Kuthodaw Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Burma. It was built during the reign of King Mindon Min who had the pagoda built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city of Mandalay in 1857. Worried that the teachings of Gautama Buddha may be lost to posterity with the invasion of the British to the region, King Mindon conceived the idea of preserving the entire text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, by inscribing them in huge stone slabs. Each slab is a meter wide and a meter and a half tall, and 13 centimeters thick, and there are 730 slabs in total. Each stone tablet is housed in its own shrine, called kyauksa gu, with a precious gem on top, and they are arranged around the central golden pagoda. These 730 slabs of marble are figuratively called the “world's largest book.”
Some of the 729 stupas at Kuthodaw Temple. Each stupa houses one page of the book. Photo credit
The actual text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon consumes 729 tablets. The last stone tablet records how it all came into being, taking the count to 730. These are arranged in neat rows within three enclosures surrounding the pagoda. The last tablet stands at the southeast corner of the first enclosure.
Work on the book began in 1860 in a large shed near Mandalay Palace. The text had been meticulously edited by tiers of senior monks and lay officials consulting the Tipitaka kept in royal libraries in the form of palm leaf manuscripts. A scribe then carefully copied the text on marble for stonemasons to work on. Each stone has 80 to 100 lines of inscription on each side in round Burmese script, chiseled out and originally filled in with gold leaf. It took a scribe three days to finish a tablet, and a stonemason could finish up to 16 lines a day.
When the British invaded, they stripped away every piece of gold from the tablets along with the gems and other valuables. Today the writing are marked in black ink made from shellac, soot from paraffin lamps and straw ash. A few gems still exist.
The central pagoda. Photo credit
The stupas arranged around the pagoda. Photo credit
One of the stone tablets. Photo credit
Details of the inscription of page 83. Photo credit
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