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Wed 10 Dec 2014

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Pounding gold leaf

Being the second largest city in Myanmar after Yangon, Mandalay is home to many monasteries. It also is full of artisans skilled in making gold leaf, cutting and polishing jade, carving wood, and other crafts.

The 19th century Shwe In Bin Kyaung monastery is a peaceful abode away from the bustle of Mandalay’s center. It is covered with elaborately carved teak ornamentation and is a working monastery where monks reside and practice.  

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Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery

I visited at mid-day and other than a few fellow tourists admiring the architecture, there was nobody else in the building other than a few craftsmen working on the inside of the meditation hall, and one black cat. I wondered if the cat was a practicing Buddhist or just hanging around the monastery for some free food.

Monastic Cat.

Monastic Cat.

Pulley at monastery well.

Pulley at monastery well.

From visiting many monasteries in Southeast Asia, I have learned that devout Buddhists show their devotion in many ways. One way is to buy gold leaf squares and apply them to Buddha statues and stupas as a way of gaining merit. Mandalay actually has a gold pounders district where gold leaf is made, so on the way to the monastery I stopped there to see how it was done. It was interesting to watch the process but since I was not convinced of the validity of obtaining merit this way, nor even the need to obtain merit, I did not buy any gold leaf.

Tools of the gold pounder's trade.

Tools of the gold pounder’s trade.

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