Bagan, a land of a thousand temples

This travel piece in the LA Times features the ancient stupas of Bagan in Myanmar.

Pagodas of Bagan
photo credit: Esme_Vos

Myanmar’s dazzling shrines to Buddha
LA Times, 06 March 2011

The Shwedagon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist temple, was built to enshrine relics, including, some say, eight hairs from Buddha’s head. Over the centuries, monarchs built the central stupa, a tall bell-shaped dome (tourists cannot enter it), up to its present height of 320 feet and adorned it with 8,600 bricks covered with gold plates and nearly 80,000 diamonds and other precious stones. It’s simply dazzling. At night, the golden stupa is lighted, giving the otherwise colorless city a beautiful focal point.

The second important historic site is the Sule Pagoda, which is more than 2,000 years old and half the size of Shwedagon. It too has plenty of gold and glitter to ooh and aah at. The third worthwhile stop is the Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, which houses a 230-foot-long reclining Buddha, built in 1966. Buddha’s feet are covered with artful mosaic tiles that represent 108 (a sacred number in Buddhism) characteristics of the holy master.

Knowing that Bagan and its 2,000-plus temples were to be the highlight of our five-day trip, it was hard to wait until the next morning to board the flight to this west-central Myanmar town. Bagan was founded in AD 108, but only began to flourish during the time of King Anawrahta, who reigned from 1044-1077. It was the capital of Myanmar until 1287, when Kublai Khan and his cronies ran amok and sent the first empire fleeing, never to return.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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