Buddha Image of Zalun
The Maha Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was said to have been cast in Rakhine State on the orders of King Sandar Suriya at the same time as four others images. The first to be cast was the famed Maha Muni Buddha now at Mandalay. From the remaining metal the second image to be cast was known as Shin Kyaw, the third as Shwe Bontha and the fourth, the Mahn Aung Myin Image. The name Mahn Aung Myin signifies the Lord Gautama’s victory over the five Maras (evils). After the image was cast it occupied a place of honour on the right flank of the Maha Muni Image. Its total weight was altogether (666.6 viss, a viss being equivalent to 3.6 pounds.). The Shwe bontha Image occupied the left flank.
In the year 1785 A.D. (1146 M.E) after the son of Myanmar King Bodawpaya (King Badon), had put down the rebellion that had erupted in Rakhine, the Crown Prince, appropriated the Maha Muni Buddha Image and the Mahn Aung Myin and Shwebontha Images which were then ordered to be brought to the capital Amarapura. All three images were brought through the Taungup Pass with great difficulty and conveyed by a huge gilded raft from Pandaung river port to Pyay, where it sojourned on west bank of the Ayeyarwaddy. On arrival at Pyay, it is said that the Rakkhine people who had accompanied the Buddha images sought an audience with the Crown Prince and appealing to his magnanimity and graciousness asked for the return of one of the Images to be conveyed back to their native land. The Crown Prince however said that the journey over the towering mountains and jungle had been truly arduous and that to transport even one of the Images back to Rakhine was impractible, almost well-nigh impossible. But to partly fulfill their desire he told them he would enshrine one of the Images, the left-flanking Shwebontha on the very spot where they had sojourned. The people in the region rejoiced at the news, for they would now have a Buddha Image easily accessible for paying homage. Thus a temple with a hall to house the image and a Cedi arising to a pinnacle on the roof was built by them. This area is now called the Shwebontha quarter in honour of the Image. The Crown Prince then continued his journey and escorted the right-flanking Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image together with the Maha Muni to the kingdom at Amarapura. The smaller Image, the Mahn Aung Myin was reverently placed in the Palace shrine room for worship by the King, Queen and the royal family. The Mahn Aung Myin Image remained there for some years. But, as the story goes, the squire of Zalun, a small town in the Ayeyarwaddy Delta, U Shwe Pwint, who was related to the Chief Queen of King Bagan, arrived in Amarapura. His mission was to order the casting of a bronze Buddha Image for worship by the people of Zalun. The political situation in the kingdom was at the time unstable. The British had annexed most of Lower Myanmar and the palace was rocking with intrigues of the royal princes who were at odds with each other over accession to the throne. Nevertheless, U Shwe Pwint met his relative, the Queen who was said to have been very fond of U Shwe Pwint and he told her of his mission. The Queen then summoned bronze caster Maung Maung Lat and ordered him to fashion a Buddha Image of noble visage for U Shwe Pwint. In the meanwhile U Shwe Pwint and followers visited the many surrounding places of historic interest, such as Innwa, Sagaing, Mandalay and Yankin Hills. But although time passed the image was still not completed. Meanwhile, due to the British annexation of Mottamo, (Martaban), Pathein and Yangon, it became urgent for U Shwe Pwint to return to Zalun for maintaining law and order. But he was in a quandary, for he had no Buddha Image to convey back to Zalun and show the people, who had donated their hard-earned money. As a last resort, he appealed to his cousin the Chief Queen to permit him to escort the “Nan-Oo Hpaya” (Image of the Palace), which was none other but the Mahn Aung Myin Image to Zalun as a temporary measure. The Queen was to send word to him when the image he had ordered was ready so that an exchange could be effected and the Mahn Aung Myin conveyed back to the Palace. This noble Image, highly venerated by a succession of royalty, both Rakhine and Myanmar was now taken to Zalun, a small delta town. It arrived to a tumultuous welcome in Zalun on the 8th waxing day of the Myanmar month of 1214 M.E (A.D 1858 approx.). This is the traditional account of how the Mahn Aung Myin Image, cast in the Rakhine State together with the Maha Muni and placed for worship on the right-flank of the Maha Muni arrived in Zalun from Amarapura. But there is more.
It is said that a great fire broke out in Zalun in the same year and although buildings and houses in the vicinity were burned to ashes the flames made a circuit round the passageway as well as the temple of the Mahn Aung Myin Pagoda, leaving it untouched. The Image was never returned to Amarapura for the British annexed the entire lower half of Myanmar up to Pyay and Toungoo which meant Zalun also came under British rule. The British occupation forces, as is the wont of all victors, confiscated objects, valuable and not so valuable, and bronze and brass were greatly in demand for the making of small coins. Thus in the Myanmar year of 1217 (A.D. 1856), the Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was seized by the British and sent by S.S. Shwe Chein to Bombay, (Mumbai), India. The Zalun town folk were devastated with grief but to no avail. On arrival in Bombay, it was first hoarded willy nilly in a warehouse together with many other Buddha Images and objects. These were melt down to make coins. But when it came to the turn of the Mahn Aung Myin Image, it was found to resist the fire in the forge, no matter how high the fires were stoked. This sacrilegious act was said to have been followed by violent thunder storms. Attempts were also made to fragment the image with hammer blows but not a dent was made. The popular folklore states that these acts of sacrilege had soon to be stopped because the then reigning British monarch Victoria suffered severe inexplicable migraine headaches and dreamt in her sleep that her malady would be cured only if the Zalun Image were sent back to its true abode.
It is of course a matter of faith. But no matter what the reasons, the Mahn Aung Myin Buddha Image was restored to Zalun in tact. Since then the Mahn Aung Myin Image came to be popularly known as the “Zalun Pyi Daw Pyan Hpaya” (The Image that Returned To The Royal Home). This typifies in some respects, the Myanmar character. We are a gentle, courteous peoples, who are not inclined to deliberately insult foreigners. We overlook and forgive many transgressions by those ignorant of our customs. But there runs in us, a vein of resistance when it comes to our faith and moral values. It may be passive resistance, remaining unmoved, undaunted and undeterred by insults and renunciation by powers stronger than us. We are not blindly defiant but go our own way in our own manner towards goals in the interest of our country and people. And no matter, how tempting the luxuries, the wealth and progress of technology in other lands, only Myanmar is home for most of us and home is best.