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Bagan (Pagan)


Bagan (Pagan)

Bagan is one of the richest archeological sites in the world and the highlight of every tour through Myanmar. In between 11th and 13th century the kings of Bagan dynasty ruled the country and ordered thousands of pagodas and temples to be built. Today about 20 temples and pagodas are most interesting due to temple architecture or ornamentic design. The stupa of the Shwezigon Pagoda, the only one covered with gold in Bagan, became the prototype for many pagodas built in later centuries. The terraces of Shwesandaw Pagoda offer the best location to watch the sunset. To witness the birth of a new day most of the "early birds" prefer the terraces of Minyeingon Pagoda. The visit of only some of the most important temples and pagodas will take two days minimum.

Mount Popa / Pakkoku

A half-day trip from Bagan, the symmetrical cone of Mount Popa is the centre of worshiping the "nat", typical Burmese Saints in Buddhism. The high rising mountain cone was created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago and offers a panoramic view of the dusty Bagan Plains. Shrines along the staircase with about 700 steps to the top of the mountain are dedicated to these nats. At the top of Mount Popa are some small Buddhist temples. The famous Popa Nat Festival is held here during the month of Nayon, following the lunar calendar.
Pakkoku is a 45 minutes river ride from Bagan. There are many ancient pagodas and temples, some of them older than those built during the Bagan dynasty.  

Places of interest

The central area, in and around the old walled city of Pagan, has many of the most important and impressive temples-they are also the most accessible temples from the main hotels. The route starts with the Ananda temple, just outside the old walls, then follows around the inside of the city in a clockwise direction. Temples and pagodas spread across the Pagan plain, and are divided into those NE of Pagan proper; N and E of Nyaung-U; S of Pagan to Myinkaba; further S around Thiripyitsaya; and E of Pagan around Minnanthu.

In and around the city walls

The Ananda Temple, just E of the city wall, is distinguished by its golden stupas; as it is in constant use, it is kept in good repair. The British colonial official Sir Henry Yule, who visited Pagan in 1858 talked of the "sublimity" of the Ananda's architecture, which, he said excited "wonder, almost awe". Started in 1091 by King Anawrahta and finished by Kyanzittha, the Ananda inspired the temple-building of later Burmese kings. It is a central pillar-type temple:the central portion is a square block, each side of which is 53rn long and 10.7m high. There are 4 large gabled portico entrances, giving the temple a cross-shaped structure. Above the base there are 6 receding terraces, crowned with a beehive-like spire called a sikhara. The pinnacle is a tapering pagoda with a hti. Four smaller stupas, all copies of the central spire, are at the roof's corners. Two tiers of windows admit light into the interior, illuminating the narrow corridors inside the temple. The Ananda initiated the 'double terrace' style of temple at Pagan. 

Pagan Museum, to the W of Thatbyinnyu and near the Gawdawpalin, was built in 1979 and preserves many of the images and treasures exposed or damaged during the 1975 earthquake. In the main gallery is the Rosetta Stone, dating from 1113, which is inscribed in Pyu, Mon, Pali and Burmese allowing scholars to decode the Pyu script for the first time - it was previously indecipherable. It is also known as the Myazedi Pillar and was found at the pagoda of the same name, next to the Gubyaukgyi temple in 1917 by the German superintendent of archaeology in Pagan. One of the most interesting exhibits is a bronze lotus bud which opens up to reveal a tiny stupa with delicately carved figures of the Buddha at its base. Pagan was also famous for the dolomite carvings on display in the main room.
The museum houses a collection of 10th and 11th century Buddha images in the Statue Gallery. The Chinese-influenced pot-bellied Buddhas are a source of much amusement to visiting Burmese. It is said there are over 4 million Buddha images in Pagan - it is not hard to see why if the scores of tiny images in relief on the stone slabs are included in the Buddha-count. A selection of jataka plaques is also on display. All items are labeled in English and dated. Next door to the Statue Gallery, replicas of particularly valuable statues are moulded from the originals; these will replace the originals in Pagan's temples to prevent theft.
The Department of Archaeology is attached to the museum; its superintendent and staff can update visitors on plans for restoration and renovation and on the progress of various archaeological digs. Since 1982, when restoration work began, most has been funded by the government and public donations, with United Nations agencies supplying technical assistance. Occasionally bilateral donations are received for particular projects-Germany, for example, has funded restoration work on the Ananda Pagoda. Archaeological digs on the E side of the city began in 1989, and excavations on the mound site of what is presumed to be one of the wooden palaces got underway in May 1990. Despite the mass-relocation of 5,000-7,000 of Pagan's residents in 1990, there still appear to be no plans to start archaeological excavations on the site of the old village. Open: 0900-1630 Tuesday-Sunday.

The Gawdawpalin Temple, to the N of the museum, was mostly built during the reign of King Narapatisithu but was finished by his son, King Htilominio. The Gawdawpalin may have been built for the purpose of royal ancestor worship as gawdawpalin means " platform to which respect of homage is paid ". The temple is an example of the late period of Pagan architecture and, like Thatbyinnu, it is double-storeyed with the main shrine on the upper level. A curvilinear spire rises above the upper terraces and is crowned by a slim tapering stupa. Unfortunately the temple was near the epicentre of the 1975 earthquake and was badly damaged - its restoration work is rather obvious. The Gawdawpalin is a good place to watch sunrises and sunsets, with its views over the Irrawaddy.

The Maha Bodhi Temple, NE of the Gawdawpalin and just off the main road, is a replica of the temple of the same name at Bodhgaya in India's Bihar state, which was built in 500 AD at the site where Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Pagan version is typical of India's Gupta Period and it is quite different from the standard bell-shaped Burmese temples. It is the only temple of its kind in Burma and was built during the reign of King Htilominlo (or Nadaungmya). It was the first temple in which a large number of Buddha images were placed in exterior niches - previously they had been confined to interior chambers. Most of these images are crude and rather disappointing close up: the whole temple is more impressive from a distance.

The Pagan Lacquerware Museum & Training Centre is on the way down to the river and the Buphaya. The museum has good examples of early lacquerware: 15th century gilded glass mosaic boxes and carved wooden doors. Visitors can look around the training centre to watch how lacquerware is made. Closed: Apr. The shop has a good selection of items made by the students, all traditional designs. Well worth a visit. If the museum is locked, the office has a key.

According to legend, the Buphaya Temple, which sits above the riverbank, was built by the third king of Pagan, Flyusawti (c.850), who found a way to get rid of the Bu plant which infested the riverbanks. He was rewarded by the then King ThamLiddarit, with the hand of his daughter and the inheritance of the throne. In commemoration of his good fortune Pyusawati had the Buphaya pagoda built. The bulbous shape of the stupa is suggestive of its Pyu origins but it was totally destroyed in the 1975 earthquake. The temple has been reconstructed according to the original design. It is not particularly impressive.

North-east of Pagan

The Htilominio, NE of Pagan proper, is a 2-storey red-brick temple built by King Htilominio around 1211. He was King Narapatisithu's son, which explains the similarity in style to the Sulamani temple. It is one of the larger temples of Pagan, reaching 46m and commands the road from Pagan to Nyaung-U. Like the Sulamani it is orientated E. There is an ambulatory at the base - the arched doorways and windows of which catch the morning and evening sunlight - and on the upper level, from which there are excellent views of the plain. The steps to the top are built into the thick walls on the E side. There are good examples of the original stucco decoration on the exterior. 

Upall Thein, close to Htilominio, on the other side of the road, is a good example of a sima or ordination hall. It is thought to have been founded in the mid-13th century and named after the monk, Upali. It is rectangular with a vaulted hall and an image of the Buddha at the W end. Its design is said to resemble many of Pagan's former wooden buildings. The low parapets, arch pediments and interior paintings date from the 18th century. Unlike the early panelled paintings, these are vivid murals - large and continuous, showing the renunciation of the world by past Buddhas and depicting the consecration of the hall by the king. It is closed to visitors, but special permission to visit it can be obtained from the Department of Archaeology (next to the museum).

The Wekkyi-in Gubyaukgyi Temple, with its pyramidal spire, lies S of the Shwezigon. It was known for its interior jataka paintings-until they were removed by an archaeologist in 1899 - and dates from the early 13th century. This temple should not be confused with the Gubyaukgyi Temple near Myinkaba village.

The Shwezigon Pagoda, N of Pagan, about 500m from Nyaung-U, is the main centre of pilgrimage in Pagan. It is the greatest temple of King Anawrahta's reign. A sacred relic of the Buddha is supposed to have been put on the back of a white elephant by the king and the Shwezigon marks the spot where the elephant knelt down. Anawrahta is reputed to have started the building of this pagoda, but it was finished by his son, King Kyanzittha. It was repaired over the years by several kings but never very much altered - although pilgrims' donations have funded many additions to the temple platform. The Shwezigon is one of the most important pagodas in Burma as it is believed to contain the Buddha's collar bone, his 'frontlet' bone and one of his teeth. It is also the first major monument built in Burmese, rather than the earlier Mon style, and the first pagoda to have nat images allowed within its precincts. The Shwezigon was a prototype for many later Burmese stupas.

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