The Schwedagon is a gilded pagoda, 99 meters tall. It dominates the skyline of Yangon, and is considered the most sacred of shrine for the Burmese Buddhists. It contains relics of four Buddhas (there were 28 Buddhas, the most well-known being the Siddhārtha Gautama, the sage on whose teachings Buddhism was founded.) The relics include 8 strands of hair from this Gautama Buddha. The hti or umbrella at the top of the stupa is encrusted with thousands of diamonds and precious stones, the largest of which is a 72 carat diamond.
Legend has it that this pagoda is over 2600 years old – but most historians think it was begun around the 5th century. Shwedagon is constructed entirely in bricks and plastered over with fine stucco and the whole monument is then gilded. The gilding is entirely redone every five years, as weathering dulls the gold leaf. This year Pagoda officials forecast the use over 81 kilos of gold to gild the pagoda’s circumference. Religious associations and donors contribute gold, money and labor to accomplish the task. Bamboo scaffolding is set up, and teams of volunteers on the ground send up batches of gold to the workers high up on the stupa via a small red cable car trailing streamers of flags and paper umbrellas.
We visited Schwedagon during the Tazaundaing, or Festival of Lights, marking the end of the rainy season. During this time, robe-weaving competitions are held throughout the country, and specifically at Schwedagon. Teams of weavers work non-stop to weave silk robes for Buddha – some winding the thread on bobbins using a modified bicycle, some working the looms as fast as they can while their sisters fan them and cheer them on. Quite a clatter!
Many pilgrims visit Schwedagon during this festival month – local “tourists” from all over the country. Many have never been to the city before – and have never encountered Westerners. Lots of mutual curiosity, and picture taking with “exotic” people to show the folks back home!
There are many temple bells around the complex, some of modest size, some much, much bigger. Beside each bell is a wooden striker, and visitors ring each bell three times, accompanied by wishes for good fortune and blessings for their families and friends.
King Singu’s Bell (42 tons of gold, silver, copper, lean and iron alloy) is associated with an interesting history. In 1825, British attempted to steal it from Shwedagon Pagoda. However, the ship that carried the bell to India sank in Rangoon River together with the bell. After several unsuccessful attempts to salvage the bell, British finally gave up. Then, a group of Burmese people successfully raised the bell restored it to its original position in Shwedagon pagoda.
Donors make sure there is a plentiful supply of pure water available for offerings to the Buddha statues, and for pilgrims to drink.
This is Buddha’s footprint! One of 3 to be found at Schwedegon.