Queen Sein Don’s monastery pa­tiently awaits re­ju­ve­na­tion

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Weekend | Human Interest - PHOE WA

IT’S a sunny, peace­ful day on the grounds of the monastery. Aside from gongs and the oc­ca­sional dis­tant recita­tions, it’s mostly just the sounds of birds, or some traf­fic from out­side. To­day, how­ever, res­i­dent monk U Yay Wa Ta hears a crash­ing sound. It seems near. He runs across the yard to see what has hap­pened, and it is as he had ex­pected. Some tim­ber planks on the west side of the com­pound have col­lapsed due to rot.

“It’s hap­pened three times this month, I don’t know when the next time might be. All of the com­pound is in ruin,” U Yay Wa Ta said. For a monastery of such his­toric and na­tional sig­nif­i­cance, Yada­nar­bon Myint is in a fairly sorry state.

The monas­tic com­pound, named “Yada­nar­bon Myint”, or “Very old Monastery”, has been stand­ing for over 120 years. It is known also by the name “Queen Sein Don Monastery”, in re­spect to its bene­fac­tor Sein Don, wife of ven­er­ated late king­dom ruler King Min­don. The monastery sits at the base of the Mawlamyine Taung Yoe hill.

Queen Sein Don, one of a num­ber of queens to the re­gent, had a per­sonal role in de­sign­ing the monastery with aes­thet­ics in­spired by royal build­ings and even a replica of the Lion Throne, which can still be seen to­day. The cor­ri­dors of the one-time palace are re­s­plen­dent with gilded fig­ures, flo­ral de­signs and minute hand-carved dec­o­ra­tions in the high court fash­ion. It is said she gave away much of her wealth to re­li­gious causes, in ad­di­tion to be­stow­ing her per­sonal touches on the monastery which was built by a wealthy lo­cal donor. Queen Sein Don died at the age of 69 in 1905.

Proper care would re­quire a steady sup­ply of gold leaf. Per the rules of the old king­dom, a monastery with poles dec­o­rated in glass mo­saic in­di­cates that a king built the struc­ture. Gold dec­o­ra­tion in­di­cates that a queen built it and plain wooden col­umns in­di­cate that a non-royal in­di­vid­ual built it. Ac­cord­ing to re­search, monas­ter­ies of high im­por­tance also have three dis­tinct stair en­trances; one for the king, one for monks and one for sub­jects.

To­day, ed­i­fices and orig­i­nal dec­o­ra­tive forms can still be seen through­out the com­pound, but are badly in need of restora­tion. The res­i­dent monks have made con­tri­bu­tions to its up­keep over the decades as best as they can, but lack the skills and the re­sources to main­tain such a spe­cial mon­u­ment. Each year’s rainy sea­son brings with it the threat of water dam­age and fur­ther rot to the wooden sec­tions of the com­pound. At present, there are two monks charged with its care, one be­ing U Yay Wa Da.

“Such a his­tor­i­cal place can­not be main­tained by just two peo­ple,” U Yay Wa Da said.

Call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide fund­ing and ex­per­tise has at­tracted some at­ten­tion which may yet yield re­sults. Last year, en­gi­neer­ing ex­perts from the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal de­part­ment of the Na­tional Mu­seum and li­brary were sent to make an ap­praisal of the po­ten­tial cost of restora­tion of the com­pound but a fi­nal fig­ure has not been re­leased.

Res­i­dents of Mawlamyine hope the gov­ern­ment will re­pair the Queen’s monastery.

“This is not only a his­tor­i­cal place for our town­ship, but also the na­tion,” res­i­dent U Tun Maung said.

The site at­tracts around 40 peo­ple per day, a mix of tourists and pil­grims, with western visitors mak­ing the trek there to cap­ture sights of gen­uine, orig­i­nal king­dom art­works.

“It has amaz­ing art­work, built by the queen. It is sad to see such a his­tor­i­cal place suf­fer­ing dam­age,” a Bri­tish tourist who iden­ti­fied him­self as Wil­liam, said.

U Yay Wa Da re­ported that pri­vate busi­ness­men have even of­fered to pur­chase the com­pound, but the monk re­mains wary of their in­ten­tions, and will not sell the na­tional trea­sure to any­one. In­stead, he will wait for pub­lic or gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance, with which he can be sure the his­tory of the site will be re­spected and visitors will al­ways have free ac­cess.

“We don’t want to lose such a his­toric site. We will con­tinue to cam­paign on be­half of this place and main­tain as best we can,” he said.

Photo: Phoe Wa

Mo­tor­bikes pass the Queen Sein Don’s Monastery in Mawlamyine town­ship on Novem­ber 4, 2018.

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