The enormous granite boulder Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, also known as the Golden Rock, has perched precariously in Mon State, Burma, as long as the land’s recorded history. At 25 feet high and 50 feet around, the golden boulder is hard to miss.
It looks as if it is just about to fall off the edge of Mount Kyaiktiyo and roll down into the sweeping landscape of Myanmar. The whole edifice is said to be balanced on a single strand of the Buddha’s hair. There is a common saying in Burma that even a glimpse of this gravity-defying rock is enough to persuade any man to convert to Buddhism. Geologists explain the Kyaiktiyo phenomenon as a volcanic accident, but to the local people, this is a sacred work that is larger than life, a miracle of Buddha himself that keeps the rock up.
According to legend, Buddha gave a strand of his hair to Taik Tha, a hermit. The hermit then gave the hair to the king with the wish that the hair is enshrined in a boulder shaped like a hermit’s head. The king used magical powers to pull the boulder from the ocean. With the help of Thagyamin, the king of Tawadeintha Heaven in Buddhist cosmology, he found the perfect place at Kyaiktiyo for the golden rock and built a pagoda, where the strand was enshrined.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda has become popular as a pilgrimage site and also a tourist attraction. It is said that those who visit it three times in a single year will be blessed with wealth and acknowledgment of their goodness. People from all regions of Myanmar light candles, chant mantras and give offerings to Buddha.
During the Full Moon Day of Tabaung in March, the number of people making the pilgrimage is at its peak when 90,000 candles are lit at the site, and the Golden Rock shines in the night sky.
It is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma, after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda. As Burma continues to open up to the rest of the world, many more pilgrims and visitors will make the journey to this remarkable golden boulder.