Buddhas of Pindaya caves

Buddha images in the Pindaya caves

The Pindaya caves in the Shan state of Myanmar lie just at the edge of historic east-west routes through Myanmar. Once the tradition of placing a statue of the Buddha inside the caves started, it would have grown quickly. Of the thousands of Buddhas you can see, most come from the 18th and 19th centuries, although more are being placed even today. Legends have accreted around it. One of the more colourful ones is about seven princesses who were captured and placed inside the caves by a giant spider which was later killed by a prince. What this has to do with the Buddhas is not clear. Maybe it is an earlier Shan legend.

Panorama inside the south cave in Pindaya

We took off our shoes and socks and took a lift up to the south cave. I’d expected the floor to be slippery like in any other limestone cave, but mercifully, in Myanmar a boardwalk is always laid down in such places, making it easy to walk through the cave. The inside was stunning: full of statues of the Buddha, many larger than life-size, but a large number of smaller ones. Some had inscriptions, others were anonymous. There was even a large stupa inside the cave. Most of the statues seemed to be metal, although there was a significant number of stone statues. The flood of statues is not limited by space: although the profusion of statues is overwhelming, there is a huge amount of space left in the upper sections of the cave for future donors.

Applying gold leaf to an image in the Pindaya cavesThe cave system is primarily a centre of pilgrimage. On my way out I saw a group of monks walk in, led by a person who created a flutter among the locals around. It turned out that he was a very well-known monk called Pa-o Seyado (phonetically transcribed). Throngs followed him into the cave to pray. Other devotees can buy gold leaf and apply it to statues and the pagoda. You see one of them here, more of the devout were at work gilding the stone base of the pagoda. This is a very efficient and businesslike way to keep things covered in gold leaf, and almost as impressive as the sight of the caves.

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Author: I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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