Monywa, a three-hour drive northwest from Mandalay, is on the eastern bank of the Chindwin River in the Sagaing Region. The city is at the center of the Chindwin Valley, close to the confluence of the Chindwin and the Ayeyarwady Rivers. Because of its location, Monywa is a major center for trade within the region and with the rest of the country. It’s also a growing hub for the now legalized trade between India and Myanmar.
The name of Monywa, like many other cities and towns in Myanmar, is rooted in legend. The story goes that a Myanmar king had visited the town and fell in love with a cake seller there. He eventually made her his queen. So many say that the original name of the city is “Mon-thema-ywa”, or “Village of the woman cake seller.” Monywa’s origin relates to this story, with “mon” meaning “cake” or “snack food” and “ywa” meaning “village”.
Historically, the name for the city is Thalawadi. Records show that Monywa has been an area of importance since the Bagan Period, where the King Alaungpaya had camped his army for an evening during his campaign to Manipur in 1758. Monywa did not become the Headquarters of the Lower Chindwin District until a year after the Annexation of 1886.
The city can be reached along the Mandalay-Budalin railway line, but the preferred method of travel is via the bus line since the roads are in reasonably good condition.
Highlights in Monywa
Thanboddhay Pagoda has the distinction of being the only temple in the entire country with its design. First constructed in 1303, the temple was reconstructed in 1939. Worshippers can enter along the 166 foot (50m) square base, where the stepped terraces of 864 small stupas continue up into a central golden chedi at the top. From the ground to the top of the chedi, the pagoda is 132 feet (40m) tall.
Even though many draw comparisons to the Borobudur temple complex in Indonesia, the Thanboddhay Pagoda is still a place of daily worship and is still well maintained. The comparisons are related to the many examples of Buddhist art through its 582,257 varied Buddha images. These Buddha images are in rows of niches along the walls inside and outside of the temple.
Another unique aspect to the Thanboddhay Pagoda is its entrance, a pair of 36-foot tall white elephant statues instead of the Chinthes, the mythical lions. White elephants are a sacred and auspicious symbol in the Buddhist tradition.
Bodhi Tahtaung and Po Khaung Taung
Established by Bodhi Tahtaung Sayadaw (or, the One Thousand Bo Trees Monk) in 1960’s, the Bodhi Tahtaung Pagoda (or, the Bodhi Ta Htaung Pagoda) consists of one thousand Bodhi trees each with a Buddha image underneath. To the east of Bodhi Tahtaung Pagoda is the Po Khaung Taung hill range. Within that range, on top of one of the hills, is the once largest reclining Buddha image in the world at almost 300 ft (90m). The image is hollow inside, allowing visitors to walk from the head to the toes, learning about the important life events in the Buddha’s life along the way.
Next to the reclining Buddha image is the standing Laykyun Setkyar Buddha image, one of the tallest in the world at 116m (380ft) tall, 129m (423ft) including the pedestal. This image is also hollow inside, allowing visitors to climb to the top and see the surrounding countryside. The walls contain scenes of Buddhist hell and the punishments that await sinners there.
Aung Sakkya Pagoda
Towards the base of the hill supporting the standing and reclining Buddha images is the Aung Sakkya Pagoda, a 69m (226ft) tall pagoda with a white base, golden stupa, and the traditional ornamental hti on top. Constructed in 1979, the design is similar to the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon.