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The Mahamuni Image was believed to protect the Kingdom of Mrauk U in today’s Rakhine State. Envious of this power, Bamar soldiers from Amarapura pillaged the Image when they vanquished the Kingdom in 1784.
Of this theft the journalist Francis Wade writes:
“Legend has it that the figure of the Great Sage had been sculptured during the time of the Buddha, who “breathed life upon it” when he visited Rakhine and gave it special powers to protect the kingdom. Bodawpaya [the Bamar king] evidently wanted its guardianship for himself. When his soldiers returned to Amarapura, they brought with them a band of Kaman Muslims – those specially trained archers who had guarded the court of Mrauk U … the onetime protector of the Rakhine kingdom [is] now fattened by the volumes of gold leaf that devotees – Bamar, Rakhine, Mon – have encased it in over the centuries since.”
Other examples of religious plunder can be found at Mahamuni Paya such as a collection of Hindu-Buddhist figures from Angkor Wat of the Khmer Empire. Join the throng around these figures fondling certain limbs and corners for good health and prosperity.
Mahamuni is Mandalay’s answer to Shwedagon, and therefore it hosts bustling crowds of pious locals throughout the day. A visit to the Mahamuni Pagoda can be combined with a trip to the marble workshops adjacent to it, where skilled artisans fashion Buddhist and non-religious images and statues.
The spillage of empires has been mopped up. Mandalay remains Myanmar’s cultural capital.