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450 pagodas treasuring copies of Buddhist scriptures, Mandalay, Burma

450 pagodas treasuring copies of Buddhist scriptures, Mandalay, Burma

Photographer: Underwood and Underwood

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1900

Shelfmark: Photo 180/(11)

Item number: 18011

Length: 8.8

Width: 17.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900, of 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. The central stupa is surrounded by 729 small shrines containing 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). A detailed descriptive caption is printed on the reverse of the mount: “Do you see what this slim Burmese maid in front of us is pointing out so eagerly down in Mandalay? It is the Temple of Seven Hundred Pagodas. In the midst is the usual bell-shaped structure, surrounded by seven hundred smaller shrines arranged in an immense square. Would you not like to see the treasured stone tablets in each of these shrines with their close carving of portions of the Burman’s Holy Book? The whole square, surrounded by a high wall, is a most impressive monument to the religion of Buddha.” 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 creates 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 also have instructions on the reverse (presumably for the guidance of teachers) as to what general topic the photograph illustrates.

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