Some claim Myaing Sayadaw’s reemergence has brought calm to the surrounding area even as fighting escalates elsewhere in Sagaing
When dawn arrives in normal times, 80-year-old Buddhist monk Maha Bodhi Myaing Sayadaw emerges from his meditation on the plains of northern Myanmar to silently receive food offerings from a handful of followers.
Now each morning, crowds of pilgrims line his path, hoping for a glimpse of the monk who has become an unwitting embodiment of hope and solace for thousands in the coup-wracked country.
For crowds of the faithful, Sayadaw’s presence provides an antidote to the “three catastrophes”: the military’s ousting of the government, the ravages of the pandemic and an economy ruined by nearly nine months of unrest.
What started as a trickle of visitors when the monk was first spotted at the start of the rainy season has become a massive crowd, swollen by social media posts.
“Our region is stable when Sayadaw receives the pilgrims,” Kaythi, 35, told AFP.
Previously a farmer, Kaythi is one of many to have started working as a motorcycle taxi driver, ferrying pilgrims up the single-lane dirt road to the Nyeyadham monastery.
But the route was peaceful and now his pain is gone, he said.
– ‘We will shoot’ –
Huge demonstrations sparked by fuel price hikes in 2007 were led by monks, and the clergy also mobilised relief efforts after 2008’s devastating Cyclone Nargis and junta inaction.
While monks have joined street protests opposing the power grab, some prominent religious leaders have also defended the new junta.
“He’s serving his religious duty.”
Sagaing has seen some of the bloodiest fighting between junta troops and “people’s defence forces”, with villagers accusing security forces of torching homes and carrying out massacres.
“Do not surround us! … We will shoot,” banners outside local police stations warn any would-be protesters.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Moe Moe Lwin, another visitor from Mandalay.
But all the adoration isn’t good for the monk’s concentration, said close follower Khin Maung Win.
“Sayadaw likes silence. It’s really difficult for us to keep everyone quiet.”
Originally published as Monk’s reappearance brings solace in coup-hit Myanmar