Shitthaung Cave-temple

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This ancient edifice is located about 1 mile (1.6km) north of Mrauk U on a spur of the western flank of the Hpo Gaung Range which forms part of the West Yoma mountain range. Its name is derived from the 80,000 images of the Buddha located within and without this cave-temple. Built in commemoration of the Rakhine king's victory over Bengal, its formal name is Yan Aung Zeya Theindaw Gyi (Great Royal Sima of Victorious Conquerer). The donor was King Min Bar Gyi and its construction was begun in 1535. Images of the Buddha 3.5 feet (1m) tall were fashioned, 108 each of gold, silver, and the nine-gems. Likenesses of successive kings from the Mrauk Oo dynasty up to Min Bar Gyi were also made of gold, along with figurines of the retinue of courtiers depicted in the posture paying homage to the shrine. These together with other donations of gems and valuables were enshrined in the reliquary compartments built into the stupas.

The precincts of the shrine are bounded by a stone wall within which there is a very large ordination hall (sima) and a number of stupas built of stone. On the second level, birth stories of the Buddha during his previous existences are depicted in sculpture centred around five main pillars. There are also thousands upon thousands of such figurines including gods and godesses from the Hindu pantheon. Within the five levels of this cave temple, over 80,000 images of the Buddha have been made in dedication to the future Buddha and placed in a maze-like pattern of concentric circles. There is a single porch on the east of the foot of the hill providing access into the interior of the temple. This itself is reached through a covered passageway about 2,000 feet (610m) long built along the baseline of the hill on which the shrine is located.

Climbing up from the first terrace, a second terrace opens out at a height of 30 feet (9m) having the dimensions of 60 feet (18m) north to south and 20 to 30 feet (6m to 9 m) east to west. Following the slope of the hill to the north, one comes upon a porch on entering which a 60 feet (18m) high stupa erected on a platform measuring 140 feet (42m) north to south and 225 feet (68m) east to west enclosed on three sides by masonry walls is met with. The central "perfumed chamber", the chamber holding the main image which is about 8 feet (2.4m) high is reached by entering the sole entryway which appears on the left as one follows the contour at the foot of the hill.

Cave cellas are tunnelled into the walls. The 60 feet (18m) high central stupas with prominent upturned monk's bowl and umbrella finial of the stone are echoed at the four corners of the roof by smaller subsidiary stupas. An ordination hall in the shape of a cave located to the north of the stupa is known as Medaw Thein (Mother's Sima), as it was dedicated to the king's mother.

It is considered to be the work of Hindu craftsmen and architects. Many are of the opinion that it is more a fortress than a pagoda.