5 September 2021

The Golden Rock – The Gilt Boulder of the Buddha

It looks as if it is just about to fall off the edge of Mount Kyaiktiyo and roll down in to the sweeping landscape of Myanmar. Yet the enormous granite boulder, known as the Golden Rock, has perched precariously here for as long as the land’s recorded history. The Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, built atop, is, alone, over seven meters in height. The whole edifice is said to be balanced on a single strand of the Buddha’s hair.

As such, this is an important pilgrimage site for adherents of Buddhism. It is said that those who visit it three times in a single year will be blessed with wealth and acknowledgement of their goodness. The main legend associated with the rock and the pagoda is that the Buddha, on one of his visits, gave a single strand of his hair to the local hermit, Taik Tha.

The hermit, when age was about to overcome him, gave the strand to the King who wished the hair to be enshrined. Yet a hair can blow away with the wind, so the King located a boulder at the bottom of the sea and transported it to Kyaiktiyo (this name literally means pagoda on a hermit’s head).

The entire boulder is overlaid with gold leaf. It rests perilously near the edge of a sheer cliff face yet the rock beneath it seems to form a natural base on which it sits. Many think at first that the boulder is part of the rock formation, that it is somehow attached. Yet close inspection shows that the two are distinct from each other. The boulder in turn is slightly bigger in height than the pagoda – they are 25 and 24 feet respectively.

The gold leaf has been added over the years by pilgrims – who still perform the act in reverence to the Buddha. They also leave paper money on sticks between the rock and its platform, which is used to maintain the site. Although the money is left like this to stop it blowing away, it does look like an attempt to help the rock keep on its perch, too.

The Golden Rock and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda are difficult to get to. There is a base camp, where many chose to walk from which is 11 kilometers away. Pilgrims must take the last part of the journey (just over a kilometre) to the Golden Rock barefoot, which follows Burmese custom.

The pilgrimage season lasts from November to March and during that time the hills around the Golden Rock echo to the chants of pilgrims. The boulder appears many different shades throughout the day and the chants reflect the changing of the hours and continue in to the night.

Men will cross over via a small bridge and stick their gold leaves on to the Golden Rock. Female emancipation has yet to penetrate local Buddhist strictures, however, and women are not allowed to participate in this form of veneration.

As Myanmar (also known as Burma) continues to open up to the rest of the world many more pilgrims will make the journey to this remarkable shrine.