Sunday, March 04, 2012

Onward to Bagan, Shwezigon Pagoda

After five flight ascents and an overnight (Christmas Eve, mind you) in the Bangkok airport, we arrived in the ancient city of Bagan. It was founded in 849 AD and experienced its height as the first capital of the Burmese Empire between the 11th and 13th centuries. It is during this time that the majority of Bagan’s pagodas and temples were built. At one time having over 5,000 pagodas in a 40 sq. km (16 mi) area, only a little over 2,000 remain after a devastating earthquake in 1975. When the Mongul emperor Kublai Khan invaded the area, Bagan’s glory days were abruptly ended, with the city was abandoned.

One of the first places we visited was the Shwezigon Pagoda. Built around 1076 AD to enshrine one of four replicas of the Buddha tooth housed in Kandy, Sri Lanka, the large golden bell-shape of the pagoda surrounded by smaller structures, and rest areas, reminded me of the Shwedagon Pagoda we had seen the day before in Yangon. According to our guide, the pagoda was constructed from sandstone, instead of the normal brick material. Around the base of the pagoda are enameled panels illustrating scenes of the Buddha’s previous lives. I liked the highly detailed and beautiful old wood carvings in one structure depicting the story of Buddha’s life. In one room, 37 pre-Buddhist nats (spirits) of varying sizes were housed. The enshrined figures seemed a bit reminiscent of Hindu gods.

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