Read the Stones That Reveal Buddhist Scripture

Maha Lawkamarazein, also called the Kuthodaw Inscription Shrines, is a collection of slabs at Kuthodaw Pagoda, from the 19th century, inscribed with all of the Buddhist scripture.

By UNESCO Memory of the World

Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 1 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

Maha Lawkamarazein

Maha Lawkamarazein, also known as the Kuthodaw Inscription Shrines, is a collection of 729 stone slabs at Kuthodaw Pagoda in Myanmar on which were inscribed the whole of the Buddhist scriptures in 1868. King Mindon approved the inscription at the Fifth Great Synod in 1871. 

Kuthodaw Pagoda

Entrance of Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 1 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

King Mindon and Theravada Buddhism

King Mindon was the 10th successor of the Kobaung Monarchy. He wished to leave something for posterity that would last thousands of years to honor Buddha and commissioned the Tipotaka (ancient collections of Buddhist scriptures) of Theravada Buddhism on stone slabs.

Buddha Image inside Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 1 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

Fifth Great Synod

In 1871, King Mindon convened the Fifth Great Synod to recite and examine Buddhism. It was presided over by 2,400 monks and lasted five months. The entire Tipitaka, inscribed on 729 stone slabs, was approved by the council.

Kuthodaw Inscription, view 3 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

How Long Did It Take to Inscribe the Stones?

This monumental task, done by monks and skilled craftsmen, required a whole day to chisel 10 to 12 lines and eight years (1860-1868) to complete all 729 stone slabs. The text was meticulously edited by senior monks and lay officials consulting the Tipitaka on palm-leaf manuscripts. 

Sign Post of Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 3 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

World’s Biggest Book

The 729 two-sided slabs known as the “World’s Biggest Book” are inscribed with texts of the Buddhist canon. Namely, 410 Suttas, 111 Vinaya, and 208 Abhidhamma.

Rows of the Stone Inscription Shrine, view 1 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

Housed in Masonry Shrines

Each stone slab, made of marble (crystalline lime stone), was housed in a masonry shrine within the precincts of the Kuthodaw Pagoda, built by King Mindon in 1857, in Mandalay. They still stand to this day. 

Rows of the Stone Inscription Shrine, view 4 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

Book of the Pitaka Inscribed on Stones

In 1900, a print copy of the text on the 729 stone slabs came out in a set of 38 volumes of about 400 pages each. The publisher claimed that the books were “true copies of the Pitaka inscribed on stones by King Mindon.” 

Mandalay city wall, mote and hill, view 1 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

King Mindon, Mandalay, and Community

Mandalay was founded by King Mindon in 1857 and the majority of the monuments there were built in that year or soon after. These stone Inscriptions were created for community and society. During his reign, many religious and welfare initiatives were undertaken, including the palace, the city walls, pagodas, and monasteries.

Entrance of Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 2 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

19th Century Myanmar

The slabs highlight the socioeconomic, socio-political, global communication, and religious morality in Buddhism and Buddhist communities. They also provide valuable information on major themes in 19th century Myanmar and Buddhist religions in world history and culture. 

Sign Post of Kuthodaw Pagoda, view 3 (19th centrury) by King Mindon and the Fifth Great SynodUNESCO Memory of the World

Maha Lawkamarazein Today

The Buddhist canon inscribed on the 729 stone slabs is still being used for religious purposes in Myanmar today. 

Credits: Story

The Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, Ministry of Culture, Myanmar 

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UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity against collective amnesia, neglect, the ravages of time and climatic conditions, and willful and deliberate destruction.
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