[Shwedagon Pagoda (Paya), Yangon – Myanmar]
Visitors to Europe would be familiar with the phenomenon of being cathedralled out. This is when you visit lots of cathedrals in a short space of time, to the point that you tire of even the grandest of cathedrals. The same happens with the temples of Asia. To be templed out. Having spent much time in Thailand I have experienced a dose of wat fatigue myself. I didn’t see any Buddhist quotes that prepare you for this experience. In the mysterious land of Myanmar there is a temple that will awaken anyone from the deepest of temple fatigue. Introducing the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
The first hint for me that this is not your every day temple was while looking out the window flying into Yangon. There was a brown haze firmly stuck over the city, yet the golden stupa shone brilliantly in the morning light.
The Pagoda is a few kilometres (or miles, as they still use here) outside the city centre and it dominates the skyline. As I walked closer I realised that what I was seeing is one of the great temples of Asia; up there with Angkor Wat and Borobudur.
[To the Shwedagon Pagoda]
How old is the Shwedagon Pagoda?
Historians say that the pagoda was built between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. Legend has it that the original temple is over 2500 years old. It was built to enshrine eight of the Buddha’s hairs, which were given to two merchant brothers by the Lord Buddha himself. Over the years the shrine was added to, destroyed by earthquakes and wars, and rebuilt and improved. Like the Ship of Theseus, there has been so many replacement parts over the years that what you see today is not original.
At over 2500 years old the Shwedagon Pagoda would be the oldest Buddhist temple in the world – even older than the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Without solid evidence it would be more probable to be as old as the historians say.
Since my visit to Shwedagon, archaeologists have discovered what they think is the world’s oldest Buddhist shrine in Lumbini, Nepal. The structure inside Mayadevi temple dates from the sixth century BC (around the time of Buddha’s birth).
Speaking of Bodhgaya, within the temple complex there is a banyan tree that is descended from the Mahabodhi Temple, the same tree that the Buddha sat under.
[Banyan tree descended from the Mahabodhi Temple]
How much gold is at the Shwedagon Pagoda?
[The golden stupa]
Another question that doesn’t come with a straight answer. Trying to find out how much gold is here is an exercise in futility. An online search will give you answers from 9 to 60 tonnes, and that number is constantly changing. There is always worshippers applying gold leaf to something, and in the case when I was there, workmen adding another layer of gold to the Zedi.
[Reguilding the stupa. Don’t ask me how that scaffolding works!]
Inside the Temple Complex
I easily spent a few hours wandering around the little temples within the complex. It is best to come in the late afternoon to avoid the fierce heat and to see the temple as the sun is setting.
[Temples within the temple complex]
So there it is, one of the great temples of the world. While I have been shaken from my temple fatigue, I pity the poor temple I visit next. This is a hard act to follow.