Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

     An amazing sight (site) indeed. I’ve seen a lot of monuments, pagodas, shrines, wonders of the world and everything else all over the world and am usually tough to impress these days, but the Shwedagon is impressive indeed. Built on a hill in the middle of Yangon and being the highest structure in the city, it can be seen for miles around. 2500 years old (according to legend), plated in gold, encrusted with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies and tipped off at the top with a single 76 carat diamond. Relics of the last four buddha’s kept inside – the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama.

     A platform containing hundreds of shrines and statues surrounds the main pagoda. Incense burning, rugs laid down, bells ringing. Four staircases leading up. A constant stream of monks. The “little ones” as inquisitive as an african child who doesn’t understand that the color doesn’t just rub off your skin. Faithful and worshipers only adds to the atmosphere. A cultural and religious centerpiece. Historically, an area of “last stand resistance” in war due to its elevated position and defendability. It’s definitely an icon of the city and a center for the Buddhist religion. There’s nothing like it that I’ve seen or heard of.

     The Legend (thanks to wikipedia): The story of Shwedagon Pagoda begins with two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, from the land of Ramanya, meeting the Lord Gautama Buddha and receiving eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshrined in Burma. The two brothers made their way to Burma and with the help of the local king, King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the hairs were taken from their golden casket to be enshrined some incredible things happened:

“There was a tumult among men and spirits … rays emitted by the Hairs
penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell …
the blind beheld objects … the deaf heard sounds … the dumb spoke distinctly …
the earth quaked … the winds of the ocean blew … Mount Meru shook …
lightning flashed … gems rained down until they were knee deep …
all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.”


     Heaven and hell, fire and brimstone kind of stuff. I love legends of the sort. It may not sound so good sitting there, in front of your computer. Yeah, whatever. But told by a mono-tonally speaking monk, swathed in red robes, with a totally serious look on his face, sitting “Buddha style”, as you are staring up at the pagoda, trying to persuade yourself that you can climb it and get that 76 carat diamond at the top, thinking about home – “Hey mom, check it out, look what I got from Myanmar”, as the monk pokes you back to reality …ok, where was I. Oh yes, that legend takes on a whole different meaning when told at that particular spot and not looking at a computer screen. Hmmm, maybe just a few hundred smalls one near the top, all that gold looks like it could be slippery…

     So, the moral of this part of the story. The Shwedagon is impressive, and worth its own article. …and don’t steal, it’s wrong. Even after seeing “things” like the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, The Pyramids of Egypt, The Boudhnath Stupa in Nepal, Petra, Lalibela, Timbuktu, The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Sana’a, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Nizwa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Mehrangarh Fort, Troy, Ephesus, Palmyra, The Ummayad Mosque, …gonna keep going because I’m impressing myself here… Termosses, Anatolia, The Bandiagara Escarpment, Mt. Everest, The Citadel of Aleppo, The Krak de Chevelier, Bosra, Wadi Rum, Mt Nebo, Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor, Meroe, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Kathmandu, Marrakech, Fez, Dakar, London, Venice, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Amman, Dahab, Addis Ababa, Lagos, Cotonou, Bamako, Lome, DC… Ok, sorry, you get the idea. After seeing all that, I was still impressed by this sight. It’s one you don’t wanna “rush” through. Spend some time. Go back more than once. Sit, relax, watch and talk to the people. For most people reading this, it will probably be a once in a lifetime visit, as it sadly may have been for me, but it will be a visit that will embed memories for a lifetime. It is well worth it.

     I still have to go through a lot of pictures I took here, so just two for now. I did post another of the Pagoda earlier if your interested: Blue Hour.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar VI – The Seamstress


8 comments on “Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

  1. Hey John,
    I think I like your photograph of the Shwedagon Pagoda at night better, although that is probably just personal preference because this one is a great photo as well.

    I’ve been searching through your blog a bit at those places you suggested to me and I decided that I absolutely have to get to Ethiopia sometime soon. It looks like an incredible place for someone looking to spend time with and learn about the culture (as we talked about previously). I showed some of the other students in the photography class Im taking some of your images and they certainly seemed to be a pretty big hit.

    I’m quite jealous of the amount of traveling around you have done. Keep up with the posting, I definitely enjoy reading about these places.
    – Nate

    • Thanks for the comment Nate …and so do I (like the night one better). I do like this one for the memory too though. Plus, I still have to go through hundreds that I took there, as well as thousands from previous trips…

      As for Ethiopia, it is one of my favorite countries. Most people think it is a dry desert type environment but it’s almost exactly the opposite.

      …and you’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with my travels 🙂
      Thanks for the comment and support,

  2. Love the photos. On the top photo, why do the spires on the far sides appear to bend inward? Is that a visual trick, or do they really bend so inward? If they do bend so, that is quite a unique architectural style to add to an already unique architecture.

    • In every atom …lens distortion. I used the Nikon 18-200 here at 18mm which, in a photo like this, shows some pronounced distortion. It could be fixed in photoshop, but I am quite happy with the results here, so I just left it “as is”. Thanks for comment, John

  3. Now, because of this, I’m really itching to go there. I noticed that Taj Mahal is always on top of your enumerations. I also love Taj Mahal. 🙂 Waiting for the next posts.


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