Myanmar's Majestic Buddha Statue Seek to Win Hearts and Minds during Civil War

The Buddhist Channel, 9 August, 2023

Naypyitaw, Myanmar -- In the midst of Myanmar's ongoing civil conflict, the country's military leadership has unveiled a towering Buddha statue, an emblematic display aimed at fostering national cohesion and religious devotion.

The 228-acre site, nestled within the capital city Naypyitaw, has been transformed into a spiritual sanctuary adorned with small pagodas, ordination halls and serene lakes, with the centerpiece being the awe-inspiring Buddha statue set for consecration on August 1.

Overseeing the intricate installation process is Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the head of the military government and the driving force behind this ambitious project. As Myanmar grapples with a protracted civil war that has led to significant casualties, displacement, and widespread destruction, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing envisions this towering statue as a beacon of Theravada Buddhism's vitality in the nation. This effort, he believes, is pivotal for not only Myanmar's prosperity but also for global peace and stability.

Despite the ongoing challenges posed by the civil conflict, Min Aung Hlaing has been unwavering in his dedication to this endeavor. He has publicly stated that the statue will be the tallest sitting marble Buddha in the world, a claim that has sparked intrigue. With the global spotlight on this ambitious monument, experts are eager to assess its potential authenticity.

The impetus behind this monumental project extends beyond religious symbolism. The military rulers, who seized power from the elected government in 2021, are confronted with fierce opposition from pro-democracy forces.
Their efforts to secure the populace's loyalty have intensified, particularly in rural regions where the military's harsh tactics have ignited further resistance. The construction of monumental Buddha statues is a well-established practice in Myanmar, historically fostering the generals' association with Buddhism. By constructing pagodas and cultivating relationships with respected monks, they aim to gain religious merit and popular support.

Myanmar's Buddhist-majority population has a long history of venerating such statues, a tradition woven into the nation's cultural fabric. The new sitting Buddha, standing approximately 24.7 meters (81 feet) tall and weighing over 5,000 tons, is a marvel of craftsmanship that echoes the aesthetic of the 18th to 19th-century Yadanabon dynasty.

As the nation navigates its tumultuous present, the statue's presence harks back to a time when the country stood uncolonized.

Reflecting on the statue's origins, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing disclosed a fascinating backstory during a recent briefing with officials and prominent business backers. The inception of the project traces back to 2017 when former military ruler Gen. Than Shwe handed over a colossal raw marble rock, gifted to him by a mining company. This act set in motion an initiative that would come to represent far more than mere construction.

In a land grappling with internal confrontations, the towering Buddha statue has emerged as symbol to win hearts and minds of the people during civil war. As the nation watches the unfolding events, only time will tell whether this monument will have anything to do to reduce civil strife.
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