Myanmar is a South East Asian country known as the “Land of the Golden Pagodas”, as the name imply Myanmar is indeed surrounded by pagodas/stupas. Majority of the pagodas are located in Mandalay and Bagan. But the grandest and the most famous one is Shwedagon Pagoda located in the city of Yangon. According to a legend, two brothers named Taphussa and Bhallika was given eight strands of hair by the Buddha himself. The brothers then secured the strand of hairs in a golden casket. Protected in a place that houses three other relics from the previous Buddhas. That place is now known as the Shwedagon Pagoda.
FACTS ABOUT SHWEDAGON
Shwedagon is perched up on a hill. Standing at 325 ft tall and is covered in 8,688 sheets of gold.
Shwedagon Pagoda is known to house the relics of the four previous Bhuddhas, including eight strands of hair from Gautama.
You can enter Shwedagon Pagoda for a small fee, no shoes allowed inside!
Dress appropriately when entering the pagoda. Both men and women are required to have clothing that covers the knee. A sarong/longyi is available to borrow if you need one.
No sleeveless, strapless, tube top, or mini skirt allowed!
This stupa used to house the Great Bell of Dhammazedi, the biggest bell known in history, until a Portuguese warlord stole it. His ship sunk due to the massive weight of the bell. Karma 🙂
STUPAS AND PAGODAS
The definition of the word pagoda and stupa varies depending on where you are. In the Buddhist world, stupa is a dome shaped structure that traditionally houses Buddhist relics and ancient writings. Some stupas have been used as a burial place for people of religious importance. In Myanmar, the word pagoda and stupas are used interchangeably. Although historically, pagodas can be entered while stupas are structures designed without an entrance and therefore cannot be entered. The stupa’s main purpose is to protect ancient relics. Nowadays, people visit pagodas to pray to Buddha, meditate, or recite sutras.
Bagan (Pagan), old capital of the first Burmese empire located along the banks of the Irrawady River, home of the ancient stupas/pagodas. Walking around Bagan, I can clearly see how the stupas dominate the town. Stupas of different sizes can be seen everywhere. In the ancient times, the record number of pagodas was reported to be 10,000. Years passed by and the number of pagodas gone down to 2000.
White stupas in Kuthodaw temple, Mandalay
SHWEZIGON PAGODA (SHWEZIGON PAYA)
Shwezigon Pagoda is located in Nyaung- U on the eastern bank of the Irrawady river, about 4.2 miles from Bagan. It’s one of the famous pagodas in Bagan, and is considered the architectural prototype of the Burmese stupas. Constructed during the 11th century by King Anawrahta the founder of the Pagan empire. The main purpose of Shwezigon is to enshrine important relics such as emerald image of Buddha and Buddha’s frontal and collar bones.
Myanmar also known as Burma is a country full of uncertainty. From 1962 to 2012, Myanmar was under military dictatorship and tourism was not allowed until 1992. Myanmar seemed like a mystical place untouched by tourism. This is the main reason why I came to visit Myanmar, it’s been my dream destination. The stupas, lush forest, food, and warm people did not disappoint. It’s an experience no pictures and videos can justify. A few years from now, there’s no predicting if the country will be off limits to tourist again. If you ever have the chance to visit this country, please don’t wait too late. The best time to visit Myanmar is now!
Below are more photographs from my 2013 solo trip in Myanmar
**Update** A magnitude 6.8 earthquake rattled central Myanmar on August 24, 2016. The earthquake was so strong that tremors had been reported at neighboring countries of India, Thailand, and Bangladesh. In the ancient times, the record number of pagodas was reported to be 10,000. Years passed by and the number of pagodas gone down to 2000. And now with the recent earthquake, 185 pagodas was damaged.