Tuesday, February 23, 2016

All That Glitters Really is Gold. Shwezigon Pagoda.


After our quick trip to the market in Nyuang U, it was time to get down to some serious sightseeing. We began with one of the treasured sites in Bagan - Shwezigon Pagoda.

A giant chinthe ("chin-thay")  greeted us at the entrance.  Chinthe are lion-like, mythological creatures that  are revered throughout Myanmar. For centuries they have protected temple entrances and royal thrones.

According to the myth, a princess left her lion husband, sending the lion on a rampage across the land. Their son, unaware that the lion was his father, slayed the lion. When his mother, the princess told him what he had done, the son was remorseful and atoned for his sin by building a statue of the lion as a temple guardian.



Before entering, we had to take our shoes off.  I warned Ayşe that the pavement could get hot - especially the sections that were in bright sunlight.

I was a bit disappointed at first.  There was no sight of any golden pagoda.  We were crossing a paved area that was being used as a parking lot of sorts.  All around it were buildings that didn't look like anything particularly special to me.  Hmmm....what pagoda?


All animals are tended to, even the much maligned pigeon.

Then I spotted it, peeking over other toppers.  It wasn't big but it was gold....all gold.



The symbol of the rabbit represents the moon.


Inside a small pavilion was a display what struck me as some very unusual small statues - figures I would not expect to see in a Buddhist pagoda.


I just learned that these figures are known as *nats*, spirits that are worshipped in Burma in conjunction with Buddhism. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats and all the rest (i.e., spirits of trees, water, etc.). Almost all of the 37 Great Nats were human beings who met violent deaths.

Probably the most significant aspect of Shwezigon's history is that it marked the endorsement of the 37 Great Nats by the king who built Shwezigon, an important development in the relationship between traditional Burmese religion (i.e., the nats) and Theravada Buddhism.


Sitting in the cool shade of the covered paviliion was this young boy, flipping through his school book.


We followed a group of 4 young monks across a threshold.  On the other side, was a large courtyard filled with small temples and shrines.  There was so much to look at, my head was spinning.....in a good way.



In the center of the courtyard was the pièce de résistance - the golden stupa.


Construction of Shwezigon Pagoda began during the reign of King Anawrahta, who was the founder of the Pagan Dynasty, in the 11th century.  The pagoda was completed in 1102 AD, during the reign of his son King Kyansittha.

The King Anawrahta built Shwezigon to be a massive reliquary to enshrine a collection of relics, including the Buddha's frontal and collar bones, a copy of the tooth relic at Kandy, Sri Lanka, and an emerald Buddha image from China. Legend has it that the site of Shwezigon was chosen by a white elephant.

Over the centuries the great pagoda has been damaged by many earthquakes and other natural factors, and has been restored several times. The devastating earthquake of 1975 caused extensive damage that necessitated repairs to the top of the dome and the spire. Under recent renovations, the pagoda has been covered by more than 30,000 copper plates to further protect it. However, the lowest level terraces have remained as they were constructed in the 11th century.

The golden pagoda is considered to be one of the most significant religious buildings in Myanmar for its  graceful bell shape became a prototype for virtually all later pagodas all over Myanmar.


Enameled plaques in panels around the base of the pagoda illustrate scenes from the previous lives of the Buddha, also known as the 550 Jatakas.

Jatakas.  Look closely and you can see the square outline of the pieces of gold leaf that were applied to gild the pagoda.

Before we went about checking out the pagoda, we each had to pose for our obligatory tourist photo.



Yeah  That's a pretty forced smile.  He's beginning to tire of me taking photos of him :-(







Miu pointed us to a small, circular indention in a stone slab that had a bit of water in it.  This was basically a tiny reflecting pool that supposedly was designed this way to allow former Myanmar monarchs to look at the reflection of the hti (aka the umbrella) at the top of the pagoda without tipping their heads backward thereby causing them to lose their crowns.





At the cardinal points, facing the terrace stairways, are four shrines, each of which houses a four-meter-high bronze standing Buddha. These bronze Buddha images are known to be the only surviving images from the 11th century pagoda.






On the strip of paper are images of five of the eight animals from the Burmese zodiac.





On our way out, we walked through another covered pavilion.  This one was nicely decorated with small frescoes and calligraphy.



Of course, file this last picture under "Why wasn't this posted at the other entrance?"  Miu could have translated the breakdown of the pagoda....for the one geek in the group who would have wanted to know.  Yes, I am that geek for once upon a time, I did a blog post on the structure of stupas in India.  No matter.  I will research Myanmar stupa structure later. :-)


We continue next to a very small and old monastery.