As you travel in Myanmar, if you pay careful attention to the design of the pagodas you will inevitably visit, you may notice that every single stuppa peak is topped with a dazzling and ornate golden umbrella. The umbrella atop the Shwedagon Pagoda is said to contain half a tonne of gold and is set with approximately 10,000 diamonds, rubies and other gems.
Traditional pagoda umbrellas or ‘hti daw’ have been made in Myanmar for centuries but the number of workshops has decreased dramatically in recent times. Now, the main place to find these road-side workshops is the Pandeetan area on Lower Kyeemyingdaing Street in Kyeemyingdaing Township, Yangon.
Passing by this otherwise insignificant part of the city, you will be dazzled by the sheets of gold-plated steel in various stages of manufacture at these open air street-side workshops. Workers sit on the floors surrounded by tools with heads bent deep in concentration as they tap out the desired relief design in the umbrella and some finished products are proudly displayed outside the workshops.
Originally only copper was used in the making of one of these umbrellas but over time steel has replaced copper, according to U Zaw Lin, owner of Phone Pyae Shan, a pagoda umbrella, steel handicraft and epigraph production company.
He said there are now only around thirty of these workshops in the Pandeetan area.
The prices of umbrellas vary according to the size and whether it is gilt with pure gold. The sizes of the umbrellas range from 3 inches to 8 feet and there are generally only five or six workers in one enterprise. Since there are more and more umbrellas donors, market demands is relatively active.