Thursday, 14 July 2011

Preview: Laykyun Setkyar

Think of a big statue. The Statue of Liberty? Yeah, she's big - 46 metres in person, or 93 metres on her pedestal. How about the big open-armed Christ the Redeemer of Rio de Janeiro? Sure, he's on a really big hill, but he's actually only 30 metres tall, or 39.6 metres on his pedestal. Lady Liberty could kick him down the Corcovado.

You have to go to Asia for the big boys - the biggest three statues in the world are there, and all of them happen to be of Buddha (in one of his many alternative forms). The second biggest, tucked away in a small village called Monywa in Burma, is the Laykyun Setkyar.

Standing tall at 116 metres, and on a 13.5 metre throne, and painted bright yellow, it is not exactly a subtle presence. Not subtle, and not exactly forthcoming with its details - the amount of literature published, as far as I can see, on this colossus of Burma can be condensed into one page of A4, as my notes currently testify. Construction began in 1996 and it was officially opened on February 21st 2008 - this is a very recent tribute to Buddha. According to the inflight magazine for Yangon-based airline, Air Mandalay, there are 32 storeys within, twelve or more of them dedicated to detailed displays of hell. It is not alone - a fellow Buddha, this one reclining at 89 metres long and a still-impressive 18 metres tall, lies nearby. A third Buddha, lying on his back as though taking in a pleasant summer's sun, is in construction. And these are all part of a series, started 700 years ago with sandstone statues carved within local caves.

And after that I run out of hard facts. Ok, the village of Monywa means "village of snacks" - kind of, at least. It sounds promising. But I don't even know what "Laykyun Setkyar" means, and I'm sure it must have some pertinent meaning. You might ask why on earth something I know so little about and has such meagre information available can make my fairly small list of under a hundred locations, and I say simply - size. As said, it's the second biggest statue in the world, and at a good bit over a hundred metres is taller than any building in Burma, and 64-times taller than me. For fans of one of my favourite ever books, Roald Dahl's "The BFG", the Laykyun Setkyar is 15-times bigger than the eponymous hero (said to have been a little over 7 metres tall) and 8-times the height of all the other, more brutal giants, including the very nastiest, Fleshlumpeater. In fact, if all the giants stood on each other's shoulders, they would probably still be a little shorter than the Laykyun Setkyar. If the Laykyun Setkyar was placed into Giant Country and given a Pygmalion-style kiss of life, it could take down Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher and Childchewer in one swift move, and barely need a stride to strike down the fleeing Gizzardgulper, Meatdripper and their cronies. That is, of course, if it wasn't a statue of Buddha and therefore with the primary precept to "avoid killing, or harming any living thing." A sharp telling off then.

Size matters, at least where grand monuments relate. I've previously discussed the various factors I feel comprise a Wonder, and while size isn't everything, it counts for a lot. Statues usually have an intrinsic artistic value, and so on a monumental scale become something to behold. Of course, bad art is bad art, and photos of the Laykyun Setkyar don't seem to guarantee the type of classical beauty that the Western world has grown used to over the millennia. But it is big, very, very big, at a total of 129.5m, and sheer grandeur can be a beauty unto itself. It's only three years old, and I don't know who built it, or why, and nobody seems too keen to give it much in the way of publicity, but this statue/museum of hell looks like it might make an impression. At any rate, I'll be happy to get some of Monywa's tasty snacks.

I hope there is some kind of greater explanation of the Laykyun Setkyar's history and meaning on site, that might give some closer idea as to why it exists. Burma, or Myanmar as it's now called (both names are derived from the word "Bamar", the name for the dominant ethnic group in the country, but the latter is contested due to it being imposed by the military regime that enforcedly rules) while technically open to tourism, still isn't really on the radar as a holiday destination, and so publicity on tourist attractions remains low. Thus details on its recently-built second-tallest statue in the world remains meagre. Therefore, I better just hope that there is a little more information available on site, else I'll be forced to resort to further comparisons with fictional Roald Dahl giants.

I'll be visiting the Laykyun Setkyar in late November, and will hopefully be able to acquire more than a A4 sheet of additional information, and will give my own impressions then too.

Reviewed 1st November 2011.

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