The Shwedagon Paya (Burmese: ) is a 98 meter gilded stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar. The Paya is west of the Royal Lake on Singuttara Hill. The Shwedagon Paya is the most sacred Buddhist site for the Burmese with several Buddha relics.
Legend has it that the Shwedagon Paya is 2500 years old. Archeologists believe the stupa was actually built sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries by the Mon. The story of Shwedagon Paya begins with two merchant brothers meeting the Lord Gawdama Buddha and receiving eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshirned in Burma. The two brothers made their way to Burma and with the help of the local king found Singuttara Hill where other Buddha relics 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 heavans 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.
The stupa fell into disrepair until the 14th century when King Binnya U of Bago had the stupa rebuilt to a height of 18 meters. The stupa was rebuilt several times and reached it’s current height of 98 meters in the 15th century. A series of earthquakes during the next centuries caused damage. The worst damage came from a 1768 earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa.
There are four entrances to the Paya that lead you up to the platform on Singuttara Hill. The eastern and southern entrances have vendors selling good luck charms, Buddha images, incense sticks and flowers. Two chenthe (half-lion, half-dragon guardian figures) protect the southern entrance. The base of the stupa is made of bricks covered with gold plates. Above the base are terraces that only monks can access. Next is the bell-shaped part of the stupa. Above that is the lotus and then the crown. The crown or umbrella is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. The very top is tipped with a 76-carat diamond.
The Gold seen on the stupa is made of genuine gold plates, covering the brick structure attached by traditional rivets. Myanmar people all over the country, as well as kings in the history, donated gold to the pagoda to maintain it. The gold donation started hundreds of years ago and still continues.
Visitors must remove their shoes before the first step at any of the entrances. The southern and eastern entrances have traditional shops with a wide gradual staircases. Burmese walk around the stupa clockwise. Depending on what day of the week you are born will determine your planetary post. The stupa is surrounded by small shrines for each day of the week.
Shwedagon in Literature
Rudyard Kipling described his 1889 visit to Shwedagon paya ten years later in From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches– Letters of Travel vol. 1 (1899). See External Links below for full text.
- Then, a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun, of a shape that was neither Muslim dome nor Hindu temple-spire. It stood upon a green knoll, and below it were lines of warehouses, sheds, and mills. Under what new god, thought I, are we irrepressible English sitting now?
- ‘There’s the old Shway Dagon’ (pronounced Dagone, not like the god in the Scriptures), said my companion. ‘Confound it!’ But it was not a thing to be sworn at. It explained in the first place why we took Rangoon, and in the second why we pushed on to see what more of rich or rare the land held. Up till that sight my uninstructed eyes could not see that the land differed much in appearance from the Sunderbuns, but the golden dome said: ‘This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.’ ‘It’s a famous old shrine o’ sorts,’ said my companion, ‘and now the Tounghoo-Manadlay line is open, pilgrims are flocking down by the thousand to see it. It lost its big gold top—’thing that they call a ’htee—in an earthquake: that’s why it’s all hidden by bamboo-work for a third of its height. You should see it when it’s all uncovered. They’re regilding it now.’