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Myanmar > Pictures and travelogues > The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: pictures from the main pagoda, the south entrance, and a sphinx.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: Southern Devotional Hall
Pyatthat (multi-roof) of the Southern Devotional Hall of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is located on a marble platform on the top of Singuttara Hill, about 165 ft above sea level, in Yangon. The site lies west of Kandawgyi Lake, a bit more than 1,2 miles north of downtown.  The 325 ft high gilded pagoda dominates much of the city. The platform has four entrances, one at each cardinal point. Access to the top of the hill is by either stairs or lifts.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred sanctuary and one of the most beautiful sites of Myanmar heritage. It contains strands of Buddha's hair and other holy relics. It is an important pilgrimage site for Burmese and foreign Buddhists.

The site extends on about 6 ha. The bell shaped Pagoda is a massive gilded structure. It stands on three octagonal terraces that are laid on each other. It is surrounded by 8 planetary posts (each corresponding to a day of the week), 4 stupas located at each cardinal point and, all around, by 64 smaller stupas. The top of the golden pagoda consists of the hti or crown (a kind of umbrella with golden bells), a weathervane adorned with gems, and the sein bu (the diamond bud, a golden sphere) which is encrusted with thousands of diamonds, including a 76 carat diamond.

The hti (umbrella) was replaced in 1871. The former has been preserved down on the site.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: the main gilded pagoda.

According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda would be more than 2600 years old. More likely, it was built during the Mon period, between the VI and the X th century. It may be the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world. It had to be restored at different times and has been raised several times. The current construction follows the earthquake of 1768.

Two 30 ft high chinthes guard the southern entrance. Two big chinthes are found at the northern gate too. A chinthe is a leogryph (i.e. a mythological creature in the form of a lion) which protects the entrance of many pagodas in Myanmar.

In February-March, pagoda festivals are held in Myanmar. In Yangon, the festival of the full moon, called Tabaung Festival (named after the last month of the Burmese calendar), takes place on the site of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Pilgrims flock then to the magnificent Pagoda. There are many food stalls and entertainment during the festival. This important festival was banned between 1988 and 2012 by the political authorities. It was on the Full Moon Day of Tabaung that the King Okkalapa and the two brothers enshrined the sacred hair relics in the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Other religious festivals are held in the Shwedagon Pagoda in April (Thin-gyan Festival and Buddha Day Festival), in July (Waso Festival), in October (Thadingyut Festival), and in November (Tazaungdaing Festival).

The Shwedagon Pagoda was also the scene of various events in the political life of the country, among others, in the fight for independence (a memorial commemorates the 1920 student rebellion against British rule) and, more recently, for the return to democracy.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: sphinx
A manuthiha (sphinx) around the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

In ancient Burma the sphinx was called manuthiha. A manuthiha is a mythological, sphinx-like creature with a head and torso of a man and the hindquarters of a lion. It protects the pagoda from any danger. Do not confuse with narasimha (the head of a lion and the body of a man) which is an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is part of the heritage of Yangon, which includes also about 200 other historical sites, mainly religious structures and colonial buildings.


See also

Myanmar > Pictures and travelogues > Singu Min Bell and Shwedagon Pagoda
Myanmar > Pictures and travelogues > Mandalay Mahamuni Buddha

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The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: pictures from the main pagoda, the south entrance, and a sphinx. Comprehensive travel guide to Myanmar with 200 great pictures.