A golden pagoda glowed beneath hand-built scaffolding Sunday as a Buddhist monk ascended a ladder, step by step, that leaned up against it.

He and several others took their places amid the scaffolding, which rose a few stories above the crowd of more than 300 people who gathered in the backyard of the Akron Mon Community Temple at 665 Sherman St.

A gong crashed, a conch blared, and the crowd began to pull a rope of a long pulley, beginning the slow ascent of golden pieces up to the monks to assemble and “crown” the top of the pagoda.

The crowning of the pagoda Sunday marked not just the growing presence of the Mon community in Akron, but also of a new hub in the city for refugees from the southern region of Asia.

“We really just want to establish our community here in Akron just so people can see we’re here,” said Htaw Mon, a member of the Akron Mon Community Temple. “This just represents the unity we’re trying to show.”

The Mon community is part of the influx of Asian immigrants who have settled in Akron since 1992. Most in the Mon community are Theravada Buddhists who emigrated from Myanmar (once called Burma) or Thailand.

Though North Hill neighborhood is known for its Nepalese, Bhutanese and Burmese communities, the Mon population is prominent in the University Park neighborhood as well, where the Akron Mon Community Temple is located.

Building the pagoda

Soe Htike of the Akron Mon Community Temple began leading the construction of the pagoda two years ago. Members of the Mon community didn’t use any outside contractors to do the work because of the hefty costs.

Instead, they constructed the pagoda solely from community donations, along with some financial help from other outside organizations.

Pagodas are prominent places to worship, meditate and to hold religious festivities in Myanmar, which is known as the “land of pagodas.”

The Akron pagoda — more specifically called a “dhatu cetiya,” which is a shrine that houses an authentic relic of Buddha — is the first of its kind in the state, Mahn said, because of the authentic Buddhist relic from Sri Lanka that was placed inside.

The crowning of the pagoda is a traditional ceremony that dates back centuries. Nearly all Burmese pagodas are topped with a golden ornamental “hti,” which means umbrella, that is adorned in diamond or other precious stones.

Soeng Kha Mahn, a secretary for the Akron Mon Community Temple, said the hti represents nirvana in Budd­hism. The diamonds on it represent purification, “just like we have to purify step by step” in Budd­hism, Mahn said.

Monks at ceremony

The ceremony Sunday drew people from around the world. Several high monks flew in from Myanmar with the relic, and they joined other monks who traveled from across the country.

Festivities began Saturday and continued throughout the evening and into Sunday morning, when people gathered to meditate and then parade to the pagoda for the crowning.

On Sunday afternoon, a crowd kneeled in front of the group of nearly 20 monks to pray over the pagoda.

Then, transportation of the hti began piece by piece.

Once monks and others helping were up in the scaffold above the pagoda, the golden fragments were transported by a pulley system in a handmade cart built out of wood and adorned with white umbrellas.

The careful assembly took nearly two hours to complete. Once finished, festivities carried on into the evening with more prayer, food and entertainment from the Mon community.

Symbol of culture

For some in the Mon community, the crowning was a re-establishment of tradition, a symbol of distinction from other Asian refugee communities in the area.

“It reminds me of when we were home,” said Yunmimi Khaing, a 17-year-old whose family emigrated from Thailand in 2012.

Yunmimi said her family used to visit a pagoda every week to pray. She anticipates rekindling that tradition now that the pagoda is open.

“This is an honor that it happened here, especially so close to our house,” Yunmimi added.

Others, like Mahn and Htaw Mon, hope the pagoda is a place where people of all factions of Budd­hism, and all cultures, can come to enjoy and meditate.

“This shows what we can do if we just work together. It feels really, really great for us to build it all on our own,” Htaw Mon said. “I just feel it adds a little culture to the city.”

Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.