One of the places that you must pay a visit in Yangon (Rangoon) is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. Believed to be the first padoda ever built on Earth, Shwedagon is the centre of worship and devotion for all the Buddhist in Myanmar (Burma). Myanmar (Burmese) Buddhists believe Shwedagon was built around 2,500 years ago, during the time of Lord Buddha, although archiologists believe the pagoda was built during 6 and 10 century AD by Mons. Whether this claim is true or not nobody knows, Shwegadon remains centre of Burmese and Mon buddhism since ancient time. Many Burmese and Mon kings and queens renovated Shwedagon Pagoda several times in history, many of whom said to have donated gold equal to their body weights. Today, Shwedagon is estimated to be covered in 60 tons of gold plates!
Situated on the highest hill in Yangon, and rising above 326 feet above its base, the Shwedagon Pagoda can be seen from up to 50 miles away. It is indeed the most famous and prominent landmark in and around Yangon (Rangoon). The Shwedagon Pagoda is situated in the heart of Yangon (Rangon) and can be easily reached by bus or by taxi, or even walk on foot if you stay in one of many hotels and guest houses close to the Pagoda. There are four stairways or zaung dan, one in each direction of Shwedagon Pagoda (East, North, West and South), with the East zaung dan being the longest. At the entrance of each stairway,a pair of lions guard the approach. Along each zaung dan, with the exception of West zaung dan, shops are open on either side of the stairway. These shops sell buddha stupas, religous books, flower pots, flowers, incense jotsticks and candles. The zaung dans you see now are newly built just a few years ago: the old ones being so worn out and unstable that they had to be demolished. There are elevators alongside the Nort, East and South stairways with one escalator installed for the West stairway. Counters are opened at each stairway and elevator entrance so that entrance fees can be collected for the foreigners. Currently, entrance fees for Shwedagon Pagoda is US$ 5.
Any kind of footwear (including socks) are strictly prohibited on the Shwedagon Pagoda. You have to remove all your shoes and socks before entering the Shwedagon, stairway or an elevator. You can either leave your shoes at the foreigner counter or else carry it with you in a plastic bag. When visiting Shwedagon, all visitors should be properly dressed; shorts, miniskirts, revealing and sexy clothes are strictly prohibited. If you happen to be wearing an improper dress while visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda, you can buy a piece of longyi at the entrance at the counter to wrap around your waist. Also avoid talking loud, saying rude words or pointing your feet towards a Buddha stupa or a monk. If possible, avoid walking in front of the worshipers although this is not always possible.
The Shwedagon Pagoda has three levels or platforms. The second or middle platform is the level where most visitors to the Pagoda come and pay homage to the Lord Buddha. Entrance to the upper platform is restricted, and needs permission from the authorities. Women are never allowed into this platform due to religious reason.
At the upper end of each stairway situate a shrine, housing a number of Buddha images. You will see many devoted Buddhists paying homage to the Lord Buddha in and around the shrine, with some people donating gold foils to the Buddha images. To other Buddha statues around the pagoda, hundreds of devoted worshipers offer flowers, incense, candle light and clean water, for their karma this life and beyond.
There are a number of interesting places and Buddha images on Shwedagon Pagoda which are worth visiting. Some of these places are listed below although the list is far from complete.
- Old Hti (Umbrella) – This is the one that King Mingdon of Mandalay donated in 19th century when the previous hti was destroyed in the earth quake. King Mingdon’s hti was replaced with a new one a few years ago, and put on displayed on the middle platform of Shwedagon.
- Shwedagon Museum – Houses a number of ancient statues and archeological findings.
- King Tharyarwaddi’s Great Bell – donated in early 19th century by King Tharyarwaddi of Ava, Konbaung Dynasty. Being among the largest in Myanmar, it can be rung with a wooden pole.
- Sun-Moon Stupa – believed by many to hold special powers. Always packed with believers.
- 1920 Student Movement Monument – erected in honour of eleven student leaders from Rangoon College and Judson College, who discussed at this place in 1920, to boycott the Rangoon University Act of 1920. The event leads to the First Student Boycott and the day was later marked as National Day.
- Baby Carrying Yakkha – A statue of female mythical demon (called Yak or Yakkha) carrying a baby in her hand. Believed to hold powers to grant pregnancy to worshippers.