Shwezigon Pagoda – Radiant Halo of an Ancient Empire

13 Jun 2019 by Admin

Residing on the plain of Bagan, Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the most ancient and awe-inspiring monumental works in Bagan. The most outstanding feature is the enormous gilded pagoda glittering in the sunlight. The design of Shwezigon Pagoda has become the model for many other pagodas in Burma for centuries.

The Construction of Shwezigon Pagoda

King Anawrahta, the founding father of the Bagan Kingdom, ordered the construction of Shwezigon Pagoda. Legends had it that after being converted to Theravada Buddhism by a monk of the Thaton Kingdom, King Anawrahta started a campaign of massive temple construction across the Bagan Plain. The Shwezigon Pagoda was also part of that construction campaign.


The View of Shwezigon Pagoda Complex from Above

Shwezigon Pagoda was built with the purpose of enshrining several Buddha relics, in which there was a copy of Kandy sacred tooth relic in Sri Lanka. According to a legendary tale, the construction location was chosen by a white elephant that carried the sacred relic on his back. The pagoda construction officially commenced in 1059 and it took over three decades for the pagoda to be completed in 1590 during the reign of King Kyanzittha.

The gilded pagoda

The pagoda is situated in the heart of a base, surrounded by several other shrines and pagodas which have been added to the complex since the completion of the pagoda in 1090. The gilded stupa in the shape of a bell is placed on a square pedestal whose sides are approximately 49 meters long. At four corners of the pedestal, four huge golden Chinthe lions (Burmese mythical lions) stand guarding Shwezigon Pagoda. Three receding terraces are laid on top of the pedestal with the upper layer smaller than the lower ones. A small stupa is placed in each corner of the third terrace.


A Chinthe Lion Sentinel

The stupa on top of the terrace has a firm and symmetrical design with the height of approximately 49 meters. Like many other pagodas across Myanmar, the gilded pagoda is crowned by a hti which is a spire ornament in the shape of an umbrella.

Central staircases rising to the top of the terraces are allocated at all four sides of the pagoda and sentineled by Makaras (mythical sea creatures in Hindu legendary tales. The three terrace house gorgeous glazed terra-cotta plate showing the scenes from 547 Jataka tales, the stories about the Buddha lives.

Facing each side of the pagoda is a pavilion that houses a huge standing Buddha image dated from the 12th century. In each pavilion, there are two pillars with inscriptions in Mon language dated from the end of the 11th century that describe the history of Shwezigon Pagoda.

Other structures in Shwezigon Pagoda Complex

The pagoda complex is encircled by a wall with the length of 230 meters on each dimension with entrances on all four sides. A huge mythical lion stands guard at the main entrance gate. A shaded walk away with vendors shows the way to the pagoda.


A pavilion housing Buddha Image

After the construction of the pagoda was completed, several other structures have been additionally constructed in the next centuries. Several Tazaungs (open pavilion in Burmese style) and Pyatthat roofed temple can be found around the pedestal of the gilded pagoda.

Shwezigon Pagoda Festival


Monks Gather for The Festival

Annually, the Shwezigon Pagoda Festival is held during the 9th month of the Burmese calendar (falling in December). This festival draws thousands of Buddhist followers and devotees to this ancient temple every year. The chosen month was originally dedicated to paying respect and honor to the ancient Nat spirits, before the prevalence of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar.

Contact us today to book a cabin on our Burma River Cruises taking you to Bagan. There, you will have time to visit Shwezigon Pagoda together with many other ancient temples in the locality.

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