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Read this article before you visit Myanmar, the land of Buddhists, humble monks, gold and gemstones.

1. Timeless Beauty

Built more than 2500 years ago, it is the oldest Pagoda in the world. It is also regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It has been the custodian of art, culture, history and architecture of Myanmar.

2. All that glitters is gold

The stupa is made out of hundreds of genuine gold plates and ornaments. These have been donated by the monarchs and the devotees. The tradition of donating gold started with the 15th century Queen Shin Sawbu. The queen even donated gold worth her own weight towards the construction of the stupa.

3. Buddha Relics

The most sacred pagoda in Myanmar has the relics of the 4 previous Buddhas of the present Kalpa.

  • Eight strands of hair of Gautama Buddha.
  • A piece of the robe of Kashyapa.
  • Water filter of Konagamana.
  • The Staff of Kakusandha.

4. Diamonds and rubies

The crown at the top of the spire is tipped with 4,531 diamonds, 2,317 rubies and a 72 carat (15 g) diamond embedded on the peak.

5. The Great Bell of Dhammazedi

The Portuguese adventurer Filipe de Britto e Nicote plundered the Shwedagon Pagoda. His men confiscated the 300 ton Bell of Dhammazedi to melt it down to make canons. But the bell fell into the Bago River and is yet to be recovered in spite of several attempts. There are several mysteries in and around the Bell of Dhammazedi.

6. Circumnavigation

It is customary to circumnavigate clockwise starting with the eastern directional shrine. It has the statue of Kakusandha the first Buddha of the present Kalpa. Followed by the Southern directional shrine with the statue of Konagamana. The western directional shrine has the statue of Kashyapa followed by Gautama Buddha in the north.

7. Fortification

During the Anglo-Burmese wars, the British had occupied Shwedagon Pagoda and used it as a fortress. It also vandalised certain portions of the divine Paya. During the second Anglo-Burmese war, the military occupied the pagoda for 77 years. They not only looted the priceless artefacts but also sacked several precious treasures from the shrine.

8. Natural disasters

Shwedagon pagoda was affected by a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters. The worst being in 1768, leading to partial demolishment of its different facades. Every time it was destroyed, the rulers along with the devotees refurbished and erected an even bigger and stronger pagoda. The Myanmarese believes in silently forging ahead with a never say die attitude.

9. Call for Independence

Several landmark meetings and demonstrations were held in front of the Shwedagon pagoda. In 1946 General Aung San had addressed a mass meeting at the Stupa demanding, “Independence now” from the British. In 1988 his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi too had addressed a gathering of 5 lakh Burmese demanding democracy from the military regime.

10. Dress code

As a mark of reverence devotees are requested to be modestly dressed. It includes knee-length bottom wear and elbow-length top wear. Visitors are requested to enter the premises barefoot as a mark of reverence to the Buddha.

 

STD rating – 5/5

My several trips and long stays in Myanmar developed into a love for this country and its people. On delving deeper I found that Myanmar and India share deep ties with regards to religion, borders, people, politics and also emotion.

My trip to this 2,500-year-old Buddhist Pagoda was a long-awaited one. Considered to be the oldest pagoda in the world. It is nestled quaintly over the Singuttara hills. With not many high-rises in the city of Yangon, the golden spire of the pagoda can be seen from far off places of the city. It creates a golden halo in the skyline during the evening. Fully armed with a camera, maps, travel documents, history of the pagoda and an open conscience I was all set to soak in.   

About Shwedagon Pagoda

The Pagoda has 8 strands of Buddha’s hair and many other holy relics. All of these have been preserved with the utmost care. It is considered to be the most sacred place for the people of Myanmar and worldwide following Theravada Buddhism.

Built by the Mon dynasty, currently, the Shwedagon pagoda stands at 110 meters on a 114acre hill. There are several gates for entry, each intricately crafted. The pagoda has been gilded with gold plates while the tip of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. Studded with thousands of other precious stones, no wonder why it finds its place in the list of “wonders of the world”. There are several stupas, shrines and statues within the premises. Devotees visit the pagoda from distant places worldwide to worship the Buddha in his various forms. The most captivating sight is in the evening, with the sun setting in the background and colouring the sky a crimson red. Post the sunset, devotees offer prayers along with incense sticks and flowers in front of the main shrine. With the fascinating hues of the sky, Shwedagon Pagoda glitters like a jewel in the night sky. It is indeed a photographer’s delight.

Shinbyu (novitiation ceremony), a tradition with Theravada Buddhism is followed at the pagoda. Monks of the pagoda offer a saffron robe along with several other objects guides a person enter monkhood. During my trip to the Pagoda, I could see quite a few Shinbyu processions. Little children and young boys were carried by their friends and family with elan. A decorated umbrella with embellishments was used to offer a princely status to the boy entering monkhood. I was also fortunate enough to witness a few marriage ceremonies, where couples along with their families had come to offer prayers for a prosperous and happy married life.

How to reach

Myanmar can be reached directly by flight. Yangon international airport is now well connected. I took a direct flight from Kolkata to Yangon.

Entry fee – $8 for foreign visitors, locals pay less.

Timing – 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm

Best time to visit – Avoid summers, as summer in Myanmar is pretty harsh. Though, evenings are quite pleasant.

Dress code – Visitors are expected to wear knee-length bottom wear and elbow-length tops/shirts. Incase one ain’t dressed appropriately, one may use the Longyi, the traditional dress of Myanmar available within the premises.