North section of the '450 pagodas', each enshrining a book of wisdom, Mandalay, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900, of shrines in the Kuthodaw Pagoda at Mandalay in Burma (Myanmar). The Kuthodaw Pagoda lies to the north-east of Mandalay at the base of Mandalay Hill. It was built by King Mindon Min (reigned 1853-78) as one of the sacred buildings necessary for the consecration of the royal city, founded in 1857, and contains what is popularly described as the world’s largest book. These prints show a view from the central stupa of some of the 729 small shrines which surround it. Each one contains a marble block on which is carved in Pali script part of the sacred Theravada Buddhist texts. Taken as a whole they comprise the entire Pali canon or Tipitakas (Tripitakas in Sanskrit). The photographs are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one of a series of “stereoscopic tours” of foreign countries published as part of the ‘Underwood Travel Library’. Stereoscopic views became enormously popular from the mid-19th century onward as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. This device produces the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The prints in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value. A few of the mounts also have a detailed descriptive caption printed on the reverse, with instructions (presumably for the guidance of teachers) as to what general topic the photograph illustrates.