The Land of over 4000 Temples!
Bagan is situated on the eastern bank of the Ayawaddy river in central Myanmar. It is the most important historical site in our country. It was the capital of the first Myanmar in the 11th to 13th Century AD. There are over 3122 ancients pagodas in bagan region including 122 pagodas with unnecessary maintenance and 3000 pagodas with necessary maintenance covering an area of 16 sq miles. They are in different sizes and surprisingly varieties of shapes.
Researching these monuments, we may know that the culture, the architecture, languages and social prosperity of that time when pagan flourished as a royal city.
Bagan is traditionally said to have four millions pagodas the world has recognized the high standard of Myanmar through structure of pagodas, stupas, cave temple in Bagan region and handicrafts of ten Myanmar traditional art and crafts in those religious edifices, and literary writing in terracotta plaques, mural paints, ink inscriptions and inscriptions on stuccos, stone inscriptions on bells. Moreover, an excavated iron and bronze casts and sliver items are evidences of high standard of Myanmar arts and crafts.
According to the legend Bagan was founded by king Thamuddarit in the early 2 century A.D. But its name was not called Bagan. The later kings moved the city to two places.
In the reign of king Pyinbya (the 34th king in AD 844) the city was established as a wall city with twelve gates and a mote, at present place call Bagan. Period of 42th king Anawrahta(AD 1044-1077). Bagan emerged into the clear light of history until the destruction of Bagan in the period of 55th king sawmumnit AD 1369.
Bagan was not only capital but also the place where Theravada Buddhism was mostly flourish in South East Asia as the rising sun.
According to archaeological evidence of Vishnu and Thayekhitaya city(early ancient cites), we can point out that Buddhism had already flourished in Myanmar before 11th century, but it was not Theravada Buddhism. Before the coming of Theravada Buddhism there existed in Bagan a folk religion which involved of Nats or spirits. The spirits are not only natural but also the person who had died in a violent or tragic death. There was also Mahayana Buddhism.
Due to the patronage of king Anawrahta Tharavada Buddhism started flourishing in Myanmar.
According to the chronicals.
Tharavada Buddhsm was brought by a monk from Thatone. The monk name shin Arahan. He came to Anawratha and preached the law of Tharavada Buddhism. On which king Anawratha was filled with an ecstasy of faith. He realized that without scripture the Tripitaka, there could be no study and the religion would not last long so king Anawratha sent an envoy with present to Thaton and asked them about Tripitaka . But king of Thaton (Manuha) refused to give a copy. So, Anawratha sent a mighty army, conquered Thaton and brought back the thirty sets of Tripitaka on Manuha’s Thirty two white elephants sa well as king. Manuha Royal family are artesian musician.
The people in Bagan, They believed doing religion donation they could acquired merit be reborn in the state of being well finally attained Nivana. That ‘s why many religion monuments can be seen wherever we point out.
Among the religion monuments the Pagodas mainly consists of two types. The first is bell-shaped sputa or solid massive type. The second is a hollow vaulted temple mainly for enshrining the Buddha images.
The architecture type of Bagan may be classified as eleven types. They are three types of stupa, four types of temple, ordination hall library, Pitikat teik monasteries and city wall.
Local people in Bagan mentions that there are four greatest Pagodas in Bagan and they are : the finest is Ananda, the biggest is Dammayangyi, the highest is Thabinnyut and the most wonderful is Shwezigon Pagoda.
It is one of the most venerated pagodas in Myanmar and is covered in gold leaf. King Anawrahta, think himself as a “universal monarch” set about to obtain all possible relics of the Buddha. And he got the Buddha’s collar bone and frontal bone from pyay (Prome), he also got a copy of the Tooth of Buddha from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and an emerald Buddha figure from Yunan of China. It was enshrined all these sacred relics of Buddha. As he died in 1077, King Kyansitha supervised completion of the structure in 1089.
It is a solid cylindrical in style and is a prototype of the other similar structure in Myanmar. The bell of pagoda stands upon the three terraces, reached by stairways from the cardinal directions. The pagoda spire, crowned by a “hti” rises above the bell in a series of concentric moldings. On each of the four sides of the pagoda is small temple which enshrines the standing Buddha of the Gupta style. At the northeast corner of the platform there are 37 images of Nets or spirits which were officially recognized by the king and the Buddhist deities of Myanmar. Shwezigone pagoda festival is held annually during the month of November or December in honor of the pagoda.
Wetgyi–Inn Gupyaukgyi Pyaya
It is near Wetgyi – Inn village between Bagan and Nyaung-U. It was built in early 13th century, on the model of Maha Bodhi Zedi. It has an entrance in the east and it is a double terrace cave pagoda. On outer walls are ink writings of 550 Jatakas and drawings captioned in Pali and Myanmar in squares characters. The cement plaques bearing the drawings were most dense and shiny.
Shwegugyi Temple(1131 AD)
The only temple nearest from the palace and built on the 12 feet foundation because the religious temple must be higher than the palace . Also the only temple completed (or) finished within 1 month , because stated on may 5 and finished on December 5. We can see here 16 century wooden doors, original stucco carvings, reconstruction of paintings and also good for panorama.
The most interesting thing in this temple is king Alaungsithu stone inscription . It was written in beautiful verses and it means “I will first try to know the truth and after that , I will save those who are drowning in the river of Samsara (or) circle of lives, I will comfort those who are in worries. I will awake those who are sleeping in the darkness.
After all, we all will cross the river of Samsara to the other side of the circle of lives (or) Navana.
We can see king Alaungsithu’s noble inscription (or) mind by reading this inscription. But the king had very sad ending because he was killed by his own son prince Narathu inside this temple.
Ananda Temple (1091 AD)
Ananda Temple is the finest and masterpiece of king kyansitha in Bagan, and the only temple with 1000 corner stupas 1000 niches 2 corridors, four standing Buddha images made of wood and each are is 31 feet (or) 9.5 meter, four big wooden door and sand stone carvings of the each-life of Gautama Buddha from the dreaming of his mother Queen Mahamayadevi up to his Nivana. We can see here pure Gothic arch and corbelled Arch and also original guardians of the door and guardian angels at the entrance to the second corridor.
The name Anada has three different definitions (1) Number one is in Sanskrit “Anan mean” very beautiful, (2) Number two is the name of the Buddha’s cousin brother Ananda and Number three the last one is originated from Pali words Anada Pyanya which means Infinite (or) Endless wisdom.
Out of (4) standing Buddha, only North and South are original, East and West are later replacement in the 19 century, Because the two originals Buddha images were destroyed by fire.
The murders of the North and South are Dhamsakka (or) preaching position. Here Dhamasakka means “Wheel of the law ” “Surmon”. The east is a Sivara or travelling position and Buddha image of the West is Abaya (or) Have no fear (or) Fearlessness (or) not to be frightened.
The robe of the original image is transparent that one can even see, the abdomen, the body and the knees part of the Buddha image.
Most of the pagodas foundations in Bagan are square, but Ananda’s Architecture is Greek cross. One thousand niches, inside this temple are not only for placing Buddha images but also for reducing the Echo and Vibration.Near the standing Buddha in the western entrance, there are two status of the king kyansitha, the doner (or) the builder of this temple and the next one is the missionary monk form Thatone.The temple is 168 ft and many corners have legendary lions with one head two bodies use as a guardian of the religious building or monument.
Another wonderful thing in Ananda temple is glaze Terracotta’s of the base of the ground floor. Half from the temple to the west are the figures of Mara’s Army in the Hideous position because they lost war against the Buddha.
Those to the east are the figures of Angle (or) celestial being who are in the happy position because they are very pleased for the victory of Buddha over Mara.
The early Stupa type Pagoda in Bagan from the third century and was built by king Pyusawhti. According to the tradition, the historical background of this Pagoda is very interesting. During the 3rd century , there were (5) enemies threatened to the people of Bagan; (1) the wild bear, (2) the big bird, (3) the big Tiger, the big flying squired and a very big Gourd Plant (or) Creeper. So, this is the place where the Gourd Plant has grown very fast.
The vine of this plant was so strong and if they cut at night it was double-sprouted in the next morning. So, there was no one to kill the plant. They were afraid of covering the whole Bagan area. At that time Pyusawhti came to Began from Tagaung.
At first Pyusawhti killed the other (4) enemies and then he came here and killed the Gourd plant or creeper with his magic arrow. He received big reward to marry the king’s daughter and became a crown prince.
When his father- in- law king Thamudarit passed away, Pyusawhti became the king of Bagan and built this Pagoda at the place where a gigantic gourd climbing plant grew. That’s why the shape of this Pagoda is look like the Gourd fruit. Previously, this Pagoda was also used as a land Mark of Navigation. It has a bulbous form and is built on rows of crenulated walls overlooking the Ayeyarwaddy river.
It is the only temple of its kind in Bagan area. It lies across the main road of Bagan and is an exact replica of the structure of the same name in India’s Bihar State, built in 500 A.D. At site where lord Buddha achieved enlightenment. It was built in Bagan during the reign of king Nantaungmya (1210- 1234). The basement is a quadrangular supporting the pyramidal structure. The whole structure is covered with niches bearing seated Buddha images. It has been renovated after the damage of 1975 earthquake.
Sulamuni Temple (1183 AD)
Very nice temple from 12 century and one can see original painting (or) frescos from 12 century and also some frescos from 18 Century.
One of the largest Myanmar style Temple and the eastern comer of the temple are Zigzay (or) winding, not like open square corridor like other temples. This temple was used as a hospital by the British Army in 1945. In olden day, this pagoda area was not smooth ground, it was a big hole and many creeks, trees, and long grasses has grown . One day in 1183 AD, King Narapatisithu went to visit the Tuywintaung Pagoda and on the way back he came pass through this area. When the king arrived near here the king saw a bright shining light. He thinks that supernatural beings are showing him a place to make merit. He ordered his men to find out where the shining light come out. After digging, they found a precious ruby. So, he built the temple on 1183AD and enshrined the ruby and given the name as Sulamani meaning small ruby (or) the color of ruby.
There are many things to see inside this temple such as the reclining Buddha, Buddha sheltered by many Nagas (serpent Dragon ), white elephants, garuda, minister and revering tour of the Royal family with royal barge in painting.
Dhamayangyi Temple( 1163-1165 AD)
The largest temple in Bagan and the only temple look like the pyramid in Egypt. This temple was built within 3 years by king Narathu and one of the finest brick-work Temple in Bagan. Some local mention that even a needle cannot push into the joint (or) between 2 bricks. We can also see here the original painting from 12 century, The painting behind the big seated Buddha in the east were from the 16 century and the designs are look-like ivories inter- twisted each other.
According to the history, king Narathu was killed by Indian commandos as a revenge for killing their India Queen. That’s why he was known as Kalargyaimin or the king assassinated by Indians.
The innermost passage way of the temple is mysteriously closed and till today nobody know the reason!
It was built by Prince Yaza Kumara in 1113 near Mya Zedi in Myinkaba. He made and consecrated a gold statue for well-being of his father Kyansittha, approaching his death.
It is east facing Temple. The main structure is a square. On the wall is a Nat figure with many hands holding various weapons. Masonry work could be studied there. In the cave is a Buddha statue and Bagan period murals preserved by UNESCO in 1986 nearly in their original state on the walls.
The murals tell of 550 stories of Buddha previous life and Buddhistic Ovada Kathas. The stories are captioned in old Mon script.
Manuha Temple (1059 AD) 11 Century
The only temple look-like squeezing Buddha inside the temple because it was built by king Manuha, Captive king of Thatone in 1059 A.D, just south of Myingabar village. He was here under house-arrest. When he wanted to build a temple, he sold his royal ruby ring to a rich man from the Myinkaba village and received the 6 bullock cart loads of money.
He used all that money and built this temple with three uncomfortable seated Buddha images and one reclining Buddha of 90 ft (or) 30 meters on the other side. The builder’s grievance is graphically demonstrated by the Buddha images. As a king under arrest, he can’t speak and do as he wants. So he made squeezing position to show how he was suffering.
That is the physical discomfort and metal distress (or) Broken Body and spirit. The big Buddha in the centre is 46 feet and the other two are 36 feet each. Three seated Buddha means suffering but the reclining Buddha means release, that’s why, one may notice a smile on the lip of the reclining Buddha.
In front of the temple has a huge stone bowl which can be filled up12 bag of steamed rice. There is a common family joke of that area concerning with King Manuha stone bowl. If somebody eats too much they say you are just like the Manuha bowl, Never enough and Never full!
The only temple in Bagan with very big three headed Hindu God, Brahmas and beautiful Floral design of stone carvings. Nanpaya means “Palace temple because this temple was built at the Manuha’s Palace site by his grandnephew.
Three headed Brahmas means one is original other two are Vishnu and Shiva. There is an empty throne in the centre of this temple and principle image may be Buddha or a Hindu god. Between the interior windows one can see the little niches and they are used to place for the lamps.
Outside the temple above the windows one can also see the small kalasapot . Brahmas in the pagoda used for decoration because Branhmas and India are disciples of Buddha. When Buddha descent from the heavenly home (or) celestial home after preaching his ex-mother on the full moon of October Buddha was flanked by Brahima holding the umbrella and Indra playing conch. That’s why every Buddhist country celebrate annual lighting festivals for the welcoming of the Buddha coming from the heavenly home.
Petleik Pagoda (East or West)
The two pagodas have unglazed terracotta which depicts 550 Buddha’s previous life stories. One of the earliest Pagoda of king Anawrahta but badly damaged and renovated. Some terracotta is badly broken but others are still in excellent conditions.
Out of two Petleik the eastern Petleik is the copy of Sri Lanka style because there is a square box after the bell shape.
And the west Petleik is the copy of the Seinnyet Nyima pagoda because it has Amalaka (or) Myrabalan fruit shape after the bell shape.
Lawkananda Pagoda (1059 AD) 11 Century
One of the Buddha tooth relic pagoda built by king Anawrahta and the area was the commercials business habour of Bagan, because many boats were coming from Sri Lanka, India, Arakan and Mon state and Anchored at that spot. That’s why this harbor was mentioned as “silk route” between India and China.
Lawkanada means “joyous of the world” and also this is Pyu style look like a cylinder without too much decoration.
According to tradition legend, king Anawrahta welcomed the tooth –Relic of the Buddha sent by the king of Sri Lanka in 1059 AD. The king went out into the river to welcome the relic. After arriving at the palace, the king was very pleased to have worshiped the original Buddha tooth. So, he made a wish. If he attains Buddha-hood, let a replica of the tooth appear from the original. A replica appears and he made again and again until he received four replicas. After that, the king placed the replica on the back of the white elephant and made a solemn wish that he would build a pagoda where the white elephant come to stop.
So, the white elephant came from the palace ground and stopped here and he built this pagoda.
If you enter the old Bagan you’ll pass though Tharabba Gateway. It is the only structure left of the old city built by king Pyinbya in the 9th century A.D. Traces of stucco carvings on the frieze are visible on the exterior walls. The entrance to it is guarded by two Bagan’s guardias- nats of spirits, called Mahagiri Nats. These two nats, brother and sister, are namely Maung Tint De (Mr. Handsome) and his sister Shwemyethna (Miss Golden Face), whose images are kept on the left and right shrines at the Tharaba Gate, the male on the left and the female on the right. They are the most important Nat or spirits in Myanmar history.
Thatbinnyu Temple (1144 AD)
The highest temple in Bagan, it is 201 feet above the ground and one of the pure Myanmar style temples with the open window entrances. The whole corridor of the ground floor is white painted many times. So the original frescoes were all disappeared but on the ceiling of the western entrance has beautiful painting because those were renovated about 15 years ago by the Archaeology department by removing the white paints.
The name Thatbinnyu means “Ommiscience” (or) seeing and knowing everything wisdom. At the Northern corer where one can see the sitting position of the Buddha on the bench with two hands are nearly touching the breast and also half smiling face. This means “taming of his wife, Yasodaya. When the Buddah coming to his mother kingdom.
This Position of half smiling is the symbol of forgiveness. Two hands nearly touching the breast mean “loving Kindness”.
Near this temple has a little pagoda called “tally Pagoda” because this pagoda was built by the bricks which were left-over used for the Thatbinnyu Temple. It means one bricks was left as tally for every 10,000 bricks used for the main temple Thatbyinnyu.
Salay is located 36km south of Bagan, on the bank of Ayerwaddy River. It takes about two hours by car from Bagan. It is a small town having more than 50 monasteries, over 100 Bagan era monuments, faded colonial buildings. Salary is famous for its huge 19th century wooden monastery called Yokesone Kyaung with impressive woodcarvings, a Buddha image made from bamboo coated with layers of lacquer from Bagan period, and other Bagan era monuments like Payathonzu, Shinpinsarkyo, and Temple 99 for their notable mural paintings in the interior walls. Salary can be made for a half day tour from Bagan or combine with Mt Popa for a full day tour from Bagan.