SIGHTS IN THE BAGAN AREA
Myinpyagu is one of the best examples of Bagan's cave-style temples. "The interior of the temple," wrote Ciochon, "is partly below ground level. Superimposed on it is a massive stupa, a solid superstructure that does not connect with interior space beneath it. On the western side a small porch leads down into the interior. A wide corridor runs around the central mass, dimly lit by just eight perforated windows, a typical feature of the early style at Bagan. Halfway along each side of the passage is a narrow entrance leading to a small, high-ceiling cell. These chambers contain Buddha images, whose faces are illuminated from above by skylights that are hidden from view. The walls of the passage are covered with murals depicting disciples of the Buddha making offerings of lotus blossoms. Because of the extreme darkness of the temple interior, the pigments have remained luminously bright." The temple unfortunately is closed to tourists.
Nandamannya is said to have some of the finest interior paintings, 13th century scenes of Buddha’s life. The detail is extraordinary. One shows Buddha preaching to a deer surrounded by flowers. There are also images of half naked women, the daughter of the demon Mara sent to tempt Buddha, that have been described as “so vulgarly erotic and revolting that neither can be reproduced or described.” . One of the main Buddhas was recently given a gaudy paint job. Some worry about the fate of the murals and paintings there. The small single-chambered temple, with a bell-shaped top, was built by King Kyazwa, who died in 1249 at the age of 14. Pitakat Tiak is a library where the 30 elephant loads of tablets were deposited.
Dhammayazika (in Pwasaw region in Pwasaw village in the southern part of Bagan) was built by King Narapati Sithu. The name of the pagoda—Dhammayazika or Dhammarajika in Pali— means "Pertaining the King of Law.” The pagoda has pentagonal terraces instead of the usual Bagan pagodas. The square base. There are three receding terraces, ornamented with glazed Jataka plaques. On each side of the pagoda there is a small temple housing an image of Buddha. The usual practice in most temples was to have four images facing the cardinal points. representing the four Buddhas of the present world cycle who have already attained Enlightenment. But in this pagoda the fifth temple is placed with the future becoming Buddha. All the five names of the Buddha are Kakusandha. Konagamana. Kassapa. Gotama and Metteyya. The inscription records say tht in 1197 King Narapatisithu received four holy relics from the King of Sri Lanka and that he built the pagoda in 1198 to enshrine the relics.
Tantkyi Taung (on the western side of Irrawaddy river on the other side of Bagan) is on Tantkyi Hill. The Tantkyi Taung Pagoda was built during A.D. 1059 by King Anawrahta. King Vizaraba from Sri Lanka donated four duplicates of Buddha's tooth and one is embedded in a sacred place inside this pagoda.There are 32 statues of elephants made in ratio to different directions at the base of the pagoda, which has an octagonal-shaped plan. The pagoda is still maintained. It takes about half a day to travel and visit this place. There are ferries carrying visitors across the Irrawaddy river, early in the morning. There is a saying that if prays at Shwezigon pagoda, Tantkyi Taung pagoda, Tuyin Taung pagoda and Lawka Nandar pagoda in a single day, a wish comes true.
Tuyin Taung (the eastern side of the Irrawaddy River on the same side as Bagan) is similar to Tantkyi Taung Pagoda. Located on Tuyin Hill, it was built in A.D. 1059 by King Anawrahta and holds a duplicate of Buddha's tooth. There are 32 statues of elephants made in ratio to different directions at the base of the pagoda, which has an octagonal-shaped plan. The pagoda is still maintained. It takes about half a day to travel and visit this place. There are ferries carrying visitors across the Irrawaddy river, early in the morning. There is a saying that if prays at Shwezigon pagoda, Tantkyi Taung pagoda, Tuyin Taung pagoda and Lawka Nandar pagoda in a single day, a wish comes true.
Salay (1½ hours south of Bagan) is a colorful old religious center in central Myanmar. In between visiting the numerous ancient monasteries, adorned with beautiful woodcarving, you can enjoy the beauty of this compact city of colonial buildings, monasteries and pagodas. Visit the famous monastery "Yoke-Sone-Kyaung'' which is a cultural heritage site in Salay. Situated on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy River, it is famous for its spectacular woodcarvings and also it is the native town of the famous writer Salay U Pone Nya.
TEMPLES SOUTH OF Bagan IN THE MYINKABA AREA
Mya Zedi Pagoda (next to the Gubyaukgyi) was built by Prince Raja Kumar, son of King Kyansitthar, in the memory of his queen mother, the niece of a monk. Mya Zedi means 'Emerald Stupa'. A four-sided pillar in a cage between Mya Zedi and Gubyaukgyi bears an inscription consecrating Gubyaukgyi and written in four languages - Pyu. Mon. Old Burmese and Pali. Its linguistic and historical significance is great since it establishes the Pyu as an important cultural influence in early Bagan and relates the chronology of the Bagan kings. The inscription was about the Prince Rajakumar's feelings towards his father and the choice of the heir to the throne. Prince Raja Kumar had a lawful right to be the successor king. Kyanzittha had designated his grandson, Alaungsithu, as heir because he didn't know he had a son until after he had crowned his grandson (his daughter's son). Rajakumar relinquished his right to the throne. He lived his whole life as just as a prince.
When Prince Raja Kumar's mother died, he donated all his mother's jewelery and four villages to Buddha by building Mya Zedi pagoda. On stone inscription near the pagoda is inscribed that he donated all his slaves to this pagoda to take care of it. The Mya Zedi stone inscription is well-known among most locals.
Seinnyat Nyima and Seinnyet Ama Temples (in the Myinkaba region, next to the Bagan - Chauk highway) was built by Seinnyet Queen sisters. Ama (Elder Sister)—a temple—and the Nyima (Younger Sister)—a pagoda— stand together in a brick enclosure. The temple has entrances on all four sides but the eastern entrance is the main one. The superstructure consists of four steep receding terraces. Above these terraces rises a curvilinear spire. The triple pediments which once framed the entrances are now much damaged, but the stucco carvings which remain—decorative scrolls, ogre-heads disgorging flowers, bird and animal figures, some of which are mythical—hint at the richness of the original ornamentation. Seinnyet Nyima Pagoda was traditionally assigned to 11th century. It is a stupa with three terraces and bell shaped dome. The bell shaped dome is ornamented with moulded bands and kirttimukha (ogre-head) pendants between four pedimented niches facing the cardinal points.
Manuha Temple (right side of the main road going south from Bagan, in Myinkaba village) is named after the captive Mon king, King Manuha, and famous for its "imprisoned” sad-faced Buddhas built to honor the imprisoned king. King Manuha's inscription says that the temple was built in A.D. 1067 about a decade after the Mon king was brought to Bagan. Traditionally, Manuha was considered one of the earliest temples at Bagan. According to legend after Manuha was brought to Bagan as a captive by Anawrahta he wanted to build a temple of his own. In Bagan the kings and queens, the princes and princesses all built pagodas large and small. He did not have ready money in cash so he sold his priceless Manaw Maya jewel to a rich merchant of Myinkaba and obtained six cartloads of pure silver. He used this to build the impressive Manuha Temple. It is still a place of worship for the Buddhists.
Manuha Temple is a series of reduplicated squares with the lower storey larger than the upper. There is a large seated Buddha image, 46 feet high, with the right hand touching the earth. Two smaller Buddha images, each 33 feet high, flank this large image on each side. For devotees there is barely room to sit down to pray. The large image and the two smaller ones filling up nearly all the space in the cramped interior. Some say that Manuha purposely put the images in such cramped positions to denote his feelings under detention in Bagan. There is also a huge reclining Buddha image 90 feet long in an adjoining chamber at the back, with the head pointing to the north which symbolises the dying Buddha about to enter Parinibbana, the Demise.
This image too is in a very cramped enclosed place and not in an open shed like the reclining Buddha image in Bago. At one time visitors could climb a tiny, winding stairway built into one of the side walls and view, through an open aperture, the head of the huge seated Buddha. One can climb to the top of this pagoda via the stairs at the entrance to the reclining Buddha chamber at the back of the temple. Through a window you can then see the face of the sitting Buddha. From up at this level you'll realize that the gigantic face, so grim from below, has an equally gigantic smile. During the earthquake of 1975. the central roof collapsed. badly damaging the largest seated Buddha, which has since been repaired.
An outdoor corner of the temple compound is dedicated to Mt Popa's presiding nats: Mae Wunna and her sons Min Lay and Min Gyi. Devotees of Manuha Paya celebrate a large paya pwe (or pagoda festival) on the full moon of Tabaung (which falls between February an March. depending on the Lunar Calendar). A short path leads past two recent statues of King Manuha and his wife Queen Ningala Devi. Also nearby is Nanpaya, an attractive 12th century pagoda made of a combination of sandstone and brick. It is noteworthy its elegant perforated stone windows.
Nagayon Temple (in the southern part of Myinkaba) was built at the end of the 11th century by Kyansitthar according to the plan of Ananda in a Mon style with characteristics found in Indian temples of the area of Orissa. A portico in the north, paved with green glazed stones and having niches holding stone reliefs of the Buddha, provides access to Nagayon. Within the temple itself, the central shrine contains a huge standing image of the Buddha. Two smaller images flank the main one. A corridor, also paved with green glazed stones, runs around the central shrine. Dim light comes in through the perforated windows of the outer walls. The walls of the corridor have niches holding stone sculptures depicting the Buddhas previous to Gotama. as well as paintings showing scenes from the Jatakas and the Final Life of Gotama Buddha.
The main Buddha image is twice life size and shelters under the hood of a huge naga. or serpent. This Pagoda built by King Kyanzittha in adoration for his wife. A seated brick Buddha has now been mostly covered concrete. However the true attraction lies in the stunning paintings that cover the inner walls, many Hindu images of gods like Brahma, Indra and Vishnu.
Soemingyi Monastery one embraced several monasteries The monasteries where built both with brick and wood, but only the brick monasteries—called kalakyaung or "Indian monasteries" — which have survived. Square in plan. it has a vestibule on the eastern side and a double-storey sanctum on the western side. There is a central hall, with cells arranged along its northern and southern sides. A staircase in the southeastern corner leads to the missing roof which was made of wood and probably flat.
Apeyadana (north of Nagayon and the royal palace of King Kyanzittha) has wonderful murals with images of the Jataka (Buddha's previous incarnation), images from Mahayana Buddhism such as the Bodhisativa Avolokitesvara, and depictions of the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and Indra. Built during A.D. 1102-110, this temple has a classical design with a square base and large porch in north where there is a central pillar and then a great sitting Buddha.
The history of this temple says that while Kyanzittha sheltered at Nagayon during his flight from Sawlu, his wife Abeyadana waited for him a short distance away. At that site he subsequently built this temple, which is similar in plan to the Nagayon. Abeyadana, meaning the "abandoned jewel", was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism since the frescoes on the outer walls can be seen with images of the Hindus Gods like Indra, Shiva and Vishnu. Of the many Buddha niches lining the walls, most are empty but some contain bodhisattvas and Hindu gods showing a Mahayana influence accredited to the tastes of Kyanzittha's Bengali bride.
The striking feature of its frescos is that the pictures on the inner wall depict Mahayana, Theravada Buddhist and Brahmanic episodes. Devas and their vehicles are also presented in the pictures. On the western wall are pictures showing the Lord Buddha giving sermons to the monks, royalty and the court and the people presented separately. On the outer walls are the pictures of Bodisatta (Buddha to be) sitting on a lotus throne with one leg up and the other down, and two attendants by his side. Above it are the pictures of Mahayana themes and those of recluses living in the caves. On the outer wall of the image house are paintings with the Guardian goddess of the Yamuna River and that of the Ganges River, the Hindu wind god and moon god, and Vishnu, Siva and Brahma and their vehicles. On the wall at the northern entrance are the pictures presenting 550 Jatakas. with captions in ink.
Gubyaukgyi Temple (to the left of the road as you enter Myinkaba) contains Bagan's most beautiful murals. Dedicated in 1113, this temple houses 550 brilliantly-colored scenes depicting the Jataka (episodes in Buddha's life and previous incarnations) with tigers, fantastic beasts, snout-nosed yellow demons, and dancers with twirling arms and legs. The murals were in pretty good condition until World War II when local people were forced to seek shelter inside the temple chambers and damaged the murals with smoke and soot from cooking fires. The murals were restored under the direction of Guatemalan archeologist Rodlfo Lujan, who used an ammonia solution to clean the them and then coated them with a preservative. The temple itself is an imposing red brick pyramid with elaborate carvings topped by tapering, coorncob-shaped tower called a “sikhara”. Friezes feature garlands of pearls and gorgon masks.
Gubyaukgyi Myinkaba was built by Kyanzittha's son Rajakumar. The temple is an Indian style monument and consists of a large shrine room attached to a smaller antechamber. The fine stuccowork on its exterior walls is in particularly good condition. The well-preserved paintings inside are thought to date from the original construction of the temple and thus are the oldest remaining in Bagan. The temple is typical of the Mon style in that the interior is dimly lit by perforated rather than open windows. The temple is generally kept locked. There are temple keepers from the village that you can ask for permission to open it.
NYAUNG U AND WETKYI-IN REGION OF Bagan
Nyaung U and Wetkyi-in Region of Bagan (1.5 kilometers northeast of Bagan) is home to many temples, stupas and ruins and several monasteries like the monastery of Shin Arahan. Shin Arahan opened the door to Theravada Buddism in Bagan. The Nyaung U region is near the river port of Bagan and is located on the road to Mt Popa, the rice plantations of Kyaukse, Sittaung and the Mon region.
Hgnet Pyit Taung (Nyaug U & Wet Kyi region of Bagan) means “the Hill of the Cut Down Bird” or "the Hill Where the Bird Was Shot". It refers to legends of the king who killed the bird ogre. The legend says that it was here that king Anawrattha who was interested in Theravada met Shin Arahan, who came to Thaton and made him build a monastery in this place. a monastery at this place. The rooms of the great monk were recently restored. There is a prayer hall with 24 columns of teak wood and with natural sculptures representing Shin Arahan. Hgnet Pyit Taung also has the same rooms like the caves, which receive monks for meditation and which are decorated with paintings.
Shin Arahan Oakkyaung Monastery (at “Hnget Pyit Taung”) was built for the Bagan-era monk Shin Arahan to reside in peace and harmony. The monastery was a complex of a wooden building and a brick structure. The monastery had height of 21 feet (6 meters), length of 85 feet (30 meters), width of 56 feet (17 meters). The wall forming the compound was 119 feet (36 meters) East-West and 117 feet (35 meters) North- South
Sapada Zedi ( entrance of Nyaung U town near Nget Pyit Taung) refers to two zedis "Sapadaw" and "Sapada" that stands in a triangle plot at the junction of the roads leading to Nyaung U town. Sapada zedi is locally known as "Paya Ni". The two zedis were modelled on the design of Stupa Rama zedi in Anuraddha pura in Sri Lanka. Maha Thera Sapada built them. Maha Thera Sapada was a native of Sapada village (now Ngaputaw town) near Pathein town. In the reign of King Narapatisithu (A.D 12th Century) he went to Sri Lanka as a young novice monk accompanying Maha Thera Uttarajiva. He was ordained in the Kalyani Sima (Ordination Hall of Kalyani) in Sri Lanka and he spent ten vasas (ordained years) in that country.
Upali Thein (north of the Bagan-Nyaung road) means Upali Ordination Hall. It is well-known for its accessible location and beautiful frescoes. The Upali Thein has a long central nave with a ridge roof and a pair of side aisles with lean-to roofs. Inside. there is an image of the Buddha placed on a pedestal near the western end. The murals and the ink writings on the wall of the north arched entrance belong to the Konbaung Period (1752-1885). But the ink writings also mention that the Ordination hall was painted with pictures in 1794 and the fees for the art decoration were 1920 Kyats. Originally it was noted that there used to be a picture of a pair of Buddha's foot prints on the eastern arched entrance. The earthquake in 1975 destroyed the eastern arched entrance. Some of the frescoes inside the hall also fell down during the quake. On the walls there are murals about the 28 future Buddhas. Some riding elephants, some riding chariots, some on foot. Some are shown cutting their hair as an act of renouncing the mundane life. Upali Thein has most of the murals paintings about Budda's life. Bagan was the first place which has distributed Theravada Buddism in Myanmar.
Htilominlo Temple (near Upali Thein in Nyaung U and Wetkyi-In about 1.5 kilometers northeast of Bagan) is a large temple was built by King Nantaungmya in 1218 and is known to be the last Myanmar Style temple built in Bagan. The name is a misreading of the Pali word for 'Blessings of the Three Worlds'. King Nantaungmya erected the temple on this spot because it was here that he was chosen from among five brothers. to be the crown prince. Nantaungmya was King Narapati Sithu's son. The selection of the heir to the throne had a tradition of erecting a white umbrella and the future ruler would be chosen when the white umbrella tilted in his position.
Inside the 46-metre-high temple, which is similar in design to Sulamani Temple, there are four Buddhas on the lower and upper floors. Traces of old murals are also still visible. Fragments of the original fine plaster carvings and glazed sandstone decorations have survived on the outside. The doorways feature nice carved reliefs. Several old horoscopes, painted to protect the building from damage can be found on the walls of the temple. They have no iron or wooden beam to buttress. They were built of bricks and cement only. Glazed sandstone tiles of green and yellow color decorate the structure. They reflect brilliantly in the sunlight. Glazed sandstone tiles are rare decorative artwork. Glazing requires very high temperature. High temperature can cause crack to sandstone tiles. Only skilled technicians could produce such decorative pieces.
The devotional halls have double tiered spans. with hollow-outs between them. Under the pole plates are stone bars to support the pole plates. Sandstone stones were used at the right angles of the building. In the walls in which bricks were laid vertically sandstones were inserted at equal intervals for strengthening and longer durability. On the ceilings of the circumambulating vaulted corridors are found original paintings. ink inscriptions and the horoscopes of certain personages.
Temples Close to Wetkyi-In
Ahlodawpyae Pagoda (between the new Bagan and the village of Bagan in the Nyaugn U and Wet Kyi In region) represents a is style of tradition between the first period and the intermediate period.Ahlodawpyae means "Fulfillings of Wishes". It still expresses traces of the Pyu culture. with the stupa placed on the superstructure. which preceded the arrival by Sikkhara as in Nat Hlaung Kyaung then in Nanpaya, the first brick temples. The hall of Ahlodawpyae opens in the East. The sanctuary is of square form with windows which open on north and the south. On the terrace a pyramidal zedi that resembles the Shwezigon stupa. Between the hall and the sanctuary the passage is very flat (as in all the temples of the Kyanzittha period). Paintings Buddha in the position of Dharmacakra mudra with disciples on each side. There are wall paintings of 30 Buddha images and ink inscriptions.
Gubyaukgyi Temple (close to Wetkyi-in village) is a 13th-century 'cave temple' with an Indian-style spire like the Mahabodhi Pagoda in Bagan. It is interesting for the fine frescoes of scenes from the jatakas. There is another temple of the same name in Myinkaba. and to distinguish between theses two this monument is sometimes called 'Wetkyi-in Gubyaukgyi'.
The ceiling of this temple is full of wall paintings and the halls have enough lights to view these clearly. There is a Buddha Image in the first hallway and with the marvelous paintings of the Man-Nat at the back of the image. The main entrance of the temple is large and the paintings of the halls can be seen very clearly. Located on the northern and southern side of the temple are 28 Buddha images. The walls are full of carvings.
Kyansitthar Umin (near Wetkyi-in Gubyaukgyi) is a tunnel built in the late 13th century and named after King Kyansittha (1084-1113). This umin ("tunnel") is a low, unpretentious brick structure with long, dark corridors in its interior. Small partitions as rooms can be found in this tunnel. Very little light can reach the inner part of the tunnel. So the tunnel is dark and cool. This tunnel has paintings on some of the interior walls. The paintings include Buddha images, monks' portraits. parrots and trees. An interesting feature of the paintings is the portrayal of Mongol soldiers with arrows and bows, a reminder of the Mongol invasion of Myanmar. These paintings are just sketches not real paintings. During the invasion of the Mongols, it is assumed that the tunnels may have used as a residence by monks and nuns and a place to hide.
Kyaukgu Umin (three kilometers east of Nyaung U town) is one of the four monuments in Bagan built of stone brick. Kyaukgu Umin means stone cave. On the upper reaches of the wall are stone sculptures of ogres clutching floral garlands. Below are triangle-shaped floral designs. At the base of the arched entrance are figures of Gonban, Keinnari and Keinnara between lotus flowers, lions, tigers, deer and deva gods. The main pillars of the devotional hall have floral designs around at the base.
Kyaukgu Umin was built into a bank of sandstone. The lower section was skillfully built with stone bricks while the two stories above it were built of earth bricks. A maze about 500 feet long was dug into the sand stone wall with many twists and turns and tunnels and cellars for meditation. Kyaukgu Umin faces north around the inside of the front main hall are niches in which eight important events of the Buddha's life are sculpted.
The large Buddha image in the main hall was hewn out of sandstone. On either side of it are relief figures of the Buddha's two disciples. On the ceiling are two Arahats in relief, each on either side of the Buddha Image. On both sides of the inner and outer walls of the vaulted corridor in the upper storey are several square niches in which it was originally planned to paint scenes from 550 Jatakas. It seems that the work was left unfinished. One remarkable feature in the architecture of this monument are light wells in the vaulted hall of the first storey. Light passes the light wells in the roof of the second storey down to the light wells of the first storey when the sun reaches noon. On the top of the entrance hall on the north side stands a small zedi.
Thamewhet Umin and Hmya Tha Umin (north of the Hgnet Pyit Taung, about half a mile southeast of Nyaung U) are twin cave-temples and are subterranean passages which were used as residences of the Buddhist monks in torrid heat of Bagan. The cave created a place of cool tranquility conducive to prayer and meditation. According to legend a long time ago, when when the people of Bagan lived in fear of great bird, the caves were built to keep women and children safe. But later on they became halls for meditation and palces to escape severe weather. Thamiwhet is a cave formed by digging into the side of a hill. It contains a stone inscription and constructed with zig-zag corridors. Dug into hillsides of the sandstone hills, the caves date from the 13th century. Thamiwhet Umin contains an image of the Buddha, murals and a stone inscription from the 15th century.
TEMPLES AROUND MINNANTHU VILLAGE IN Bagan
Pyathatgyi (southeast of Sulamani) is a double-cave type monument. Most of these kinds of monasteries were built out of wood. But some were built out of bricks and testify to the power of these monasteries. The architectural design explains the expansion of vaults and broad corridors which made it possible to pass from one building to the other. This monastery has Indian influence. It even contains a hall of ordination and a small palate. Also known as Pyathadar, it is one of the most interesting monasteries in Bagan especially if one is interested in the last pagoda of Bagan. and with the techniques of construction. It was perhaps the last great construction of the dynasty of Bagan. The technique of the vaults on corridors intersected from and to each other is completely exceptional. This elegance in the construction industry is doubled of a massive superstructure but not compared to the Dhammayangyi. which is the most massive one of all.
Payathonzu (in the Minnanthu region) was abandoned shortly after its completion due the invasion of the forces of Kublai Khan. It is a complex with three interconnected shrines. Two of the shrines contain murals which are in very good condition. The temples’s name means “triple temple.” Payathonezu was built during the 13th century. Perhaps because of Mahayana influences from that time there are murals referring bodhisattva figures. Some have suggested that the three monuments were designed for worshiping the Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. But thers say they represent the "Triple Gems" of Theravada Buddhism: the Dhamma, Buddha and Sangha. Two of the shrines contain vaguely Chinese or Tibetan-looking murals with bodhisattva figures. The complex is usually locked. It's best to inquire at the museum in Old Bagan to make an appointment for an inspection. In high season it will probably be open most of the day for group tours.
Shin Izza Gauna Temple (in the Minnanthu region. It was known to have been built in A.D. 1237 by the Minister Maha Tharman. It is a two-storey Indian-style monument. The name Izza Gauna was the name of a powerful monk during the Bagan period who brought wealth to everyone in Bagan. There are stone inscriptions about describing the donor and the donation of the land and temple. Many beautiful stuccos are still found on this temple. The jatakas of the lives of Buddha are painted on the walls too.
Leimyethna Temple means the "Temple of the Four Faces". A beautiful example of a single-storeyed temple built in the Late Style, it rests on a platform and has a square in plan, with porches projecting on all four sides. and with the main entrance in the east. The superstructure consists of receding terraces, with crenellated parapets and small stupas at the corners, surmounted by a curvilinear spire which is crowned by a stupa. The Late Style makes for a bright interior. There are remnants of murals portraying the 28 Buddhas of the Past, scenes from the Jatakas. and the Final Life of the Buddha. Unfortunately, many of the murals have been lost to whitewash.
The donor of the Leimyethna was Anandathura. a minister at the court of King Htilominlo (1211-1234), who, with his wife, built the temple in 1223 and left behind an inscription saying: "Upon a fine platform we built a temple. To enshrine in that temple we encased the holy relics in a sandalwood casket. placed it in a crystal casket. then a red sandalwood casket. then a gold casket. then a silver casket and lastly into a miniature stone pagoda. the spire of which was made of gold and the golden umbrella of which was hung with pearls and coral. In the chamber of the temple we made four images of the Lord placed back to back and facing the cardinal points. and made them shine wondrously with gems. Many more images were placed around the walls. On the walls were beautifully painted scenes from the 500 Jatakas."
Lawkananda Pagoda (on the Irrawaddy River) was built by King Anawrahta during his reign in 1059 to enshrine an important Buddha-tooth replica from Sri Lanka. It is still used as an everyday place of worship. The riverside and sunset views from Lawkananda are unforgettable.
Ashe Petleik and Anauk Petleik were built in the 11th century during the reign of Anawrahta (1044-1077). Anauk (Western) pagoda is better preserved and has a bell-shaped dome. with rings of molding at the middle and towards the base. An unusual feature of the dome is the four deep niches at the cardinal points to house images of the Buddha. A damaged bowl-shaped disc rests on the dome in the Western Pagoda while the Ashe (Eastern) Pagoda has a box-like relic chamber occupies the corresponding position. The finial, which rises above, is in the form of a truncated cone. East Betleik contains terra-cotta bas-reliefs of reincarnations.
Sulamani Temple (east of the Dhammayangyi in the Minnanthu region southwest of Bagan) is a good example of a late-Burmese style temple. Completed in 1183 under King Narapatisithu, it is an airy, open, structure. The are high-vaulted corridors and niches with Buddhist images on the lower level. The upper level has a similar design but there is only one Buddhist image on the eastern side. The elaborate stucco work is in excellent condition. Look for the grotesque makara faces, which are similar to demonic images at Angkor Wat. The temple is surrounded by a wall with eleven gates. Only traces of the temples fine frescoes remain. Some parts of the temple were damaged during the 1975 earthquake.
Sulamani is a massive cave pagoda and one of the most-frequently visited pagodas in Bagan. It is similar to the Thatbyinnyu Temple in design and 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. Like Htilominlo and Gawdawpalin temples Sulamani is a prime example of a later, more sophisticated temple style. with better internal lighting.
Sulamani means “Crowning Jewel” or” Small Ruby.” It was the first and most important temple of the late period (1170-1300) of Bagan monument building. It was one of many temples and stupas built by Narapatisithu. Important features of Sulamani include its fine brickwork and use of stone in both load-bearing areas as well as on vulnerable external corner elements. Combining the horizontal planes of the early period with the vertical lines of the middle, the two- storey temple stands on broad terraces to create a pyramid effect. The brickwork throughout is considered some of the best in Bagan. Pagodas stand at the corners of each terrace. There is also a high wall fitted with elaborate gateways at each cardinal point, enclosing the entire complex. The interior face of the wall was once lined with a hundred monastic cells, a feature unique among Bagan's ancient monasteries.
Sulamani represents some of Bagan's finest ornamental work which include carved stucco mouldings, pediments and pilasters. These are in fairly good condition today. Glazed plaques around the base and terraces are also still visible. Buddha images face the four directions from the ground floor; the image at the main eastern entrance sits in a recess built into the wall. The interior passage around the base is painted with fine frescoes from the Konbaung period. There are traces of earlier frescoes. Stairways lead very close to the top of this temple, from where the views are superb. In the north of the compound are the remains of Sulamani Kyaung, a monastery building that housed Sulamani's senior monk and the Tripitaka (the Buddhist scriptures). This area was enclosed by a wall and may have served as an ordination hall. A water tank in the compound is thought to be the only original Bagan reservoir.
MOUNT POPA (near the town of Kyuak Padaung, 50 kilometers from Bagan) is a 4,900-foot-high lava plug (the hardened lava remnants of volcano that eroded away millions of years ago) that has become the center of “nat” (spirit) worshiping in Myanmar. Perched on a rocky outcrop at the top of the mountain is a temple where the nats are worshiped. Thousand of pilgrims climb the dizzying stairway, especially in May, to pay homage to the nats that reside in the temple, which also has a famous monastery, troops of monkeys and snake charmers.
Mount Popa looks like it has four different shapes depending on where it is viewed. From the east, for example, it looks like it has two peaks but from the north it appears to have only one. On the slopes are lush vegetation, gardens, a sandlewood plantations and the remains of petrified trees. The final climb to the top takes only about 20 minutes. There are great views from the summit of the surrounding fertile plains.
Mt. Popa is estimated to have last erupted over three hundred and twenty thousand years ago. H.L. Chhibber in his publication "The Igneous Rocks of the Mount Popa Region", described it as "being in all respects an ideal example of a recently extinct volcano, suitable for text-book illustration. The main mountain originally had a circular crater, but the whole of the north-western side was blown away, probably by the final paroxysmal outburst, which suggests that the last eruption must have projected its discharge inclined to the sides of the volcano in that direction. The present mountain is, therefore shaped like a horse-shoe, and it is possible to walk into the crater through the breach in the northern wall."
Although the mountain appears to be a single peak from a distance, it is in fact a series of peaks; the highest points being 4981, 4801 and 4501 feet above sea level. The main mass of Mt. Popa rests on a level plateau, roughly 1000 feet above the surrounding plains, and about 1800 feet above sea level. The actual volcano rises about 3000 feet from this base. On the extremity of the south-western slopes lies the extremely precipitous isolated peak known as the "Taung-ga-Lat". Some believe that this could be part of the main volcano, that was blown apart and landed as though plugged at its present location. Others theorize that it represents the infilled neck or plug of a subsidiary volcano.
Whatever the theories may be, it is evident from the abundance of petrified trees within the Bagan area, and the extent of huge boulders strewn far and wide around the mountain, that this was once a land of violent explosions, turbulent earth movement and massive lava flows in ancient times, which caused the existing forests to be buried under. It is no a wonder then, that the mountain had also been historically known, as the "Dormant Fire Mountain".
The Mount Popa area has also been designated as a National Park. Most visitors to Mt. Popa visit on a day trip from Bagan. It is also possible to make detour to the mountain on the road from Bagan to Inle Lake, but most buses traveling this route do not make the detour. It takes about 45 minutes drive from Nyaung Oo Airport, Bagan.
Spirits of Mount Popa
Mt. Popa is sort like Mt. Olympus for nats (spirits of ancient ancestors) who dwell in various parts of the mountain. The evidence of these beliefs is abundant in the form of "nat shrines", legends, rituals, ceremonial offerings, annual representative festivals, and the never- ending stream of pilgrims and believers in mysticism. In many places there are "nat trees" which have prayer rags tied to their branches, Tibetan style, and have alters at the bases of their trunks. Popa today is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in the country.
Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theater Academy Helsinki wrote: “The nat cult has many features that resemble shamanism. In the Burmese nat cult, the priestesses, as well as priests, fall into a trance, during which they act as oracles or healers to the community that commissioned the ritual. An event of this kind is called nat pwe (pwe = play or performance). Despite the fact that the cult is very archaic, the nat priests are organised, which is rather rare in Southeast Asian animistic systems. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki ] “The main annual nat event is held in Taungbyon near Mandalay, where dozens of nat pwe groups gather for their rituals. These rituals can also be performed at other times, for example in a Buddhist temple compound, or in private homes or shops, which are converted into nat shrines with temporary altars and statuaries.
“The ceremony is accompanied by a small, traditional percussion orchestra, which signals the event with its dynamic music. Fruits, food, cigarettes, rum, and beer are offered to the nat statues, after which the nat pwe gradually starts. One or more nat priests with their assistants arrive on the scene, dancing in a relaxed manner and partaking of the offerings.
“The principal priest performing the actual ritual wears a simple garment, such as a shawl, or a headgear, indicating which nat he or she will be in contact with during the ritual. The priest dances ecstatically, repeating simple steps and moving arms and hands in a manner typical of Burmese dance. However, in nat pwe, as in so many possession rituals around the world, dancing skill is of only secondary importance.
“The priest sings while dancing and recites scenes from the life of the nat being portrayed. At the climax of the ritual, the priest falls into a trance and “becomes” the nat in question. Still dancing or sometimes whirling half-consciously on the ground, the priest announces prophecies to the assistants, who interpret them to the audience.
“Nat pwe ceremonies can still be seen frequently, and a short nat ritual is almost always part of a traditional theater or dance performance in Myanmar. A performance usually begins with the dance of the nat priestess. In classical productions, lacking the element of trance, this dance is performed by a skilful professional dancer and it is more refined than in the authentic, often powerful, nat pwe rituals.”
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