There is a legend that once when the Buddha went to teach among the people of northern Burma, a local king requested him to leave an image of himself for the benefit of the people. Then, it is said, the Buddha sat for a week of meditation under a Bodhi tree while Sakka, the king of the "devas", created a life-like image of great beauty. Pleased with the image, the Buddha decided to imbue it with his spiritual essence for a period of five thousand years.
It is debatable, but according to ancient tradition, only five likenesses of the Buddha were said to have been made during his lifetime: two were in India, two in paradise (somewhere in space, the celestial world where Sakka holds sway), and the fifth is the "Maha Muni" ("Great Sage") statue.
Archaeologists believe the image was probably cast during the reign of King Chandra Surya (whose name is a combination of two heavenly bodies, the Moon and Sun), who ascended the throne in AD 146, more than 600 years after the Buddha actually passed away. Little is known of the "Maha Muni" over the next 1,500 years. It was stolen, moved around by various kings and was once buried beneath a crumbling temple in the jungle.
Brought to Mandalay in 1784 and placed within a specially built shrine, it is the most venerated Buddha image in all of Burma. The statue, 4 meters tall and originally cast in some baser metal, is now entirely coated in a two-inch thick layer of gold leaf. So much gold leaf has been applied by so many different hands that the figure has developed an irregular outline. Many thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine each day and a great festival in early February draws hundreds of thousands.
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