Sagaing is on the other side of Mandalay, across the Sagaing(Innwa) Bridge. “Thayar waing, Sagaing Tii” gives the year of Sagaing’s establishment by King Athinhkaya Saw Yun as 684 Myanmar Era and named it Zeyar Pura or the Victory Land. Sagaing is renowned for its silversmith works at Ywa Htaung quarters and also pottery at Nwe Nyein village. The Sagaing Hills are also home to many Buddhist monasteries and nunneries hidden in many of its green leafy valleys and vales. But looking northwards and standing out there is a strange structure.
A bulbous white dome of a structure looms on the outskirts of Sagaing. Not a familiar shape of a pagoda but a rounded structure topped by a hti (Holy Umbrella). This is the Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda, which translates as The Royal Merit Making Pagoda or more formally as the Raza Mani Sula Zedi. According to the pagoda chronicles it was built in 1636 A.D(Myanmar Era 996) by King Thalun of the Nyaung Yan Dynasty. The dimensions were also given (in Myanmar measures) as 101 taungs in height and 501 taungs in circumference. It was also surrounded by 802 upright stone posts to put in and light the candles while praying at the pagoda. The records also showed that 10126552 bricks were used for the construction and the pagoda was consecrated on the 10th waxing day of the Myanmar month of Tawthalin in the Myanmar Era of 998 by the King himself and inside are buried various Holy Relics of Lord Buddha as well as other Holy Items. It is said that the compound of the pagoda is so huge that the sounds of a Myanmar orchestra playing on one side are not audible from the other side. But that could be when digital amplifiers were not yet invented!
As for the extraordinary shape of the pagoda, the scholars agree that it is the most ancient type of structure for a Buddhist religious building. The shape resembles a haystack and is mainly seen in Sri Lanka. This type of pagoda shapes are also seen in at Sri Ksetra (Thaye Khittaya) old Pyu city-site, most notably the Paya Mar and Baw Baw Gyi pagodas at Pyay.
There is a rhyme that shows the calendar of pagoda festivals on the Sagaing Hills: “Pon-Taung Zay-Cha————.. Pon is Ponnya Shin Zedi on the Sagaing Hills and ends with the festival of Kaung Hmu Daw pagoda on the Fullmoon Day of Thadingyut. The pagoda celebrates its annual festival on the Fullmoon Day of Thadingyut (October) and it is indeed a very beautiful festival. People from nearby Sagaing will prepare for this festival, days in advance. On the evening on the eve of the Thadingyut Fullmoon day all had assembled at points inside the town: girls all dressed in the somber clothes: a darkish brown sarong and a white blouse. Brownish sashes are wrapped around their upper bodies, with letters printed on to show the names of their religious groups or residential quarters. The boys are also garbed in the same style but more enthusiastic to lead with traditional Myanmar orchestras in front. The offerings are pushed or carried on lighted and gaily decorated floats, all piled high with fresh fruits or steaming bowls of rice. This long line of pilgrims follows the leaders, chanting Buddhist prayers and mantras. And every residential quarter compete with each other to have the best decorated float. The whole procession will arrive at the Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda compound by dawn of the Thadingyut Fullmoon Day and the devotees will offer early morning food (Aryone soon in the Myanmar language) to the pagoda, pray and engage in other meritorious deeds on the holy day.
Sagaing is easily accessible by car from Mandalay by crossing the Ayeyarwady River. Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda is another 7miles beyond.