Shwedagon Pagoda Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon
In a country full of religious shrines, Shwedagon Pagoda (Shwedagon Paya) is considered the most sacred. Its golden steeple rises high above Yangon’s skyline and relics of previous Buddhas, including a water filter, staff, hairs and a piece of robe, are all kept safe within its structure’s walls. Legend has it that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period).
The legend of the Schwedagon Pagoda begins with two Burmese merchant brothers who met the Buddha himself. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs to be enshrined in Burma. With the help of several nat (spirits) and the king of this region of, the brothers discovered the hill where relics of previous Buddhas had been enshrined.
A chamber to house the relics was built on the sacred spot and when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, amazing things happened: Once the relics were safely placed in the new shrine, a golden slab was laid on the chamber and a golden stupa built over it. Over this was layered a silver stupa, then a tin stupa, a copper stupa, a lead stupa, a marble stupa and an iron-brick stupa.
Later, the legend continues, the Schwedagon stupa fell into ruin until the Indian emperor Asoka, a Buddhist convert, came to Myanmar and searched for it. Finding it only with great difficulty, he then had the jungle cleared and the stupa repaired.
It is easy to see why the Schwedagon Pagoda is such a holy place for believers. Built on the site of the relics of previous Buddhas, containing the relics of the most recent Buddha, the site of miracles and of royal patronage, this is an important stupa indeed.
As Myanmar’s most revered shrine it has always been customary for families, mendicants and followers of the Buddha to make the pilgrimage to the Shwedagon in much the same way that Muslims feel compelled to visit the Kaaba at Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Visitors are required to remove their shoes upon entering the Shwedagon and negotiating the scalding floor tiles between the shaded sanctuaries is not an easy process.
Such is the potency of the Shwedagon that Myanmars generally hold it to be indestructible. Despite a major earthquake in 1769, several smaller quakes in the 20th century and a major fire in 1931, it still stands imposingly on the top of a hill.