That’s a pretty ambitious claim but at a length of nearly 600 feet / 180 meters, this reclining Buddha is truly deserving of its unofficial world-record holding title!
Win Sein Taw Ya is the proper name given to this giant Buddha found on the outskirts of the town of Mawlamyine. We chose to take a local pick-up truck to make our way to the site located about 20 kilometers away from town. The ride, though crowded and bumpy, was straightforward following the main road and the driver was kind enough to let us know when our stop was.
But little did I know what was waiting for us inside the biggest reclining Buddha image in the world.
Though it’s very large, the reclining Buddha isn’t visible from the road. Before even starting to see but a glimpse of its enormity, we had to walk about one kilometer alongside a row of statues depicting monks in sapphire robes participating in tak bat – the traditional alms-giving ceremony. The long line of hundreds of these monks each had different facial features giving the impression they were actual representations of real monks.
Their eyes seemed to be looking right through me, I kind of felt like I was interrupting their ceremony but I trudged on with my feet covered in the flailing dust caused by passing vehicles. Also along the short walk, we came upon larger than life statues of different characters some of which could be seen scattered all around the grounds of the Win Sein Taw Ya complex. (If you don’t want to walk, there are usually motorbike taxis offering to take visitors for a minimal fee but I don’t find the short walk is worth it).
Because the majority of the Burmese are devout Buddhists, any significant religious site will attract hundreds of faithfuls coming from all over the country often driving non-stop for days on end. Win Sein Taw Ya was no exception; while walking, several busloads and truckloads of visitors sped passed us, with passengers spilling over on the sides and hanging tightly on the tops, all heading towards the biggest reclining Buddha in the world. Their hastened driving only incited my curiosity even more!
Once we finally reached the entrance (which was free!), we left our shoes (as is customary at sacred sites) on the stairs before starting our climb. We were subsequently accompanied by Burmese men, women and children who shared their obvious excitement with us through their beaming smiles and giggles. The climb up wasn’t very strenuous and didn’t take very long so we soon found ourselves actually entering the reclining Buddha – now this I didn’t expect!
Inside the Buddha were several passages laid out on 2 different floors essentially leading from one end (the head) to the other (the feet). Each passage was connected with archways and had colorful scenes (dioramas) depicting the teachings of Buddhism.
Some dioramas seemed like they were depicting what is expected of faithful Buddhists, others played out everyday life in Myanmar and others, more disturbing, vividly depicted hell with statues of teeth-bearing demons punishing rebellious souls.
I furrowed my brows in intrigue especially when I saw the diorama of a…..harem?
And because one gigantic reclining Buddha isn’t enough (You know the saying: Go big or go home!), another equally stunning reclining Buddha was in the process of being built right in front of it. It apparently took 15 years for the biggest Buddha in the world to be constructed (and from the looks of the inside it wasn’t yet finished) so there’s no telling how long it will take to finish the second one. I couldn’t help but admire their ambitious tenacity though!
After our visit, we backtracked to the main road and headed to Kyauktalon Taung, a limestone rock formation housing a small Buddhist temple at the top. It was possible to climb to the top but the afternoon heat got the best of us so we were satisfied with just having a look from the outside, encircling its parameter to view it from every angle.
Right across the street from Kyauktalon Taung was another temple but this one was of Hindu denomination. We walked around the grounds and noticed people setting up stalls and a stage in preparation for what seemed like a celebration.
Myanmar has a large number of Hindus who diligently practice their religion the same way as in India including festivals. There was an important Hindu celebration the day we visited. The name escapes me but it involved walking unscathed on fire and trance-induced body-piercing (with hooks not earrings!). We were kindly invited to stay but, unfortunately, the celebration only started later that night and so decided to go back to Mawlamyine.
Separated by a road only a few meters wide, these temples serving different religions and representing different cultures were a true testament of respect, kindness and acceptance. I was moved by such amiability but what struck me even more so was how, as foreigners, we were welcomed with open arms on both sides – literally.
Read all about my travels in Myanmar
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