Pindaya is a small, beautiful and tranquil mountain village in Shan State, Burma, located about 25 miles/40 km north of the Inlay Lake. Its centre is the Botoloke Lake also called Nattamie Kan what means Angles Lake and its attraction more than 8.000 Buddha statues in a cave.
After an interesting 2.5 hours early morning couch ride through a highly scenic landscape called ‘Burma’s Switzerland’ with many small Danu, Pa-O and Taung Yo people settlements on the mountainsides along the road we arrive in Pindaya.
The tribal people are earning their living with the growing of all kinds of vegetable and crops. They are relatively poor, conduct simple lives but are very happy. They are living witnesses to the phrase that money (at least not alone) does not make happy. We should remember that back home looking at the pictures we have made of them. Life is more than making money.
Pindaya village is predominantly populated by people of the ‘Taungyo tribe’ and is surrounded by magnificent often very old banyan trees. It is famous first and foremost for its ‘Pindaya Caves’ and the ‘Shwe Ohn Hmin Pagoda’ (Golden Cave Pagoda). Secondly, it is renowned for the beautiful Shan paper and parasols that are made here since generations.
The Pindaya caves are situated uphill Pindaya’s small lake from which the stairway leads up to the limestone cave’s mouth behind the pagoda. It is quite a long walk up there, which is one of the reasons why one should not try to take Pindaya in a rush. Of course, you can also go by car all the way up to a platform directly below the cave’s entrance or by elevator. But then this ‘Pindaya Cave Exploration’ experience would as I believe be somehow like soup without salt. That is why I am going to walk and climb the stairs
Actually, there a three caves in Pindaya but only one (the southernmost) is open to the public. As far as I know nothing is known about the other caves; not publicly, at least.
The interior of the cave comprises a large net of smaller and larger and sometimes very high caves and cave chambers with different interiors. The smaller ones of them are occasionally quite difficult to reach and to explore as their accesses are low and narrow. But to wind ones way into some of them is well-worth the effort. However, there are also some caves I do not recommend to enter because this is only possible when you are crawling. I do not think that one needs to go to that extreme in order to get a good and authentic feel for the magnificence of this cave.
Many thousand – no one knows their exact number but an estimate says 8,000 plus and counting – of Buddha images of all kinds of material such as lacquer ware, jade, marble, teak, bronze, brass, etc., all sizes from small figurines to large statues in many different styles and different ‘Mudras’ (postures) from the standing ‘Varada Mudra’, depicting Gautama Buddha’s descent from Tavatimsa, to the walking ‘Abhaya Mudra’, representing Buddha’s taming of the rampaging ‘Nalagiri’ elephant, to the seating ‘Bhumisparsha Mudra’ or ‘Dhyani Mudra’ or ‘Dharma Chakra Mudra’ (the differences of which are in the varying positions of the legs, hands and fingers) to the Parinibbana position showing Gautama Buddha in reclining posture.
Provided one has an eye and the patience for details (which to have is needed to fully enjoy all this splendour) all of this will not only be just seen but also registered with awe. The so far earliest known Buddha statue in the cave dates back to 1773; but it is of course possible that there are older ones for not all of them are dated and bear a name.
As for the question of how long the cave is I did not measure it myself but was told that the total lengths of this cave is some 150 metres/490 ft.
As yet no one could tell me exactly when, by whom and why this particular cave was chosen centuries ago for pilgrims to place as sacrificial offerings their Buddha images in here.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that the Pindaya caves are sacred to Buddhists and that you will often see Pongyis and laypeople quietly sitting and meditating in the caves. It is not only that the caves form a labyrinth but also the way in which the Buddha images are arranged what gives quite a different picture than that of other caves such as e.g. the wonderful ‘Kaw Gun Cave’ in Mon state.
Exploring the Pindaya Cave with its unique atmosphere and huge collection of Buddha statues is an experience that creates an everlasting impression on everyone’s mind. By the by, it can get quite cold in the cave and it is therefore advisable to have a thin jacket with long sleeves or at least a shirt or blouse with long sleeves in the bag.
Along the ridge outside the cave is an old temple complex and situated below the ridge is the Shwe Ohn Hmin (Golden Cave) Pagoda, also spelled Shwe U Min (Golden Cave) Pagoda at the entrance to the cave. There is great uncertainty as to when the pagoda was built and by whom. But this would not be Burma if there would not be a legend, and there is one. According to this legend the cave was built by monks sent by emperor Ashoka from India. However, if we take a closer look at this we will find that the oldest known Buddha statue in this cave dates back to 1773 and that emperor Ashoka lived and reigned in the 3rd century B.C. This means that now a time gap is opening up that cannot be easily explained away.
Speaking of legends. In front of the steps leading up to the cave’s entrance are two statues or sculptures. One depicts a huge nasty looking spider and the other an archer aiming with his arrow that is ready to fly at the spider. The legend behind this is that a huge spider that once lived in the cave had kidnapped a young local princess who had been swimming in the lake and kept her hostage. This problem was once and for all solved by the young prince Kummabhaya of Yawnghwe. He put an end to the spider’s life by putting one of his arrows into the spider’s heart. Similar stories you find often in legends. One example is that of the legendary king Pyusawhti of Pagan, who reigned between 167 – 242 A.D. He freed Pagan from the terror of the five menaces with his magic bow and arrows. For his heroic deed he was rewarded by the then king Thamudarit who gave him his daughter as a wife and made him heir apparel.
The pagoda bell in front of the prayer hall is made of brass and according to the inscription it weighs 654 kg/1.442 pound and was cast in 1842.
The prayer hall is connected to the name of a very famous Burmese monk. In fact, he built this prayer hall. His name: U Khandi. U Khandi was born in 1868, as Maung Po Maung in Ywathaya village, Yamethin District, Mandalay division and became Hermit (forest dwelling monk) in 1900. He devoted his entire life to the renovation and building of temples and pagodas and the funding of these projects. In 1949 he passed away and had by then (more precisely his ‘Goodwill’ organisation) built and renovated some 50 temples and pagodas on hill sites and tops all over Burma. Amongst them prestigious structures such as the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, the Hintha Gon Paya and the Mandalay Hill.
But it is not only the Pindaya caves and the Shwe U Min (Golden Cave) Pagoda this village is so well known for. It is also famous for Shan Paper making and parasol (umbrella) making.
With the Cave and pagoda visit behind us it was time for a rest and a quick bite. After an early box-lunch in front of the cave’s mouth during which we have enjoyed the wonderful view on the lake, the hillside dotted with pagodas and the village we went back down to Pindaya Village.
After having first visited the Pindaya market were locals offer an almost unbelievable large variety of fruits,vegetables, potatoes, rice, eggs, household wares, clothes, and so on, we are now in one of the local paper and parasol making workshops. These shops are all family businesses and the members of the family that owns this shop will now give us a step-by-step description and demonstration of how they are performing their traditional crafts of paper and umbrella making. Everything here is made by hand using very simple tools and only natural materials. This family here is in this business since many generations.