along the outer wall of the gallery are deposited hundreds of Buddha images of varying sizes.


The interior wall of the vaulted gallery is composed of three horizontal rows of ridges between alternating fillets cut into the stone surface. The ridges as well as the fillets running right round the central structure are decorated with sculptures in high relief. The figures represent kinnaras, birds and animals in the lower rows and seated men holding flowers in the top row. At the corners are large sculptures depicting scenes from the Játakas. The temple is virtually a store house of sculptures exhibiting not only Buddhist, but also, to a lesser degree, Brahmanic influence. The superstructure of the temple is of brick. It is a cylindrical stupa with a square relic chamber between the dome and the finial [which is in accordance with the traditional Indian/Srilankan architecture]. The temple was built by Minbin, also known as Minbagyi (1531-53).


Another fortress-like temple the Htukkhan-thein, built by King Minphalaung (1571-93) lies about 300 feet to the west of the Shitthaung. The structure stands on a hill, 30 feet high. It is reached by stone stairways on the east and south. Built of massive stone walls the basement pierced with small square holes has straight sides on the north, east and south, measuring 106 feet. The west side which is slightly convex is connected to an oblon chamber. The entrance on the east side, close to the south-east corner, leads to a long vaulted passage which spirals round in two tiers till it reaches the central chamber. The superstructure, a bell-shaped dome [i.e. a stupa-like dome] on receding terraces, is similar to that on the Shitthaung, but here a tall opening with square arch is provided on the east face to admit light into the central chamber. At each corner of the basement stands a small stupa. This temple is noted for the stone sculptures in the vaulted passages, especially the figures of seated ladies, with different styles of coiffure, in the attitude of offering lotus buds.


Close to the north of the Shitthaung is the Andaw temple built by King Rajagyi (1593-1612). It is a small structure of stone lying on a hillock. The platform is accessible by flights of stairs on all sides except the west. The main shrine is octogonal in plan and faces east. There are two corridors round the central block which supports the octogonal stupa above. There are scores of seated stone Buddhas within niches cut into the interior walls which are decorated with arch-pediments and jambs finely carved in low relief. On the platform are small ruined stupas ranged along the enclosure walls and the walls of a rectangular prayer hall attached to the east side of the main shrine.

Mrohaung abounds with numerous solid stupas also, largely built of hewn stone. The Ratanabon, built by king Minphalaung (1571-93) lies on a hillock to the north-east of the Shitthaung temple. The plan of its high plinth is octogonal [illustrating the Noble Eightfold Path] with four long sides [illustrating the Four Noble Truths] facing the cardinal points and four smaller sides at the corners. From the east side there projects a long quadrangle. There are no terraces and the bell-shaped body [built after the stupa dome] with three prominent mouldings round it [illustrating Buddha’s bowl, a compilation of four stacked bowls] rises directly from the plinth. The cylindrical dome is also low. It is topped by a short conical spire [illustrating ultimate enlightenment].

Examples of tall attenuated stupas in stone are to be found in the Sakyaman-aung, Ratna-man-aung and Zina-man-aung pagodas. The Sakyaman-aung [Sakyamuni-…] built in 1629 by Thirithu-dhamma-yaza has a unique plan in the form of a sixteen petalled lotus flower, the petals being of three sizes: the largest four face the cardinal points [east, west etc.] while four medium sized petals and eight smaller ones are interspersed betwee them. This design is carried to the fourth terrace from the top of which rises the intermediate base, octogonal on plan [the Noble Eightfold Path]. The bell is also eight-sided. The total height of the pagoda is 117 feet.


The Ratna-man-aung built by Sandathu-dhamma-yaza in 1652 is 180 feet high. The base of this pagoda is also octogonal. The Zina-man-aung, 135 feet high, has a similar plan but the terraces have angular corners and there is a circular shrine within it, to which access is made by a long narrow passage opening to the east.

On the hills surrounding the town are countless square temples enshrining fairly large images of Buddha in stone. No proper excavation has yet [in 1972] been done at Mrohaung nor at the earlier site of Wesali just a few miles north of it. But a large collection of ancient sculptures and inscriptions has already been made. Among the exhibits in the site museum may be seen a stone relief of [the Hindu god] Súrya riding a chariot drawn by seven horses. This rare sculpture belonging to the 8th century was discovered on the hill of Shin nge-det-taung at Mrohaung. Other Brahmanical images are that of Vishnu and goddess Ganga with two dwarfs [both belonging to the the Hindu lore]. From Teja-rama monastery was found a square stone pillar three sides of which are ornately carved with standing figures of gods and goddesses in low relief. Several inscriptions in Sanskrit and Burmese and a few in Persian or Arabic are also preserved in the museum, the most important among them being the epigraphs in mixed Sanskrit and Pali in North-eastern Nágari script of the 6th century dedicated by Niti Candra and Vira Candra.