Bagan is the splendid site of thousands of ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples and monasteries its ruin, in classical Pali, the city was known as “Arimaddanapura“, in old Burmese as “Pukam” and nowadays officially known as the “Bagan Archaeological Zone”. The ruins of medieval Bagan are scattered over an area of roughly 50 sq km, further 290 km southwest of Mandalay on the east bank of Ayerwaddy River. Bagan today is far and away Myanmar’s most important visitor’s attraction, the wider world is fast rediscovering the exotic ruins, whose impressive scale and exquisite setting in the shade of the first rays of a day and sunset. An estimated 2,200 temples, pagodas, stupas and other religious structures rise above the plains of Bagan. The main attractions of tourists’ site are Ananda Temple, Shwezigon Pagoda, Abeyadana Temple, Dhammayangyi Temple, Upali Thein, Shwesandaw Pagoda, Tharaba Gate, Bupaya, Damma Yazika Pagoda, Gawdawpalin Temple, Gupyaukgyi (Myinkaba), Htilominlo, Mahabodhi, Manuha Temple, Myazedi Pagoda, Shwegugyi, Thatbyinnyu Temple, Thitsawadi and flying Balloon flights over Bagan. One of the great experiences of any trip to Bagan, a must-do is climbing a pagoda to view the sunrise or set on the temples and surrounding plain.
The Ananda Temple, located in Bagan, Myanmar is a Buddhist temple built in 1105 AD during the reign (1084–1113) of King Kyanzittha of the Pagan Dynasty. It is one of four surviving temples in Bagan. The temple layout is in a cruciform with several terraces leading to a small pagoda at the top covered by an umbrella known as hti, which is the name of the umbrella or top ornament found in almost all pagodas in Myanmar. The Buddhist temple houses four standing Buddhas, each one facing the cardinal direction of East, North, West and South. The temple is said to be an architectural wonder in a fusion of Mon and adopted Indian style of architecture. The impressive temple has also been titled the “Westminster Abbey of Burma”. The temple has close similarity to the Pathothamya temple of the 10th–11th century, and is also known as “veritable museum of stones”.
The Shwezigon Pagoda or Shwezigon Paya is a Buddhist temple located in Nyaung-U, a town near Bagan, in Myanmar. A prototype of Burmese stupas, it consists of a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines. Construction of the Shwezigon Pagoda began during the reign of King Anawrahta (r. 1044–77), who was the founder of the Pagan Dynasty, in 1059–1060 and was completed in 1102 AD, during the reign of his son King Kyansittha. Over the centuries the pagoda had been damaged by many earthquakes and other natural calamities, and has been refurbished several times. In recent renovations it has been covered by more than 30,000 copper plates. However, the lowest level terraces have remained as they were. This pagoda, a Buddhist religious place, is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha. The pagoda is in the form of a cone formed by five square terraces with a central solid core. There are footprints below the four standing Buddha statues here. Jataka legends are depicted on glazed terra-cotta tiles set into three rectangular terraces. At the entrance of the pagoda there are large statues of guardians of the temple. There are also four bronze standing statues of Buddha which are stated to be of the current age Buddha. At the outer limits of the pagoda there are 37 nats deified along with an intricately carved wooden sculpture of Thagyamin a Burmese version of Hindu god Indra. Within the compound of the Shwezigon Pagoda there is a stone pillar containing Mon language inscriptions dedicated by Kyansittha. The temple was damaged in the earthquake of 1975. However, it has been fully restored and is well maintained by frequent painting and whitewashing of the walls. On the occasion of 900th anniversary of its construction celebrated in 1990 the temple spires were gilded. It is a highly revered temple of Bagan.
Abeyadana temple was built during A.D 1102-1103. The temple is located at the north of the royal palace of King Kyanzittha. It is a temple of classical architecture, bases square and large porch in north where there lies a central pillar, and then a great sitting Buddha. Paintings are the true treasure of this temple and they are rich of teaching on the atmosphere of Bagan of the ancient time. The history of this temple says, while Kyanzittha sheltered at Nagayon during his flight from Sawlu, his wife Abeyadana waited for him a short distance away. At that site he subsequently built this temple, which is similar in plan to the Nagayon. The name of the temple was given after King Kyanzittha’s first queen “Abeyadana”, whom he married while he was still a young warrior. Abeyadana meaning the “abandoned jewel” was a follower of Mahayana Buddhism since the frescoes on the outer walls can be seen with images of the Hindus Gods like Indra, Shiva and Vishnu. The inner shrine contains a large, brick-built seated Buddha, but the fine frescoes are the main interest here. Of the many Buddha niches lining the walls, most are empty. Some contain bodhi-sattvas and Hindu showing a Mahayana influence accredited to the tastes of Kyanzittha’s Bengali bride.
Dhamma Yangyi Temple
Dhammayangyi Temple is a Buddhist temple located in Bagan, Myanmar. Largest of all the temples in Bagan, the Dhammayan as it is popularly known was built during the reign of King Narathu:167 (1167-1170). Narathu, who came to the throne by assassinating his father Alaungsithu and his elder brother, presumably built this largest temple to atone for his sins. The Dhammayangyi is the widest temple in Bagan, and is built in a plan similar to that of Ananda Temple. Burmese chronicles state that while the construction of the temple was in the process, the king was assassinated by some Indians and thus the temple was not completed. Sinhalese sources however indicate that the king was killed by Sinhalese invaders. The temple’s interior is bricked up for unknown reasons, thus only the four porches and the outer corridors are accessible.
Named after Upali, a well-known monk, this ordination hall was built in the mid-13th century and stands across the road from the Htilominio Temple. The rectangular building has roof battlements imitative of Burmese wooden architecture and a small central spire rising from the rooftop. Most buildings of this type were made of wood and have long since disappeared. Inside there are some brightly painted frescoes on the walls and ceilings from the late 17th and early 18th century. The building is usually kept locked in order to protect them. The Upali Thein was renovated during the reign of the Konbaung Dynasty in 1794 abd 1795. The walls now represent the previous 28 Buddha images, as well as scenes from the life of Guatama Buddha.
King Anawrahta built Shwesandaw Pagoda after his conquest of Thaton in 1057. This graceful circular pagoda was constructed at the centre of his newly empowered kingdom. The pagoda was also known as Ganesh or Mahapeine after the elephant-headed Hindu god whose images once stood at the corners of the five successive terraces. The five terraces once bore terracotta plaques showing scenes from the jalakas, but traces of these, and of other sculptures, were covered by lather heavy-handed renovations. The pagoda’s bell rises from two octagonal bases which top the five square terraces. This was the first monument in Bagan to feature stairways leading from the square bottom terraces to the round base of the pagoda itself. This pagoda supposedly enshrines a Buddha hair relic brought back from Thaton. The hti, which was toppled by the earthquake, can still be seen lying on the far side of the pagoda compound. A new one was fitted soon after tie quake. Before when people were allowed to climb up the terrace of the pagoda, it was a great spot to view the sunset of Bagan. But nowadays, to keep the ancient monuments in good shape, the stairways have been closed down.
Tharabar Gate is the main gate of the east wall and the only structure left of the old city built by King Pyinbya. It was built in 849 A.D during the 9th century. The western and northern part of the city wall were washed away by the river. There was originally twelve gates during that time. Tharabar is derived from the Pali term “Sarabhanga” meaning “shielded against arrows”. Although most of the structure is ruined, stucco carvings of the ogres can still be found. The gate is known to be guarded by spiritual beings. On the left is the side of the gate is the brother “Lord of the Great Mountain” and on the right side is the sister “Golden face”.
Bupaya means the “a gourd shape pagoda”. The legend says, the third king of Bagan, Pyusawhti (AD 162-243), got rid of the gourd-like climbing plant “bu” that infested the riverbanks, before becoming the king. He was rewarded by his predecessor, Thamuddarit, the founder of Bagan (AD 108) together with the hand of his daughter and the heir to the throne of Bagan. He then in the commemoration of his good luck built a gourd-shaped pagoda on the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. This cylindrical Pyu-style stupa is said to be the oldest in Bagan. Bupaya was completely destroyed when it tumbled into the river in the 1975 earthquake, but has since been totally rebuilt. The distinctively shaped bulbous stupa stands above rows of crenellated terraces. The view from the river is also a breath-taking one.
Dhamma Yazika Pagoda
The name of the pagoda, Dhammayazika or Dhammarajika in Pali means “Pertaining the King of Law. The structure of Dhammayazika Pagoda has pentagonal terraces instead of the usual Bagan pagodas, the square base. There are three receding terraces, ornamented with glazed Jataka plaques. On each side of the pagoda, there is a small temple housing an image of Buddha. The usual practice in most temples was to have four images facing the cardinal points, representing the four Buddhas of the present world cycle who have already attained Enlightenment.
The Gawdawpalin Temple was built by King Narapatisithu after building the Sulamani Temple. But the king did not complete the construction. It was completed by his son Htilominlo. It is located about 3 miles south of the Bu Pagoda on the bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. It is about 180 feet high and the structure is common like the Sulamani temple. There is a story saying that King Narapatisithu became so powerful and so proud that he proclaimed that his powers were more glorious accomplished matched to his ancestors. Just after that, he became blind until he came to give his regards and his forebears made, paid obeisance in atonement for his misdemeanor. Gawdawpalin is counted as one of the largest shrines of Bagan. The temple is a double-storeyed temple in the late style. It is square in plan, with porticoes on all four sides, but with the eastern portico projecting further than the others. In the ground storey, a vaulted corridor runs around a central block against whose four sides are placed images of the Buddha.
Situated just to the left of the road as you enter Myinkaba, this temple was built in 1113 by Kyanzittha’s son Rajakumar, on his father’s death. Prince Rajakumar was the son of King Kyanzittha and the niece of a monk. Kyanzittha met the woman while he was a refugee before his time. Rajakumar was the rightful heir to the throne of Bagan. But Kyanzittha had designated his grandson, Alaungsithu, as heir, and Rajakumar relinquished his right. The temple is in an Indian style, the monument consists of a large shrine room attached to a smaller antechamber. The fine stuccowork on its exterior walls is in particularly good condition. The Early period temple is also of particular interest for the well-preserved paintings inside, which are thought to date from the original construction of the temple and to be the oldest remaining in Bagan. The temple is typical of the Mon style in that the interior is dimly lit by perforated rather than open windows. It is generally kept locked and there are temple keepers from the village and can ask for permission to open it.
Situated close to the road between Nyaung U and Bagan and about 1.5 km northeast of Bagan. This large temple was built by King Nantaungmya in 1218. The temple is known to be the last Myanmar Style temple built in Bagan. The name is a misreading of the Pali word for ‘Blessings of the Three Worlds’. King Nantaungmya erected the temple on this spot because it was here that he was chosen, from among five brothers, to be the crown prince. Nantaungmya was King Narapati Sithu’s son. The selection of the heir to the throne had a tradition, which was to erect a white umbrella and the future ruler would be chosen when the white umbrella tilts in his position. After the event, it was decided by the state policy’s council. Inside the 46-metre-high temple, which is similar in design to Sulamani Temple, there are four Buddhas on the lower and upper floors. Traces of old murals are also still visible. Fragments of the original fine plaster carvings and glazed sandstone decorations have survived on the outside. The doorways feature nice carved reliefs. Several old horoscopes, painted to protect the building from damage can be found on the walls of the temple.
Mahabodhi Temple of Bagan was modeled after the famous Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar State, India during AD 500. It commemorates the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment; this monument was built during the reign of King Nantaungmya (1211-34). The pyramidal spire, covered in niches which enclose seated Buddha figures, rises from a square block. This monument is different from the common bell-shaped ones in Bagan. The lower section of Bagan’s Mahabodhi is quadrangular block supporting the pyramidal structure.
The name “Manuha” was given after the Mon king from Thaton who was held captive in Bagan by King Anawrahta. Legend says that Manuha was allowed to build this temple in 1059, and that he constructed it to represent his displeasure at captivity. The exterior and overall floor plan resemble the more remote Kyauk Gu Ohnmin, a rectangular box topped by a smaller rectangle. Inside three seated Buddhas face the front of the building, and in the back there’s a huge reclining Parinibbana Buddha. All seem too large for their enclosures, and their cramped, uncomfortable positions are said to represent the stress and lack of comfort the ‘captive king’ had to endure. However, these features are not unique in Bagan.It is said that only the reclining Buddha, in the act of entering nibbana, has a smile on its face, showing that for Manuha only death was a release from his suffering. One can climb to the top of this pagoda via the stairs at the entrance to the reclining Buddha chamber, at the back of the temple. Through a window you can then see the face of the sitting Buddha, and from up at this level you’ll realize that the gigantic face, so grim from below, has an equally gigantic smile. During the earthquake of 1975, the central roof collapsed, badly damaging the largest, seated Buddha, which has since been repaired. An outdoor corner of the temple compound is dedicated to Mt Popa’s presiding nats, Mae Wunna and her sons Min Lay and Min Gyi. Devotees of Manuha Paya celebrate a large paya pwe (or pagoda festival) on the full moon of Tabaung (which falls between February and March, depending on the Lunar Calendar). A short path leads past two recent statues of King Manuha and his wife, Queen Ningala Devi to Nagayone.
Next to the Gubyaukgyi stands the gilded Myazedi or ‘Emerald Stupa’. A four-sided pillar in a cage between the two monuments bears an inscription consecrating Gubyaukgyi and written in four languages – Pyu, Mon, Old Burmese and Pali. Its linguistic and historical significance is great since it establishes the Pyu as an important cultural influence in early Bagan and relates the chronology of the Bagan kings. The inscription was about the Prince Rajakumar’s feelings towards his father and the choice of the heir to the throne.
Shwegugyi means “the Golden Cave” in Myanmar. It is located in front of the royal palace and therefore also known as the “Nandaw Oo Paya” meaning the “Pagoda in front of the palace”. It was built by King Alaungsithu in 1140 A.D. There is a legend saying, that there was a huge block of brick about 12 feet high sprouted from the ground in response to the king’s greatness of accumulated merit. With the huge block of brick, formed the plinth in the formation of the temple. It was mentioned that the Shwegugyi was completed in 7 months and 7 days. Based on chronicles, there was also a saying that King Alaungsithu died at this place. When King Alaungsithu became old and suffered illness, his son removed him from the palace to this temple and left him to suffer. But Alaungsithu became conscious enough to ask where he was, but unfortunately his son came to kill him. It is a two-tied monument. The base formed a square cellar forming the main structure. There are four Buddha images seated around the sides of the central block in the cellar. There are two original inscriptions on each side. King Bayinnaung was known to have renovated some of the entrance of the Shwegugyi Temple later in his period.
Three receding terraces rise above each storey, ornamented with crenellated parapets and corner stupas. Above the terraces of the upper storey rises a curvilinear spire, surmounted by a slim, tapering stupa which takes the temple up to a height of 201 feet. The great height of the temple and the vertical lines of the ornamental features-the plain pilasters, the flame-like arch pediments, the corner stupas-give a soaring effect to the Thatbyinnyu. The eastern portico has a central stairway guarded by two standing door-guardians. The stairway leads to an intermediate storey where a corridor runs around the central mass. Two tiers of windows along the walls make the interior bright and airy, but the walls are bare of painting except for some traces in the western portico. Two stairs built into the thickness of the walls provide access to the terrace above the eastern portico, from where an external flight of stairs leads to the upper storey. Here, a huge image of the Buddha is seated on a masonry throne. A further flight of narrow stairs built into the thickness of the walls leads to the terraces above the upper storey. The terraces of the Thatbyinnyu provide a good panoramic view of Bagan- of the green and brown landscape, the innumerable monuments, the broad Ayeyarwaddy river, and the distant hills to the east and west. To the southwest of the Thatbyinnyu, in a monastery compound, are two tall stone pillars with foliations in an inverted V pattern. They were the supports for a huge bronze bell of which the chronicles say: “King Alaungsithu offered two great bells, one at the Thatbyinnyu and one at the Shwegugyi. They were cast of pure copper, 10,000 adula in weight, larger by far and nobler than the five great bells offered by his grandfather, King Kyansittha.” To the northeast of the Thatbyinnyu is the small gayocho or “tally” temple. To keep count of the bricks in the building of the Thatbyinnyu, one brick was set aside for every 10,000 used, and this small temple was built with the bricks thus set aside.
Thitsawadi Temple is a three-storey building, which is a rare monument in Bagan. Most of the temples in Bagan are found as two-storey buildings. It is a large temple with ancient architectures of Bagan. Beautiful stuccos and interesting mural paintings can be found in this temple. There is also a stone inscriptions dating back to A.D 1334, written about the donation of the temple, land and slaves to maintain and protect the temple from other harms. And also there are ink inscriptions about maintenance of the temple in A.D 1484.
Pakokku and Popa are recommendable side trips near around Bagan area.
On the right bank of the Ayerwaddy within the general Bagan area is Pakokku. There is little to see in the town beyond the local market, which specializes in tobacco and thanaka(typical facial paste) wood. A commendable side trip would be the 20 km foray northeast to visit the 19th century ruins of Pakhangyi, comprising old city walls, an archaeological museum and a great wooden temple – one of the oldest in Myanmar, supported by a forest of more than 250 teak pillars.
The most regular trip, 50 km southeast from Bagan is to the Nat (spirit) temple of Popa Taung Kalat, The plug of an extinct volcano weirdly shaped hill. Worshippers from all over Myanmar come to propitiate the deities installed in the ancient temple complex at its base, whose focal point is a gallery containing images of the 37 Mahagiri Nat or “Great Spirit Heroes” as well as various ogresses and other guardian spirits of water, trees and households. The walk up takes around 20 minutes and ends at a gleaming complex of Buddhist shrines and gilded stupas from whose terrace a magnificent 360 degree panorama extends across the plains to the Rakhine Yoma mountains.
The spectacular pilgrimage place which centers on a horrible cliff of rock rising sheer from its plains, is often referred to as “Mount Popa“, an extinct volcano rising due east of Taung Kalat to a height of 1,518m. Far-reaching views are guaranteed from the very start of the strenuous four hour trek. Bird watchers will find plenty to get excited about flitting Popa‘s pristine jungle, home of 176 species as well as 65 different kinds of orchid.