We saved the best for last, the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. We arrived in the late afternoon and entered via the east gate. We climbed steps past shops selling trinkets for tourists and offerings for the Buddhist pilgrims. It's difficult to capture the grandeur of the Pagoda. It rises 326 feet into the sky and is covered with dazzling gold plates and gold leaf.
The original temple is believed to be more than 2600 years old making it the oldest Buddhist temple in the world! Legend has it that two merchants met the Lord Buddha after he had gained enlightenment and offered him food and alms. In return Lord Buddha gave them 8 of his hairs as a blessing. When the merchants returned home they gave the hairs to the king who built the Shwedagon Pagoda to enshrine the strands.
We walked about the stupa then sat for an hour and a half to wait for the sunset. Groups of tourists, pilgrims, monks and nuns strolled around the middle terrace stopping to recite prayers, make an offering or to take a photo.
Volunteers swept the floor then rolled out a red carpet. "For whom?" we wondered.
|Volunteers Sweeping the Floor|
Just after sunset a large group surrounded by police linking arms to prevent people from approaching too closely made their way around the pagoda. It turned out to be the President of Germany. Can you pick him out in the crowd?
|Germany's President Visits Shwedagon|
The upper tower of the pagoda glinted with the last rays of sunshine. At the very top is the diamond orb containing 4351 diamonds including a 76 carat apex diamond! Below the diamond orb is the pennant-shaped vane and the umbrella. The umbrella alone is 43 feet high and is adorned with close to 84,000 gems including 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies! From this distance it's difficult to get a feel for the size and grandeur of the umbrella. It weighs a staggering 5 tons including half a ton of gold!
|Upper tower of Shwedagon|
A few monks ascended the lower terraces to collect gold leaf that had blown off from the walls. Only monks and men for that matter are allowed on the terraces.
|Monks Collecting Gold Leaf|
After dark the pagoda comes alive with throngs of Buddhist devotees. They stop at their planetary post to pray for prosperity, a good husband or to have a son. They light candles, pour water over the Buddha image or make offerings of flowers, incense, or money.
|Devotees Worshipping at Sunday (my) Corner|
Myanmar Buddhism is unique in that it incorporates an astrological aspect of Hinduism. Myanmar Buddhists not only believe that karma (the doing of good or bad deeds) affects their fate but also believe that it is also determined by the day of the week you were born. There are eight planetary posts or "corners" around the Pagoda representing the eight days of the week (Wednesday is split into two posts, an a.m. and a p.m.). Each Planetary Corner has a Buddha image and an animal representation underneath: garuda (large mythical bird) for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday evening, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and naga (mythical dragon/serpent) for Saturday. Do you know the day of the week you were born and what your animal sign is?
|Devotees Worshipping at Tuesday Corner|
Around the main stupa are many tiny shrines with "electric Buddhas" lit up with halos of colored lights. The pilgrims and monks alike prayed to the Buddha Images.
|Buddhist Pilgrims Praying inside a Shrine|
|Monks Praying inside a Shrine|
After 3 and a half hours of trying to absorb the majesty and spiritual intensity of Shwedagon Pagoda, it was time to leave. It was a fitting end to our visit to Myanmar with it's rich historical, cultural and religious history. We wish the people of Myanmar prosperity and peace on their way to developing the world's next democracy. We hope they can maintain their unique traditions in a world that is becoming more homogenous by the day.
We hope all is well back home,
Peggy and Marc