Yangon • Myanmar: Shwedagon pagoda - Spiritual & Architectural Radiance

The Shwedagon Pagoda, that dazzling golden jewel that lights up the Yangon sky, carries within it the whispers of centuries. Its origins are lost in the mists of time, intertwining with ancient legends. Some say it was built over 2600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world. 

Over the centuries, it has known emperors, kings and queens, invasions and revolutions. Everyone has contributed to it, raising it ever higher, embellishing it with new layers of gold and precious relics. The central stupa, shimmering in pure gold, is said to house eight hairs of Buddha himself, adding a sacred dimension to its brilliance. 

Silent footsteps have trod its cobblestones for generations, whispered prayers have risen to its gleaming summit. Every day, at dawn and dusk, the site comes alive with worshipers who come to honor Buddha, whisper their wishes and bathe in the spiritual tranquility that this sacred place inspires. 

The Shwedagon Pagoda remains a beacon of spirituality in the heart of tumultuous Yangon. It is the symbol of a nation, a people and a faith that has survived the ups and downs of history, and which, despite the challenges, continue to shine with unparalleled brilliance.

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: the corridor leading to the pagoda ( Myanmar,  )

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: the corridor leading to the pagoda

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: the central stupa ( Myanmar,  )

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: the central stupa

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: small stupas around the central stupa ( Myanmar,  )

Yangon • Shwedagon pagoda: small stupas around the central stupa

The Shwedagon Pagoda, located in Yangon, is arguably Myanmar's greatest symbol, both for its architectural splendor and spiritual significance. Its golden dome, shimmering in the sun, is visible from afar, attracting pilgrims, tourists and inspiration seekers from all over the world. 

 

Origins and Foundation of the Shwedagon Pagoda 

 

The history of the Shwedagon Pagoda is shrouded in mystery and legend. According to traditional beliefs, the pagoda was built over 2,600 years ago, making it the oldest surviving Buddhist structure in the world. The stories tell that two Burmese merchants, Tapussa and Ballika, met Gautama Buddha in India and received eight of his hairs from him. Upon their return to Myanmar, they searched for a suitable place to house these sacred relics. With the help of the local king, Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi, they chose Singuttara Hill, where ancient relics of previous Buddhas were already kept. This is where the original Shwedagon Pagoda was built. 

 

Historical Developments 

 

However, archaeological and historical evidence suggests that the pagoda was built by the Mon between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. Over the centuries, the pagoda has been renovated, enlarged and embellished by successive kings and devotees. King Binnya U of the Mon Dynasty in the 15th century raised the height of the pagoda to 18 meters. Later, Queen Shin Sawbu, the first reigning queen of the Hanthawaddy dynasty, gave her own weight in gold to cover the pagoda, raising its height to 40 meters. 

 

The Pagoda under the Reign of King Singu and beyond 

 

During the reign of King Singu in the 18th century, the pagoda was struck by lightning and the hti (the top ornament) was damaged. It was repaired and the height of the pagoda was increased to 99 meters. The king also added a gold and jeweled umbrella to the top of the pagoda. Over the years, the Shwedagon Pagoda has survived several earthquakes and been renovated several times. 

 

Cultural and Spiritual Significance 

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda complex is a veritable treasure trove of Buddhist art and architecture. Besides the central golden stupa, the complex houses hundreds of temples, auxiliary stupas, Buddha statues and pagodas. The pagoda is an important center of pilgrimage for Burmese and a place of celebration on full moon days and during the Tabaung festival. 

 

Every day, thousands of devotees come to light lamps, offer flowers and meditate. Buddha's eight hairs are believed to be kept in the pagoda, which makes Shwedagon Pagoda one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in Buddhism. 

 

Conclusion 

 

Today, the Shwedagon Pagoda continues to hold a special place in the hearts of Burmese people. It is not only a symbol of their religious devotion, but also a monument that embodies the history and culture of Myanmar. Despite the vicissitudes of history and the challenges of time, the Shwedagon Pagoda remains a golden beacon in the landscape of Yangon, drawing to it all who seek to understand the rich and complex history of this fascinating country.

The Main Stupa 

 

At the heart of the Shwedagon Pagoda is the central stupa, or main pagoda, which dominates the entire complex. Measuring 99 meters high, the stupa is covered entirely in gold, giving it its distinctive shine. The shape of the stupa is characteristic of the Burmese architectural style, with a square base, concentric terraces leading to a dome or "anda", surmounted by a spire called "hti". 

 

The Hti or the Summit Ornament 

 

The hti is a bell-shaped roof ornament, usually covered in gold and jewels, which is a feature of Burmese Buddhist architecture. The hti of the Shwedagon Pagoda is particularly impressive. It is encrusted with thousands of diamonds and precious stones, including a 76 carat diamond at the top end. 

 

The terraces 

 

The stupa is surrounded by several terraces offering a panoramic view of the city of Yangon. These terraces, which serve as platforms for meditation and prayer, are accessible by covered stairs called "zaungdans". Each of these terraces is adorned with detailed mosaics depicting scenes from the life of Buddha and Myanmar history. 

 

Temples and Auxiliary Stupas 

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda complex is home to hundreds of temples, subsidiary stupas, and smaller pagodas. Each of them is a masterpiece of art and architecture, with their own Buddha sculptures, murals and other ornaments. The temples are generally built in the traditional Burmese style, with stepped roofs, ornate columns and elaborate facades. 

 

Buddha Statues 

 

Inside the temples, there are Buddha statues in various postures and gestures, known as "mudras". These statues are often made of gold or bronze and are venerated by the faithful. 

 

Conclusion 

 

The architecture of the Shwedagon Pagoda is an impressive blend of spirituality and craftsmanship, which captures the essence of Burmese Buddhism. Every element, from the golden dome to the jeweled hti, from the detailed terraces to the elaborate temples, contributes to making Shwedagon Pagoda one of the most spectacular sights in Myanmar. It embodies the deep faith and rich history of this country, making every visit an unforgettable experience. 

The hti is a roof ornament characteristic of Buddhist architecture in Southeast Asia, especially in Burma. It is a spire that crowns pagodas and stupas, usually in the shape of a bell or umbrella, with several tiers of ornate "skirts". The hti is often covered in gold and encrusted with jewels and precious stones. 

 

In the case of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, the hti is particularly remarkable. It is covered with thousands of diamonds and other precious stones. The highest point of the hti is adorned with a 76 carat diamond. This incredibly valuable apex ornament adds an impressive sheen to the pagoda and is a true feat of craftsmanship and religious devotion.

Monument profile
Shwedagon pagoda
Monument category: Pagoda
Monument family: Pagoda or stupa
Monument genre: Religious
Cultural heritage: Buddhist
Geographic location: Yangon • Myanmar
Construction period: 6th century AD

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