The dominant geographical structure on the plain of Mandalay is Mandalay Hill which is 790 feet high. The city actually got its name from the name of Mandalay Hill. (The official name of the city is Yadanapon or Ratanapura). It is also one of the places in Mandalay that is worth visiting. There are a number of pagodas on the hill and the view from the top of the hill is also breathtaking.
Legend is that Gautama Buddha himself visited the region and from the top of this hill, he pointed to the plain below and prophesied that a great city would emerge one day on this plain. According to this popular legend, on his visit to Mandalay Hill, Gautama Buddha met a certain ogress named Sandamukhi. Although she was an ogress, she was overwhelmed with the teaching of Gautama Buddha that she decided to devote the rest of her life to follow the teachings of Buddha. As a sign of humility, she cut off her breasts and offered them to Gautama. Buddha declined the offered as it is against the rules of Buddhists monks, but he prophesied that the ogress would one day become a great king and would build a great city on the plain below the foot of Mandalay Hill. The city would prosper and would become the centre of Buddhism. This is the popular story believed by many Buddhists in Myanmar. The true believer of this story is King Mindon who believed that he was the reincarnation of ogress Sandamukhi. And true to the legend, he built the great city, called Mandalay.
Going to Mandalay Hill
The cheapest way to go to Mandalay Hill is by bus. However, it is crowded and quite dangerous too. The easiest and most convenient way to go there is by hiring a taxi. You can hire the taxi for the whole day to travel all over Mandalay, including the hill. The best time to climb the hill is in the early morning or at sunset. Not only the weather is cool, you can also see the breathtaking view of the surrounding plain.
To the top
If you don’t have enough time or enough stamina, you can climb up the hill by car up to the foot of the pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill. From there, you can either climb up a few hundred steps, take an escalator or an elevator to the top of the hill. However, if you have enough time and stamina, our advice is to take the stair way from the beginning, that is, from the foot of the hill.
There are a total of 1729 steps leading up to the top of the Mandalay Hill. The entrance to the stairway (zaungdans) is guarded by two white chinthes (lions). The whole stairway is covered with roof and is a gentle climb. Along the way, there are many rest places (tazaungs) as well as small pagodas. There are also a number of stalls selling flowers, paper streamers, miniatures pennants, umbrellas, food, drinks and refreshment for the visitors and pilgrims. There are also a number of astrologers along the way.
The stairway and many tazaungs along the way are the merit and work of the Hermit U Khanti. He raised enough money from donation to repair and rebuild the many ruined pagodas, temples, tazaungs and structures on Mandalay Hill. He also repaired many other pagodas all over Myanmar.
Peshawar Relics of Gautama Buddha
This is a really interesting story. In 1908, the Peshawar Museum curator was conducting an excavation at the Ganji Gate in Peshawar when he uncovered a casket. Inside the casket was a crystal vessel containing three bones. There is an inscription on the casket and, according to these inscriptions, these three bones were the true relics of Gautama Buddha.
When Gautama Buddha died at the age of 80 in Kusinara, India, he instructed his disciples to cremate his remain. But when only his bones remained, a heavy rain extinguished the flame. The remaining bone relics of Gautama Buddha were distributed among the eight kings of neighboring kingdoms, and enshrined in the pagodas in these countries. Three centuries later, King Ashoka opened the relic chambers of the eight pagodas and reportedly distributed among the 84,000 pagodas across India, South Asia and South East Asia.
King Kanishka of Kushan dynasty recovered several of these relics and brought back to Peshawar (in current day Pakistan) to enshrined in a pagoda 168 meter high. The pagoda was destroyed by the Muslim conquerors after the Battle of Hund in 11 century AD. It was until 1908 that these relics disappeared.
When the relic was recovered, British government presented them to the Burmese Buddhist Society. However, as anti colonial sentiment was high at the time, many Burmese considered this a sham and did not believe these relics to be the true relics of Gautama Buddha. Although their authenticity was confirmed by the inscriptions on the Kanishka casket, they were never held in high esteem.
These Buddha relics were kept in a tazaung (temple) half way through the stairway to Mandalay Hill. The tazaung is U Khanti Tazaung. They were kept here until after the World War II after which they were enshrined in a small pagoda along the stairway on the way to the top of Mandalay Hill. The pagoda was never held in high esteem and most people from Mandalay never know about the existence of this pagoda containing true relics of Gautama Buddha.
Further up near the top of the hill, there is a large gigantic standing image of Gautama Buddha. The Buddha image is called Shweyattaw which means Standing Buddha. It is also called Prophesying Buddha (Byadeikpay Buddha). This Buddha image is the depiction of Gautama Buddha prophesying the establishment of Mandalay by King Mindon. Thus, the right hand of the Buddha image is pointing towards the Mandalay city over the plain below.
According to legend, when Buddha visited the Mandalay Hill, an ogress named Sandhamukhi, after learning the teaching of Gautama Buddha, decided to follow the Buddha’s teaching for the rest of her life. As a sign of gratitude, she cut her breast and offered to Gautama Buddha. As it is against the teaching of Buddha for the monks to accept raw meat, Buddha declined the offer. However, he prophesied that the Sandhamukhi ogress would, in the year of Buddha 2,400, establish a great city over the plain below Mandalay Hill. The standing Buddha is the depiction of this legend.
Further up the steps, just near the top of Mandalay Hill, is the statue of the ogress Sandhamukhi, who offered her severed breasts to Gautama Buddha.
At the summit of Mandalay Hill is the Sutaungpyi Pagoda. Traditionally believed to have been built by King Anawrahta of Bagan dynasty, it was renovated several times by Kongboun kings. Many Myanmar Buddhists believe that whatever you wish for at this pagoda will come true, hence the name Sutaungpyi (wish granting pagoda).
View from the terrace of Sutaungpyi Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill is outstanding. You can see the whole Mandalay palace, Mandalay city and the whole Mandalay plain. To the east you can see stretches of land up to Shan Plateau. To the north lies the Shwebo Plain. To the west is the Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwaddy River), Ava Bridge (Sagaing Bridge), newly built Yadanabon Bridge beyond which lies Sagaing Hills dotted with hundreds of white pagodas. Everywhere you see, the view is outstanding. This is a truly panoramic view of Mandalay and middle Burma.
Beyond the Sutaungpyi Pagoda on the Mandalay Hill is the Two Great Snakes Pagoda (Mwae-gyi-nhit-kaung Paya). Legend was that these two big snakes regularly visited the Sutaungpyi Pagoda at the top of Mandalay Hill to pay homage to Gautama Buddha. When they died, they became guardian spirits of the Hill. There were two statues of the snakes above which are two statues of guardian spirits they turned into after their death.