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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe ancient city of Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, lies on the bank of the Irrawaddy River in the administrative division of Mandalay in Burma. The ruined city of Bagan is home to the densest concentration of Buddhist pagodas, temples, and stupas along with other ruins which dates back to the 11th and 12th century AD. One of the top attraction in Myanmar is the “Bagan Archaeological Zone’’ which sprawls over an area of 26 square miles.
The official language spoken over here is Burmese although English is understood by most of the people living in Burma.
EtymologyThe old Burmese name ‘Pyugam’ meaning “Pyu Village” came to be known as Pugan, which was further changed to Bagan. The classical Pali name of Bagan used to be ‘Arimaddana- pura’, which means ‘’the city which tramples its enemies’’.
Other Pali names of Bagan are ‘Tattadesa’ meaning “dry land”, and “Tampadipa” meaning “country of bronze”.
According to the ancient Burmese chronicles, Bagan was also known by the names of ‘Tampawaddy’ and ‘Thiri Pyissaya’ in the past.
HistoryThe city of Bagan was founded in the 2nd century AD by King Pyinbya. However, in-between the 11th century until the late 13th century, Bagan used to be the capital city as well as the cultural and economic nerve center of the Kingdom of Pagan.
Over a period of 250 years, the rulers and the nobility of Bagan erected over thousands of religious monuments which included about 1,000 stupas, 3,000 monasteries, and more than 10,000 smaller temples. The affluent region of Bagan slowly turned into a cosmopolitan center of study, specializing in fields like Pali grammar, philosophy and psychology, along with legal studies, alchemy, astrology medicine and others, attracting students from distant lands such as Ceylon, India and even from the far-off Khmer Empire.
The religion of Bagan, which was unorthodox and syncretic, greatly influenced its culture. Pagan was a flourishing center of Theravada Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and Mahayana Buddhism since the Pyu Era, but at the same time various Hindu schools like the Vaishana and the Shaivite were also prominent in the holy land of Burma.
Later on, the Kingdom of Pagan succumbed to the Mongol Invasion in 1287 and thereafter, the thriving cultural center was reduced to a small town of minor importance.
During the 15th century and onwards, the construction of the new temples slowed down in Pagan and only 200 temples were built between the 15th and the 20th centuries. During this time, most of these temples in Bagan fell into disrepair and one of a few dozen temples received regular patronage by the bygone rulers of Bagan. Nevertheless, some of the temples in Pagan were even then renovated with new fresco paintings over the original ones and were fitted with statues of Buddha during these times.
During the Konbaung Period between 1752-1885 AD, the monuments of Bagan were systematically renovated by the state but unfortunately, this caused more harm than good since the renovations didn't conform to the original designs and some temples were hastily renovated with a rough layer of plaster which lacked grace and style.
An earthquake in July 1975 wrecked many temples which were irreparably damaged and now, one can see only 2,229 pagodas and temples in the region.
ArchitectureThe temples of Bagan can be divided into two broad categories, the hollow temple or the ‘Gu’ style of architecture, and the solid temple or the ‘Stupa’ style of architecture. A pagoda or a stupa is a gigantic structure with a chamber inside which was used to preserve relics. The Pyu design of stupas derived its inspiration from the South Indian temples of Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati.
According to the Buddhist mythology, the ‘Stupa’ represents the Buddhist Cosmos while the umbrella which is mounted on the top embodies the axis of the world. The stupas of Bagan are generally more cylindrical and elongated when compared to their Indian counterparts. These stupas were mounted on three or four terraces which are rectangular in shape and were used to function as the base of these holy shrines.
In some of the stupas in Bagan, one can see terracotta tiles at the base of the edifices where the Jataka storeys are depicted in great details.
The ‘Gu’ style temples consist of a hollow structure which are used for prayers, meditations, and other rituals. These temples come in two different structures – the one-face structure which basically comes with a single main entrance and the four-faced structure where there are four separate entrances.
What to DoSome of the notable temples of Bagan which are worth a visit are mentioned below:
The Ananda TempleThe Ananda Temple is the holiest temple in the region which dates back to the 11th century.
The Shwe Zigon TempleHas the shape of a gourd and is painted in gold. The famous Shwedagon Temple of Yangon is modeled on Shwe Zigon Temple.
The Shwesandaw TempleAlso known as the ‘Sunset Temple’ in Bagan, it also attracts a lot of tourists who come here to watch the sun set from its upper floors when the entire Bagan landscape is bathed in the golden rays of the dying sun.
The Gubyaukgyi TempleGubyaukgyi Temple was modeled on the Indian Buddhist temple at Bodh Gaya and consists of murals which depict scenes from the Jataka stories. One can get a breathtaking view of the surrounding area from the rooftop of the shrine.
Other notable temples which are remarkable for their architectural beauty are the Gawdaw Palin Temple, the Shwezigon Pagoda, the Su-la-ma-ni-pahto, the Dhamma Yangi Temple, the Manuhar Pagoda, the Thatbyinnyu Temple, and the Bupaya Stupa.
Since Bagan is a very popular tourist destination in Burma, it is always thronging with tourists. However, the solitary traveler who wants to get out of the crowd and noise must visit these ruins in the early hours when one can get most of the site to themselves.
One can go for a hot air balloon ride over the ruined city of Bagan between the months of October to April. A hot air balloon ride costs around $ 320 USD - $ 350 USD per person during this time.
Bagan is a splendid city that can be traveled in a horse carriage, which can be hired for the entire day for around 10,000 MMK to 15,000 MMK. Though slow, bumpy, and uncomfortable it provides shelter from sun and rain and therefore can be hired for half a day to travel around the city while avoiding the tremendous heat and humidity that one often finds in Burma. The horse carriage drivers can also be reliable guides who will takes you to the best locations and local eating joints in town.
Private cars, which cost about 35,000 MMK per day, can be rented to travel in and around Bagan City. However, it is always recommended that you hire a bicycle or an e-bike so that you can travel independently to every corner of the region. One can also choose to travel in shared cars which can be real cheap after a little haggling.
When to VisitSummer and monsoon seasons are not a good time to visit Bagan, therefore travelers should visit Bagan sometime between October and April, when the climate remains pleasant in Bagan.
ShoppingOne can buy beautiful lacquerwares, painted clothes and other handicraft items either from the Hnin Hnin shop near the Shwe Gu Gyi Pagoda or from the Jasmine Family Lacquer Shop at Myinkapar Village. Be sure to bargain before buying since the initial asking price is generally double the original price.
FoodIf you want to try traditional Burmese food then head to one of the restaurants in old Bagan and go for a buffet or a traditionally made noodle soup. On the dirt road, which leads to the Ananda Temple, one can also find many restaurants serving budget meals priced at around 3,000 MMK which consists of rice along with a main course and slices of chicken, beef or pork along with soup and a platter of vegetables.
AccommodationThe prices of the hotels and guest houses of the area have almost doubled in the past few years and it is impossible to get a decent room below $ 30 USD . Most of the budget hotels are located in Nyaung or New Bagan, while in Old Bagan there are a few luxury and heritage hotels run by the government.
How to Get ThereWhile entering the city of Bagan, the visitor is required to travel by a ticket booth from where one can purchase a ticket which costs $ 10 USD and is valid for the duration of their stay.
New Bagan is equipped with an airport so travelers can catch a flight from the Yangon International Airport to New Bagan or one can choose to fly to Bagan from the international airport at Mandalay.
Bagan can also be reached by train and bus both from Yangon or Mandalay.
Similar LandmarksTravelers to Bagan must pay a visit to the Mandalay Hills which is dotted with Buddhist monasteries and pagodas and is one of the most important pilgrimage centers of the country. Visitors would also love to see the splendid Mandalay Palace which is the last royal palace of the erstwhile monarchy in Burma.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Sep 05, 2014