Not just the abode of god
For the People of Burma this Pagoda is not just an abode of god but god itself; as they have no place sacred enough to deposit some of the most sacred possessions (the relics left by four former Buddhas) they have like the ‘container with eight hairs of Gautama Buddha’, the staff carried by Kakusandha, a water filter used by Konagamana and a robe (only a piece left at present) used by Kassapa. It is Gautama Buddha who established Buddhism. Kakusandha, Kassapa and Konagamana are saints later ascended to the status as follower of Gautama Buddha.
How these relics arrived?
Myths and folklores have answers to all questions; as they have no limitations science and archaeology have. Let us rely upon the Burmese myths to understand the origin of the temple and the invaluable relic kept inside it. This temple is believed to be about two thousand five hundred years old (archaeologists opine that it has been built between 6th and 10th century).
The myth regarding the temple and eight sacred hairs kept in a golden container is thus; long ago two merchants (Taphuss and Bhallika) of the land of the Ramayana approached Buddha and received eight hairs from his holy body and proceeded to Burma to be enshrined it there. Knowing their sacred mission; king Ukkalapada of Burma built a temple on the Singuttara hill and helped them to install it there.
The myth has it that when the container was opened ‘there was tumult among man and spirits, rays emanated from the hairs rose up to the heaven and down to the hell, the blind could see, the deaf heard, the dumb spoke”
Rebuilding Shwedagon Pagoda
After its construction there were no maintenance works took place and the structure was in a state of disrepair. The Burmese king Binnya U of the ‘Mon’ dynasty rebuilt the pagoda to a height of 18 meters, there after there were several rebuilding exercises took place in various eras. Mon face and Shwedagon inscriptions give the list of maintenance works undertaken of which Queen Shinsawbu who preceded king Dhammazedi is of special significance.
To the present status of the Shwedagon temple the cultural world should be greatly indebted to this great queen who ruled
Much of the delight of this complex rests in its complex geometry of its shape and the surrounding structures, its golden glow can mesmerize anyone with a heart. It has been estimated that about 8688 solid gold bars have been used to plate its surrounding domes and for the main stupa another 13513! With a single look at this pagoda one will agree that all the gold and efforts for its construction did not go waste!
This pagoda complex has four entrances (mouk) that lead to the platform (yin byin) made on the top of the Singuthara Hill. There is a pair of mythical lions known as ‘chinthe’ place on the gates. On the top of the steps stands the statue of Konagamana considered the second Buddha. The base of the stupa is made of bricks and covered with golden leaves. As the stupa goes upwards it gets composed of shapes of various articles in very artistically carved.
Above it is the terrace where only monks are allowed to enter, next to it is the bell shaped parts (khaung laung bon) of the stupa (the onion-shaped hood of structures), above it is the turban (baung yit), above it the inverted alms-bowl (thabeik) and above it the inverted and upright lotus petals, above it the ‘banana-bud’ and then the crown.
The crown (hti) is tipped with 5448 diamonds, 2317 rubies and its utmost tip has a diamond weighing 76 carats (15 grams)
Invasions desecrations looting and earth-quake
In its long history Shwedagon Pagoda has been rocked by a series of earth-quakes but that occurred in 1768 shook the whole Burma; had its impact on Shwedagon Pagoda also; top of its stupa was brought down by the violent quake. It was duly rebuilt by King Hsinbyushin, it is with this work the Pagoda attained the present height. One recent quake that occurred in 1970 damaged the alignment of its hti (crown).
The Portuguese under Philip Brito invaded
The British who occupied the pagoda after the Anglo-Burma war in 1824 used the sacred Pagoda as a fortress! And when they vacated the complex all portables were lost and many damages done to the complex; but fortunately the stupa was intact. It was the 25 ton ‘maha gandha’ bell the British took, but the fate was that this bell also got sunk in the river!
One stage to clamor
Shwedagon Pagoda is the central stage of all activities in
Later students, oil-field laborers and people of all hues made it a point to assemble here to demand their rights. In 1938 Aung San demanded complete freedom from here; later in 1988 his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi demanded the same from here. Those who clamor for more and more favors from government also use this arena in wanton greed forgetting the sanctity of this sacred site.
At present Shwedagon Pagoda is more a pilgrim center than a tourist spot, Buddhists all over