Gold rush at Shwedagon as donations soar

Generous donors are showering Shwedagon Pagoda with gold. The nation’s premier religious site, and its most popular tourist destination, is to receive 16,000 new gold plates this year instead of the 4000 its trustees had expected.

The gold surface of the great pagoda is refurbished every four years to counteract weather damage. The surge in offerings this year will allow the board of trustees to resurface much more of the bell-shaped edifice than anticipated.

“We originally expected to be able to attach gold plates as far as the second circular band, but we can attach plates beyond the fifth circular band, as far as the octagonal section before the third terrace [from the top]. In the past, we would paste gold foil there. But now we have enough to put gold plates,” said U Tun Aung Ngwe, deputy head of the pagoda’s board of trustees.

Three methods of gilding are used: riveted gold plates, gold coating, and gold foil, with plates being applied to the topmost levels of the pagoda and foil toward the base.

The plates normally come in a sheet of 1 square foot, or 10 square inches, and in varying thicknesses. The thinnest, of 1 tical – equal to 0.576 ounces – costs about K600,000. But some plates come with up to 60 ticals, and are much thicker and heavier.

“Donors usually offer a square-foot plate of 1 tical. Heavier plates are mostly attached to the top of the pagoda, at the level of the banana bud. Plates with less gold are attached further down,” said U Tun Aung Ngwe.

Plates of up to 6 ticals are made by the board’s goldsmiths, but donors wishing to offer heavier plates can have them made by other goldsmiths, and the gift is then registered by the board.

Old plates have to be detached before new the new ones are attached, and the gold on them is recycled. All the related work, including the erection of scaffolding, is done by board employees.

Since donations were accepted last November, about 9000 gold plates have already been attached. The remainder will be attached no later than the first week of May.

Donors registered as of December 31 can make their donation this year, and those registered since can attach their plates over the next four years.

Donors may contribute cash, with some offering up to K10 million toward the upkeep of the pagoda.
Though donations of gold plate to the 2600-year-old pagoda have been taking place every four years, the records do not go back far enough to show how many such ceremonies have been held.

Source: Myanmar Times

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