SHWEDAGON PAGODA was described by W. Somerset Maugham as "sudden hope in the dark night of the soul of which the mystics write, glistening against the fog and smoke of the thriving city." Rudyard Kipling called it a "beautiful winking wonder, that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple spire." One of the most outstanding sights in Southeast Asia, this glorious temple rises up from a hill in the center of Yangon and dominates the city's skyline. Wherever one may be in Yangon, in the busy town center, in the new towns of the east, in the industrial zone of the west, in the paddy fields of the north, the golden form of the Shwedagon will be seen on the skyline rising above the foliage of the tropical trees, and the top of high rises.

The Shwedagon Pagoda houses eight of Buddha's hair taken by his first two disciples Tapussa and Bhallika to the site where three relics of Buddha's previous incarnations had been enshrined. Shwedagon was created with the help of the King of Okkalapa and the Sule nats (spirits). Burmese and Sri Lankan tradition says that Trapusa and Bhallika lost some of the hair relics to the Naga king Jayesana; who took them to worship in his undersea palace. Sule Pagoda is also said to contain one of the Buddha's hairs.

The pointy, bell-shaped stupa at the center of the Shwedagon Pagoda temple complex rises 99 meters (326 feet) into the air (higher than St. Paul's in London). The hill it stands on is 51 meters (168 feet) high. Over $100 million worth of gold plates and gold sheathing (much of it laid on in paper thin pieces) covers the stupa, and 5,452 diamonds (including a 76.8 carat one at the peak), 2,000 rubies, sapphires, and a couple thousand other precious stones crown the top. There are a total of 8688 solid gold plates, each one square foot in size.

Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara Hill was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2018.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Shwedagon Pagoda, situated on Singuttara Hill in the center of Yangon (Rangoon), is the most sacred Buddhist stupa in Myanmar and one of the most important religious reliquary monuments in the world. The property includes the hill atop of which the main stupa is located, the hill-top reliquary stupa and associated religious buildings and sacred statuary, bells, and other emblems situated on the hill, as well as the hill’s surrounding sacred perimeter. The proposed comprises a total area of 46.3 hectares.[Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

According to local chronologies dating from the14th century CE, the Shwedagon is believed to enshrine the bodily relics of the historical Buddha, Gautama, as well as artifactual relics purported by long tradition to be associated with the three other most recent previous Buddhas of our present era (kalpa).The enshrined relics include: eight strands of hair from the head of Gautama Buddha, as well as a piece of the robe believed to have belonged to Kassapa Buddha, a water filter attributed to Konagamana Buddha, and the staff of Kakusandha Buddha. The formal name of the Shwedagon Pagoda is ShwedagonZedi Daw, which translates as The Great Golden Mountain Stupa.

Visiting Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda is the main sightseeing attraction in Yangon. Visitors are required to remove their shoes. Foreign tourists have to pay a $5.00 fee to enter the pagoda and pay an additional $5.00 if they want to use a video camera. Myanmar’s first functioning escalator ascends to the pagoda from the People's Park side. There is an elevator at the main entrance. As you stroll around, remember to circle the pagoda barefoot in a clockwise direction. Shwedagon Pagoda is located at No.1. Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Dagon Township, about one mile north of the Cantonment.

The pagoda is illuminated at night. The best time to visit is in the morning and the evening when it isn't so hot. Outside the temple complex are street vendors and small shops that sell food, drinks, souvenirs and various religious objects. Pro-democracy banner have been unfurled at the pagoda. Across the street from Shwedagon is smaller stupa erected by the strongman leader Ne Win to atone for the sins he committed when he ruled the country between 1962 and 1988.

It takes about two or three hours to have a good look at Shwedagon. Surrounding the massive golden stupa are 82 other temples and shrines, which house Buddha statues, images of demons and gods and incredible detailed artwork made of wood, glass and lacquer. Worth checking out is are the museum containing objects that have been donated to the temple; a series of paintings near the elevator that recount the story of the founding of the pagoda; and a bell dropped by the British into the Rangoon River and recovered by the Burmese who floated it to the top of the river by tying thousands of pieces of bamboo to it.

In front of the 72 shrines surrounding the base of the Pagoda. you will find in several places images of lions. serpents. ogres. yogis. spirits. or Wathundari. On the wall below the first terrace of the Pagoda at the West-Southern Ward and West-Northern Ward corners. you will see embossed figures. The former represents King Okkalapa who first built the Pagoda. The latter is a pair of figures; the one above represents Sakka who assisted in foundation of the Pagoda. and the one below. Me Lamu. consort of Sakka and mother of Okkalapa.

Surrounding Shwedagon's central vault are eight posts, each oriented to points of the compass. The shrines located at these posts are linked to symbols, days of the week, planets, numbers, animals and astrological signs associated with each direction. On the platforms are images of saints, nature spirits and leogryphs (legendary beasts).

Shwedagon's four main entrances are located at the bottom of the hill and flanked by huge painted mythical creatures. The hall that leads up some stairs from the main entrance is made of wonderfully carved teak. The ornamented ceiling above the staircase was damaged by an arson fire in April 1999. The southern entrance is lined with numerous small shops selling "nirvana goods" such as flowers, joss sticks and paper ornament.

Ceil Miller Bouchet wrote in the New York Times: Spiritual heart of Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda’s bell-shaped stupa rises in golden splendor above Yangon. Buck the tourist trail by taking in the colorful pagoda neighborhood first, beginning with a bowl of mohinga noodles — Burma’s breakfast — at deli-like Myaung Mya-Daw Cho on Yay Tar Shay Old Street (about 500 kyat). Then, peruse shops brimming with Buddhist religious items, papier-mâché toys and herbal health remedies before climbing up vertiginous steps to the Shwedagon Pagoda’s eastern entrance. By engaging a local guide in advance, you’ll both support the economy and gain cultural insight. Some travel agencies, like the local operator for Kensington Tours, even donate a portion of proceeds to community projects like the renovation of a 120-year-old Buddhist ordination hall hidden at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda, featured on the half-day “Spiritual Shwedagon” tour. Shwedagon Pagoda. Myaung Mya-Daw Cho, 118A Yay Tar Shay Street, 95-1-548-501. [Source: Ceil Miller Bouchet, New York Times, February 7, 2014]

Legend of Shwedagon Pagoda

According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. The original stupa, it is said. was built 2500 years ago to enshrine eight hairs from Buddha's head that Buddha purportedly plucked himself and gave to two Burmese merchants. The two merchants and the king of Myanmar had the hairs, plus one of Buddha's teeth, placed on the hill, where the stupa now stands, after they discovered that relics from previous Buddhas had been placed there. According to legend the deaf could hear and the and the blind could see when the eight hairs were taken from their case and heavens and earth shook when the eight hairs of Buddha were placed inside the base.

The hairs, the tooth and other relics were placed in a chamber, which was covered by a golden slab and a small golden stupa. Over the golden stupa, a silver pagoda was built, then a tin stupa, then a copper stupa, then a lead stupa, then a marble stupa, then an iron one and finally a brick one. Around 8,000 or so golden plates, which form the core of the present stupa, were placed over the brick stupa.

The legend is very nice but more likely the stupa was raised about 1,500 years ago and may have originally stood 620 feet tall. Large broken stone slabs were dug out from the ground at four meters near the pagoda by professor of Pali Language Dr Forhenmer in 1880 AD. The slab was dated to A.D. 1485 and was written by the Mon king Dhamazedi in two languages, Burmese and Mon.

Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: ““According to legend, the Shwedagon was first created as a repository for eight hairs from the Buddha’s head that had been given to two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, who had gone to India from Okkala village, now Rangoon, to worship the Buddha. If true, the Shwedagon would have been founded in the 5th century B.C. while the Buddha was still living. King Anawrahta is reputed to have visited the Shwedagon during his military campaign to the south and had to be dissuaded from taking its hair relics back to Pagan. The earliest reliable records report that the stupa was renovated in 1372 by King Byinya U and again fifty years later by King Binnyagyan who raised the height of the stupa to 295 feet. The present shape and form of the stupa is the result of donations made by Queen Shin Sawbu who ruled from 1453-1472 and gave her weight in gold, 90 pounds, to be used to plate the exterior of the stupa. Earthquakes damaged the structure several times in the 17th and 18th centuries and it was again repaired. The Konbaung king Hsinbyushin replaced the hti in 1774, thus raising the monument to its present height of 330 feet. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

History of Shwedagon Pagoda

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara Hill is an outstanding example of the transformation, over time, of the funerary reliquary stupa (tumulus) enshrining relics of the Buddha(s) into a center of pilgrimage and cult veneration. Currently scholarly research by historians and archaeologists indicate that the pagoda was first built between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

Subsequently, the stupa fell into disrepair until the 14th century, when King Binnya U (1323–1384) rebuilt it to a height of 18 meters. A century later, Queen BinnyaThau (1453–1472) raised its height to 40 meters. She terraced the hill on which it stands, paved the top terrace with flagstones, and assigned land and dedicated hereditary workers for its maintenance. Her son-in-law undertook a series of significant repairs and renovations to the Shwedagon. An in-situ inscription catalogues a list of repairs beginning in 1436 and finishing during Dhammazedi's reign. By the beginning of the 16th century, the Shwedagon Pagoda had become the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma, and one of the most frequented pilgrimage destinations among the wider Buddhist community of South and Southeast Asia.

A series of earthquakes during the following centuries caused some damage to the pagoda, the worst of which was a 1768 earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa, but King Hsinbyushin (1763-1776) later raised it to its current height of 99 meters. A new crown umbrella was donated by King Mindon Min in 1871 after the annexation of Lower Burma by the British, increasing the height of the monument to its current 112 meters.

Over time, many shrines have been added to the site. The stupa atop Singuttara Hill is now surrounded by hundreds of monasteries on three terraced platforms (pissaya), imparting to the site the form of a three-dimensional mandala (representation of the cosmos). The property contains the hill, its encircling levels and monasteries, covered staircases, a uppermost platform with pavilions, bells, planetary posts and astrological directionality, upon which the central stupa accessed through four devotional halls (ayongantazaung), oriented to the cardinal directions.

With a traditional history dating to the time of the historical Gautama Buddha (ca 6th century BCE) and a recorded history since the 14th century CE, the Shwedagon on Singuttara Hill has sustained and evolved a unique expression of the timeless Buddhist teachings inspired and energized by the cosmological significant of the hill as a sacred place.The numerous structures on the hill, notably the reliquary stupa, but also includingthe directional devotional halls (ayongantazaung), monasteries, pavilions and donation halls on the ascending terraced platforms (pissaya) have stimulated and sustained the distinctive and outstanding repertoire of artistic expressions, the intent of which is to propagate, through tangible, didactic expressions of devotion, the sublime, ageless teaching of the Buddha(s).

At the Shwedagon can also be seen marks of conflicts and conquest Upper and Lower Myanmar in the 15-16th century, during British occupation of the hill in the 19th to early 20th century, and the Independence movement before and after World War II. These are indicative of the prominent role of the Shwedagon in the region’s inter-twined political and cultural narrative.

Composition and Parts of Shwedagon Pagoda

Dr. Richard M. Cooler wrote in “The Art and Culture of Burma”: ““The stupa was built on the crest of a large hill, the top of which was leveled to create a spacious square plaza. This area was walled and, over time, has become progressively filled with numerous lesser shrines and buildings that ring the base of the main monument. The plaza is reached by four covered stairways that pass through the center of each wall. Each staircase opens onto the promenade circuit that connects the four major shrines, which are situated at the base of the stupa. Each of these shrines contain a number of virtually identical, Mandalay style Buddha images that are the major focus of worship. [Source: “The Art and Culture of Burma,” Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Professor Emeritus Art History of Southeast Asia, Former Director, Center for Burma Studies =]

“The form of the Shwezigon is one of the most complex in Burma. Inside the circular promenade course and above the main platform is a massive, square plinth terrace over 20 feet high that holds 68 small stupas. This area is used by men for meditation. A series of narrow terraces that progressively change in shape from square to octagonal to circular create a smooth transition from the square base to the dominant circular bell. Above the bell, the most highly ornamented section of the stupa consists of rings of lotus petals. Above these rings is a tapering section that resembles a lotus bud. A thirty-foot, gem-encrusted hti adorns the top of the lotus bud and this is crested by a gem-covered vane and orb. The profile of the monument closely approximates that of a regular and continuous cone and has become the emblem of Burmese Buddhism today. = The chedi of temples produced in Indonesia and Southeast Asian during the Srivijaya period resemble Hindu-Buddhist stupas of central Java which have a “stacked” appearance.

Shwedagon Pagoda is a solid brick stupa (Buddhist reliquary) that is completely covered with gold. It rises 326 feet (99 meters) on a hill 168 feet (51 meters) above the city. The perimeter of the base of the Pagoda is 1,420 feet. 326 feet above the platform. The base is surrounded by 64 small pagodas with four larger. one in the center of each side. There also are 4 sphinxes. one at each corner with 6 leogryphs. 3 on each side of them. Projecting beyond the base of the Pagoda. one on the center of each side are Tazaungs in which are images of the Buddha and where offerings are made. There are also figures of elephants crouching and men kneeling. and pedestals for offerings all around the base.

There are four entrances leading into the base of this great Shwedagon Pagoda. No one is sure what is inside. According to some legendary tales, there are flying and turning swords that never stop. which protect the pagoda from intruders; some says there are even underground tunnels that leads to Pagan and Thailand.

The 10 Parts of Shwedagon Pagoda are: 1) The Diamond Bud (Sein-phoo); 2) The Vane; 3) The Crown (Htee); 4) The Plantain Bud-Shaped Bulbous Spire (Hnet-pyaw-phu); 5) The Ornamental Lotus Flower (Kyar-lan); 6) The Embossed Bands (Bang-yit); 7) The Inverted Bowl (Thabeik); 8) The Bell (Khaung-laung-pon); 9) The 3 Terraces (Pichayas); 10) The Base.

On the: 1) Bud there are 4,350 diamonds, weighing 2,000 ratis; 9,272 plates of gold, weighing 5004 ounces and 93 other precious stones. On the 2) Vane there are 1,090 diamonds, weighing 240 ratis and 1,338 other precious stones. On the 3) Crown there are 1,065 gold bells and 886 precious stones.

Architecture of Shwedagon Pagoda

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The traditional history, the architectural development and the artistic features of Shwedagon Pagoda demonstrate an important interchange of Buddhist architecture, art, and iconography with South Asia over several centuries. From the time of overland journey, recorded in traditional chronicles, of local merchants to India and their return by sea to deliver the hair relics of Gautama Buddha, the stupa has been the focus of domestic and international pilgrimage. Decoration, design and spatial arrangement embody the design debt of the Shwedagon to South Asian prototypes, fused and embellished with locally significance repetitive reliquary endowments (gifts of buildings, statuary, and other material) intended to enhance the veneration of this traditionally sacred place. The decoration of the pavilions on the ascending platforms (pissaya) on the approach to the topmost stupa narrate numerousAsian religious texts, notably those depicting the life and previous lives of Gautama Buddha, in his search for enlightenment – a spiritual journey re-enacted by all devotees who visit the Shwedagon. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

The stupa's plinth is made of bricks covered with genuine gold plates and the main stupa itself is entirely covered in gold, adorned with a crowning umbrella encrusted with diamonds and other jewels. Following a tradition began in the 15th century by the Queen Shin Sawbu (BinnyaThau), who donated her weight in gold to the pagoda, Buddhist devotees from all walks of life and all regions of Buddhist Asia, as well as monarchs throughout Burma’s history, have donated gold to the Shwedagon in order to maintain the monument, and in so-doing gain merit in this life and in future lives.

There are four covered monumental stairways leading from the four cardinal directions from the base of Singuttara Hillup to the main stupa. On the ascent to the main stupa, these stairways give access to three intermediary terraces, or platforms (pisssaya).On these platforms are located circumambulatory walkways around the hill punctuated with Buddhist monasteries and community lecture-cum-prayer halls (dhammayons). The main golden iconic reliquary stupa is located on the fourth, uppermost terrace/platform, surrounded by numerous pavilions and shrines, large bronze bells, and other decorative features related to Hindu-Buddhist iconography.

TheShwedagon Pagodaon the summit of Singuttara Hill is a unique masterpiece of Buddhist architecture, adapting a natural hill, imbued with sacred significance since time immemorial, into one of the most iconic historic Buddhist stupas of the world. The four broad covered staircases rise across three intermediary platforms lined with hundreds of monasteries and donation halls encircling the ascending levels of Singuttara Hill. Emerging onto the white (45 meter-wide) marble curve of the upper platform (5.66 hectares in area), the tall spire and sky open out to frame the pathways and the shrines that surround the iconic golden stupa (112 meters high). The integration of the hill, the monasteries, the stupa and the art and architecture of the platform pavilions embody the creative genius of Buddhist teachers in the design of public space where pilgrims can participate in communal rituals, chanting sermons and silent prayers, connecting the physical icon and the intangible experience.

The form of the Shwedagon has become the prototype for stupa design within Myanmar and abroad. It is the direct descendant of the Shwezigon stupa of 12th century CE Bagan, keeping the basic form of the bell and lotus leaves while modifying the form of the upper octagonal and circular terraces and the ornamental umbrellas on top (hti)and replacing the staircases with satellite stupas on the first square terrace. The spatial experience of the Shwedagon space is intensified by the ascent up the shaded covered stairways onto the wide top-most platform on which the main stupa is located, open to the sky. The movement of pilgrims and visitors on the circumambulatory walkways around the central stupa and in front of and inside numerous shrines defines a meaningful and fluid architectural space that separates the stupa from its surrounding spatial envelope. The outer rim contains over a hundred religious structures, numerous bells and other devotional objects, and many sacred trees. On the northwest edge of the platform is a chute to discard and re-cycle offerings (of flowers, candles and incense) into new images sold in aid of the pagoda’s sustenance. The development of many architectural norms such as the tiered roof (pyat-that), wooden sculptural reliefs, glass-mosaic work and the art of bell-casting have been stimulated and enabled by the continuous patronage of the Shwedagon.

Cosmology and Positioning of Shwedagon Pagoda

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The spatial siting of the attributes within the site is organized following a system derived from Hinducosmology, indicated by cosmic pillars surrounding the central main reliquary stupa, which mark the planetary positions within the zodiac. The design of the site is an intentional recreation of the Hindu-Buddhist cosmos, reflected on earth. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

The boundaries of the property, which correspond with the historic Singuttara Hill, containing the encircling terraced platforms, focused on the central stupa, surrounded by monasteries, numerous pavilions, significance structure indicative of the site’s cosmological orientation, four covered staircases oriented to the cardinal directions, and a circumambulatory platform have preserved their original integrity and all essential characteristics of the pagoda as originally conceived and construction, as well as its evolution, expansion and embellishment over the centuries. The exceptional combination of a natural hill imbued with both symbolic values and geographical significance, combined with the iconic architectural built form of the Buddhist stupa provide a convincing in-situ re-creation of a sacred mandala (representation of the Hindu-Buddhist cosmos) with the sacred Mt. Meru located at its center.

Successive enlargements and embellishments in form and design, added throughout the Shwedagon’s long and continuing history as a center of Buddhist veneration, devotion and pilgrimage, invariably maintain the highest standards of artistic quality and Myanmar traditional workmanship, building an organic ensemble of unparalleled harmony. While having lost some of its earlier uncontested dominance on the skyline of Yangon due to construction of modern high-rise towers in the distance, the Shwedagon retains command of the viewpoints in all directions afforded by the Singuttara Hill. In order to protect the integrity and to ensure a higher level of conservation, the buffer zone and a larger setting area includes the Shwedagon Pagoda Environ Protection Area already designed by Yangon City Development Committee. This area is bounded by Dhamazedi Road to the north, the railroad on the south, Baho Road on the west and incorporates Kandowgyi Lake on the east.

Worship at Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon is not just something to look at, it is a functioning religious center. Monks in maroon and saffron robes and nun with orange towels on their head pray, mediate, and recite mantras to the sound of tinkling bells and the scent of incense. Lay people wash statues with ladles of water "to cleanse the spirit" and leave offerings of fruit, rice, orchids, burning joss sticks and flowers before the images of Buddha in the numerous small shrines that are all over the place. There are also construction workers and craftsmen smoking cheroots while they do work carving, painting and repairing roofs. Fortuneteller gathers outside and inside the pagoda. Some light a cigarette and hold it to a statue’s lips and recite prayers to bring good luck to those who pay about 60 cents.

Everyday thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from all Asia climb the steps of the pagoda. Sometimes they place pieces of gold leaf on the main stupa or on the hundreds of gilded Buddha statues scattered around the pagoda. Packets of the golden sheathing, which contain 24 sheets of 24-carat gold foil, can be purchased outside the pagoda so a surprisingly cheap price. People who are worshiping at a shrine are usually there for a specific reason: to worship at the day their birthday falls on that year, to pray at the astrological sign of a sick child, or to make an offering to auspicious number or planet. Praying and making offerings at the shrine and post corresponding with one's birthday is supposed to bring good fortune.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Shwedagon Pagoda bears an exceptional testimony to a continuing religious and socio-cultural tradition integrating Buddhist teachings and a traditionally sacred place. The Singuttara Hill is located on the southern tip of the lateritic BagoYomarange — an elevated site in the seasonally flooded delta bordering the Gulf of Mottama. This location imparted to the site a special significance from earliest pre-Buddhist times. The symbolic as well as physical importance of this place is reiterated and reinforced in the cardinal and sub-cardinal division of the terraced platforms (pissaya) that have been constructed to modify the hill for religious use. Planetary posts to the Sun and Moon, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, and the mythical planet Rahu ring the 432.4-metre perimeter of the central stupa with additional directional and astrological significance found in all areas and corners of the uppermost platform. Other spiritual dimensions are embodied in cult statues such as that of the comforter figure of Bo Bo Aung, which demonstrate the provision of individual as well as communal spaces on Singuttara Hill. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

Historically, the hill and stupa embody the inseparable relationship between royal and religious priorities, arising in the 15th to 16th century battles between Burmese and Mon kings with the victor traditionally placing his crown on the upper terrace/platform of the Shwedagon to signify rule of the nation.

The activities at the Shwedagon Pagoda express tangibly the living tradition of the veneration of relics, a specific cult tradition that has early origins in the history of Buddhist devotional practice, and since the 14th century has held a central and widespread role in Buddhist worship throughout all regions of South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia. In terms of global correspondence, comparison may be made with contemporary Christian and Islamic devotional practices related to veneration of relics of saints.

Circumambulation at Shwedagon Pagoda

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: At the Shwedagon, the individual and communal Buddhist practices of the devotees are incontrovertibly associated with the monumental expression of the stupa situated atop the Singuttara Hill. Pilgrims choose their route, typically circumambulation, veneration of the images of the four Buddhas of this era (kalpa), wish-offering at planetary shrines and obeisance to cult images. The ensemble illustrates the seamless mixture of the propagation of canonical teachings, the practice of meditation, devotion to popular cults, and belief in numerology and astrology.The multiple, fluid pathways of each pilgrim over centuries have created and sustained an intangible heritage unique to the Shwedagon Pagoda on Singuttara Hill. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

Buddhist devotees circumambulate the hill and its stupa in a clockwise direction, beginning at the eastern directional shrine, which houses a statue of Kakusandha, the first Buddha of the present era (kalpa.) Next, at the southern directional shrine, is a statue of the second Buddha, Ko agamana. Next, at the western directional shrine, is that of the third Buddha, Kassapa. Finally, at the northern directional shrine, is that of the fourth Buddha, Gautama.As the devotee circumambulates the stupa, s/he recites sacred prayers either silently or aloud, there by “turning the wheel of the law” and contributing to the propagation of the immutable, unchanging laws of the universe (dhamma) as revealed and taught by successive Buddhas.

Conservation at of Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda has been repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt by various kings and queens, who each tried to outdo their predecessor. Beginning in the 15th century monarchs gave their weigh in gold to the pagoda. Traditionally donating gold has been a way to earn merit. Queen Shinsawby was reportedly the first to donate her weight in gold: 88 pounds. King Dhammazedi gave four times his weigh to outdo her. Over the years the weight of all this gold is said to have reached 45 tons. A former British Governor of Burma wrote: “Its' beauty and serenity delights the eye. May I hope that its peaceful atmosphere is maintained to the fullness of time. The memory of this day will be forever in my mind. This is my last message to Burma.”

In the late 1990s, it was discovered that the top of the main stupa was in such bad shape that a strong wind could topple it. After this a restoration effort was undertaken to fix it up. Constructions crews added supports and gave the stupa a 1-ton golden facelift with 9,000 new golden plates. A new jewel encrusted umbrella known as a "htidaw" was with a 76-carat diamond, was placed at the top. As many as 700 workers worked each day on the project. Many workers worked for free believing the act would earn them merit. People who made donations of gold, money at other stuff—which included 67,868 pieces of jewelry—are also believed to have earned merit.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The nominated property meets the required conditions of authenticity as it has maintained its cultural value for centuries. Form and design are still preserved, notwithstanding the restorations and additions which have occurred over time. The main stupa, encased repeatedly over time, has maintained the form attained in the 15th century enlargement Repeated gilding has ensured the material conservation of the original brick structures, while strengthening the pagoda’s capacity for expressing and communicating its intangible religious and spiritual values. The history of these historical renovations are meticulously recorded in on-site inscriptions that give dates and other details about various important donations to the pagoda, intended for its upkeep and maintenance. [Source: Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of Myanmar]

All of the intact features of the property are well-preserved and have maintained their original use and intended function as places that enable the religious veneration and devotional practices of the site, These practices continue in a unbroken, uninterrupted tradition since the foundation of the pagoda, thereby ensuring the original spirit and feeling of the place is still truthfully expressed at present.

The continuous management and preservation of the original geography of the pagoda’s location on Singuttara Hill and, importantly, the protection of the pagoda’s setting and prominent location within the landscape (including protection of visual sightlines from the far distance in all directions), ensure the traditional cultural values attributed to this sacred place are retained and continued to be credibly expressed and communicated to Buddhist devotees and pilgrims, as well as to the larger community of inhabitants of present-dayYangon city.

Sights near Shwedagon Pagoda

Kandawgyi Garden (Natmauk Road and Kandawgyi Kanpat Road, near the Eastern stairways of Shwedagon Pagoda, 10 minute walk from the pagoda) embraces Kandawgyi Lake, which placidly reflects the golden spire the Shwedagon Pagoda over the tops of the green woods lining its banks. At dawn. the lake is silver. shrouded in pearly grey mists tinged with the pink of the first sunbeams. At sunset. the water looks like liquid-gold. with depths of red fire. To combine the natural beauty of the lake and the sublime beauty of Myanmar traditional architecture. The government of Myanmar built a royal barge in the form of Karaweik (mythical bird) in 1972. In ancient times, royal barges were used in royal parades to transport Buddhist scriptures or covey some regal missive to a distant outpost. Today, the pomp and ceremony of the royal barge procession and the rowdy excitement of the village boat races are now merged in the annual regatta held in November on the royal lake of Yangon. Karaweik is a name of a Golden Mythical Bird in Myanmar legends. Hours: 4:00am to 10:00pm daily. Admission Fees: Kyats 300 per person.

Karaweik Hall (near Kandawgyi Royal Lake on the Kandawgyi Kan Pat Road in Kandawgyi Garden) is a modern building with architecture that represents a mythical creature Karaweik. has 3 floors and ceremonies are held in it. This whole building was gilded with gold about 20 years ago. It has showrooms of ten traditional arts, rooms for weddings and parties, shops, an amusement section for children and a restaurant that serves lunch and dinner with Myanmar, Chinese and Eastern and western cuisine at moderate prices. Hours: 4:00am to 10:00pm daily.

Maha Wizaya Pagoda (on the Dhammarakkhita (Guardian of the Law) Hill which faces Shwedagon Pagoda) was erected by the strongman leader Ne Win to atone for the sins he committed when he ruled the country between 1962 and 1988. It was officially opened in 1980 to commemorate the first successful convening of all sects of the Buddhist monastic order under one supervisory body. It was built from funds donated by the people across the whole country. An image of the Buddha which was a royal gift from the King and Queen of Nepal is enshrined within the pagoda. Traditional decorative art executed by modern artists and artisans grace this shrine. Hours: 4:00am to 10:00pm daily. Admission Fee US$5 per person.

Yangon Zoological Garden (near Kandawgyi Lake and Kandawgyi Garden) was opened in 1906. Covering an area of 58 acres and situated close to Shwedagon Pagoda, the zoo has a collection of nearly 200 species of animals, including 60 species of mammals. 70 species of birds and 20 species of reptiles, and big shady trees. It draws nearly 1.5 million visitors annually. On weekend and public holidays, snake dances and an elephant circus are featured for visitors. The Zoological Garden Amusement Park—with various rides— opened in 1997. Hours: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission Fees: US$5 per person.

Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda (on Shweondine Rd. near Shwedagon Pagoda) contains a massive reclining Buddha. Built in 1966, the reclining Buddha replaced the old image built in 1907 by Sir Hpo Thar, which had suffered damage due to climate over the years and was demolished in 1957. The Buddha is 65 meters long and is housed in an iron structure with a roof made of six layers of corrugated iron sheets. Hence it is generally referred to as the six-tiered pagoda. Similar ones are Ngar Htat Gyi Buddha (5-Storey-High Buddha) and Koe Htat Gyi Buddha (9-Storey-High Buddha).

The heavy cost of this construction was entirely donated by the people. The image is larger than the image of the Reclining Buddha at Shwe Thar Hlyaung Pagoda in Bago. Monasteries in the vicinity of this pagoda accommodate over six hundred monks who study Buddhist Scriptures from the senior and qualified monks. The entire cost of maintenance is met from the people's donations. Hours: 6:00am to 8:00pm daily Admission Fees: US$5 per person Location: Shwe Gon Taing Road. Tamwe Township. Just across the Shwe Gon Taing Road is the Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda. Next to the Shwe Gon Taing Junction is the Excel Tower Shopping Mall.

Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda (on Shwe Gon Taing Road, across from Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda) is a five tiered pagoda with a huge image of seated Buddha housed in a pavilion a five-tiered iron roof. Hence Ngar-Htat-Kyi Pagoda means the “pagoda with five-layered roof.” The monastery in close proximity of the pagoda is of fine Chinese design. This Buddha image is different from other images in that it incorporates Magite (armours) around the image. Hours: 6:00am to 8:00pm daily. Admission Fees: US$5 per person .

Image Sources:

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,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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