Wednesday 19 February 1992, the first waning day of Tapoe Twe, was a sunny day. On that day, many people gathered near the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda waiting to participate in the water pouring ceremony, which is an important Buddhist ritual.
To many Mon people, the religious hall near the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda is like the Taj Mahal of India. Mon people are very proud of this religious building, and like Indian people who are proud of the Taj Mahal, this religious building always has a place in the heart of the Mon people of Burma.
On this day, participants felt both happy and frustrated at the ceremony. At the beginning of the ceremony, people looked very pleased. However, most felt discontented by the end of ceremony because the Pagoda’s Trustee Committee had ordered Mon donors to transfer the ownership of the building to the committee.
The religious devotees felt very upset because their merit making had been abused and taken advantage of. Whenever Mon people see this building today, they still remember the incident of 1992.
Background history of the Mon religious building - a community hall for religious purposes
The Mon religious building, which is located between two lion statues to the west of Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda in Pegu (Bago) city, was built with contributions from Mon donors in 1992. A Brahmin duck statue sits atop this building. The hall can be seen from far away when visitors first turn onto the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda road from the Rangoon-Mandalay highway.
Mon people, including the original donors, want to take care of this religious building because it will earn long-lasting merit for all. However, the Mon public does not have the opportunity to provide the maintenance of the building because it was forcibly transferred to the Pagoda’s Trustee Committee on the day of the closing ceremony overseen by a Burmese military commander.
Mon people continue to be proud of this building and believe it is symbolic of Mon culture and patriotism.
Even though this building is now 20 years old, it is still highly regarded in Burma because of its unique architecture and impressive collection of artwork. This religious building was intended as a community hall for religious purposes. Therefore, Mon people respect this building.
"This religious building was constructed with a combination of religious architecture and the elegant manner of a royal court style. The structure can be seen as an extraordinary model because the design of the building used a unique combination of old religious building style and ancient Hongsawati royal court style," Nai Tun Lin, a Mon architect living in Mahar Zaydi Ward in Pegu city, said.
"Mon donors donated the money to have this building constructed. Many volunteers could be seen every day on the construction site while the building was being built. They also had the desire to donate more for the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda. Mon donors already demanded and deserved the right to work on the maintenance of this building from the Pagoda Trustee Committee," Nai Lot, one of the original donors, said.
After the construction was completed, the ceremony of pouring water for sharing merit and good deeds was held on the 1st waning day of Tapoe Twe in February, 1992. Abbots from the National Sangha Organization and Mon abbots attended the ceremony of sharing merit. Gen. Aye Tuang, Commander of Southern Command, Mon people from different regions, and donors also attended the ceremony.
"Mon concerts, music bands, Mon traditional boxing, Mon traditional deity concerts, and other performances were held on the day of the sharing merit ceremony. Many people attended and were very happy. Many people were interested to discover the Mon traditional deity concert. Many Mon people from Rangoon, Pegu, and Irrawaddy Divisions attended the ceremony," Nai Ra, who is a weaving machine owner in Innwin Ward, Pegu city, said.
An upsetting incident
Nai Tun Hlaing, 65 years old, lives in Mon Sanpya Ward in Pegu city. He participated in the construction of the building and attended the ceremony of pouring water for sharing merit and good deeds.
"The ceremony was held according to schedule. When the ceremony was almost finished, monks and laypeople were very upset by the announcement of Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda's Trustee Committee. The announcement was that the hall’s key and padlock must be handed over to the Pagoda's Trustee Committee after the ceremony. Some people cried," Nai Tun Hlaing said.
At the ceremony, the master of ceremonies was U Tun Yee, a manager of the government's Agricultural Modeling Garden in Pegu city.
"We intended to donate the building to the Lord Buddha through the Sangha. Abbots said that the donation would be totally successful after Sangha participated in pouring water for sharing merit and good deeds. There was no part of the program for transferring the key and padlock of the new building to the hands of Pagoda's Trustee Committee," U Tun Yee said.
"Before we continued to the last part of the program during the ceremony, a member of the Pagoda's Trustee Committee told the emcee to announce the transfer of the hey and padlock of the new building. This was not included in the program of the ceremony. It could have been ordered by Gen. Aye Thaung after he discussed the matter with the committee. They didn't want to see the religious building in the hands of Mon people," he said about his experience.
From then on, donors would have to ask permission from the Pagoda's Trustee Committee before being allowed to repair or do any maintenance on the building. The committee also restricted people from doing anything in the religious hall other than religious events.
"Mon people in Pegu, including donors, felt very upset because they didn't get permission to provide the maintenance of the building and to use this building for the purposes of Mon people. The donors were very upset because they felt the government didn't respect their charity and religious desires. So, it made us very unhappy. The Commander of the Southern Military Command and the Pagoda's Trustee Committee committed this bad deed," Nai Shwe Up, an 80 year old elder living in Mon Sanpya Ward in Pegu city, said.
Long-lasting donation and performing good deeds
Even though they [the Pagoda's Trustee Committee and the military commander] took advantage of the donations for the religious hall, the donation of the new religious building was already complete and successful because the Sangha had already performed the pouring water ceremony for sharing merits.
According to Mon donors from Pegu, they continue to be proud of the building because many visitors from far away continue to visit the building.
"The donation of this religious building to the Lord Buddha is a good action. It earned good merit for all of us. Visitors can stay in the building without any worries. As well, the Brahmin duck statue is on the top of the building. So, it means visitors can safely stay under the security of the Mon. They may feel they are living together with Mon people. These visitors will thank the donors. Therefore, both visitors and donors feel happy,” Abbot Bandanta Kawthala of Thukha Kari Monastery in Pegu said. The abbot is also a professor at the International Buddhist University in Rangoon.
According to Burma's religious history, Lord Buddha told in his preordainment of events that Buddhism would be bright and popular in Hongsawati (now Pegu) when he visited the place and saw a Brahmin duck. The Brahmin duck is still symbolic of the royal Pegu city and Mon people everywhere, even though the city is over 2,500 years old.
Burma’s military government began a repair program for the religious buildings around the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda while the religious hall was being constructed. At that time, Mon donors also donated money to repair another Mon religious building to the western side of the Pagoda under the supervision of the government's program. Because of the generosity of Mon donors, nowadays we can still see the beauty of this building.
In the past, Mon people consecutively constructed religious buildings on the same plot of land where the new Mon religious building is constructed. The plot of land was owned by late Nai Kyaw Myaing. He transferred this plot of land to the current donors, according to abbot of the Middle Monastery near the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda.
Main donors and other Mon people from different regions donated 200 lakh Kyat for the construction of this religious building. Sayargyi Nai San Tin from Burma's Culture Ministry drew the design for the new religious hall. Sayargyi Nai San Tin is also a painter, designer, and architect.
Good deeds that come from the good intentions of Mon people will get the same reflection no matter what happens after. The good karma will exist forever.
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