Temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
A city of ten million temples
Bagan is located in the Mandalay area on eastern bank of Ayeyarwady River at about 160 km from Rangoon (Yangon) Burma. Though small in size it is really big in its cultural heritage with countless temples most of them in various stages of decay and many still in ship shape and performing. Perhaps the only place that can be compared to Bagan in this regard is Angkor Vat of Cambodia in the sheer size and architectural magnificence. Angkor Vat temples are covered in thick forests and are only partly visible only from a height; whereas the ruins of Bagan are far greater in number and lie exposed in the tropical sun and are easily accessible.
Bagan; its rise and fall
As Burmese rulers used to shift their capital as per the wish of the ruling regime; Bagan got two chances to be the seat of power during 9th and 12th centuries; it is during these terms all these structures were built. A D 1287 came in the shape of the legendary Mongol conqueror Kublai khan who ripped those beautiful structures apart and did as much damages as he could before his retreat! As the town got deserted robbers took away whatever were left by the Mongols.
A man-made disaster!
Temples in Bagan
In 1975 when a massive earth quake hit the town and did much damage to the structures the ruling military junta of Burma (Myanmar) reacted by rebuilding some of them with modern materials like concrete and beautified them with enamel paint! A request from the UNESCO to list them as World Heritage Sites -so that they could be resurrected with the experts in the field- was blatantly ignored by the ruling regime. Thus Burma had to suffer one man-made disaster that followed a natural disaster.
At present all the remnants of the structures of the ‘ten million temples’ lie scattered in 16 sq miles of land, looted, desecrated and getting damaged in sun and rain. About a thousand temples remain in good condition and some of them are functioning visited by devotees of which 10 temples that are immensely popular and remarkable in their make and hence covered in this article.
The Payathonzu Temple is built in the Mon style
It is also known as the ‘Crowning Jewell Temple’ (in Sanskrit sula means trident and mani means jewel) and was built by King Narapathi Sithu in 1181, in style its construction is akin to the Thatbyinnu temple and has influenced the style of Dhammayangvi temple. This temple got damaged in the 1975 earth quake and was repaired. Sulamani Temple is also known for the beautiful frescoes and idols that decorate its interior.
The Dhammayangvi Temple is the largest structure of all the surviving temples of Bagan. It was built by the Bagan King Narathu who ruled a brief spell between AD 1167 and 1170. Its style of construction resembles to that of Ananda Temple of the same area. This temple was built by King Narathu (1167 – 1170).
A Bagan Buddha, 12th century
This temple is 51 meters in height and was built exactly like the Nandamula Cave Temple in the Himalayan ranges India. The only difference is that the Ananda Temple is a bit smaller than the cave temple. It originally built during 1091 AD under king Kyanzittha but the gilding works that adorn the temple was done recently in 1990. As per Buddhism there are four Buddhas (prophets who have received divine revelations); the Gautama Buddha is the last of them There are four gigantic statues of the four Buddhas each looking to each direction (Kakusandha facing north, Konagamana facing east, Kassapa facing south and Gautama facing west).
Built in AD 1067 by Manuha; a Mon king of the Thaton country who was captured and held captive by Anawrahta. The most notable thing with this temple is that statues occupy whole area of the temple giving no space to the priests and devotees. Three huge Buddha statues in sitting posture and one gigantic Buddha in reclining posture; all idols virtually filling the entire space of the halls are the specialties of this temple.
Its was built by king Anawrahta in 1057 AD, it is considered as most sacred among the numerous temples of Bagan by the Buddhists as the holy hair of Buddha has been enshrined in its stupas. This temple also has been called Ganesha Temple as during the ancient times four idols of Ganesha (the Hindu god with the head of elephant; considered very auspicious) were placed in its four conrers.
As its name suggests it is a replica of the Bodhi Temple of Bodhgaya India. It was built by King Nataungamya between 1210 and 1234. (it was at Bodhgaya Gautama Buddha got enlightenment while meditating under a banyan tree; Bodhgaya is about 105 km away from Patna the capital of Bihar a state of India. There is still an old temple built by Emperor Ashoka with an equally old banyan tree. This premise is considered sacred by Buddhists and the seeds of this tree had been taken and planted in ancient Buddhist’s centers like Burma and Sri Lanka (Mahabodhi tree at Buddhist temple at Anuradha pura). This temple is decorated with numerous Buddha idols placed in niches.
Gate tower of Ananda Temple
Its work was begun by King Anawrahta who made Bagan his capital but it had to be completed by King Kyanzittha in 1089. The Shwezigon Temple is religiously the most important temple among all the structures in Burma as some bones and hairs of Buddha is kept in this place. During Nadaw a Burmese month (Nov – Dec) devotees from all parts of Burma visit this temple
The Gawdapalin Temple has a dome topped with a golden crown reaching sixty meters in height stupa. This beautiful temple that stands with grandeur on the bank of Ayeyarwady River was built by king Narapatisithu in late 12th century; it was badly damaged in the earth-quake which rocked the Mandalay region in 1975; it was rebuilt and at present it remains as one of the well kept temples in this region.
It is a crowd puller temple of the entire Mandalay region with a four meter tall idol cast in bronze that is covered with golden leaves; devotees bring golden leaves and decorate the idol for the fulfillment of their wish. It is said thus the weight of the idol has been doubled for the time due to this gold leaf adoration! The idol was originally situated in a temple in a village by name Rakhaing (located in the present Bangladesh). King Bodawpaya of Mandalay seized the image and brought it home to be placed in this temple. Women are not allowed to tough the sanctum sanctorum.
There is dispute regarding the time of its construction one school of thought is that it was built in AD 200 by King Pyusawhti; as style of construction seems more advanced it is believed that it must have been built in around AD 1000. The large inverted bell shaped dome with golden coating is a really beautiful thing to watch. This small pagoda which was almost completely destroyed in the 1975 earth-quake was rebuilt to the present shape.
There are thousands of temple in the Mandalay region of Burma; a large number of them are irrecoverably damaged and many in critical condition. Rebuilding of the temples as a World Heritage Site by experts in the field is an urgent requirement. The present government is not willing to entrust the work to the UNESCO authorities making the work impossible. It is hoped that good sense would prevail upon them one day and those once marvelous structures will rise from their deathbed to fascinate the world!