A Blessed and Sacred Place of Myanmar
September , 2015

I f you are planning to make a trip, there is a holy place in Central Myanmar, where you can find fresh water, scenery of hills as well as hospitality of Myanmar people. Shwe Set Taw (The Golden Footprints) Pagoda is one of the most significant ones in Myanmar. Actually there are two pagodas: the Auk Set Taw Ya or the Lower and the Ahtet Set Taw Ya, the Upper at the same hil.

Location, Transportation and Accommodation

It is 36 miles from Magway, the capital city of Magway Region, to the Pagoda. Accommodations are available at the time of festival venue, from February to April. Most are primitive. They are temporary huts of bamboo and thatch built on the sandbanks of the Mann Creek. Bathing and washing are done in the stream too. Some government departments maintain guesthouses for their departmental guests but these can be rented for a fee on the spot if there is a vacancy.

History

In the 12th year after Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment, HE came to the area, now called Shwe Set Taw, with a group of 500 followers. At that time the present Mann Chaung (Mann Creek) was known as Namada and there lived a Dragon King. Once this

Dragon King invited Lord Buddha to his realm for worship and at the request of this Dragon King, Lord Buddha left an imprint of HIS feet on the banks of the present Mann Chaung. This day this place is known as Auk Set Taw Ya (Lower Golden Footprint). Then Lord Buddha journed up the Thitsa Banda Hill that rose by the Mann Chaung where HE met a hermit named Thitsa Banda. HE also gave a sermon to the hermit and left HIS left Footprint at the request of the her- mit too. This is the Ahtet Set Taw Ya (the Upper Golden Footprint).

Although there were some historical references to the pagodas during the Bagan era when King Alaung Sithu was said to donate some land to the pagodas, they were largely lost and forgotten. Only through the efforts of a most revered monk fairly recently that they were re-discovered and it became possible for future generations to worship.

Festival

The Shwe Set Taw Pagoda Festival is one of the most unique pagoda festivals in Upper Myanmar and it makes the Pagoda crowd- ed with devotee from all over the country at that time of celebration. The festival normally begins in the Myanmar month of Tabodwe (mid February) and continues till Myanmar Thingyan (New Year) in mid-April. As the rains recede from Myanmar, sandbars appear in the streams and creeks that flow into the Ayeyarwady River from the eastern foothills of the Chin Hills and along the banks of Mann Chaung. And these sandbars eventually became the venue where stalls and accommodations for the pilgrims during the festival time.

City folk from all over the country travel to this festival with the intention of paying homage to the Buddha Footprints and also to enjoy the scenery on the way to the Pa goda and escape from the city life. The pilgrims stay in bamboo huts that are on the banks of the Mann Chaung.

Food is plentiful duing the festive time. You can get traditional Myanmar food, Chinese dishes and Indian biryani. There are other stalls selling various kinds of merchandise and most villages around this area depend on these shops to buy what they need for the coming year. One can obscure turbaned Burmese farmers as well as smiles of tattooed Chin ladies browsing these stalls. Entertainment troupes are also there. Local Myanmar entertainments, called pwes, were performed throughout the night. These performances are mixed with stories of traditional folk tales.

Attractions, Activities and Experiences

Nearby the pagoda, there is a Wildlife Re- serve of Myanmar established in 1985 with the purpose of protecting and preserving the prevalent Shwe Thamin (Cervus Eld ithamin) deer which can only be found in Myanmar, the unique Thandahat forest type (a kind of mixed dry zone plants) Eco system, the watershed area of the Mone and the Mann creeks which are important tributaries of the Ayeyarwady River flowing in from the west and the environments of the Shwe Set Taw Pagoda. Apart from the religious sites, Shwe Set Taw Wild Sanctuary is the other attraction. Barking deer, bears as well as various kinds of small wild species are also found in the surrounding areas. The visitors can also enjoy splashing in the cool water of the Mann Chaung, bathing in the cool and clean water of the creek after you have had an exhausting day of pilgrimage. Visiting Shwe Set Taw Pagoda after the time of the festival is sometimes risky as you may face unpredictable squall, the precursors of the monsoon rainfall and floods of Mann Chaung. The Shwe Set Taw Pagoda and its festival is, however, a great place to escape from your everyday life and also is a sacred and holy place of Myanmar.

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