Shwedagon Pagoda

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Shwedagon Pagoda
ရွှေတိဂုံစေတီတော်
Shwedagon-Pano.jpg
Shwedagon Pagoda
Former names Shwe Dagon Pagoda
Alternative names Great Dagon Pagoda
Golden Pagoda
General information
Type Buddhist pilgrims and missionaries
Location Yangon, Myanmar
Coordinates 16°47′54.37″N 96°8′58.07″E / 16.7984361°N 96.1494639°E / 16.7984361; 96.1494639Coordinates: 16°47′54.37″N 96°8′58.07″E / 16.7984361°N 96.1494639°E / 16.7984361; 96.1494639
Completed 6th century[citation needed]
Height
Antenna spire 112.17 m (368 ft)[citation needed]
Roof 105 m (344 ft)[citation needed]
Design and construction
Architect King Hsinbyushin
Website
www.shwedagonpagoda.com
Shwedagon Pagoda at night

The Shwedagon Pagoda (ရွှေတိဂုံစေတီတော်, IPA: [ʃwèdəɡòʊɴ pʰəjá]); Mon: ကျာ် လ္ဂုၚ်, [tɕaɪʔ təkɜ̀ŋ]; officially titled Shwedagon Zedi Daw ([ʃwèdəɡòʊɴ zèdìdɔ̀]), also known in English as the Great Dagon Pagoda and the Golden Pagoda, is a 99 metres (325 ft)[citation needed] gilded pagoda and stupa located in Yangon, Burma. The pagoda lies to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, on Singuttara Hill, thus dominating the skyline of the city. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within: the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight strands of hair from Gautama, the historical Buddha. Uppatasanti Pagoda is an exact replica of Shwedagon Pagoda in Naypyidaw, the new capital of Burma.

History[edit]

According to legend,[1] the Shwedagon Pagoda has existed for more than 2,600 years, making it the oldest historical pagoda in Burma and the world.[2] According to tradition, two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, from the land of Ramanya, met the Lord Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and received eight of the Buddha's hairs in 588 BC.[citation needed] The brothers traveled back to their homeland in Burma and, with the help of the local ruler, King Okkalapa of Burma, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the king opened the golden casket in which the brothers had carried the hairs, incredible things happened:

There was a tumult among men and spirits ... rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell ... the blind beheld objects ... the deaf heard sounds ... the dumb spoke distinctly ... the earth quaked ... the winds of the ocean blew ... Mount Meru shook ... lightning flashed ... gems rained down until they were knee deep ... all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.[3]
Shwedagon Pagoda after World War II

According to some historians and archaeologists, however, the pagoda was built by the Mon people between the 6th and 10th centuries AD.

The stupa fell into disrepair until the 14th century, when the Mon king Binnya U of Bago had the stupa rebuilt to a height of 18 m (59 ft). A century later, Queen Shinsawbu (1453–72), Dhammazedi's mother-in-law, raised its height to 40 m (131 ft). She terraced the hill on which it stands, paved the top terrace with flagstones, and assigned land and hereditary slaves for its maintenance. She yielded up the throne to Dhammazedi in 1472, retiring to Dagon; during her last illness she had her bed placed so that she could rest her dying eyes upon the gilded dome of the sacred fane. The Mon face of the Shwe Dagon inscription catalogues a list of repairs beginning in 1436 and finishing during Dhammazedi's reign. It mentions Queen Shinsawbu under a Pali name of sixty-six letters. By the beginning of the 16th century the pagoda had become the most famous place of pilgrimage in Burma.[4]

A series of earthquakes during the next centuries caused damage. The worst damage came from a 1768 earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa, but afterward King Hsinbyushin (lit. Lord of the White Elephant) of Konbaung Dynasty raised it to its current height of 99 m (325 ft). A new crown umbrella called hti (ထီး) was donated by King Mindon Min in 1871 after the annexation of Lower Burma by the British.

An earthquake of moderate intensity in October 1970 put the shaft of the hti visibly out of alignment. A scaffold was erected and extensive repairs to the hti were made.

The pagoda is listed on the Yangon City Heritage List.

From 22 February 2012 to 7 March 2012, devotees celebrated the annual Shwedagon Pagoda Festival (ေရႊတိဂံုဘုရားပြဲ) for the first time since 1988, when it was banned by the governing State Law and Order Restoration Council.[5][6] Celebrations began at the Rahu corner of the pagoda's yinbyin platform, at the Maha Pahtan and Aung Myay central platforms (အာင်မြေဗဟိုမဏ္ဍပ်နှင့် မဟာပဋ္ဌာန်းမဏ္ဍပ်), at 9 am. on 22 February.[7] The Shwedagon Pagoda Festival, which is the largest pagoda festival in the country, begins during the new moon of the month of Tabaung in the traditional Burmese calendar and continues until the full moon.[6]

Guest Records[edit]

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton watering a small Buddha statue at Shwedagon
Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva reveres a Buddha at a planetary post
US President Barack Obama pours water over the left shoulder of the Friday Buddha

Design[edit]

Diagram showing the various architectural features that comprise the design of the Shwedagon Pagoda

There are four entrances (မုခ္ mouk) to the Paya that lead up a flight of steps to the platform (ရင္ျပင္ yin byin) on Singuttara Hill. The eastern and southern approaches have vendors selling books, good luck charms, Buddha images, candles, gold leaf, incense sticks, prayer flags, streamers, miniature umbrellas and flowers. A pair of giant leogryphs called chinthe (ျခေသၤ့ mythical lions) guard the entrances and the image in the shrine at the top of the steps from the south is that of the second Buddha, Konagamana. The base or plinth of the stupa is made of bricks covered with gold plates. Above the base are terraces (ပစ္စယာ pyissaya) that only monks and men can access. Next is the bell-shaped part (ေခါင္းေလာင္းပံု khaung laung bon) of the stupa. Above that is the turban (ေဖာင္းရစ္ baung yit), then the inverted almsbowl (သပိတ္ thabeik), inverted and upright lotus petals (ၾကာေမွာက္ၾကာလွန္ kya hmauk kya hlan), the banana bud (ငွက္ေျပာဖူး nga pyaw bu) and then the crown. The crown or umbrella (ထီး hti) is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. Immediately before the diamond bud is a flag-shaped vane (ငွက္ျမတ္နား nga myat na). The very top, the diamond bud (စိန္ဖူး sein bu) is tipped with a 76 carat (15 g) diamond.

Southern Entrance to the Shwedagon Pagoda

The gold seen on the stupa is made of genuine gold plates, covering the brick structure and attached by traditional rivets. Myanmar people all over the country, as well as monarchs in its history, have donated gold to the pagoda to maintain it. The practice continues to this day after being started in the 15th century by the Mon Queen Shin Sawbu, who gave her weight in gold.

Middle terrace[edit]

Buddha image by King Dhamazedi
Dhamazeti inscription Post
Buddha image named 'Save your will'

Rituals[edit]

Planetary post for Jupiter (Thursday), where devotees with that birthday pour water and make offerings to the Buddha image

Visitors must remove their shoes before the first step at any of the entrances. The southern and eastern approaches have traditional shops with wide gradual staircases. In addition these entrances have an elevator and the infrequently used western one is equipped with escalators. Burmese walk around the stupa clockwise (let ya yit). The day of the week a person is born will determine their planetary post, eight in all as Wednesday is split in two, a.m. and p.m. They are marked by animals that represent the day, galon (garuda) for Sunday (ta nin ganway), tiger for Monday (ta nin la), lion for Tuesday (in ga), tusked elephant for Wednesday a.m.(bouddahu), tuskless elephant for Wednesday p.m. (yahu), mouse for Thursday (kyatha baday), guinea pig for Friday (thaukkya) and naga (mythical dragon/serpent) for Saturday (sanay). Each planetary post has a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers and prayer flags and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish. At the base of the post behind the image is a guardian angel, and underneath the image can be seen the animal representing the day. The base of the stupa is octagonal and also surrounded by small shrines, eight in number for each day of the week.

Most Myanmar people are Buddhist, at the same time believing astrology which originated from Hindu Brahmanism. It is very important for every Myanmar Buddhist people to recognize the day of their birth, such as Sunday, Monday, Tuesday etc. Otherwise, he or she may not know which part of pagoda platform to go and make special devotional acts either his or her desire or by the advice of Astrologer.

Myanmar astrology recognizes the[neutrality is disputed] seven planets, namely Sun, Mon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. In addition, it recognizes two other planets, Rahu and Ketu. All the Myanmar names of the planets are borrowed from Hindu astrology, but the Myanmar Rahu and Ketu are different from the Hindu Rahu and Ketu. The Myanmar considers them to be distinct and separate planets, whereas Hindu astrology considers them to be either the Dragon's Head and Tails, or Ascending and Descending Nodes. To the Myanmar people, Ketu is the king of all planets. As with other Nations the Myanmar name the seven days of their week after the seven planets, but Myanmar astrology recognizes an eight days week, Wednesday being divided into two days; until 6 p.m. it is Wednesday, but after 6.pm. to the midnight it is Rahu's day.

The basic belief of Myanmar astrology is that the planets, except Ketu, mould a man's fate. The planet of a man's birthday will be the main guardian of his fate, but at each particular period of a man's life a particular planet throws upon him its baneful or its beneficial influence. For example, at one period of his life he will be under the influence of Saturn and ill-fortune will befall him, but at another period he will be under the influence of Venus and good fortune will result. Thus the ebb and flow of a man's fortune depends on the paths in the sky of the planets.

Most Myanmar Buddhist approach an astrologer for something or another, whether to go ahead with a move to a new house or get married or pass exams or doing new business. The astrologer would do some calculations according to the magic formulas he alone knows and arrive at a certain conclusion. The astrologer would sometime say that he or she is under the bad influence of a certain planet and to counter this the clients should go to his or her birthday planetary post and pour a certain number of cups of water or place papier mache umbrellas or flowers etc. as "yadaya" or to put it in English, a symbolic counter to avert the bad influences the subject is under currently or looming in the future by using the inherent powers in his or her offering plus some personal wishes. Or, the symbol of water in conjunction with the symbol of a planetary post will mean that he may send a Wednesday born to pour water at the Saturday corner, and so on. He alone knows the symbols connected to each and he alone can calculate on what day or time to do it, and where. And whoever do not want to avoid misfortune and bad luck just by pouring water at one’s planetary post and ensure one’s peace of mind and end of anxieties.

When Myanmar Buddhists go to the pagoda, they know in their hearts that they are treading the noble path to that state where the best of human nature will have a fair chance to manifest itself in deeds of generosity, loving kindness and compassion for one's fellow beings.

Visits to pagodas are important to Myanmar Buddhists. The guiding force is faith in the efficacy of one's own karmic deeds. For example, contemplation of the infinite compassion of Buddha, as one makes one's way to Shwedagon's great stupa, is a good karmic deed.

The pilgrim, on his way up the steps of the pagoda, buys flowers, candles, coloured flags and streamers. They are to be offered in honour of the great stupa wherein are enshrined the relics of Buddha. This act is the act of dana, or giving, an important aspect of Buddhist teaching. The donation boxes around the pagoda receive offerings large and small, given to the pagoda for general purposes. All donations are voluntary, from the smallest coin put into the box to the priceless jewels hung on the top of the pagoda. No fees are ever requested at pagoda for use of the lifts or for the minding of footwear. The pilgrim can make whatever donation he chooses and may even make none if he wishes.

Shwedagon in literature[edit]

View of the Great Dagon Pagoda in 1825, from a print after Lieutenant Joseph Moore of Her Majesty’s 89th Regiment, published in a portfolio of 18 views in 1825-1826 lithography

Rudyard Kipling described his 1889 visit to Shwedagon Pagoda ten years later in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches—Letters of Travel vol. 1 (1899). See External Links below for full text.

Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of warehouses, sheds, and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now?
'There's the old Shway Dagon' (pronounced Dagone, not like the god in the Scriptures), said my companion. 'Confound it!' But it was not a thing to be sworn at. It explained in the first place why we took Rangoon, and in the second why we pushed on to see what more of rich or rare the land held. Up till that sight my uninstructed eyes could not see that the land differed much in appearance from the Sunderbuns, but the golden dome said: 'This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.' 'It's a famous old shrine o' sorts,' said my companion, 'and now the Tounghoo-Mandalay line is open, pilgrims are flocking down by the thousand to see it. It lost its big gold top—'thing that they call a 'htee—in an earthquake: that's why it's all hidden by bamboo-work for a third of its height. You should see it when it's all uncovered. They're regilding it now.'

War and invasion[edit]

In 1608 the Portuguese adventurer Philip de Brito e Nicote, known as Nga Zinka to the Burmese, plundered the Shwedagon Pagoda. His men took the 300-ton Great Bell of Dhammazedi, donated in 1485 by King Dhammazedi. De Brito's intention was to melt the bell down to make cannons, but it fell into the Bago River when he was carrying it across. To this date, it has not been recovered.

Two centuries later, the British landed on May 11, 1824 during the First Anglo-Burmese War. They immediately seized and occupied the Shwedagon Pagoda and used it as a fortress until they left two years later. There was pillaging and vandalism, and one officer's excuse for digging a tunnel into the depths of the stupa was to find out if it could be used as a gunpowder magazine. The Maha Gandha (lit. great sweet sound) Bell, a 23-ton bronze bell cast in 1779 and donated by King Singu and popularly known as the Singu Min Bell, was carried off with the intention to ship it to Calcutta. It met the same fate as the Dhammazedi Bell and fell into the river. When the British failed in their attempts to recover it, the people offered to help provided it could be restored to the stupa. The British, thinking it would be in vain, agreed, upon which divers went in to tie hundreds of bamboo poles underneath the bell and floated it to the surface. There has been much confusion over this bell and the 42-ton Maha Tissada (three-toned) Gandha Bell donated in 1841 by King Tharrawaddy along with 20 kg of gold plating; this massive ornate bell hangs in its pavilion in the northeast corner of the stupa. A different but less plausible version of the account of the Singu Min Bell was given by Lt. J.E. Alexander in 1827 [1]. This bell can be seen hung in another pavilion in the northwest of the pagoda platform.

The Second Anglo-Burmese War saw the British re-occupation of the Shwedagon in April 1852, only this time the stupa was to remain under their military control for 77 years, until 1929, although the people were given access to the Paya.

During the British occupation and fortification of the Pagoda, Lord Maung Htaw Lay, the most prominent Mon-Burmese in British Burma, successfully prevented the British Army from looting of the treasures; he eventually restored the Pagoda its former glory and status with the financial help from the British rulers. This extract is from the book “A Twentieth Century Burmese Matriarch” written by his great-great-great grand daughter Khin Thida.

“After retirement he moved back to Rangoon area still in Burmese hands but very soon destined for the next annexation. He was again caught up in war but this time he had a great fortune of supporting religious ventures and gaining tremendous merit. His good karma and leadership abilities led him to the task of saving the great Shwedagon Pagoda from imminent destruction and sacking of its treasures by British troops in the second Anglo-Burmese War.

The great Buddhist shrine had been fortified by the British troops in the 1824 war and was again used as a fort in 1852. When he heard of the fortification and sacking of the shrine, he sent a letter of appeal directly to the British India Office in London stopping the desecration. He then obtained compensation from the British Commissioner of Burma Mr. Phayre and began the renovations of the Pagoda in 1855 with public support and donations.

He became the founding trustee of the Shwedagon Pagoda Trust and he was awarded the title of KSM by the British Raj for his public service. He died at the age of 95, bequeathing his prestige and high repute to his large family and descendants.”

Political arena[edit]

In 1920, students from Burma's only university met at a pavilion on the southwest corner of the Shwedagon pagoda and planned a protest strike against the new University Act which they believed would only benefit the elite and perpetuate colonial rule. This place is now commemorated by a memorial. The result of the ensuing University Boycott was the establishment of "national schools" financed and run by the Burmese people; this day has been commemorated as the Burmese National Day since. During the second university students strike in history of 1936, the terraces of the Shwedagon were again where the student strikers camped out.

In 1938, oilfield workers on strike hiked all the way from the oilfields of Chauk and Yenangyaung in central Burma to Rangoon to establish a strike camp at the Shwedagon Pagoda. This strike, supported by the public as well as students and came to be known as the '1300 Revolution' after the Burmese calendar year, was broken up by the police who, in their boots whereas Burmese would remove their shoes in pagoda precincts, raided the strike camps on the pagoda.

The "shoe question" on the pagoda has always been a sensitive issue to the Burmese people since colonial times. The Burmese people had always removed shoes at all Buddhist pagodas. Hiram Cox, the British envoy to the Burmese Court, in 1796, observed the tradition by not visiting the pagoda rather than take off his shoes. However, after the annexation of lower Burma, European visitors as well as troops posted at the pagoda openly flouted the tradition. U Dhammaloka publicly confronted a police officer over wearing shoes at the pagoda in 1902. It was not until 1919 that the British authorities finally issued a regulation prohibiting footwear in the precincts of the pagoda. However, they put in an exception that employees of the government on official business were allowed footwear. The regulation and its exception clause moved to stir up the people and played a role in the beginnings of the nationalist movement. Today, no footwear or socks are allowed on the pagoda.

In January 1946, General Aung San addressed a mass meeting at the stupa, demanding "independence now" from the British with a thinly veiled threat of a general strike and uprising. Forty-two years later, on August 26, 1988, his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed another mass meeting of 500,000 people at the stupa, demanding democracy from the military regime and calling the 8888 Uprising the second struggle for independence.

September 2007 protests[edit]

Protesters at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.

In September 2007, during nationwide demonstrations against the military regime and its recently enacted price increases, protesting monks were denied access to the pagoda for several days before the government finally relented and permitted them in.

On September 24, 2007, 20,000 monks and nuns (the largest protest in 20 years) marched at the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon. On Monday, 30,000 people led by 15,000 monks marched from Shwedagon Pagoda and past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Comedian Zarganar and star Kyaw Thu brought food and water to the monks. On Saturday, monks marched to greet Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest. On Sunday, about 150 nuns joined the marchers.[8][9] On September 25, 2007, 2,000 monks and supporters defied threats from Burma's junta. They marched to Yangon streets at Shwedagon Pagoda amid army trucks and the warning of Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung not to violate Buddhist "rules and regulations."[10]

On September 26, 2007, clashes between security forces and thousands of protesters led by Buddhist monks in Burma have left at least five protesters dead by Burma security forces, according to opposition reports,[citation needed] in an anticipated crackdown. Earlier in the day security authorities used tear gas, warning shots and force to break up a peaceful demonstration by scores of monks gathered around the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The web site reports that protesting "monks were beaten and bundled into waiting army trucks," adding about 50 monks were arrested and taken to undisclosed locations. In addition, the opposition said "soldiers with assault rifles have sealed off sacred Buddhist monasteries ... as well as other flashpoints of anti-government protests." It reports that the violent crackdown came as about 100 monks defied a ban by venturing into a cordoned-off area around the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's holiest Buddhist shrine.

It says that authorities ordered the crowd to disperse, but witnesses said the monks sat down and began praying, defying the military government's ban on public assembly. Security forces at the pagoda "struck out at demonstrators" and attacked "several hundred other monks and supporters," the opposition web site detailed. Monks were ushered away by authorities and loaded into waiting trucks while several hundred onlookers watched, witnesses said.[citation needed] Some managed to escape and headed towards the Sule Pagoda, a Buddhist monument and landmark located in Yangon's city centre.

Replica[edit]

The smaller replica with 46.8 meters height at Berastagi, North Sumatra, Indonesia is constructed with almost all of the pagoda components came from Myanmar.[11]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha
  2. ^ http://www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/article/myoma_myint_kywe/the-buddha-%28bc-623bc-543%29
  3. ^ Reed, Robert; Grosberg, Michael (2005). Myanmar (Burma). Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1740596954. 
  4. ^ BURMA, D. G . E. HALL, M.A., D.LIT., F.R.HIST.S.Professor Emeritus of the University of London and formerly Professor of History in the University of Rangoon, Burma.Third edition 1960. Page 35-36
  5. ^ Gecker, Jocelyn (22 February 2012). "Festival returns to Myanmar's Shwedagon Pagoda". Yahoo! News (Associated Press). Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Banned festival resumed at Shwedagon Pagoda". Mizzima News. 22 February 2012. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  7. ^ "ရွှေတိဂုံစေတီတော်နှစ် ၂၆၀၀ ပြည့် ဗုဒ္ဓပူဇနိယပွဲတော် ဖွင့်ပွဲအခမ်းအနားကို ဖေဖော်၀ါရီလ၂၂ ရက်နေ့တွင် ရာဟုထောင့် အောင်မြေ၌ကျင်းပ". Eleven News (in Burmese). 23 February 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2012. 
  8. ^ Afp.google.com, 30,000 rally as Myanmar monks' protest gathers steam
  9. ^ Radionz.co.nz, Monks continue to pile pressure on military
  10. ^ Burmese protesters defy junta's threat of crackdown
  11. ^ "Pagoda Emas Tertinggi Ternyata Ada di Berastagi". Retrieved April 15, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Martin, Steve (2002). Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma). Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1-74059-190-9. 
  • Elliot, Mark (2003). South-East Asia: The Graphic Guide. Trailblazer Publications. ISBN 1-873756-67-4. 
  • Win Pe (1972). Shwedagon. Printing and Publishing Corporation, Rangoon. 
  • "Dictionary of Buddhism" by Damien Keown (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-860560-9

External links[edit]