Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon
A Human Made Wonder in Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Shwe Dagon Paya) is an architectural wonder. I have visited it on several occasions, at different times of the year and of the day.
I chose every time to climb the huge eastward staircase – there is a lift available – in anticipation of the visual amazement that never misses when I reach the marble floored platform. Even the most blaze visitor will find the $8 tourist entry fee well worth it.
It is built on the Singuttara Hill. It is visible from any point of Yangon and truly
Schwe Dagon (Dagon is the ancient name for Yangon) is said to be 2600 years old making it the oldest pagoda in Myanmar and indeed the world. It is visible from any point of Yangon and truly spectacular when lit at night. It is the most sacred Buddhist site for the people of Myanmar. Burmese families from all over the country come to Shwedagon to pray, make wishes, meditate and win credits by making donations or helping in keeping the place clean and pristine.
Shwedagon houses relics of the Buddha and the three buddas that preceded him. It is a breathtaking place filled with people and at the same time so peaceful that you will feel compelled to sit and observe or better still allow yourself some quiet time and meditate.
Shwedagon Paya is composed of the central stupa surrounded by a large complex of dedicated temples. The central stupa grew overtime from 8.2 metres (27 feet) to close to 110 metres (361 feet) today. Covered with gold plates, the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds – the biggest weights 72 carats. But the Shwedagon Paya is not only an architectural wonder.
On Saturdays people come to sweep the marble floors in organized teams as a good deed. They line up and progress together. Family processions are a common on sight all year round but especially in April in the weeks preceding the Water Festival (Thingyan Festival). The Thingyan festival is a favourite period for the Shinbyu ceremonies, the rite of passage for all Burmese boys before they reach 20. This intense spiritual activity makes this particular time of the year a moment of choice to visit the pagoda.
Shwedadon Paya has also a specific political significance for the democratic opposition to the junta years of the dictatorship. It has been a rallying point for protests all along the 20th century. In 1920 university students gathered at the southwest corner and planned a protest against the British drafted University Act that, in their opinion, would perpetuate the colonial rule. In 1938 oilfield workers established a strike camp at Shwedagon Paya. In 1946, General Aung San, father of Nobel Prize and democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, addressed a mass meeting asking for “independence now”. In 1988 his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a 500,000 people gathering asking for democracy from the military regime. She was put in house arrest for the following 15 years after the army cracked down on the protests. Again in 2007, 20,000 monks and nuns – who are the most respected section of Burmese society – marched on Shwedagon in what started the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Foe all these reasons Shwedagon Paya has a special significance for all the people of the Myanmar Union.
Shwedagon will be one of the highlights of your visit to Myanmar. It is most likely that, like me, you will visit it several times. My preferred times are early mornings – when worshippers come to make offerings – and dusk. The candles lit around the central stupa, the old monks meditating in the small chapels add to the magic of the place.
Credit: Jimi Casaccia, Julie Andre & Jacques Maudy
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