Bagan was the ancient capital of Myanmar during its golden era in the 10th-13th centuries). It was once home to 13,000 pagodas, dating back to the A.D. 2nd century. Earthquakes and the Irrawaddy River destroyed 10,000 of them. Among those that remain are hundreds of pagodas that are preserved as cultural monuments, with some still being used as places of worship.
Bagan was designated a a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019. According to UNESCO: Lying on a bend of the Ayeyarwady River in the central plain of Myanmar, Bagan is a sacred landscape, featuring an exceptional range of Buddhist art and architecture. The seven components of the serial property include numerous temples, stupas, monasteries and places of pilgrimage, as well as archaeological remains, frescoes and sculptures. The property bears spectacular testimony to the peak of Bagan civilization (11th -13th centuries CE), when the site was the capital of a regional empire. This ensemble of monumental architecture reflects the strength of religious devotion of an early Buddhist empire. [Source: UNESCO]
Myanmar Tourism Services Bagan Office: Thiri Thandar Guest House, Main Road, New Bagan, Mandalay Division, Union of Myanmar, Tel: (+95 61) 653 74, 650 17, 650 23, Fax: (+95 62) 650 17 Accommodation: Bagan Thande Hotel was built for a visit by the Prince of Wales in 1922. It is often filled with European tour groups.
Boat Trip Between Mandalay and Bagan is, for many tourists, the highlight of their trip to Myanmar. Memorable scenes along the way include naked children swimming in the river, women pounding their laundry on the rocks, ox carts transporting goods, paddle boats plying the river and quiet villages. The 16-hour trip from Mandalay to Bagan on a regular ferry costs US$15.
Thazi (on the main rail line between Yangon and Mandalay) is a hot, ugly town. Travelers bound for Inle Lake, Loikow and Bagan sometimes get off the train here to catch buses to their ultimate destinations. There is nothing to see in Thazi and it is good idea to get off the train and immediately try to find a bus to somewhere else. There are better places to spend the night. The people at the tourist office near the train station are helpful. They sometimes can provide you with information at where you can find working elephants.
Bagan is good for about a three or four day visit. It is recommended to spend the better of one day just sitting on one terraced temple—which remind some people of Mayan pyramids—looking around at the ancient monuments that spread out to the horizon in every direction on an arid, red plain, interspersed with villages, grassy fields and farms with millet, melons, sesame and peanuts.
The temples, stupas and pagodas of Bagan are packed into an area about the size of Manhattan and are linked by dirt paths. The best way to get around is on a bicycle that can be rented for a few dollars a day. Horse carriages with a driver can also be rented for a modest fee. Bring a flashlight to check the dark interior of some of the temples. The early mornings and late afternoons are the best time to wander around as it can be quite hot in the middle of the day.
Try to set out early before it gets too hot. Many of the temples are locked so that vandals, goats and cows do not destroy the murals and bas-reliefs. Sometimes the headman in the nearest village, or his grandchildren, have the key, and will let you in if you ask. The vendors around the major pagodas can sometimes be pretty aggressive.
The best time to visit Bagan is just after the raining season when all the monuments and pagodas are washed by the rain and the environment is green. This is around October. If you want to learn about the local people and their traditions, you should go during the festival time, which is usually in February, but depends on the lunar calendar. Balloons Over Bagan (951-660-446) offers sunrise and sunset tours for $225 per person.
Amanda Jones wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “I would stop along the way to wander into the fields and meet the locals, who spoke only Burmese but seemed delighted to greet me nevertheless. In seemingly every field there were spectacular 11th century spires. Beneath them, dressed in their lungis (traditional skirts worn by men and women) and conical hats, farmers harvested squash and beans, accustomed to the glory of their surroundings. [Source: Amanda Jones, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2013]
“I would arise early to beat the heat and the crowds at the popular temples in Old Bagan, such as the Ananda Pahto and the lovely Shwesandaw Paya. Later, rather than stopping at tourist stores, I'd ask to go to a workshop where I could see local crafts being created and buy directly from the makers. Lacquerware is Bagan's specialty, and the work is so heartbreakingly painstaking that it is difficult to appreciate the 15 layers of lacquer and intricate decoration without having witnessed it.
“At sunset I'd head out, either climbing a pagoda or taking to the back roads via buggy, mesmerized as the dropping sun ignited the golden domes and spires.” From the top of a pagoda, “The view below was a vast, hazy plain of green fields studded with spires of rounded pagodas, large temples and monasteries. Some gleamed gold in the sunlight, and some had the original reddish façade that dated as far back as the 11th century.
Tharabar Gate is the main gateway to the ancient city of Bagan. was built in 849 A.D. Also known as Sarabha Gateway, it is the ruined century main gate on Bagan's eastern wall and is now the only structure left of the old city built by King Pyinbya. The western and northern part of the city wall were washed away by the Irrawaddy River. There was originally twelve gates during that time. Tharabar is derived from the Pali term "Sarabhanga" meaning "shielded against arrows".Although most of the structure is ruined. stucco carvings of the ogres can still be found. The gate is known to be guarded by spiritual beings. Traces can still be seen of the stucco brother and sister nats that guarded the gate. On the left is the side of the gate is the brother "Lord of the Great Mountain" and on the right side is the sister "Golden face".
Museums at Bagan
New Bagan Archaeological Museum (near the Gawdawtpalin Pagoda) opened in 1998 in an octagonal-shaped building to house beautiful, rare and fragile artifacts excavated from ruined Bagan monuments. Three big oblong sheds were built near it as annexure under which stone inscriptions and stone statues of the Bagan Period were displayed.
There are many display rooms. On the ground floor there is a fully decorated and air conditioned hall large enough to hold international conferences. On this floor are the display room for objects of visual arts of the Bagan Period such as terra cotta, stucco works, wood carvings, stone sculptures, metal works, lacquer works, etc. In the showroom are models of 55 different coiffeurs used by fashionable court ladies of the Bagan Period. The display room features originals, replicas and ink copies of Bagan stone inscriptions and other forms of epigraphy. In the gallery are paintings by famous Myanmar artists depicting the social life and military might of ancient Bagan as well as copies of frescoes on walls and ceilings of ancient temples. There are also models of Bagan monuments.
Going up to the second floor by grand marble floored stairways one reaches the display rooms on religious themes. Here you find that exhibits are Buddha statues and images of various makes. postures and styles providing some knowledge of Buddhist iconography. In the room of Buddhist Art are displayed objects of all visual Buddhist arts. The art gallery it specializes in religious themes. Paintings by modern artists and murals by master painters of Bagan’s time are on display in the gallery. They depict Bagan pagodas and monuments or Buddhist stories - jatakas.
On the roof pilgrims, visitors and tourists can enjoy a panoramic view of Bagan. At the center of the round-about lawn in the front of the museum’s portico is a large bronze statue of the hero king Pyusawhti (A.D.167-242), the third king in the Bagan dynasty of 55 kings. Legend has it that he conquered the five enemies who had been molesting Bagan by slaying them with his mighty bow and arrows. The enemies were the big bird, the big boar, the big tiger, the big flying squirrel and the wild weed bu (gourd). Bupaya Pagoda on the Irrawaddy River is attributed to Pyusawhti. It stands on the site where the hero king finally eradicated the troublesome weed.
Old Bagan Archaeological Museum (near Ananda Temple) is a small museum with numerous images and works of art excavated from the monuments at Bagan. Opened in 1904 near the northern covered causeway of Ananda Temple in 1904, it is a small, modest, oblong one-storey brick building of 60 feet by 30 feet in which some ancient stone inscriptions, Buddha images and other cultural objects collected from the Bagan area are haphazardly displayed. After some years as a large number of new art objects and antiquities were added, giving the museum looked like an overstocked storehouse.
NOTABLE AND UNUSUAL TEMPLES AT Bagan
Mingalazedi (near the the Irrawaddy River) is one of Bagan's most impressive red-brick stupas, the most common style of structure at Bagan. The bell-shaped stupa is situated on a steep terraced platform. Around it are numerous small red brick shrines of varying shapes and sizes that contain terra-cotta tiles depicted scenes from Buddha's life. Mingalarzedi was the last temple completed before Kublai Khan invaded Burma. Somingyi is a red brick stupa similar to Mingalzedi.
Mingalarzedi Pagoda means the "Blessing Stupa." Completed in 1277 after six years of construction, it known for its glazed jataka tiles with ther fine proportions and colors. There are many beautiful glazed jataka tiles around the temple’s three square terraces. The smaller square building in the zedi grounds is one of the few Tripitaka libraries made of brick; most were constructed of wood, like monasteries, and were destroyed by fire long ago. Mingalarzedi's uppermost terrace is one of the highest points now accessible to visitors. Being the westernmost monument at Bagan. it's a particularly good spot for a panoramic afternoon view of all the monuments lying to the east.
Bupaya Pagoda (near the bank of the Irawaddy River) is thought to be the oldest pagoda at Bagan. Dating back to the A.D. 3rd century, it was rebuilt after collapsing into the river in the 1975 earthquake. Bu Paya means the "a gourd shape pagoda". Legend says the third king of Bagan, Pyusawhti (A.D. 162-243), got rid of the gourd-like climbing plant "bu" that infested the riverbanks before becoming the king. He was rewarded by his predecessor, Thamuddarit. the founder of Bagan (A.D. 108) together with the hand of his daughter and the heir to the throne of Bagan. He then in the commemoration of his good luck built a gourd-shaped pagoda on the bank of the Irrawaddy River. This cylindrical Pyu-style stupa was completely destroyed when it tumbled into the river in the 1975 earthquake, but has since been totally rebuilt. The distinctively shaped bulbous stupa stands above rows of crenellated terraces. The view from the river is also a breath-taking one. You can also hire a boat and take a ride in the Irrawaddy river. to get a better view of the pagoda.
Myoe Daung Kyaung means the “Monastery at the Corner of the City.” It was the main monastery building in Bagan, with an east-west orientation and approximately 130 feet x 115 feet in size . Most of its significant elements are from the pre-colonial Konbaung period. Some of the rooms apparently were added. Its glory and what should be a major claim to prominence lies in its numerous woodcarvings which are also mostly from the late Konbaung period. The Myoe Daung complex actually contains two monasteries, numerous pyathats, pavilions, rest houses and ancillary buildings.
Nathlaung Kyaung(slightly to the west of Thatbyinnyu and inside the old city walls) is the only Hindu temple remaining in Bagan. Built between 931 and 964 by King Taungthugyi about a century before King Anawrahta brought Theravada Buddhism to Bagan, its was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and possibly built by workers and craftsman brought in from India. Around the outside of the wall are representations of the "Ten Avatars." Buddha was believed to be the ninth Avatar.
Nathlaung Kyaung is clearly one of the earliest of the Bagan temples. In the early days of Bagan, people used to believe in Hinduism and worshipped Vishu, Brahman and many other Hindu gods. This used to be a place to worship those gods. But afterwards, King Anawrahta brought Theravada Buddhism to Bagan with the conquest of Thaton and discouraged Hinduism vanish.
Ngakywenadaung Paya is a medium-size early Pyu type brick masonry stupa with Hindu imagery. Its date of construction remains uncertain. On the external walls and each face had been carved in brick the ten misadventures of Vishnu. These statues were placed upright in niches decorated with the pilasters. The murals are contemporary sculptures. The center of the temple is occupied by an enormous brick mass surrounded classically by bricks. It is this mass which supports the dome and will sikhara it. The name even of the temple is curious. it means: "the temple where the spirits are confined" and perhaps announces a relation with the nats. which had taken refuge here because they were unable to do so in Buddhist temples.
Mahabodhi Pagoda is unique in Myanmar. Modeled after the famous Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya. Bihar State of India temples, it was built during the reign of King Nantaugmya (1211-1234). Rising from square block is a pyramidal spire covered in niches that each contain images of sitting Buddhas. The original Mahabodhi Temple of India was built during A.D. 500. It commemorates the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment; this monument was built during the reign of King Nantaungmya (1211-34), also known as Nadaungmyar, and Htilominlo, in A.D. 1215.
Mahabodhi Temple is a two-storey structure rising 140 feet above the ground level. It consists of a staircase built in the south wall. Like the famous temple from India, there is a sitting Buddha image in the lower storey and standing Buddha image in the upper storey. There are 465 Buddha images in different postures placed in the niches of the whole surface of the spire. There are also seven monuments in the compound making the seven places (Satta Htana). Similar to the Mahabodhi is the Ratana Gara. Ratana Gara was built about 200 years earlier than Mahabodhi and therefore the floor levels are about eight feet in difference. There were colored glazed plaques decorated inside the Rata Gara which is a very rare building of Bagan. Most of the building was destroyed by the earthquake during 1975. Some of the remaining is still displayed in the Bagan Museum today. There were also ink inscriptions describing the donation of the Mahabodhi inside the east interior wall of the upper storey. Beautiful stuccos figures of various birds and nats can also be seen on the interior walls.
The Seven Holy Places (or) Satta Htana where Buddha stayed and meditated after he gained the enlightenment—each for one week— are honored in the temple: 1) Mahabodhi Tree and the Golden Throne: The first week after gaining the enlightenment Lord Buddha sat under the Mahabodhi tree and meditated. 2) Animisa Hillock: The second week Buddha gazed intently on Animisa Hillock to his throne under the Mahabodhi tree. 3) Ratanacar Krama: The third week the Buddha spent pacing up and down the jewelled walk north of the Bodhi tree. 4) Ratana Gara: The fourth week Buddha stayed in this place and meditated. The Ratana Gara is now only seen as some ruins. 5) Ajapala Banyan Tree (or) Seik Kyaung Nyaung Pin: The fifth week Buddha was sitting under the Ajapala Banyan tree. 6) Musalinda Lake: The sixth week Musalinda Naga (dragon) protected the Buddha from rain. 7) Rajaratana Tree (or) Linlun Tree: The seventh week the two merchants Tapussa and Bhalika offered rice cakes and honey to the Buddha under the Rajaratana tree (Buchanania latifolia).
Thirteen lines of ink inscription are found on the eastern wall of the upper vaulted corridor. The lines say: 1)that the Pagoda was built and dedicated by Nan Taung Mya, son of King Narapatisithu; 2) that the measurement of the land he donated to religion was recorded in history; 3) that a curse may befall those who destroyed his donated properties; and 4) that he prayed and made vow. The north. south and west sides of the main structure were decorated with plaster mouldings. which include floral designs, birds and deva figures. There are 15 birds and 35 deva figurines on the south side; 10 deva figures on the west side and 18 birds; and 35 deva figures on the north side.
ANANDA (east of Tharabar Gate) is one of the largest, finest, most revered and best preserved temples at Bagan. Built in 1091 by King Kyanzittha and reconstructed in 1979 after the 1975 earthquake, this terraced temple is 168 feet high and is said to represents the wisdom of the Buddha. Whitewashed and gilded, it contains a forest of white spires that get bigger towards the center of the temple, creating a gentle slope of spires that climaxes with a golden tower sitting on a platform.
Ananda and Thatbyinnyu Temples are the largest temples in Bagan and pilgrims and devotees still worship in them. Situated next to each other, these two white temples are noted for their squared-off and pointy architectural features which contrast with the rounded dome-like features that characterize many of the other religious buildings at Bagan.
Inside the temple are four 31-foot-high standing Buddhas and two sacred Buddha footprints and twin ambulatories with 1,234 statues of Buddha in different positions. The north- and south-facing Buddhas are originals. The east- and west-facing images are replacements of figures destroyed by fires. The well-preserved glazed tiles on the bases and terraces of the temple show scenes from the Jataka. The footprints are located on the western side. In the western sanctum is a life-size statue of King Kyanzittha, who reportedly had the architect who designed the temple killed so nothing like it could be built again. In a courtyard is a large banyan tree.
Ananda Temple is one of the four main temples remaining in Bagan. Considered one of the best surviving masterpiece of the Mon architecture, it is said to have been built around 1105 by King Kyanzittha. Its perfectly proportioned architecture heralds the stylistic end of the Early Bagan period and the beginning of the Middle period. In 1990 on the 900th anniversary of the temple's construction, the temple spires were gilded. The remainder of the temple exterior is whitewashed from time to time.
There is a legend that eight monks arrived one day to the palace of King Kyanzittha begging for alms. They told the king that once. they had lived in the Nandamula Cave temple in the Himalayas. The King was fascinated by the tales and invited the monks to return to his palace. The monks with their meditative powers they showed the king the mythical landscape of the place they have been. King Kyanzittha was overwhelmed by the sight and had a desire for building a temple which would be cool inside in the middle of the Bagan plains. After the construction of the temple the king executed the architects so the style of the temple would be unique.
The structure of Ananda temple is that of a simple corridor temple. The central square measures 53 meters along each side while the superstructure rises in terraces to a decorative cliff 51 meters above the ground. The entrance ways make the structure into a perfect cross. Each entrance is crowned with a stupa finial. The base and the terraces are decorated with 554 glazed tiles showing jataka scenes (life stories of the Buddha) thought to be derived from Mon texts. Huge carved teak doors separate interior halls from cross passages on all four sides. Ananda temple festival falls on the full moon of Pyatho (usually between December and January. according to the Lunar Calendar). The festival attracts thousands of locals from near and far. Up to a thousand monks chant day and night during the three days of the festival.
Ananda Oakkyaung Monastery (within the compound of Ananda Temple) simply means Brick Monastery. Built during A.D. 1137, it is a small red brick building. The inside walls are covered in 18th century paintings depicting Buddha’s life and elements of the history of Bagan. The paintings describes that the monastery was built by three brothers. Ananda means “Eternity” and the first vulnerable monk who resided in this monastery was Shin Thuddhamma Linkara, who he died at the age of 69. During the reign of King Kyanzittha, the monk was granted with a place where he could stay in peace and meditate.
Buddhas in Ananda Temple
Facing outward from the center of the cube, four 9.5-metre standing Buddhas represent the four Buddhas who have attained nibbana (nirvana). Only the Bagan-style images facing north and south are original; both display the dhammachakka mudra, a hand position symbolising the Buddha's first sermon. The other two images are replacements for figures destroyed by fires. All four have bodies of solid teak, though guides may claim the southern image is made of a bronze alloy. If one stands by the donation box in front of the original southern Buddha his face looks sad; while from a distance he tends to look mirthful.
The eastern and western standing Buddha images are done in the later Konbaung or Mandalay style. A small nutlike sphere held between thumb and middle finger of the east-facing image is said to resemble a herbal pill and may represent the Buddha offering dhamma (Buddhist philosophy) as a cure for suffering. Both arms hang at the image's sides with hands outstretched. a mudra unknown to traditional Buddhist sculpture outside this temple. The west-facing Buddha features the abhaya mudra with the hands outstretched in the gesture of 'no fear'. At the feet of the standing Buddha in the western sanctum sit two life-size lacquer statues said to represent King Kyanzittha and Shin Arahan. the Mon monk who initiated the king into Theravada Buddhism. Inside the western portico are two Buddha footprint symbols on pedestals.
The stone sculpture works inside the outer vaulted corridors are considered the best of its kind in Bagan. Especially those stone works depicting 80 episodes from Buddha's biography are very excellent works of art. Each piece measures on average 3 feet 6 inches high. 2 feet 5 inches broad and one foot thick. Each work is a piece carved out of a single block of stone. Forty episodes from the last life of the Lord Buddha. starting from Setaketu deva to Prince Sidattha lifting the curtain to take a last look at his wife Yasodaya and newly born son Yahula before he left the palace for a recluse's life in the forest. are depicted in the stone sculptures found In the niches at the lower base of the structure. near the northern and western wooden doors.
Murals and Glazed Tiles of Ananda Temple
Ananda has the best glazed works in Bagan. Originally there was no stairway going up to the top. So artworks were secured from vandalism. But those at the base of the structure are effected by human hands. Glazed layers have been pealed off due to years of touching. All kinds of glazed works are found at Ananda Temple. In the glazed plaques which adorned the base of the structure from the southern to the western entrances are depicted the hordes of Mara's warriors marching out to attack the Lord Buddha. and in those glazed plaques that adorned the base from the western to the northern entrances. are seen the warriors being defeated by the great miracle of the Lord Buddha. They were fleeing in fright. There are captions below the plaques describing the events presented.
Rows of plain colored glazed tiles above and below are meant to produce reflection of the sunlight on the structure. At the terraces above are also glazed plaques depicting the Jatakas (Buddha's birth stories). Beginning from the southwest comer of the first terrace to the northern side of the third terrace are depicted in glazed plaques 537 Jatakas. each plaque presenting one story. The green color plaques are still in perfect condition. Beginning from the northern side of the second terrace where the glazed plaques depicted Tey Mi Jataka to the fifth terrace where the glazed plaques depicted Vessantara Jataka. the last ten lives of the Buddha' are fully told in green colored glazed plaques. Below each glazed plaques are inscribed the name and number of the Jataka depicted. It will take about two days to study in detail all the glazed plaques on five terraces above and those on either side of four devotional halls.
Originally all the walls of devotional halls were adorned with paintings. As a result of the restoration of Bagan frescos by the Department of Archaeology paintings on the south-west column of the northern devotional hall were recovered. Also on the walls and ceiling of the eastern devotional hall, north of the statue of standing deva re-appeared the pictures of Buddha. Arahats and lotus flowers. At other places on the wall of this hall original paintings are faintly visible under the veneer of lime wash. On the walls of the western entrance appeared floral designs.
THATBYINNYU (half mile southwest of Ananda Temple and a half mile southeast of Gawdawpalin Temple) is the tallest temple at Bagan. Built by King Alaungsithu in the mid-12th century and restored after the 1975 earthquake, this blocky structure looks like a huge wedding cake and is 210 feet high, about the same height as Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Inside, there is a dark staircase that leads to the an upper level, where there are dozens of Buddhist images. Another passageway leads to a terrace with fantastic views of the entire ancient city. When Somerset Maughaum stood here in 1930 he wrote that pagodas "loom huge, remote and mysterious, like the vague recollections of a fantastic dream."
Nothing remains of the wooden royal place was once located behind Thatbyinnyu. Archeologist are currently excavating the site of the palace, which reportedly looked like a teak Angkor Wat. So far, the archeologist have found four 4-feet-in-diameter, open-brick cylinders, believed to have supported massive wooden pillars that supported the palace. Southwest of the Thatbyinnyu is a monastery that contains the stone supports, which once held the temples huge bronze bells. Northeast of the temple is a small "tally pagoda," built with one brick for every 10,000 bricks used in the main temple.
One of the four significant monuments in Bagan, Thatbyinnyu Temple takes its name from “the Omniscience of the Buddha” (Thatbyinnyutanyan in Burmese and Sabbannutanana in Pali, omniscience is given further explanation in contemporary inscriptions as "knowing thoroughly and seeing widely”). Built by King Alaungsithu (1113-1163), Thatbyinnyu is a transitional temple, standing between the Early Style of the Ananda, half a mile to the northeast, and the Late Style of the Gawdawpalin, half a mile to the northwest. It is one of the earliest double-storieed temples, but the arrangement is different from that of later double-storied temples, as if it were still an experiment in the new form.
Plan and Architecture of Thatbyinnyu Temple
The plan of the Thatbyinnyu is not unlike that of the Ananda-square. There are porticoes on all four sides—but the eastern portico projects further than the others, breaking the symmetry. This plan is followed in later temples such as Sulamani and the Gawdawpalin. Three receding terraces rise above each storey. They are ornamented with crenellated parapets and corner stupas. Above the terraces of the upper storey rises a curvilinear spire, surmounted by a slim, tapering stupa which takes the temple up to a height of 201 feet. The great height of the temple and the vertical lines of the ornamental features—the plain pilasters, the flame-like arch pediments and the corner stupas—give a soaring effect to the Thatbyinnyu.
The eastern portico has a central stairway guarded by two standing door-guardians. The stairway leads to an intermediate storey where a corridor runs around the central mass. Two tiers of windows along the walls make the interior bright and airy, but the walls are bare of painting except for some traces in the western portico. Two stairs built into the thickness of the walls provide access to the terrace above the eastern portico, from where an external flight of stairs leads to the upper storey. Here. a huge image of the Buddha is seated on a masonry throne. A further flight of narrow stairs built into the thickness of the walls leads to the terraces above the upper storey.
The terraces of the Thatbyinnyu provide a good panoramic view of Bagan— of the green and brown landscape, the innumerable monuments, the broad Irrawaddy river, and the distant hills to the east and west. To the southwest of Thatbyinnyu, in a monastery compound, are two tall stone pillars with foliations in an inverted V pattern. They were the supports for a huge bronze bell of which the chronicles say: "King Alaungsithu offered two great bells. one at the Thatbyinnyu and one at the Shwegugyi. They were cast of pure copper. 10,000 adula in weight. larger by far and nobler than the five great bells offered by his grandfather. King Kyansittha."
Gawdwapalin (east of Thatbyinnyu Temple near the Irrawaddy River) is one of the largest and most imposing temples at Bagan. Built during the reign of Narapatisithu (1174-1211) and restored after an earthquake in 1975, the temple looks like a slightly scaled down version of Thatbyinnyu. The cube-shaped structure has images of Buddha on all four sides of the ground floor. Half-moon-shaped pupils painted on the statues eyes create an illusion than you can stare deep into their soul. The main statue is huge and white and has Christmas lights arranged around its head. The faithful chant prayers and make donations and then flick a switch to put new light on the Buddha
Before the stupa collapsed in the 1975 earthquake it stood 180 feet high. Many visitors enjoy watching the sunset over the Irrawaddy from the upper terrace. It is said its builder had gone blind from arrogance and needed to build a pagoda to restore his sight. For those so inclined there are mediation mats at the entrance.
Gadawtpalin Temple was built by King Narapatisithu after building the Sulamani Temple. But the king did not complete the construction. It was completed by his son Htilominlo. There is a story that King Narapatisithu became so powerful and so proud that he proclaimed that his powers were more glorious than that of his ancestors. Just after that he became blind. At the advice of the astrologers at the court, the king made idols of his ancestors and placed them on thrones. The King worshipped them asking forgiveness for his sin. He regained his sight. On the place where this ceremony took place Gawdawpalin Pagoda was buil. The name Gawdawpalin literally means "the throne which was worshipped."
Counted as one of the largest shrines of Bagan, Gadawtpalin is a double-storied temple in the late style. It has a square plan, with porticoes on all four sides, but with the eastern portico projecting further than the others. On the ground floor, a vaulted corridor runs around a central block against whose four sides are placed images of the Buddha. There are four Buddha images on the upper storey and 10 Buddha images in the ground floor. At the northeast corner of the brick platform there is a stone image of a sitting Buddha in a house. It is an original statue. Due to lime wash by the devotees of later period frescoes are visible only very faintly. At the southeast corner of the precinct is an octagonal Pagoda with two bell posts and at the northeast corner is a zedi of later period.
SCHWEGUGYI TEMPLE (north of Thabyinnyu Pagoda) shows the transition from the blocky cake-like temples of the early Burmese period to the open-air-style of the late Burmese period. Built by King Alaungsithu in 1311 and completed after only seven months, it features stucco carvings and stones slabs in the inner wall, which tells the history of the temple. Nearby is the Thandawgya Image, a 19-foot-high stone image built in 1284.
Located near the entrance of the Royal Palace therefore also known as Nan Oo Paya in Myanmar, Shwegugyi Pagoda was built on top of a 13-foot high platform giving it the appearance sort of like a mushroom coming out of the ground. It is facing towards the north of Bagan. Shwegugyi is a cave Pagoda with a Sikhara on the top facing north. The wall of the brick base was adorned with glazed tiles of green color. There used to be plaster moldings presenting Deva figures in row. But now only three remain on the southern side. At the north- west corner of the chamber there is a stone stairway leading to the top. All along the base of the pagoda and the terraces are found decorative glazed tiles of green color, still in good condition. Inside the image house are four Buddha images of brick and cement backing one another and seated around the central pillar.
The architectural design of Shwegugyi pagoda incorporates good lighting and ventilation. There are statues of nats around the platform of the pagoda. Fine masonry work characterizes the inside while glazed greenish colored plaques characterize the outside. There are about 20 pagodas with Bagan style glazed plaques and Shwegugyi represents one of those monuments. In the main hall of the pagoda lies the two original stone inscriptions of the Pagoda. There are also poems and phrases on the walls of the pagoda.
At the devotional halls on the east, west and south sides and the vaulted corridor joining the main building are the big wooden door leaves dedicated by King Bayint Naung (A.D. 1551—81) who renovated Shwegugyi Pagoda during his pilgrimage there. On the door leaves are found beautiful carvings of birds. On the east side only one door leaf survives.
Inscriptions, Murals and Decorations at Schwegugyi Temple
There are two inscribed stone slabs inlaid in the wall of the northern entrance. The inscriptions are written in Pali. One slab has 47 lines and the other 45. They are part of a Pali poem of 100 stanzas. At the end of the poem are two lines of Sanskrit. The inscription mentions the beginning and completion dates of the construction of the Pagoda. So we learn from it that it took seven months and seven days to build the Pagoda. The last two lines in Sanskrit go: "The construction began on Sunday the 4th waning moon of Kason month in the Sakarit year 503 and Shwegugyi Pagoda was completed successfully on Monday the 11th waning moon of Nataw month in the Sakarit year 503. " The inscription also mentions the regional title of King Alaung Sithu as" Thihtibuvanaditya pavara dhammaraja".
The inscription says that: 1) the king built this pagoda because he wished to attain Nirvana; 2) that the king sought after the noble virtuesl 3) that he strove to become Buddha himself; and 4) that he took refuge in three Gems (The Buddha. the Dhamma and the Sangha). The inscription continues to mention the king's wishes: 1) he prayed that he would like to do the welfare of himself and of others; 2) he would like to return the debt of gratitude to whomsoever he owed; 3) he would like to save the sentient beings from the sufferings of the birth cycle (Samsara); and 4) just like Miteya the future Buddha the king would like to become the one much worshipped and adored by humans and divas.
There are plaster works of floral designs. intricate ornamental backdrops and other stuccos adorning the central pillar. In each of the devotional halls on the north, south and west sides are two statues of Duara-pala deva, with one leg up and the other leg down. At each of the four sides of the main building are two windows to let in the breeze, with six windows in all. These are original artworks.On the northwestern corner of the pagoda is a small stone staircases leading up to the other levels.
The original frescos on the walls of the main building are visible but only faintly owing to lime wash over them. They were cleaned with chemicals to restore their original colors. The paintings above the great Buddha Image in the northern image house were made in 18th century Konbaung period. There are 13 lines of ink inscription of the same period found on the wall left side of the said image. Myanmar chronicles say that King Alaung Sithu, after being seized by illness in his old age, was moved to this Pagoda where he died. King Bayint Naung. the "founder of the second Myanmar Empire renovated and embellished Shwegugyi Pagoda in 1551. He also set up a stone pillar at the southwest corner of the devotional hall. It bears eleven lines of inscription. The inscription says that; "When the king's elder brother became king, he repaired and built monasteries and monuments in his kingdom. He let the tax collectors levy only normal rate. Should they overtax, they are destroying Buddha Sasana, as well as persecuting the public, the clergy and laymen."
Pahtothamya Temple(near Shweguyi) is popularly held to be one of five temples built by the non-historical King Taungthugyi (931-964). Some of the archeologists believed that it was built by King Sawlu by the references of the wall paintings which dates back only to the 11th Century. King Taungthugyi was also known as Nyaung U Sawrahan. This temple was known to have been built like one of those in Thaton. Therefore. the temple compose of many Mon style paintings in the inside. The temple was renovated during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113).
Pahtothamya temple has a long hall which lengthens towards the East. This monument has a harmonious proportions. It is 26 meters, 30 meters wide. The hall is 17 meters long. The interior of this single- storey building is dimly lit, typical of the early type of Pyu-influenced temples with their small, perforated stone windows. In its vertical superstructure and lotus-bud sikhara, however, the monument is clearly beginning to move forward from the Early period.
The bell shaped principal stupa in the center was constructed differently entirely from other stupas. The main body has 12 angles. At the bases of the angles there used to be Naga (Cobra) heads. Upon the main body is the relic chamber, on top of which are concentric rings of plaster moldings. The 1975 earthquake damaged the concentric rings which were restored by the Archeology Department. In each of the four walls were installed five perforated brick windows. At the north and south devotional halls there is no such window. There is a spiral staircase built in the thickness of the north wall of the devotional hall. It leads to upper storey where there are small surrounding stupas. Inside the niches of these stupas are Buddha statues of plaster moulding. They are the original works. The earthquake of 1975 damaged one original statue of plaster in the northern niche but it has been restored. Painting remnants along the interior passages may rate as the earliest surviving murals in Bagan. There are four smaller temples surrounding Pahtothamya Temple and inside theses temples are magnificent artistic
DHAMMAYANGYI (east of Shwesandaw Pagoda about a kilometer to the southeast of the city walls in the direction of Minnanthu) is the largest temple at Bagan. Built during the reign of King Narathu (1160-65), who was also known as Kalagya Min, the 'king killed by Indians', the temple it is similar to Ananda but blockier and more massive looking. It is said to have some of the finest brickwork and the largest bat population in Bagan. In accordance with King Narathu’s order, the bricks were placed so close together that a needle could not be inserted between them. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the temple was restored under the direction of one the military regime’s top generals, Khin Nyunt. It now has a gaudy marble walkway and a gilded dome sometimes hung with red banners,
King Narathu ascended the throne of Bagan after murdering his own king father and due to that he built this temple to earn merit and reduce his bad karma. It is said that Narathu oversaw the construction himself and that masons were executed if a needle could be pushed between bricks they had laid. But he never completed the construction because he was assassinated before the completion. It was said that he was displeased by the Hindu rituals and one of them who made those rituals was the Indian princess who was the daughter of Pateikkaya. So he executed her for such reasons. The princess's father wanted revenge for his innocent daughter and sent eight officers in the disguise of Brahmans and assassinated Narathu in this very temple.
The interior floor plan of Dhammayangyi Temple includes two ambulatories. Almost all the entire innermost passage, however, was intentionally filled with brick rubble centuries ago. Three out of the four Buddha sanctums were also filled with bricks. The remaining western shrine features two original side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future Buddhas. The interlocking, mortarless brickwork at Dhammayangyi is best appreciated on the upper terraces, which rank as the finest in Bagan. Unfortunately the highest terraces and hidden stairways leading to them are now off limits to visitors.
Sulamani Temple (east of the Dhammayangyi in the Minnanthu region southwest of Bagan) is one of the most-frequently visited in Bagan. It was built in 1183 by King Narapati sithu, and is similar to the Thatbyinnyu Temple in design. The Sulamani Temple also shows influence from the Dhammayangyi Temple, and was the model for the Htilominlo Temple. Sulamani Temple was restored after the 1975 earthquake, and utilises brick and stone, with frescoes in the interior of the temple. It was rebuilt in 1994. See Minnanthu region.
Shwesandaw (west of the Dhammayangyi Temple) was the first major stupa erected at Bagan. Cylindrically shaped and situated on a terraced platform, it was built by King Anawrahta in 1057 to house a hair from Buddha brought back from Thanton after his defeat of the Mons and was built in the center of Bagan to symbolize Mt. Meru. The pagoda bell rises from two octagonal bases, which top five square terraces that once were covered with terra cotta plaques showing scenes from the Jataka. Nearby is Lawkahteikpan Temple, a small but interesting structure with lovely frescoes and inscriptions written in both Burmese and Mon. Behind Shwesandaw is Shinbinthalyaung, a long brick shed-like structure which houses a 60-foot-long reclining Buddha from the 11th century.
King Anawrahta built Shwesandaw Pagoda after his conquest of Thaton in 1057. This graceful circular pagoda was constructed at the center of his newly empowered kingdom. The pagoda was also known as Ganesh or Mahapeine after the elephant-headed Hindu god whose images once stood at the corners of the five successive terraces. The five terraces once bore terracotta plaques showing scenes from the jatakas, but traces of these and of other sculptures were covered by later heavy-handed renovations.
The pagoda's bell-shaped tower rises from two octagonal bases which top the five square terraces. This was the first monument in Bagan to feature stairways leading from the square bottom terraces to the round base of the pagoda itself. There are four room on each of the four sides with a stone images of Buddha in the posture of Jhana mudra, the intense concentration of mind posture. On the palms and soles of the images were incised eight petal lotus flowers. Below these images are stone slabs with grooves to let water go out. It is therefore assumed that water was poured on these images as an act of worship.
The hti, which was toppled by the 1975 earthquake, can still be seen lying on the far side of the pagoda compound. A new one was fitted soon after the quake. The Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was renovated as needed by the trustees of the Pagoda with the help of donors. So it now looks likes a modern structure. During renovation 50 bronze statues of Buddha were discovered near the Shwesandaw forest monk's monastery. These statues are exhibited at the Archeological Museum. Nine bronze Buddha statues discovered after the 1975 earthquake were placed in the Bagan Archeological Museum.
Previously there were stone idols of deva placed back to back at the corners of the terraces. But they are now all damaged due to vandalism. Broken pieces are kept in the image house. Some of these idols are found to be Maha Peinhne devas (Ganesha). That is. why local people call this pagoda Maha Peinhne Pagoda. On the west of Shwe Sandaw Pagoda stands a huge reclining Buddha image of 70 feet long. heading towards south. It is sheltered inside an image house. On the walls of the house are original Bagan frescoes in a fair state of preservation. Before when people were allowed to climb up the terrace of the pagoda it was a great spot to view the sunset of Bagan. But nowadays, to keep the ancient monuments in good shape, the stairways have been closed down.
SCHWEZIGON (near the village of Nyaung-Oo, four kilometers from Bagan) is a huge golden-domed stupa on the northern side of Bagan. Built in the mid 11th century and similar in style to the large stupas in Yangon, it reportedly houses Buddha’s collarbone, some of his hair and one of four replicas of a tooth of Buddha brought back from Ceylon by King Anawrahta. It one of the best places to get a view of all of Bagan as it has one of the highest vantage points. Entry fees is $5 per person. Entry fees are taken at the entrance. There is also a fee for cameras and videocams.
Schwezigon was one of the earliest Bagan area temples to be built and provided a model for those that followed. It name means “Golden Hair.” King Anawrahta built four tooth-containing stupas to mark the perimeter of his capital. Shwezigon mark the northern edge of the city. The other three are Lokananda, a small pagoda on the southern side of Bagan; Tayan Taung, a smaller stupa on a hill on the western bank of the Irrawaddy; and Tuyan Taung, 20 miles to the east on a small mountain. Nowadays, there is a custom that if one visits those all four tooth replicas pagodas in one day, it can bring one prosperity and luck.
Shwezigon is among the four main significant buildings of Bagan. It was started by King Anawarahta as an expression of devotion to Theravada Buddhist to which he converted his kingdom, but was not completed until the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113). King Kyanzittha was thought to have built his palace nearby.
Shwezigon graceful bell shape became a prototype for virtually all later pagodas all over Myanmar. The gilded pagoda sits on three rising terraces. 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. 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 last survived images of the ancient time. Their left hands exhibit the vitarka or 'exposition' mudra while the right hands are held palm outward, fingers straight up, portraying the gesture of abhaya or 'no fear'.
A10-cm circular indention in a stone slab near the eastern side of the pagoda was filled with water to allow former Myanmar monarchs to look at the reflection of the hti (or the top umbrella of the pagoda) without tipping their heads backward (which might have caused them to lose their crowns). Visitors can view the bejeweled hti through a telescope. Surrounding the pagoda are clusters of zayats (rest houses) and shrines, some of them old, others more modern. though none of them are original.
In addition to ranking as one of the oldest pagodas in Bagan. Shwezigon is known as the site where the 37 pre-Buddhist nats (the spirits) were first officially endorsed by the Myanmar monarchy. Images of the 37 nats can be seen in a shed to the southeast of the platform. At the eastern end of the shed stands an original stone statue of Thagyamin (Sakra), king of the nats and a direct appropriation of the Hindu god Indra. This is the oldest known free-standing Thagyamin figure in Myanmar. Flanked by tigers representing her forest home, another small shrine in the south-eastern corner of the grounds is reserved for Mae Wunna. the guardian nat of medicinal roots and herbs.
Nine remarkable features of the Shwezigon Pagoda: 1) Even though its umbrella is massive. it is not held in place with iron cables. 2) The great pagoda's shadow never falls outside its boundary walls regardless of the time of day. 3) The paper used in applying gold leaf when dropped from the upper lotus on the spire never drifts outside the boundary wall. 4) However many people come to visit the pagoda. it is never becomes crowded inside the boundary wall. 5) During the festival celebrated on the full-moon day of Tansaungmon. a rice offering will always have been made to the pagoda before anyone arrives. 6) The sound of a drum beaten on one side of the pagoda cannot be heard from the other side. 7) From a distance the pagoda appears to be standing on a hill. 8) However much it rains. water does not accumulate in the courtyard of the pagoda. 9) The khya-ya (medlar) tree at the south-east corner of the pagoda stays in bloom all year round.
In the precinct of the Shwezigon Pagoda: 1) Statue of an Arhat Maha Thera at the southern side of the precinct. 2) Large golden alms bowls Wooden structure and spire on the eastern side of the precinct. 3) A big golden lion at the south-east corner at the base of the pagoda. 4) A big white-washed lion at the eastern entrance of the pagoda. 5) A stone steed standing in the eastern image house Stone alms bowls surrounding the pagoda. 6) A stone pillar on the southern precinct Stone plaques adorning on the second and third terraces of the pagoda displaying the 550 Jatakas of Buddha's lives. 7) Panet Thegu on the northwest corner of Shwezigon Pagoda. 8) Replicas of Buddha's foot prints on display in the Pagoda Museum. 9) A reclining Buddha Statue on the south precinct. 10) Su Taung Pyay Pagoda on the southeast of the precinct. 11) A wooden prayer post called Tagun Taing. 12) The real umbrella of Shwezigon donated by King Alaungpaya. on the east precinct. 13) A stone statue of Dwarapala the guardian deity at the entrance of the eastern outer enclosure wall. 14) Images of two guardian nats. father and son. on the southeast corner. 15) A small bronze bell donated by King Bayint Naung on the southern precinct. 16) The big bronze bell cast in A.D. 1557 and dedicated to Shwezigon Pagoda by King Bayint Naung.
Thuhtay Mokgu Pagoda (north-east of Shwezigon Pagoda) is a temple with a double vaulted corridors and a sikhara. The earthquake of 1975 brought down the sikhara and the upper vaulted corridor. The Pagoda faces east. There are murals in the devotional hall of the first storey. Like other temples, the ceiling was adorned with pictures of the Buddha's foot prints. But now as they have pealed off. The only remaining paintings are festoons of lotus flowers which used to encircle the sacred foot prints. There is a spiral stair way leading to the second storey. The stone inscription found in the temple was moved to the Archaeological Museum in 1970. It is now sheltered in shed No.1 with the registration No. 160. The inscription tells us that in A.D. 1197, a wealthy man named Zeya Thuhtay and wife built the temple. They also donated to the temple a betel nut cutter, a bronze betel box, a bronze alms bowl, a small bronze bell, a bronze ewer in the shape of a duck, a brass mirror, bronze sheets, bronze oil lamps and bronze bells.
Kyanzittha U Min (near Shwezigon Pagoda) is one of the three Kyanzittha U Mins located around Shwezigon Pagoda. The one mentioned here is on the west side. U Min means tunnel. It is constructed partly above ground and partly underground. Facing north, it used to have a Dhamma Sala (preaching hall) at its entrance. On the south. there are traces of the site of another Dhamma Sala. The base built of stone still remains there. On the north there are an enclosure wall and an entrance. The walls of the U Min are adorned with ancient frescoes. The frescoes present pictures of spires, Mount Meru and a Mongol warrior and commander, and also depict a pageant with musical instruments proceeding to the Pagoda. On the ceiling of the northern entrance is a picture of the monk Shin Upagutta taking meal. In the middle of the U Min is a cellar around is a corridor. There are small meditation cellars. Unlike other tunnels in Bagan which were caved into sandstone hills, this U Min is built of brick.
Text Sources: Myanmar Travel Information, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
Last updated August 2020