A visit to Myanmar cannot be termed complete without a visit to Bagan. Bagan, lying on the east bank of the Ayeyarwaddy in the dry zone of Central Myanmar (Burma), is the most important historical sites in the country. And it was here that the Myanmar art and architecture passed through the golden age. You can visualize on history as the whole of Bagan spreads itself out in a breath-taking panorama of innumerable temples and pagodas which still retain their magnificent proportions in Myanmar.
Bagan, which is an archaeological treasure, is also known as the city of four-million pagodas and is a place full of wonders as one writer puts it: “Words cannot convey the strange, lost other world, long ago feelings of Bagan. There is a mystic splendors about, enhanced by the cooing of doves from the acacia trees which grow among the ruins and by the soft tinkle of the temple bells.” A visit to Myanmar cannot be termed complete without a visit to Bagan. Once you arrive there, you’ll be transferring yourself some 1880 years back into history before the time of Kublai Khan and you’ll rediscover the lost world of Bagan which to this day remains one of the richest archeological treasures of South-East Asia surpassing Angkor Watt. You’ll recapture the golden age of Bagan as you wander through the cool cage man hills and the corridors of the once magnificent temples and try to unravel the mysterious message of the ancient sculptures which through remaining mute seem wise in the secrets they tell.
You can visualize on history as the whole of Bagan spreads itself out in a breath-taking panorama of innumerable temples and pagodas which still retain their magnificent proportions despite a splendor dimmed by the ravages of time.
Bagan, lying on the left bank of the Irrawaddy in the dry zone of Central Burma, is the most important historical sites in the country. It was a capital for two and a half centuries and it is to Bagan that the religion of the people owes its greatest debt, and it was here that the Myanmar art and architecture passed through the golden age. The ancient capital was founded by King Pyinbya, the 34th king of the dynasty in 847 A.D. Authentic history begins with the accession of King Anuruddha, commonly known as Anwarahta 1044-77 in whose reign that religious enthusiasm was aroused and the construction of the pagodas and temples on large scale began.
Successive kings followed his example in erecting pagodas. That part of history is aptly known as the age of temple builders. Up to the early part of the 12th century the architectural style at the Myanmar capital was Bu Pagoda in Myanmar considerably influenced by that of the Mons. Thousands of religious buildings sprang up during two-and-a-half centuries but owing to the ravages of wars and other weathering factors of the past, the monuments now lie in all stages of decay.
Since Bagan days Buddhism has flourished through the entire length and breadth of the country, and Bagan became the seat of Buddhist learning and the centre of Burmese culture. This golden age of both secular and religious history lasted over 240 years; and now it remains as the most impressive relics of the past.
Interesting places in Bagan: Small villages between enormous Pagodas, The Shwezigon Pagoda at Nyaung U, Kyan-zit-tha Umin, Sapada Pagoda, Kyaukgu Umin Temple, Wetkyi-in Gubyauk-gyi Temple, Upali Thein and Hti-lo-min-lo Temple, Ananda Temple, Ananda-ok-kyaung Temple, Tharabha Gate, That-byin-nyu Temple, Dhamma-yan-gyi Temple, Sula-mani Temple, Mya-zedi pagoda, Myinkaba Gubyauk-gyi Temple, Manuha Temple, Nanhpaya Temple, Pwa-saw and Minnanthu villages, Dhamma-yazika Pagoda, Tayok-pye-min Temple, Lacquer ware factory, Other different Architecture Styles and plaster work and Paintings.
It takes you one and a half hour and 54 km along the Ayeyarwaddy River to reach the home town of the “Shakespeare of Burma”, U Ponnya, the most celebrated poet of king Mindon’s court. No wonder that his monastery is one of the most beautiful in this country!
YOUKE SONE KYAUNG MONASTERY
Carried by 154 teak pillars, it was donated by King Mindon in his honour in 1879 and displays many of the poet’s original writings. Splendid teak-carved three-dimensional reliefs decorate the exterior walls of the entrance.
Among a variety of lacquered objects, Buddha images are very unique. The Myanmar word for Lacquer is “yun” and Buddha images made of lacquer are generally called “yun phaya” (Lacquered Buddha). But different names are given to lacquered images made of different materials and by different methods. “Hni phaya” is the name for images made of bone ashes and saw dust and lacquer. “Pan paung phaya” is the name for images made of ashes of flowers offered at Buddhist shrines and lacquer. “Hni phaya” is the name for images made of wicker work of bamboo strips as a core frame on which are glued layers of paper or cloth, (mostly robes that were once worn by a head monk) smeared and coated with lacquer. “Hni” is a Myanmar word that denotes thin strips of bamboo for tying things or for weaving mats and baskets, and for making the wicker frame for lacquer-ware.
Sale, a town in Magwe Division in Central Myanmar, lying on the east bank of the River Ayeyarwaddy is famous for three things; first it is the birthplace of a reputed Myanmar playwright named U Ponnya of the late Konbaung Period; secondly the plums of Sale which are seedless and of good quality and thirdly there is the largest Buddha Image of Lacquered wicker work in Sale.
Because the Image is now entirely gilt and its headband is adorned with glass mosaic it bears the appearance of a solid metallic work. But two or three persons can effortlessly lift it up. It is commonly called and known as “Sale Hni Phaya Gyi” (the large Buddha Image of wicker work at Sale). The great Image is in a sitting style with an earth touching posture (bumi phasa mudra). Its height is 14 feet 6 inches and thickness at the knees is 11 feet.
Upon entering the hall which houses the Image you find two stone pillars, each on either side of the entrance bearing inscriptions. The lines on the right side pillar say;
“U Ponnya’s teachers, the two brothers, Khin Gyi Tha and Khin Gyi Sa the two brothers organized the public in making this religious merit.”
The lines on the left side pillar are:”Sakarit 1185. Shin Maha Labha Man Phaya or Yun Phaya Gyi.”
U Ponnya was a native of Sale town who became a famous play write at Mandalay the last capital of Myanmar kings. Khin Gyi was an honorific prefix to the name of a learned monk teacher. Sakarit means the Myanmar Era and the year 1185 corresponds to A.D 1823. Shin Maha Labha is the name of the Image meaning Lord Great Fortune Buddha. “Man Phaya” means the Image of Lacquered wicker work and “Yun Phaya Gyi” means “Great Lacquered Image of the Buddha”. M.E 1185 is not the year of the making of the Image. It is the year in which the Image was enshrined in the building.
So far the date of the making of the Image and its original donor cannot be found. But iconographers and archaeologists have tried to gauge the plausible date by means of typology. Similar types of images are found at old Bagan and at other places beyond Bagan. Facial features, body posture and proportions of the image suggest that it belongs to the 13th century A.D. or late Bagan Period. The Image has a wooden frame as its core on which was woven a bamboo wicker work in the design of a sitting Buddha. Many layers of cloth soaked in lacquer were glued on it and the whole Image was coated with fine lacquer. It showed a true lacquered Image until extremely pious devotees embellished it by gilding and decorating its head band with glass mosaics. The Image house was rebuilt in M.E 1301 (A.D 1939) by U Pe, wife Daw Khin and daughter Ma Khin Gyi.
To-day the Image is a sacred object of veneration. For the worshippers believe that the Image brings luck, fortune and prosperity. It is also a marvelous art work for it is the largest of its kind in Myanmar.
Poppa (MT. OLYMPIA OF MYANMAR)
Mt. Popa is an extinct volcano that is estimated to have erupted for the final time, over three hundred and twenty thousand years ago. H.L. Chubbier in his publication “The Igneous Rocks of the Mount Popa Region”, described it as “being in all respects an ideal example of a recently extinct volcano, suitable for text-book illustration. The main mountain originally had a circular crater, but the whole of the north-western side was blown away, probably by the final paroxysmal outburst, which suggests that the last eruption must have projected its discharge inclined to the sides of the volcano in that direction. The present mountain is, therefore shaped like a horse-shoe, and it is possible to walk into the crater through the breach in the northern wall.”
Although the mountain appears to be a single peak from a distance, it is in fact a series of peaks; the highest points being 4981, 4801 and 4501 feet above sea level. The main mass of Mt. Popa rests on a level plateau, roughly 1000 feet above the surrounding plains, and about 1800 feet above sea level. The actual volcano rises about 3000 feet from this base. On the extremity of the south-western slopes lies the extremely precipitous isolated peak known as the “Taung-ga-Lat”. Some believe that this could be part of the main volcano, that was blown apart and landed as though plugged at its present location. Others theorize that it represents the unfilled neck or plug of a subsidiary volcano.
Whatever the theories may be, it is evident from the abundance of petrified trees within the Bagan area, and the extent of huge boulders strewn far and wide around the mountain, that this was once a land of violent explosion, turbulent earth movement and massive lava flows in ancient times, which caused the existing forests to be buried under. It is no a wonder then, that the mountain had also been historically known, as the “Dormant Fire Mountain”. However, poppa’s attraction today lays not so much in its geological aspect, but more in its religious and mystical interests which are still prevalent. Popa is popularly recognized as an abode of many “Nats” (spirits of ancient ancestors) who dwell in various parts of the mountain. In the days of old, it also used to be referred to as the “Mountain of Spirits”. The evidence of these beliefs is abundant in the form of “nat shrines”, leg- ends, rituals, ceremonial offerings, annual representative festivals, and the never- ending stream of pilgrims and believers in mysticism. Popa today is one of the most popular pilgrimage spots in the country. One would need to spend a sizeable amount of time in order to unearth the spiritual and legendary wealth of this sacred mountain.