Kyaiktiyo: By the hair of the Buddha

Kyaiktiyo: By the hair of the Buddha

Kyaiktiyo: By the hair of the Buddha

Do you like myths and mysteries? We do too, and we want to tell you about one of our favourites: Kyaiktiyo, or the Golden Rock.

The Golden Rock literally looks as if it'll topple over if you so much as breathe on it. The fact that it doesn't is a testament to its awe-inspiring appearance. (RALF-ANDRE LETTAU PHOTO)

The Golden Rock literally looks as if it’ll topple over if you so much as breathe on it. The fact that it doesn’t is a testament to its awe-inspiring appearance. (RALF-ANDRE LETTAU PHOTO)

This physics-defying rock, also spelled as “Kyaikto”, is a massive boulder precariously perched on a ridge in the Eastern Yoma mountains overlooking the Burmese town of Yangon and is considered one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar. It glows on the horizon covered by thousands of squares of gold leaves affixed to its surface by an endless stream of Buddhist pilgrims who come to pay their respects.

Because of its extraordinary appearance – looking like it’s about to topple over and roll right into the valley with the push of a finger – the 7.6-metre-high rock has numerous legends behind it.

The most popular is that it’s held in place by a single hair of the Buddha. As the story goes, a hermit brought a hair of the Buddha as a gift to his king, requesting that the hair be enshrined under a rock the shape of the hermit’s head. Hence, the name Kyaiktiyo, which translates to “Pagoda on a Hermit’s Head”.

In response to this, the king, being the son of Zawgyi (hermit reborn as a magical alchemist) and a naga (sea dragon princess), was able to retrieve an ideally shaped rock from the bottom of the ocean and have it carried to the bottom of the mountain by a ship he built. Once the rock was put in place and balanced by the hair of the Buddha, the ship turned to stone. As it happens, a stone that does look like the ship itself is enshrined in the Kyaukthanban Pagoda (or “stone boat stupa”) about 300 metres away.

Another legend has it that the rock is actually floating above the ridge. At one time, there was enough room for birds to walk underneath it – first, a chicken, then a partridge, and then only a diminutive sparrow – and now, the space between the rock and the cliff face is so small that no one can actually see it.

Kyaiktiyo at nighttime is a sight to behold. Many devotees light candles there at nighttime, giving it a shimmering allure on the hillside.

Kyaiktiyo at nighttime is a sight to behold. Many devotees light candles there at nighttime, giving it a shimmering allure on the hillside.

It’s also been said that pilgrims who undertake the 11-kilometre hike from nearby Kinpun base camp to Kyaiktiyo three times in a single year will be rewarded with considerable wealth and prosperity.

An 11-kilometre hike may not seem so daunting for the more fit among us, except that many devotees do it barefoot. Additionally, the last part of the hike is a steep 1.2-kilometre up to the rock and takes an hour to complete.

It’s been said that the sight of this rock alone will be enough to inspire one to become a Buddhist. Whatever the result, you will be awed by what you see.

You can see the Golden Rock on one of Nezasa’s Myanmar itineraries with a stop in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon. The best time to visit Myanmar is from now to March or April, so start planning now!

 

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