Shwesandaw Pagoda – A “Guardian” of Ancient Bagan

13 Jun 2019 by Admin

Shwesandaw Pagoda is one of the highest pagodas in Bagan Plain. With the height of 328 feet and an imposing structure, the pagoda can be seen from far away and is an ideal spot for sightseeing in Bagan, especially at the moment of sunrise or sunset.


Shwesandaw Pagoda is One of the Highest Pagodas in Bagan

The Origin of Shwesandaw Pagoda

In accordance with the ancient tradition of Pyu, the Pagoda was located outside the walls of the ancient city of Bagan together with four other pagodas, including Shwezigon Pagoda, in order to create divine protection for Bagan City.


The Upper Half of the Pagoda was Whitewashed

The construction of Shwesandaw Pagoda started in 1057 A.D by the order of King Anawrahta, the founding father of Bagan Kingdom. King Anawrahta wanted to enhance Buddhism in his kingdom, so he asked King Manuha, who ruled the Mon Kingdom of Thaton, to give him a copy of Tripitaka, the teaching of Gautama Buddha. Upon the refusal of King Manuha, King Anawrahta invaded Thaton. When returning from the Mon Kingdom, he brought with him hair relics of the Buddha and ordered the construction of Shwesandaw Pagoda to enshrine them. In Burmese language, Shwesandaw means “golden holy hair”. In the past, the pagoda used to be named “Ganesh” or “Mahapeine” after the elephant-headed Hindu God guarding at the corners of the receding terraces who used to be worshiped in Bagan before the arrival of Buddhism.

The Architectural Design of Shwesandaw Pagoda

Shwesandaw Pagoda has a symmetrical design with a bell-shaped stupa rises from two octagonal pedestals placed on five square receding terraces. Until the early 50s of the twentieth century, Shwesandaw Pagoda still maintained its original design with just some minor repairs and maintenance. In 1957, however, the Pagoda Management Board decided to modernize the temple by using limewash and plaster adornment on the upper half of the pagoda.


The Overal Structure of Shwesandaw Pagoda

The stupa is crowned with a gilded multi-tiered hti which is an ornamental spire in the shape of a ceremonial umbrella commonly encountered on temples and pagodas in Myanmar. The hti that we see today is just a replacement. The original hti was toppled by an earthquake in 1975 and is now displayed on the south side of the pagoda.


A Rare Moment Without Tourists on the Pagoda

The five receding terraces used to be covered with hundreds of terracotta plaques depicting the scenes in several Jataka tales about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. Unfortunately, today tourists don’t have the opportunity to see them. During the restoration work in the 1990s, many bronze and stone Buddha images were found and they were moved to the Bagan Archeological Museum.

Sightseeing on the Top of Shwesandaw Pagoda

One outstanding feature of this pagoda is that there are stairs on all four sides leading to the pedestal of the stupa unlike most of the pagodas and temples in Bagan plain which just have only one stairway. Though the reason of constructing four stairways is still unknown, it is clear that this feature makes it much easier to climb up and down the terraces when the pagoda is crowded with tourists.


Sunset on Bagan Plain

You should bear in mind that the stairways leading to the top are very narrow and steep, so climbing is not an easy task for a well-fit tourist, let alone young children and elder travelers. However, once you have made it to the top, you will be rewarded with the breath-taking panorama view from there. Thousands of tourists have chosen Shwesadaw Pagoda as the spot for capturing spectacular moments on Bagan plain, especially at sunrise or sunset. Most of the pictures of Bagan are taken from the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda.

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