All that glitters is gold

Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon has pavilions with intricately sculpted interiors and doorways, stupa completely covered by golden plates and encrusted with thousands of diamonds, and much more

May 27, 2016 03:55 pm | Updated October 18, 2016 12:42 pm IST

28bgp-The gilt dome

28bgp-The gilt dome

Myanmar’s Yangon’s skyline dazzles with the towering golden stupa of its iconic monument, Shwedagon Pagoda, which graces the city and is visible from almost anywhere. No visit to the city would be complete without a visit to the edifice for the sheer architectural and sculptural brilliance, which is a visual feast for the eyes.

It is claimed to be Myanmar’s holiest Buddhist pagoda as it is believed to enshrine relics associated with four previous Buddhas of the present aeon: the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamma, a part of Kassapa’s robe, and eights strands of hair of Gautama.

Covered stairways

Four covered stairways lead to the main terrace or platform on Singuttara Hill. A pair of 9m-tall lions flanks the entrance of each walkway. Elevators and escalators facilitate visitors who would rather avoid climbing the steps.

The eastern and southern entrances are lined with vendors selling a wide array of souvenirs and objects, many of which are associated with offerings at the altars of the Buddha.

Also known as Shwedagon Zedi Daw and the Great Dagon Pagoda, the temple, a repository of the country’s rich heritage, is a cluster of innumerable shrines, stupas and statues laid out on a sprawling terrace.

The main bell-shaped stupa made from solid brick is completely covered by golden plates, and encrusted with thousands of diamonds that glitter and reflect beams of sunlight.

Above the base which covers a perimeter of 1,500 feet, is the turban, on top of which is an inverted alms bowl, inverted lotus petals, a banana bud, and finally the umbrella crown which boasts a 76-carat diamond at the very tip of the stupa.

Encircling the pivotal stupa, there are several sculpture-enriched altars with small statues of Buddha before which people stop to pray, wash the figurines, offer flowers and light incense.

Exquisite carvings

Pavilions with intricately sculpted interiors and doorways have statues of Buddha in various poses which are themselves exquisitely carved and decorated, the reclining Buddha being one of the most striking.

Many of these pergolas have monks sitting in quiet contemplation, individuals seeking respite from the scorching sun, or families relaxing in their shade and partaking of a simple meal, often accompanied by a few domestic felines.

Since its original construction, the pagoda complex witnessed severe damages, especially on account of earthquakes between 1564 and 1919. Needless to say, it has been rebuilt a number of times and enhanced by successive kings, growing from the original 66 feet to its present height of 99 feet.

According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,600 years ago, making it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world. While folklore attributes its origins to 600 BC, historians and archaeologists attribute its construction to the Mon people somewhere between the 6 and 10 century CE.

Highest in the world

A spiritual heart for the majority of Myanmar’s Buddhist population, the Shwedagon is an architectural marvel for its magnitude. Tourist brochures deem it as the highest pagoda and the largest golden monument in the world.

The complex defines a high point in the development of Buddhist architecture in Southeast Asia.

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