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The Governor’s Residence, Yangon, Myanmar

Temples and Pagodas

A pagoda is a bell-shaped structure providing a place for the faithful to pray or make an offering. The centre of the pagoda usually enshrines a holy relic. For this reason they are usually sited on elevated ground. A temple is a building in which devotees can enter to pray unlike a pagoda where worship is conducted outside.

Yangon is probably most memorable as the site of the Shwedagon pagoda, the biggest and the most important Buddhist shrine in the country. Rising from the top of a small hill, its golden spire soars to a height of nearly 100 metres to dominate everything around it. As you reach the top of one of the four covered stairways you see hundreds of pavilions and shrines, statuary images and throngs of devotees praying and making offerings.

The Mahamuni Pagoda can be found on the southern side of Mandalay. Pre-dating the foundation of the city but reconstructed in the late 19th century, this large shrine is approached by covered walkways lined with shops and astrologers’ booths. It houses the most venerated Buddha statue in Mandalay. The large, seated image is so greatly revered that layer upon layer of gold leaf, placed as a mark of homage by a ceaseless flow of worshippers, have distorted the true shape of the statue. Only the highly polished face, gazing serenely on the daily scene of religious observance, is untouched.

Ananda temple on the plains of Bagan, its name stemming from Burmese for “infinate wisdom of Buddha”, was completed in 1091. The centre is a vast cube dominated by four 9.5 metre high Buddha’s richly coated in gold. The vaulted passages around it are pierced with many niches.

Eleven kilometres upriver from Mandalay lies Mingun, home of the worlds largest uncracked bell and the largest unfinished pagoda.Started by King Bodawpaya in the early 19th Century the construction was abandoned at 150m high on the death of the King in 1819 and was subsequently damaged by an earthquake in 1838. Dwarfed by Mingun Pagoda is the beautiful white Settawya Pagoda built in 1811 containing a marble footprint of the Buddha.

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