Schwedagon Pagoda (Burma)
The most sacred pilgrimage site for the Burmese Buddhists in Myanmar, Golden Pagoda or the Shwedagon Pagoda was built 2500 years ago. It dominates the landscape of the traditional capital of the nation –Yangon. With spectacular golden dome that rises 322 feet high and topped by a brilliant 76-carat diamond, and 2,300 rubies, topaz and sapphire, the pagoda displays nothing but royalty.
Nonetheless, the pagoda is more than a monument at display. This bravura structure reverberates with chants and prayers of the Buddhist monks and worshipers all through the day and even in the night.
The sacred Shwedagon Pagoda serves as a feretory that conserves the relics of four Buddhas namely Gautama, Kakusandha, Kassapa and Konagamana. The reliquary also contains the eight strands of hair of Lord Buddha (Siddartha Gautama), the founder of Buddhism.
The true age of the Golden Pagoda is a scientific and religious debate. Nonetheless, it is perceived to be constructed during the existence of Lord Buddha, i.e. 2,500 years ago. Its unique location in the city guarantees its domination of Yangon’s skyline.
The Shwedagon Pagoda dominates the history of Myanmar. The refusal of English bureaucrats to remove their shoes in its vicinity; fuelled the fire of discontent amongst the Burmese people and eventually led to Burmese independence. More recently in September 2007, the Golden Pagoda’s monks played a vital role in aborting a revolution.
Built on the scared Singuttara Hill to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, the pagoda’s construction was completed between 6th and 10th century, and continues to remain the holiest place for Buddhist devotees in the country.
You must remove your shoes at the first step before entering any of the scared places inside the pagoda.
The pilgrims for offering their prayers at the pagoda purchase candles, flowers, coloured streamers and flags. These items are offered in the honour of great stupa where the relics of Lord Buddha are enshrined. The action of offering (dana) is a vital aspect of Buddhist teachings. The Burmese worshippers circle around the stupa. Donation boxes are erected all around the pagoda to receive offerings which are used for common objectives. The donations are charitable, and you would be surprised to see precious jewels hanging atop the temple. You use the elevators free of charge.
Thursday is the day for devotes who celebrate their birthday by pouring water and making offerings to the Buddha image.
The Shwedagon Pagoda was plundered in 1608 by Philip de Brito e Nicote, a Portuguese adventurer. His crew members looted the Great Dhammazedi Bell that measured 300 tonnes, with the intention of melting down the bell to make weapons. However, the bell fell into Bago River while they were transporting it. The bell remains un- recovered, even in today’s modern era, where there is no dearth of fresh technology and equipments.
When the British arrived on the Burmese soil in the May of 1824, they shared similar intentions as that of the Portuguese adventurer. They immediately took control of the Golden Pagoda, and intended to ship the hefty bronze Singu Min Bell (23 ton) to Calcutta. However, the bronze bell met similar fate, as that of the Great Bell of Dhammazedi. When the English soldiers failed to retrieve the bell, the Burmese citizens proposed to aid in order to restore it back to the stupa. The English thought otherwise, and encouraged them. Eventually the bell floated on the surface with the assistance of bamboo poles.
In 1920, the Burmese students from the nation’s university gathered at the southwest pavilion of the Golden Pagoda to protest against the fresh University Act believed to only benefit the elite colonial rulers. The area has been now commemorated into a cenotaph. The consequence of the protest was the inauguration of “national schools” which have been financed and operated by the citizens of Burma.
In September of 2007, the monks were shorn of admission to the Golden Pagoda for protesting against the military regime and the recent price hikes in the country. They were barred from the temple until the government finally surrendered and allowed them passage inside the temple.
Visit to the Shwedagon pagoda is valuable to the Myanmar Buddhists. It is the affirmation of their faith and the opportunity to display their compassion for the human kind.
This post is also available in: French