Shwedagon Pagoda Guide

History

Shwedagon-evening

Shwedagon evening

According to legend, Shwedagon was built more than 2,500 years ago during the time of Lord Buddha. The two merchant brothers from then Okkalapa (now ) met with Gautama Buddha shortly after he attained enlightenment, and became the first disciples of Lord Buddha. Gautama Buddha gave them eight hair relics which they brought back to their country. In Okkalapa, they built the first pagoda in the history of Buddhism, Shwedagon on the holy Singuttara Hill. Although there is no archeological evidence to support this official story, most Buddhists in Myanmar and around the world believe in this story and Shwedagon becomes one of the most important centers of Buddhism.

For detailed history of , please see the article Shwedagon Pagoda History.

Stairways (Zaung-dans)

Shwedagon-stupaMost visitors to Shwedagon Pagoda climbed up the Singuttara Hill by one of four stairways or zaungdans. Shwedagon Pagoda, like most other pagodas in Myanmar, has four stairways or zaungdans, one on each side of the pagoda (north, south, east and west). The stairway that is most used by the foreign visitors is the Southern Stairway, which ascends from the direction of the city center. The stairway starts immediately at the end of the Shwedagon Pagoda Road, which runs straight from downtown Yangon (Rangoon). Shwedagon Pagoda Road starts near Bogyoke Aung San Market, and runs north until it ends at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda. From here starts the Southern Stairway. The entrance of this stairway is guarded by two beautiful and equally fearful Chinthes, which are mythical creatures, or leogryph. These are giant half lion, half griffin creatures which guard most entrances to pagodas in Myanmar. Along the length of the stairway on either side are the shops that sell Buddha images, flower pots, religious charms, books on Buddhism, flowers and souvenirs. Next to the stairway is a public lift and a toilet for tourists as well as a counter for collecting tourist entrance fees of US$ 5. There is also another entrance fee collection counter at the end of the stairway.

Western Stairway can be approached from U Wisara Road (Tiger Alley). This is the longest zaungdan among the four stairways of Shwedagon. This stairway was closed for almost 80 years during British occupation. Original zaungdan was built by Ma Mya Kalay, wife of King Tharrawaddy. It was damaged during the second Anglo-Burmese War and was closed to public. It was totally destroyed by fire in 1931. An effort to rebuild the zaungdan was done by the contribution of two pice (small coins) by Buddhist shopkeepers of Theingyizay Bazaar; hence the zaungdan bears the name “Two Pice Tazaung”. An escalator was installed in this stairway now. This stairway is the only stairway in Shwedagon without any shops on the way.

Northern Stairway was built by Queen Shin Saw Pu in 1460. The entrance to this stairway is guarded by two Chinthes, as well as crocodiles on each side of the stairway as borders. As usual, there are stalls on each side of the stairway. Places of interest near this stairway are the

  • Martyr Hill, where the assassinated leaders of Burma, Aung San and 8 others, are buried,
  • Heroic Solders’ Mausoleum, in honor of all those soldiers who lost their life during the independence movement and the civil conflict,
  • Thwezekan (literally means blood wash pool), a large pool which, according to popular legend, is the place where Kyansittha, the commander in chief of Bagan Army and later the popular Burmese king, washed his blood stained sword during King Anawrahta’s expedition into the Mon Kingdom in Southern Burma in early 11th century.

Eastern stairway is approached from Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake by road. There is Bahan Bazaar near the entrance of the zaungdan. Along the road leading to the entrance of the zaungdan are a number of stalls selling souvenirs. On the way to the pagoda terrace, on the side of the stairway are three stones erected by Mon King Dhammazedi in 1485. Written in Burmese, Mon and Pali, the stone inscriptions, known as Dhammazedi Stones, described the history of Shwedagon from the time of Gautama Buddha to the time of King Dhammazedi. These stones have now been moved to a building in the North-East corner of the terrace.

The Terrace

“At last we reached the great terrace. All about, shrines and pagodas were jumbled pell-mell with the confusion with which trees grow in the jungle. They had been built without design or symmetry, but in the darkness, their gold and marble faintly gleaming, they had a fantastic richness. And then, emerging from among them like a great ship surrounded by lighters, rose dim, severe and splendid, the Shwe Dagon.”

– W. Somerset Maugham, The Gentleman in the Parlour (1930)

Do any of the visitors know how many terraces or levels in Shwedagon? Many visitors know only the main terrace. Some know the existence of the upper level above this main terrace. However, most visitors are probably ignorant of the existence of the lower level in Shwedagon Pagoda.

There are three levels of terraces in Shwedagon Pagoda. The platform most foreign visitors usually visit is the main terrace, or the middle level. This is the most visited level in Shwedagon pagoda. Most religious buildings such as shrines, stupas, Buddha images, pavilions, buildings and bells are built in this level. Visitors and worshipers pay homage to Lord Buddha and offer flower, water, incense and candle light to the pagoda at this level. The terrace was built during the 15th century by Mon kings after leveling the top of the Singuttara Hill. The terrace is 275 meters from north to south and 215 meters from east to west. The area of this terrace is 5.6 hectares (14 acres). The whole terrace is inlaid with marble slabs.

Shwedagon-terrace

The Terrace of Shwedagon Pagoda

However, above this level or terrace lies another level, the upper terrace. This is the most sacred floor of the pagoda. Only males are allowed to enter this floor. Visitors wishing to enter this floor need permission from the security. All foot wear must be left behind before entering this level. This terrace is open only during 6 AM to 6 PM. As far as I know, foreigners are not allowed to enter this floor, as this is only for the purpose of religious activities such as praying and meditation. Presence of tourists would destroy the quietness and serenity of the place.

The level below the main terrace is the lower floor. There is no marble slab or any sign indicating this is the lower level. Most visitors would simply not aware the existence of this level. This is the small strip of level ground on side of the stairway on the way to the main terrace. There is a small concrete foot path on either side of the stairway around the middle. This concrete foot path circles the whole hill, forming the lower level of Shwedagon Pagoda. This is where Buddhist monasteries are situated. You can take a walk along the footpath (in bare foot) and observe the various old and new monasteries in Shwedagon. Most foreign visitors to Shwedagon never know about this and never visit this place.

Main Stupa Structure

Shwedagon-eveningAt the centre of the main platform is the main structure of the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is a massive gold covered stupa with the height of 99 meters (326 feet), and a circumference of 433 meters (1,421 feet) at the level of the main platform. The main stupa structure is octagonal in shape and is surrounded by 64 small stupas – 8 stupas on each side (8×8). There are four large stupas at each cardinal point directly across each stairway (north, south, east and west). At each corner of these small stupas is Manoksiha (or) Manokthiha, Burmese version of sphinx with head of a guardian spirit (dewada) and two conjoint bodies of chinthe (lion). This is a mythological creature believed to guard religious structures. There are also a number of chinthes guarding the main stupa.

The complex structure of Shwedagon Pagoda can be broken down into three main parts:

  • The octagonal base
  • The bell shaped dome
  • The conical shaped spire

The octagonal base is made up of three terraces which recede upward on each other. The first part is the square plinth which is 6.4 meter high. Above this square plinth are octagonal terraces (paccaya). The four sides at the cardinal points (north, south, east and west sides) have straight edges; while the other four sides in between them have serrated edges. Above this structure is the octagonal dais called shit-mhaung (eight edges).

Shwedagon-stupa

Shwedagon Pagoda Main Stupa

The dome part of the Shwedagon Pagoda consists of many parts, among which the most prominent part is the bell or khaung-laung, above which is the inverted alms bowel (tha-beik-mhauk). The shoulder or upper part of the bell is decorated with 16 beautiful petals.

The conical shaped spire is made up of seven circular bands (phaung-yit) at the base. Above these circular bands is a structure reminiscent of the “Lotus Throne”: an upturned lotus (kya-lan) and an inverted lotus (kya-hmauk). This lotus structure usually serves as pedestal for some Buddha images. The third part is the elongated tear shaped structure, called nga-pyaw-bu or banana-bud. The top part of the spire is hti or umbrella.

The hti or umbrella of the Shwedagon Pagoda is worth mentioning. It is adorned with 5448 diamonds, and 2317 rubes, sapphires and other gems. There are 1065 golden bells in this hti. In the middle of the hti is a 76 carat diamond.

Most modern pagodas in Myanmar follow this structure and most pagodas more or less look like the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Floor Plan and Map

Shwedagon-floor-plan

Shwedagon Pagoda Floor Plan

For the details, please see the post Shwedagon Pagoda Floor Plan.

Structures on the Pagoda

Lets start our tour of Shwedagon Pagoda from the Southern Stairway, as it is the most commonly visited stairway by tourists and locals alike.

South and South-west

Shwedagon-southern-shrineFrom south, which is the stairway used by most foreign visitors to Shwedagon, you first arrived at the Southern Main Shrine (or) Southern Devotional Hall (5). There is an image of Konagamana Buddha in the shrine. Konagamana Buddha is the second Buddha of this world. (There were 4 Buddhas in this world, with the fifth and the last to come in the future). The hall was renovated in 1947 and again a few years ago. There are a number of ancient Buddha images in this shrine which differ markedly from other images on Shwedagon. The hall has iron tracery in the spandrels, donated in 1957 by the family of land owners, U Ba Yi and Daw Than May. The motif (design) of this tracery is floral, but there are a number of pyinsarupa, which is a mythical animal with different forms combined – trunk and task of elephant, horns of mythical deer, legs and hoofs of horse, wings of a bird and tails of a carp (large fish). This is the same animal used by Yangon Airways as the logo.

Southern Devotion Shrine

The proper way to tour Shwedagon Pagoda is to turn left and walk clockwise. This is the proper way for the visitors to tour the pagoda. Walk a little clockwise and to the west of the southern shrine is the Chinese Merited Association Tazaung (6). Here, there are 28 Buddha images that represent all Buddhas who have lived since the creation of time. To the west of this tazaung is the Hall of Gold and Silver Hills (7). It was originally built by U Tin Ya and his wife Daw Nu in the style of a Chinese temple. It was later renovated and the Chinese style roof was replaced with a Burmese style roof with several tiers. However, there are still a number of Chinese style structures inside the Hall. The Golden and Silver Hills, which give the hall its name, are characteristically Chinese, and are at the corners of the hall.

Shrine of Sun and Moon

To the west of this Golden and Silver Hills Hall is the Shrine of Sun and Moon (8). There, you will see a lot of believers who believe the two Buddha images can grant your wish. There are always devotes at this shrine.

Walk behind the Sun and Moon Shrine, and you will arrive at the famed Monument of the University Boycotters (9), situated at the south-west corner of the terrace. This monument was erected in a place of an old resting place where eleven student leaders from Rangoon College and Judson College met secretly in 1920 to boycott the Rangoon University Act. The boycott spread to all over the country, and marked the first of a series of student movements in the history of Burma. There are inscriptions of the names of these eleven students in Burmese, English, French and Russian.

A short distance to the north of this monument is the Shrine of the guardian spirit of Shwedagon Pagoda (or) Shwedagon Bo Bo Gyi (10). This is kept behind the glass together with Thagyamin (or) the King of heaven.

Note: The Shwedagon floor plan indicating these places can be viewed atShwedagon Floor Plan.

West Terrace

Continuing north, on the western side of the terrace is the Hall of U Thin and Daw Thet Pyin (11). Built in 1891 by the shop owner U Thin and his wife, the hall has some beautiful screen carvings. The story in front features the story of a legendary bandit, Htilat. According to Burmese legend, he wished for invulnerability and was given advice in his dream by the Min Kyaw Swa Nat (the spirit). Min Kyaw Swar Nat (Nat in Burmese means spirit) is the ancient Burmese nat whose picture is usually portrayed on a horseback with rein in one hand and riding stick in another hand.

North to this hall is the Rakhine Tazaung (or) Arakan Pavilion (12). This pavilion was built by two wealthy Rakhine merchants, U Ba Htaw and U Doe Aung, and has a slightly western look due to the Corinthian pillars. However, the tier roof is definitely a Burmese style with beautiful wood carvings made by famous Sayar Khin of Mandalay. The screen carvings of the Rakhine Hall are also very beautiful. From left to right, they depict the Vessantara (Weithandara) Jataka. Next to this hall is an 8.5 meters reclining Buddha. Buddha’s head is pointing to the north, indicating he is in the state of nibbana (nirvana).

To the north of Rakhine Tazaung is the Daw Pwint Tazaung (13). Here, visitors can see many beautiful screen carvings. The one over the entrance features the story of legendary Shwe-phyin brother from Bagan era. According to legend, the two brothers got drunk during their duty during the construction of the pagoda in Taungbyon in central Burma, and were executed by King Anawrahta of Bagan. When they died, they became nats (spirits), and were worshipped by people of Bagan (possibility because of their popularity among common people of Bagan).

Opposite these two tazaungs are the (14) statues of Melamu and Sakka (Thagyamin or king of heaven). According to legend, they are the parents of King Okkalapa, the founder of Shwedagon Pagoda. They are placed under the white umbrellas, which symbolize their royalty.

North of Daw Pwint Tazaung is the Koo Chein Kan and Ma Kyee Kyee Hall (15), also known as Chinese Merchants’ Tazaung. Just north to this Tazaung, at the end of the western stairway, is the Two Pice Tazaung (16). A pice is a small coin used in the British colonial period. After this stairway and the Tazaung were burned down in 1931, shop keepers and businessmen from Theingyi Bazaar in Rangoon donated two pice a day to construct the stairway and the Tazaung at the end of the western stairway. Hence the name Two Pice Tazaung was given to this pavilion.

Directly opposite the Two Pice Tazaung is the Western Shrine (17) or devotion hall for Kassapa Buddha. The original Tazaung was built by U Aung Gyi and Daw Saw Nyung in 1900 at the cost of 120,000 rupees. However, the original Tazaung was burned in 1931 fire and totally destroyed except three marble slabs that record the deed of merit in Burmese, English, Chinese and Hindi.

If you go a little further to the north of this Tazaung, you will see the Statue of King Okkalapa, founder of the Shwedagon Pagoda. This statue is also placed under the royal white umbrella.

North-west Terrace

In the open area to the north west of the main stupa is a small octagonal pagoda. This is the Pagoda of the Eight Weekdays (18). On each side (there are eight sides) of the pagoda is a niche, in which there is a small Buddha image. Above each Buddha image is an image of an animal that represent each day of Burmese eight weekdays.

Just near this strange octagonal pagoda is the (19) Hall of King Singu’s Bell (Maha Gandha Bell). This bell was donated in 1779 by King Singu (1776 – 1781), the fourth king of Konbaung Dynasty. The official Pali name of the bell is Maha Gandha, which means “Great Bell”. It weighs 25 tons and measure 7 feet high, 6 feet 8 inches wide at the mouth and 12 inches thick. There are twelve lines of inscription on the bell. The inscriptions describe Singu, who came to the throne on 9 June 1776, who ruled over the country of 16 provinces, cast and donated the bell to Shwedagon on 17 January 1779.

Singu’s Bell is associated with an interesting history. In 1825, British attempted to steal it from Shwedagon Pagoda. However, the ship that carried the bell to India sank in Rangoon River together with the bell. After several unsuccessful attempts to salvage the bell, British finally gave up. Then, a group of Burmese people successfully raised the bell from the river bed without using any modern techniques. The bell was then restored to its original position in Shwedagon pagoda.

North of Singu Bell is the U Po Thaung Hall (20). U Po Thaung was a land officer of the Rangoon Land Development Trust, and also served as a trustee of the Shwedagon Pagoda. This hall was built in 1923 and has 15 beautiful carved panels by U Ba Thin. These carved panels depict the efforts of King Asoka of India, who is the great patron of Buddhism who spread Buddhism in India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia.

To the west of U Po Thaung Hall is a small insignificant shrine called Shin Saw Pu’s Shrine (21). However, the shrine was always decorated with flowers and surrounded closely by faithful. Tradition is that the Buddha image inside this small shrine is donated by Queen Shin Saw Pu of Hansawaddi (1453 – 1472). She is the famous and beloved queen in Myanmar history who renovated Shwedagon to current shape and form. People believe this Buddha image is able to fulfill wishes and work miracles.

Buddha image in the Hall of Great Prosperity

Near Shinsawpu Shrine, around the North West corner of the terrace are two Bodhi Trees (22). These trees are usually decorated with flowers and small flags. The larger one was planted in 1903 and the smaller one was planted by U Nu, prime minister of Burma from 1948 to 1962. It was grown from the cutting from the Holy Bodhi Tree in India, which is believed to be the tree under which Prince Siddhartha attained nirvana.

To the east and close to U Po Thaung’s Hall is a large Hall of Great Prosperity (23). The hall has a 9 meter (30 feet) high seated Buddha, the largest seated Buddha image in Shwedagon. Due to its large size, the hall is often used for various religious ceremonies. Every year, on the eve of Full Moon Day of Tazaungmon (October – November), there is a weaving competition of robes for Buddha, which was done in a single night. The next morning, the robes are offered to the Buddha images on Shwedagon.

North Terrace

Victory Ground, Shwedagon Pagoda

Just in front of this great hall is the famous Victory Ground (24). This is one of the most sacred places in Shwedagon. The place is always packed with people who pray and wish for the success, of any kind. Traditionally, this is the ground where kings, princes, generals and solders of ancient Hansawaddi Mon kingdom come and pray for success before they leave for war. In recent years, this place is associated with student political movements as student activists usually use this ground for launching their anti government activities. Not surprisingly, this place is one of the most closely watched places in Shwedagon.

Just in front of this Victory Ground is the Eleven Shrine Cluster (25). This is a cluster of eleven shrines with a standing Buddha in the middle at the top of the cluster. Behind the Victory Ground is another hall named Chan Mah Phee’s Hall (26). It was built in 1898 and bears the Chinese name “Fucigong”, which means “Temple of Blessing and Compassion”. Although it bears the Chinese name, the architecture is definitely Myanmar. It has seven-tire roof, which are decorated with beautiful and detailed carvings featuring kings, ministers, royal pages and nats (spirits). Screen carvings in this Tazaung are also very well done and depict the life of Gautama Buddha.

Just east of Chan Mah Phee’s Hall is the Buddha’s Footprint Hall (27). Inside the hall, there is a crowned Buddha image with a Buddha’s footprint in front. This footprint is encircled and protected by a naga (serpent). Historically, during the third week after enlightenment, Gautama Buddha was protected by the naga king Mucalinda when there was a great shower of rain. Before 1st century AD when Buddha was starting to be represented in human form, his footprint, wheel and the Bodhi tree were used as iconographic figures to represent Gautama Buddha.

In front of the Buddha’s Footprint Hall is the building of the Zediyingana Society (28). The building houses a collection of more than 6,000 books. Most of these books are rare texts on Buddhist religion and Myanmar culture. The Zediyingana Society is one of many societies that take responsibility in maintaining pagodas in Myanmar.

In front of Zediyingana Society building is the Sandawdwin Pagoda or Hall of Hair Washing (29). This is the site where, according to a popular legend, Eight Buddha’s Hair was washed before they were enshrined. There are screen carvings on the wall which depict, among the foliage and flowers, the two merchant brothers receiving the sacred hair of Gautama Buddha. A brick shrine was built in 1879 over the spring in which sacred hair were washed. Later, the shrine was decorated with glass mosaic work. The spring is said to be fed by water from Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River.

To the north side of the main stupa, directly across the Northern Stairway, you will find the Northern Devotion Hall or North Main Shrine (30). The Buddha image inside the niche of the hall is that of Gautama Buddha, the fourth Buddha of this world. The hall is recognized to be the most beautiful of all four halls in Shwedagon. This hall is the donation of Sir Po Tha, who served as Honorary Magistrate, Member of the legislative Council and Trustee of Shwedagon Pagoda. He received several distinguished awards and was knighted in 1927.

North-East Corner

Just to the north of the Northern Devotion Hall is the Mahabodhi Temple (31). This is the replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, which is the place where Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. Mahabodhi Temple at Shwedagon takes only the general architectural structure of the original temple in India, and the details were varied greatly. The temple was built Dagon Khin Khin Lay, who was a famous Myanmar writer in early 20th century. She started her literary career in 1917 when, at the age of 13, she wrote a price winning short story.

A short distance to the north of Mahabodhi Temple is the Hall of Wizards (32). There are two wizards guarding the entrance of this hall. The wizard on the left is the wizard of iron, and the one on the right is the wizard of incantations. According to popular Myanmar believe, wizards practice the occult art of alchemy, casting of magic items and collection of magical plants. Their ultimate goal is to attain an ever-youthful body and superhuman ability, and to obtain supernatural powers. Although outside Buddhism, many Myanmar people believe in these wizards (or Bodaw) and put the shrines for these wizards in many Myanmar pagodas.

To the north of Wizards’ Hall is the pagoda known as Saw Lapaw’s Pagoda (33). Saw Lapaw is the chief of Kantarawaddy in the eastern Kayah (Karenni) State. The Kantarawaddy is a semiautonomous state between British Burma and the Burmese independent kingdom. He built this pagoda in 1879.

To the east of the Maha Bodhi Temple is the Strand Market Two Pice Hall (34). It was named Two Pice Hall because, like the western stairway entrance hall, it was built in 1914 with the daily donation of two pices (1/32 of a rupee) by the shopkeepers from the old Strand Market in Rangoon. The Buddha image in this Tazaung has a reputation of granting one’s wish. There is a magic stone in front of the Buddha image. After praying and asking your wish, the devotee lift the stone, saying “May this stone seem light to me, if my wish is to be fulfilled.” If the stone feels light, it is a sign that his or her wish is granted. If it is still heavy, it means your wish is not successful.

North of this Tazaung is the Shin Ajagona (Shin Itzagawna) Tazaung (35). Inside is a Buddha image with two different sized eyes. According to legend, Shin Ajagona was a monk from early Bagan era who practiced alchemy. He tried to find the Philosopher’s Stone, which he believed would have the ability to turn anything into gold. In his experiment, he dipped the metal stone into acid, but failed to produce the desired Philosopher’s stone. Admitting his failure, he poked out both of his eyes to appease the king of Bagan. The metal stone was also thrown into the toilet pit. However, to everyone’s amazement, the stone was turned into the Philosopher’s Stone as the final element to be added was feces. With the Philosopher’s stone in hand, he asked his novice to go and buy a pair of eyes, wither bull or goat, for him. However, the novice could buy only one eye of goat and one eye of bull. With the help of the Philosopher’s stone, the monk used these two eyes to restore his eyesight. However, his eyes were different from each other, and from that time on, the monk were known as Ajagona or “Ram-Bull”.

Just north of Shin Ajagona Tazaung is Naungdawgyi (Elder Brother) Pagoda (36). According to legend, the pagoda was built on a site where Eight Sacred Hair of Gautama Buddha was first placed on their arrival. King Okkalapa later built a smaller version of Shwedagon Pagoda at this site. Another legend says that Tapussa, the elder of the two brothers who got the Buddha’s Hair from Gautama Buddha, travelled to India again and received another hair of Buddha. He later enshrined the hair here and built a smaller pagoda. However, there is no archeological evidence to support either of these stories. A possible explanation for theorigin of Naungdawgyi Pagoda would be that this is indeed a small model by the architectures of Shwedagon Pagoda when Queen Shin Sawpu did the extensive renovation of the main stupa in 15th century AD.

To the north east of Naungdawgyi Pagoda, near the north east corner of Shwedagon terrace are Shwedagon Inscriptions (44). Originally located near the upper end of the Eastern Stairway, these were later moved to the North East corner of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Inscribed by Dhammazedi, King of Hansawaddy (1472 – 1492), in 1485, the inscriptions describe the origin and history of Shwedagon Pagoda since the time of Gautama Buddha up to the time of major renovations done by the kings and queens of Hansawaddi (Hanthawaddy). The inscription was written in Burmese, Pali and Mon languages, written in both front and back.

Near the Naungdawgyi Pagoda is the King Tharwaddy’s Bell (37). Officially known as Mahatisaddaghanta Bell, this bell was the donation of King Tharwaddy of Ava (1838 – 1846) after his visit to Rangoon in 1841-42. The bell was cast on 19 February 184 and bears the Pali name Mahatisaddaghanta, “Great Bell of Three Sounds”. It is the second largest bell in Myanmar (the first being the Mingun Bell near Mandalay). It weighs 42 tons and 14 feet 3 inches in height, 7 feet 2 inches in width at the mouth and 15 inches in thickness. The bell has an inscription of 100 lines in Burmese and Pali. This inscription is the longest bell inscription in Myanmar.

South of the Great Bell, near the north east corner of the main stupa is the replica of the hti (38) originally donated in 1774 by King Tharyarwaddy, and replica of the apex of the pagoda, donated by King Mindon in 1871.

East Terrace

Just at the back of the replica of hti is the Bo Bo Aung Shrine (39). Bo Bo Aung was the famous Burmese wizard of early 19th century who acquired great supernatural powers. Many Burmese believe that Bo Bo Aung, with his magical power, can live a life of longevity. Many people believe that he is still alive and look after those who believe in him. It should be stressed here that these wizard figures are in fact outside the belief of Buddhism, but somehow, they managed to get a place in Buddhist pagodas throughout Myanmar.

Near the Tazaung of the Eastern Stairway is the Daw Ngwe Zin’s Hall (40). In this Tazaung, there are a number of Buddha images including reclining Buddha and a crowned Buddha known as Labhamuni (Sage of Acquisition). One interesting article in this Tazaung is the sand stone cylinder, which can be viewed from the side. This sand stone cylinder is 5 feet high with a hollow core, and is made up of seven pieces of cylindrical rings stacked one above the other. Know as the “Thousand Buddhas”, it has 365 seated Buddha images on its surface.

Directly across the Tazaung of the Eastern Stairway is the (41) Eastern Main Shrine (Eastern Devotion Hall). The original Tazaung was built by Ma Mya Kalay, wife of King Tharyarwaddy of Ava, and was renovated by U Kalagyi in 1869. In one 1895 record, this Tazaung was described as “the handsomest on the pagoda platform”. The original Tazaung had screen carvings which featured previous lives of Buddha. The original Tazaung was destroyed in 1931 fire and was rebuilt by land owner U Myaing in 1939 has screen carving with peacocks, symbol of nationalism. Buddha image in this Tazaung is that of Kakusandha Buddha. This Buddha image, Known as Latpetlet (Latpatlat) Buddha, as well as other images in front of the main Buddha, is unusual in which the right hand is turned upward, not the usual downward posture. (Lapatlat in Burmese means upward turned hand).

Behind this Eastern Devotion Hall is the wish-fulfilling Buddha known as Tawagu Buddha (42). This pagoda is traditionally believed to have a magic ruby inside the head. The eyes of the Buddha image are very lively and look like real eyes. For this reason, the Tawagu Buddha is also known as “Live Ruby Eyes Buddha” (Padamya Myet Shin Buddha). The pagoda is situated in the niche behind the Easter Devotion Hall of Shwedagon Pagoda, on the upper terrace. According to popular legend, princes and nobles were not allowed to pray at this Buddha image during the time of Burmese and Mon kings. The reason for this was due to the fact that those princes who were going to rebel against the rule of the king used to come and pray at this pagoda.

To the right of the Tazaung of the eastern stairway is U Nyo Tazaung (43). The handsome hall was built in 1938, and has beautiful decorative roof and spandrels. The decorative features of the roof and the iron tracery of the spandrels were the execution of Saya Thant of Mandalay. There are elegant mosaic works in the roof and the walls inside the hall. There are also 17 panels of beautiful screen carvings which depict the life of Gautama Buddha, wish such scenes as ascetic Kaladevala predicting that the young Prince Siddhartha would become Buddha, and then cried when he realized that he would not live to see the boy becoming Buddha.

South-East Corner

Near the south east of Shwedagon main stupa is the Hall of Carousal (45). The carousal which is enclosed in the iron grill turns slowly. On the carousal are four large silver bowls into which people try to toss coins. Landing of the coin into the silver bowl signifies good fortune for thrower. On the walls of the hall that houses the carousal have interesting and beautiful screen carvings. From left to right, it depicts the Bhuridatta Jataka.

Near the upper Tazaung of the southern stairway, just to the east of it, is the (46) Curio Museum (opens daily). It contains the collection of small Buddha images, pagodas and other interesting articles.

At the south east corner of Shwedagon main stupa, near Saturday Planetary Post is the Shrine of fertility (48). The shrine is guarded by a female mythical demon that holds a baby in her hand. Tradition believes this shrine can grant fertility to women who could not get pregnant.

Shwedagon Pagoda Museum

Facts about Shwedagon would not be complete without mentioning the Shwedagon Pagoda Museum (47). Located in a building near the North-West corner of the Shwedagon terrace is the newly built Shwedagon Pagoda Museum. This building has a large collection of ancient pagodas, Buddha images, bells, images of worship (like nats) and many other things. This building also houses the Shwedagon archives and library, with old photos, historical documents on Shwedagon Pagoda, old archives and documents. There is an entrance fee to this museum. You can reach the museum through the land behind the King Singu’s Bell. The museum building is separate from the middle terrace and just outside the terrace.

Nine Wonders of shwedagon Pagoda

Believers traditionally believe that there are Nine wonders in Shwedagon Pagoda. Please see the post Nine Wonders of Shwedagon Pagoda for detailed description.

4 comments for “Shwedagon Pagoda Guide

  1. inghinhmawe
    September 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    In this page I can see everything about Shwe Dagon Pagoda!!!

  2. Ko Yar Zar
    September 30, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Dear Ko Thura,
    Thank you very much for your web because I can study a lots about our Myanmar.Sincerely to say,even though I am a Myanmar citizen I really poor in knowledge about Myanmar for my careless.I have joined my job when I was 18 years old.It would also made me blind in knowledge.I know a little Eng( one eye is a king among the blinds). Now, I am attending a Eng course in Brunei.Some of your writings are very good to explain to a foreigner about our culture,for instance,Bewear of your foot.

    Best wishes,

    Ko Yar Zar

  3. Pinky phyu yi
    August 10, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    I want to get more information of shwedagon pagoda. who know exactly

  4. pushpa
    February 11, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I was born in burma but because of military government & my father job we re in india,from 40 yrs i want to see once my birth place howto come my relatives are there but no support from them.

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