Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting Myanmar( formerly known as Burma) will tell you that the country is not short of temples, or what they call pagodas. And while they all hold a mystical charm and peace, none quite compares to what you see in the Shwedagon platform on the bustling city of Yangon, sitting on Singuttara hill.
The pagodas here are quite different to the ancient ones in Old Bagan. Here, the majestic gold resonates throughout and you can´t help but think, wow.
The Shwedagon pagoda stands almost 100metres tall and you can see its umbrella peak from downtown Yangon. It is quite hard to miss! And it sits in the centre of the platform with surrounding pagodas protecting its glory. When entering, you are charged 8000 Kyatt, unless you are local. It is worth noting that the ticket is valid for 24 hours and it is worth coming back in the evening to see the pagodas lighted up in all their glory.
Shwedagon stands for “the reliquary of the four” since it contains the relics of four of the Buddhas who attained enlightenment. What is a relic you might ask ( I certainly did)? It is a surviving object which is of historical interest. The four relics that are concentrated in Shwedagon are the 8 strands of hair from Gautama Buddha, the staff of Kakusanda Buddha, the water filter of Kawnagamana Buddha and the robe of Kassapa Buddha.
There are various entry points to reach Shwedagon, the gates below mark the east entrance – remember to leave your shoes at the doors or risk getting chased and yelled at.
Warning: Try and avoid going in the afternoon as the tiles soak up every bit of heat and I nearly burnt the sole of my feet. Yet while I was bouncing around the place, all locals walked gracefully as if numb to any physical pain.
You will encounter many wonders during your visit to Shwedagon and a few hours here is enough to take it all in. I recommend getting a guide to give you more information as we had to rely on our own map reading and sometimes the eastern side looked the same as the west – it all gets quite confusing, especially when you constantly distracted by burning feet.
King Singu´s Bell or Maha Gandha Bell
This bell was given to the temple in the 1700s by King Singu. During the colonial rule in Burma, the british tried to move the bell but it sank in the Yangon river. Locals managed to salvage it and return it to the temple.
The Htidaw Pagoda
Hsandawtwin-sacred hair relic wishing well
Here, Buddhas sacred hair was washed before it was enshrined within the Shwedagon pagoda.
The main platform, pictured below, has the highest concentration of shrines and in the olden days, kings would typically pray here for winning battles. There is a real awe about the main platform as monks stroll by with the intricate architecture serving as a picturesque backdrop.
The pagoda of 8 weekdays
The Burmese consider Wednesday to be two days ( in the Burmese astrology, Wednesday is divided into two and the afternoon is known as Rahu). The pagoda below has 8 niches, each of which contain a Buddha, accompanied by the animal which rules that particular day. For example, Monday marks tigers. Depending on what day you were born, you would go to the niche and pray there.
So according to Burmese astrology, I am a tiger. Whilst in the chinese horoscope I am a goat……… talk about a juxtaposition!
No matter which part of the platform you find yourself in, the main golden zedi/stupa always stands gloriously in sight, demanding every bit of your attention. The umbrella (htidaw) on the peak of the main stupa is a symbol in Myanmar to mark a new or renovated pagoda.
Below, you will see a picture of the Bodhi tree, the same type of tree that gave Buddha shade while he gained enlightenment. This is probably the best area to get some shade from the heated pavements and crowds.
After a few hours of walking, taking breaks in the shade and scalding feet, you can’t help but still be mesmerized at the extent of this architecture and the culture that consumes it. Shwedagon Pagoda has survived many natural and manmade disasters and still stands tall on its thrown, and rightly so.