U Kyaw Gaung (1866-1935)
Donor of the Grand Marble Buddha Statue
U Kyaw Gaung (also known as Koh Chio Gao, Khoo Teogou) was born in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1866. He arrived in Singapore at an early age and was later joined by his wife, Daw Khin Mae and their three children, son U Ba Thein, daughters Dan Mya Yin and Daw Mya San. In Singapore, he made a living as a Burmese traditional physician.
Originating from a land of great Buddhist inﬂuence, it was U Kyaw Gaung’s ambition to introduce Theravada Buddhism in Singapore. In 1907, he was elected as Trustee for the Burmese Buddhist Temple founded by a Burmese Gentleman, U Thar Hnin in 1875. While caring for the temple, he had dreamed of acquiring a sizeable marble Buddha statue such as that seen in Burma. Undaunted by limited funds raised from his hard-earned money and donations received from friends and devotees, U Kyaw Gaung nevertheless pledged to carry out the mammoth task.
After several trips to Burma, an immense marble weighing more that 10 tons from Sagyin Hill, 50km north of Mandalay, was sighted. The stone was bought and subsequently brought to Mandalay, a city reputed for its skilled craftsmanship. Eventually, a Buddha image measuring eleven feet in height was immaculately sculptured out from that stone in 1918.
Despite the lack of modern transportation and heavy machinery at that time, and the numerous obstacles encountered during the arduous 2,500km land and sea journey, U Kyaw Gaung successfully transported the newly completed Buddha statue to Singapore in 1921 intact.
It was indeed a remarkable achievement for U Kyaw Gaung, who had fearlessly undertaken the incredible task upon himself, and whose perseverance and unwavering faith in the Buddha had greatly helped him fulﬁl his ambition in the propagation of Buddhism in Singapore.
U Kyaw Gaung passed away in 1935, at the age of 69.