UMD 23: Giving to Myanmar’s ‘Living Image’

The Mahamuni Pagoda’s Votive Networks and Management in a New Age of Urban Development

The Mahamuni Pagoda is one of Myanmar’s most important Buddhist sites and a top tier attraction for Mandalay’s tourism industry. This research examines the popular votive practices of affixing gold leaf to the pagoda’s Buddha image, and grinding thanaka for use in its daily face-washing ceremony, illuminating a hitherto ignored social and economic ecology in which the pagoda is the pivotal node. The authors followed these materials themselves, noting the hands, transactions and spheres of influence they passed through and the different meanings and values they accrued. Following a detailed ethnographic description and analysis of the gold leaf and thanaka votive networks, the authors turn to recent development and renovation of the pagoda. This study will be of equal interest to scholars of popular Buddhism, Buddhist space and economics, urban development in tourism in Southeast Asia, and Myanmar Studies.

Publication date: February 2022