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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Shwedagon Pagoda, or Shwedagon Zedi Daw, popularly known as the ‘Golden Pagoda’ or the ‘Great Dagon Pagoda’ is a magnificently gilded Buddhist pagoda which lies in the former capital city of Burma in the city of Yangon. Located on the Singuttara Hill, Shwedagon Pagoda lies on the western side of the Kandawgyi Lake and dominates the skyline of Yangon. One of the most important Buddhist pagodas of the country, the Shwedagon Pagoda houses the relics of the past four Buddhas – Konagamana’s water filter, Kassapa’s robe, Kakusandha’s staff and 8 strands of hair belonging to Gautama Buddha . Its Zedi measures 99 meter and is embellished with a golden leaf which weighs almost 27 metric tons and is studded with hundreds of precious and semi precious stones.
What to ExpectClearly visible from all corners of Yangon, the pagoda will welcome you with its four long stairways which lead to the main terrace. If you are the contemplative kind of person looking for peace and quietude, then it’s advisable that you visit Shwedagon Pagoda in the early hours of the day, when the golden sun rays falling on the stupa emits flaming crimson colors which is truly a visual delight. To understand this exemplary work of art, the visitor should explore the pagoda with a guide who can explain all the myths and history of the legendary piece of architecture.
Myths and HistoryAccording to local myths, the stupa on the Singuttara Hill dates back to more than 2,600 years which makes it the oldest pagoda of the world. Legend has it that two merchant brothers of Ramanya, named Ballika and Tapussa, came across Lord Gautama Buddha on one of their journeys. Buddha is said to have given them eight strands of his hair so that they can take it back to their country which was then ruled by King Okkalapa. Aided by King Okkalapa, these two brothers discovered the Singuttara Hill where Okkalapa preserved the hair along with other relics in a golden casket which was put in a beautiful silver temple. It has been heard that when the casket was opened by the King, a miracle took place and the hairs emitted a bright light which reached up to heaven, lightening flashed, incredible incidents occurred and all the trees of the Himalayas bore fruits and flowers after the miraculous event.
According to a group of historians, Shwedagon Pagoda was erected by the Mon people who ruled Burma between the 6th century AD until the 10th century AD.
By the 14th century, the pagoda was in ruins when Binnya U of Bago, the Mon ruler, had it reconstructed and the stupa rose up to a height of 18 meter .
Queen Shin Sawbu of Burma further raised the elevation of the stupa to 40 meter. She also made further renovations and the terrace at the top of the stupa was paved with flagstones and hereditary slaves were appointed to take care of the temple. Queen Shin Sawbu supplied the temple with gold which equaled her weight (88 lb) that was beaten into golden leaves which still decorate the pagoda. In her last days she went to live in Dagon so that she could see the gilded dome of the splendid pagoda from her death bed. By the early 16th century Shwedagon Pagoda became one of the most distinguished centers of pilgrimage in Myanmar.
In 1608, Filipe de Brito e Nicote, a Portuguese explorer and adventurer, raided the pagoda and made off with the 300 ton bell of Dhammazedi, which he wanted to melt for making cannon balls. The British did the same thing with another bell, which by chance fell into a river where it remains to this day.
An earthquake in 1768 devastated Shwedagon Pagoda and the top of the stupa was wrecked and shattered. The reconstruction process was undertaken by King Hsinbyushin of the Konbaung Dynasty who raised the height of the stupa to 99 meter.
After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, the temple compound came under the control of the British troops for two years. The Shwedagon Pagoda, once again, slipped under British control with the 2nd Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, when it was plundered by the English troops who controlled Shwedagon Pagoda for the next 77 years, right up to 1929.
In 1871, when Lower Burma was annexed to the British Empire, King Mindon Min donated a crown umbrella known as ‘Hti’ to the pagoda.
Since the last century, Shwedagon Pagoda has been the center of much political activity and Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the nation from the temple in the year 1988. It was also the center-stage of the monk’s protest in Burma in 2007.
ArchitectureThe Singuttara Hill, on which the stupa lies, rises to a height of 51 meter and the temple complex comprises of an area of about 46 hectares. There are four covered walkways, known as ‘Zaungdan’, from which the main terrace can be approached and the entrance to each of these Zaungdan is flanked by a pair of Chinthe or a lion-like creature which are 9 meters tall.
Three of these Zaungdans are lined with flower stalls which sells beautiful flowers, both real and artificial, incense sticks, antiques, books, and others.
While entering from one of these Zaungdan, one steps into a marble terrace which is scattered with prayer halls, pavilions and gigantic images of Buddha. In the middle of the terrace, the stupa sits on a square brick, gold-plated platform which is 6 meter high. This raised plinth also accommodates 60 smaller stupas while on the four edges, there are another four medium-sized stupas in the famous pagoda complex.
The bell in Shwedagon Pagoda is embellished with floral patterns and its top consists of an inverted bowl, like the structure above which one can see the moldings and the lotus petals. The Zedi finishes with the gem-studded umbrella or the Hti, the top of which is set with a 76 carat diamond which weighs 15 grams. The gold on the pagoda is constructed out of genuine gold plates which have been donated by the Kings and prominent men of the county.
There are 12 planetary posts encircling the base of the stupa which conform to the days of the week. Worshipers are required to know their day of birth so that they can pray in front of the planetary post which corresponds to their day of birth.
The MuseumVisitors to the Shwedagon Pagoda must pay a visit to the tiny museum which houses numerous statues of Buddha and many ornaments of religious importance. The photo gallery in the museum with its close up shots of the stupa is definitely worth a visit.
Additional InformationShwedagon Pagoda is open all days of the week from 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Visitors are required to dress modestly while visiting Shwedagon Pagoda. One should avoid wearing sleeveless and skimpy clothes while visiting the place. Moreover one should enter the temple's premises bare-footed. The entry fee to the pagoda is $ 8.00 USD per person.
How to Reach ThereThe Shwedagon Pagoda is situated in the heart of the city of Yangon and one has multiple transport options to reach Shwedagon Pagoda. However, local city taxis are the best choice for reaching the area. As the former capital of Burma, before Naypyidaw ( which is the present capital of Myanmar), Yangon is equipped with an international airport which is located 15 kilometers north of downtown Yangon, and operates regular flights to all corners of the globe.
Similar LandmarksVisitors to Burma must visit the beautiful Mahamuni Buddha Temple at Mandalay which is one of the most venerated religious centers of the country. Travelers to Burma should include the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in the Mon state, which is the 3rd most popular pilgrimage site in the country and comes only after the Shwedagon and the Mahamuni pagodas which are the other two most important places of worship in Burma.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Jan 06, 2015