The Kaba-Aye Pagoda and Its Surroundings

Kaba Aye Pagoda seem from outside
Thiri Mingala Kaba-Aye Pagoda

The Pagoda for World Peace

The Kaba-Aye Hillock is an interesting stretch of land in Yangon. It is sprawling but rises only imperceptibly. Obviously, it is an acquired name after the construction of its namesake pagoda. In fact, it is a Buddhist religious estate, so declared at the beginning of the 1990s. Religious-affairs wise, things are run from there.

The Kaba-Aye Hillock area covers about 68 acres. It is Sasana land and exempts from taxes. It sprouts with numerous Buddhist religious buildings, not to say the office complex of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and its Departments at one corner. To the north of the centerpiece, Kaba-Aye Pagoda lies, in close succession, the Wizaya Mingala Dhamma Thabin Hall, the Maha Pasana Cave (Grotto), and the Sacred Library with its Buddhist Art Museum. At the southwest corner of this Sasana land is the State Pariyatti Sasana University (Yangon). Half a century ago, the area was rather barren; but due to vigorous tree-planting and greening efforts over the years it now looks like a wooded area, its beauty being also enhanced by some large and small ponds.

The Kaba-Aye Pagoda

The full name is Thiri Mingala Kaba-Aye Pagoda. Thiri Mingala is the original name of the hillock on which the pagoda stands. “Kaba Aye” means world peace or world tranquillity. The pagoda was built in 1950 with the use of public funds and a wish to maintain peace throughout the world. Htidaw (ornamented and tiered finial) hoisting took place with much ceremony on 5-3-52. The height of the pagoda is a little more than 78 cubits (117 feet).

The pagoda has fives faces with five bronze images of Lord Buddha in a sitting posture. These five images represent the five Buddhas of the current Buddha world-cycle, viz, Kakusandha Buddha, Konagamana Buddha, Kassapa Buddha, Gotama Buddha, and Arimetteya Buddha. To make it more pleasing to the eye, the mural paintings behind the images depict the Trees under which the four Buddhas became enlightened and the last Buddha is to be enlightened.

In 1990, a beautifully covered stairway was constructed for the comfort of visiting worshippers. It is 315 feet by 42 feet and boasts a profusion of pinnacles, finials and other traditional Myanmar designs.

The single most significant fact about the Kaba-Aye Pagoda concerns the kind of relics it contains. Apart from some Buddha relics, there are those of the Chief Disciples of Lord Buddha — Venerable Sariputta who sits on the left flank of the Buddha and Venerable Moggallana who sits on the right. Those Arahat relics are a portion of the original ones found over a century ago in India, and they were donated to Myanmar in 1952.

The Maha Passana Cave

The massive man-made cave, actually a Sima (ordination hall), is one of a kind in Myanmar, if not in the whole world. Even the internal hall is 220 feet in length and 140 feet in breadth, spacious enough for a congregation of 2,500 monks. This number signifies the 2500th Anniversary of the Buddha Sasana or Teaching when the Sixth Great Buddhist Council (Chattha Sangayana) was held inside the Cave starting from 1954. Any visitor coming inside the Cave should be awed by the six big columns seemingly supporting the whole structure. Down the ages, the Cave has been the venue of significant Theravada Buddhist events in Myanmar.

When mention is made of the Maha Pasana Cave, the four large hostels and a refectory should not be left out. They were originally built to accommodate the monks participating in the Buddhist Synod. The four hostels are named after the island-continents often mentioned in Buddhist literature. Until recently, one of the hostels had been the residence-cum-office of the sitting Sangha Maha Nayaka Theras.

The Wizaya Mingala Dhamma Thabin Hall

A striking latter-day addition to the Sasanika buildings on Kaba-Aye hillock is the Wizaya Mingala Dhamma Thabin Hall, completed in 1992 at a cost of more than Kyat 300 lakhs. A traditional architectural beauty, it stands between the Kaba-Aye Pagoda and the Great Cave. Its length is 145 feet and breadth 90 feet.

Examples of the whole range of the ten traditional arts and crafts can be viewed there, not to say those of gold embroidery work and Myanmar ceramics. Completely air-conditioned, the hall has also modern furnishings like chandeliers, sound, and heat proof ceiling, and halogen lamps giving off a golden light. Hence the hall is usually a place of choice for holding grand religious ceremonies, meetings, sermons, or honoring ceremonies.

Buddhist Art Museum and Library

This little complex stands inside a wide walled-off compound in the northern end of the Kaba-Aye hillock. As an added attraction, there is an oval-shaped artificial pond at the front and the compound is beautifully landscaped. The structure is 45 feet in height, 143 feet long and 81 feet wide, the museum proper covering an area of 5,000 sq.feet. It was inaugurated in 1962.

The building now comprises a research library, a repository of palm-leaf manuscripts, an auditorium, and the Buddhist Art Museum, all under the charge of the Department for the Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana. Moreover, there are Thai, Sri Lanka, Lao, and Cambodia Rooms, dedicated to the participating countries in the Chattha Sangayana.

The research library is a good compact one with a collection of books mostly on philosophy, psychology, metaphysics, theology, and religion. They are in Myanmar language, English and other languages. The library is also responsible for the maintenance of Pe and Parabeiks. Pe means palm leaf on which letters are incised by a stylus. Parabeik is a set of folding papers made of bamboo. They contain religious subjects such as traditional medicine, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, mantras, etc.

The collections in the Buddhist Art Museum include Buddha images, votive tablets, models of stupas, religious antiquities, and photographs of famous shrines and pagodas of ancient Myanmar. Some exhibits were presented by foreign countries. There are also palm-leaf manuscript chests made of teak with gilt lacquer, wooden Buddha images seated on various kinds of Thrones, “soom-oak” (food containers) made of lacquer, replicas of the Ghandara Art, and Buddha images showing different kinds of “mudras” (gestures).

By arrangement, students, scholars, and researchers whether native or foreign may make use of these assets of the Museum and Library. 

The State Pariyatti Sasana University (Yangon)

Towards the southern end of the Kaba-Aye Hillock is the State Pariyatti Sasana University (Yangon) which was opened on 26th June 1986. This together with the other suchlike university in Mandalay forms the national-level centers of Pariyatti (scriptural) learning. The fourteen hostels at the university are named after the States and Regions. In any academic year, there are more than 400 bhikkhu students. The University awards Sasanatakkasila Dhammacariya, B.A. (Buddhism), and Sasanatakkasila Mahadhammacariya, M.A (Buddhism) Degrees. 

Maha Nayaka Kyaungdawgyi

The Maha Nayaka Kyaungdawgyi, the official residence of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee member-sayadaws was dedicated on 20-2-99. Until recently they had to take up residence at the Zabudipa Hall of the Chattha Sangayana vintage.

Now, the 47 members Sayadaws, discharging the highest religious duties during their term of office, are able to reside simultaneously in comfort inside one double-storeyed building. Each room is furnished with bathroom and toilet where warm and cold water is available. The building is also decorated with Myanmar cultural designs.

Other attractions

Last but not least in the significant features of the Kaba-Aye Hillock is the Maha Theindawgyi Sima (ordination hall). It is a raised circular structure with a striking look. It is often a venue for important ordination ceremonies, both for national and foreigners.

Then there are the Ussasiri Garden and Dagonsiri Sanctuary-Lake. The former is intended for relaxation purposes of student-monks of the Sasana University and the latter often is the venue for meritorious freeing of fish by pious Buddhists.

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