Bagan

Old Bagan

“Old Bagan” is the name currently given to the historic capital of the Kingdom of Bagan. From the 11th to the 13th century it ruled over vast areas of modern central Myanmar and beyond. Both within its walls, probably dating from the 9th century, and outside its walls were filled with most unique and lasting Buddhist architecture that remains a marvel today. The walls have crumbled into nothingness or some scattered ruins. Since the royal palace, monasteries and housing were usually made of wood, those also have disappeared. By the late 13th century, its era of greatness had passed, and the center of power in the region eventually moved elsewhere. But many of its great temples and stupas remained within the old wall, including Shwegugyi, Gawdawpalin, Thatbyinnu, Bupaya, Nathlaung Kyaung and the Mahabodhi which are separately listed on on this website. But the great city itself became a veritable village, perhaps indistinguishable from hundreds of others, except for its temples and stupas, and for the thousands of others on the surrounding Bagan plain.

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Ananda Temple

The Ananda Temple, built in the years of 1091-1105 is a typical example of a centric Myanmar temple composition.The Ananda Temple is one of the 11 biggest temple structures in Bagan, beside of the Ananda Temple is a other huge temple structure at Bagan, the Dhammayangyi Temple built in 1165th. With its stressed geometric character and the somewhat sober faades he stands behind the expressive forms of the Ananda Temple. Beside of this the Dhammayangyi Temple remained one of the unfinished temples at Bagan.

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Ananda Oakkyaung

Ananda Oakkyaung Monastery is located in Old Bagan. It was built during A.D 1137. Ananda Okkyaung Monastery simply meaning Brick Monastery. This is situated within the compound of Ananda Temple. It is a small red brick building. The inside walls are covered in 18th century paintings depicting Buddha’s life and elements of the history of Bagan. The paintings describes that the monastery was built by three brothers. Ananda meaning Eternity and the first vulnerable monk who resided in this monastery was Shin Thuddhamma Linkara and he died at the age of 69. During the reign of King Kyanzittha, the vulnerable monk was granted with a place where he could stay in peace and meditate.

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Thatbyinnyu Temple.

The highest temple in Bagan, the “omniscient” temple rises to 61 meters (200 feet) and was built by Alaungsithu around the mid-12th century. Repairs to earthquake damage were being completed in 1979. Slightly south-west of the Thatbyinnyu in a monastery compound there is stone supports which once held the temple’s huge bronze bell. North-east of the temple stands a small “tally pagoda” which was built of one brick for every 10,000 bricks used in the main temple. Pitakat Taik, Following the sack of Thaton, King Anawrahta carted off 30 elephant loads of Buddhist scriptures and built this library to house them in 1058. It was repaired in 1738. The architecture of the square building is notable for the perforated stone windows and the plaster carvings on the roof in imitation of Myanmar wood carvings.

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Shwe Sandaw Pagoda

Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was built in A.D. 1057 by King Anawrahta. There are image houses at four sides. In them are hard stone images of Buddha in the posture of Jhana mudra (state of intense concentration of mind). They are stone sculptures of Anawrahta’s time. Such like Buddha Images were made in the reign of Anawrahta. Hard stones were used and the images were usually massive. On the palms and soles of the images were incised eight petal lotus flowers. Below these images are stone slabs with grooves to let water goout. It is therefore assumed that lustral water was poured on these images. In the eastern devotional hall at Lawka Nanda Pagoda there is a stone Buddha Image of 6 feet high,sculpted out of a single piece. This image is identical in style with those of Anawrahta’s time. Two images on the east and one image on the west of Shwe Sandaw Pagoda are also of Jhana mudra pose.

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Gawdawpalin Temple.

This Temple is one of 90 religious monuments located within the city walls. It is situated close to the Ayeyarwaddy River. It was built in A.D. 1175 by King Narapatisithuto commemorate the ceremony of paying homage to the manes of his ancestors. Legend has it that this king had commited a sin against his ancestors by thinking that they were not as great as he. As a punishment for his sin his eyes turned blind. At the advice of the Brahmen astrologers at the court, the king made idols of his ancestors and placed them on the thrones. The King worshipped them asking forgiveness for his sin. He regained his sight. On the place where this ceremony took place was built Gawdaw-Palin Temple. The name Gawdaw-Palin literally means “the throne which was worshipped.”

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Bupaya Temple

 It is not clear when the original Bupaya (or Bu-hpaya; it is spelled both ways–even on separate signs on the site!) was built. Tradition suggests it had its origin during the reign of King Pyusawhti in the 3rd century AD. Yet most authorities date it from around 850, or about the same time as the old city walls which it adjoins on the north. Still others suggest a date in the 11th century. As a result of the disastrous earthquake of 1975, however, the controversy perhaps is moot concerning the structure itself, since the old Bupaya fell into the nearby Ayeyarwady River and was totally destroyed. The former brick masonry construct has since been replaced by a hollow reinforced concrete structure in 1976-78 that differs in significant ways from the earlier pagoda. Unlike its predecessor, it also is fully gilded. The name Bupaya comes from its bulbous resemblance to the bu or gourd, while paya means pagoda. According to tradition, its builder, King Pyusawhti, was able to rid the riverbank of a huge gourd-like plant that infested the area (he also won a wife, but that is a looong story). The Bupaya is a small stupa setting on a polygonal platform made up of a series of crenulated semi-circular terraces overlooking the river; it has long served as a conspicuous landmark for river travelers. The Bupaya is also a favorite place to watch the sunset; alas, such an opportunity was not possible at this writer’s visit.

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Dhammayangyi Temple

The Dhammayangyi (or Dhamma-yan-gyi) Pahto, extending approximately 255 feet on each of its four sides, is Bagan’s most massive shrine. There is considerable controversy over the identity of the builder and the construction of the building itself. It probably was built by King Narathu (1167?-1170?) over a three year period to atone for his wicked rule. Yet some have attributed it to Narathu’s father and predecessor, Sithu I, who also built Thatbyinnyu. Legend suggests that Narathu met his end in a series of morbid events shortly after acceding to the throne. He had smothered his father and, shortly thereafter, his brother. After he had one of his wives (a former Indian princess and one of the wives of his father) executed for her Hindu hygienic rituals, he was assassinated by eight men, disguised as Brahmin priests, sent by the princess’ father. Others, however, have suggested that his death came at the hands of a Ceylonese mission that not only killed the king but sacked the city and introduced Ceylonese influence into the architectural spirit of Bagan. The Dhammayangyi, similar in its ground plan similar to the Greek Cross of the earlier Ananda Pahto, is a very large square single story pyramidal temple with six monumental ascending exterior terraces. Oriented toward the east, the Dhammayangyi’s brickwork is finely crafted—perhaps it is the finest in Bagan. (Narathu reportedly would execute masons if he could stick a pin between the bricks). Because of the death of the builder, perhaps, the temple was never finished. There is, however, another mysterious element to the temple, in addition to the identity of its builder. There are two inner ambulatories around a solid square central core that is approximately 82 feet on each side.. Almost all of the inner ambulatory passages were filled with rubble, probably from around the time of its construction. Some suggest that if Narathu was the builder, workers stopped building at the time of his death and perhaps even filled in the inner ambulatory out of spite. The Dhammayangyi remains one of the most unique and intriguing constructs on the Bagan plain.

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Mingalazedi

Mingalazedi marks both the highpoint and the end of major temple construction at Bagan. It was completed just ten years before the kingdom’s collapse at the hands of the Mongols in 1287, but judging from its artistry, it is clear that the kingdom remained strong and organized up to its defeat. The temple is the first (and only) temple built with a full set of Jakata plaques since the Dhammayazika in 1196. Jakata plaques, of the sort shown in image 10, were costly glazed tiles that were often planned for temples but rarely executed. That the kingdom was able to produce an entire set suggests the advanced state of Bagan’s art and the extravagence of its rulers. The temple was sponsored by King Narathihapati (1255/6-1287), known to later ages as Tayokpyemin (literally, “The King who fled from the Chinese”). In the dedication to the temple the attitude of the king is hardly pious–he boasts of commanding 36 million soldiers and eating 300 dishes of curry daily! This exaggeration suggests the confidence of the sovereign and the integrity of the kingdom prior to its defeat. The layout of the temple differs notably from its predecessors. Instead of the usual stupas or sikharas found at the corners of the terraces, there are narrow obelisks at each of the levels. Also, the footprint of the lower terraces is nearly square, creating a raised platform for the bulk of the stupa to sit upon. During the 1975 earthquake the spire at the top of the temple crumbled away. It has since been restored.

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Mahabodhi Paya

The Mahabohdi temple, erected during the reign of Nadaungmya (r. 1211-1234), is modeled after the temple of the same name in Bodhgaya, India. The original Mahabodhi had been erected on the place where Siddhartha first attained supreme enlightenment in the 6th century BC. It is a 140 foot high brick and whitewashed stucco structure characterized by a large square pyramidal tower and topped by a conical spire and umbrella. Similar Bagan-era structures may be seen at Salé, about 20 miles south of Bagan on the Ayeyarwady; there is also a small copy on the terrace of the Shwedagon (soon to be added to this site) in Yangon. In addition to its pyramidal tower set on a quadrilateral base, the Mahabodhi is almost unique among Bagan structures because its extensive exterior ornamentation. Its numerous niches enclose over 450 Buddha images not only on the tower but also on the corner stupas and to a lesser extent on the exterior walls of the two story base. The Mahabodhi was badly damaged by the 1975 earthquake. It was repaired between 1976 and 1979 and strengthened in 1991-1992. Unfortunately, because of a variety of problems, this writer has only a few images of the Mahabodhi. This may justify a return trip to the area (with over 2,000 monuments in the area, there would be numerous other reasons). The few included suggest the richness of this massive and unique structure that mirror the Buddhist roots in northern India.

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Pahto Thamya Temple

The Pahto Thamya is a large two story temple located just inside the old city wall near the modernistic Bagan Archaeological Museum (visible in the background of the accompanying photograph). It is near the presumed site of the old palace and immediately to the west of Thatbyinnyu. Its central shrine is a bit over 23 ft (7,08 m) x 28 ft (8.58 m). There is a large porch extending outward on the east side. The crenellated terraces include a 12-sided terrace and three upper square terraces. There are four roof shrines with seated Buddhas on the terraces. The 12-sided bulbous dome with 12 vertical bands issuing from naga heads is topped by a 12-sided block and onion shaped sikhara, or spire. The spire was destroyed by the 1975 earthquake but restored in 1976 and 1984. Flat square blocks at the top of the first level doubtless carried replicas, mini stupas, of the central spire as do many other Bagan temples. The interior is a series of square forms in the hall, shrine room and in other parts. Some stucco moldings remain. The numerous mural paintings in the ambulatory are among the earliest of Bagan paintings, although most are in rather poor condition. There is also a large image of the Buddha. Thamya also contains one of the first upper temple shrines, a feature that was to become common in the middle period of Bagan architecture. The important historian of Bagan’s architecture, Paul Strachan, writes extensively and caringly about Pahto Thamya which he calls “an architecture that is balanced and self-confident” and one that set the stage for further architectural refinement. He also suggests that Pahto Thamya was a “supreme symbol of the advance of the Theravada Buddhist faith at Pagan…” Although, unfortunately I was unable to spend much time there, it is a remarkable structure.

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Tharabar Gateway

The entrance of the heritage of Bagan special show is decorated with the model of a Therapa gate. The Therapa gate is well known for its architectural design and it is the only one entrance gate for ancient capital city Bagan.

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Myoe Daung Monastery

The main monastery building, with an east-west orientation, is approximately 130 ft. x 115 ft. (40 m. x 35 m.). Most of its significant elements are from the pre-colonial Kon-baung period; some of the rooms apparently are later. Its glory and what should be a major claim to prominence lies in its numerous woodcarvings which are also mostly from the late Kon-baung period of the mid- to late 19th century. The Myoe Daung complex actually contains two monasteries, numerous pyathats, pavilions, rest houses and ancillary buildings. The main monastery building, with an east-west orientation, is approximately 130 ft. x 115 ft. (40 m. x 35 m. Its glory and what should be a major claim to prominence lies in its numerous woodcarvings which are also mostly from the late Kon-baung period of the mid- to late 19th century.

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Bagan Museum

The Bagan Archaeological Museum was opened on 17th April 1998 in the world renowned ancient city Bagan, in Mandalay Division, Upper Myanmar. It is situated near the Gawdawt Palin Pagoda.

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Shwegugyi Temple

The Shwegugyi (or Shwe-gu-gyi, “Great Golden Cave”) temple and the nearby ruins of the former royal palace form an interesting justaposition of Bagan sites. According to a contemporary Pali inscription on stone slabs in the building the temple was built in 7 1/2 months in 1131 AD under orders from King Sithu I (sometimes Alaungsithu I, r. 1113-1167). Located just to the north of Thatbyinnyu, the Shwegugyi is a large single story temple set on a large and tall (c. 13 feet) platform. There are three square receding upper terraces with corner spires or stupas at each corner on top of the central block.

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Myinkaba Pagoda

The Myin Kaba Pagoda shares its name with a village and a stream, and the chronicles thus explain the origin of the name:On the provocation of his half-brother King Sokkate, Anawrahta mustered his forces and marched against Sokkate. When the two met in single combat on horseback by a stream, Sokkate’s lance struck the pommel of Anawrahta’s saddle, but Anawrahta’s lance pierced Sokkate through and through. Sokkate’s horse ran away with its master to the stream, where he died. The stream thus became known as Myin Kaba, “Brought On the Horse’s Saddle.”

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Manuha

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.

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Abeyadana Temple

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.

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Gubyaukgyi

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.

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Nagayon Temple

Slightly south of Myinkaba, this elegant and well-preserved temple was built by Kyanzittha. This is a place where the legend says that Kyanzittha was sheltered by a serpent known as while fleeing from his angry brother and predecessor Sawlu Min. Therefore during his reign over Bagan, King Kyanzittha built this temple with the name of “Nagayon” meaning “sheltered by serpent”.

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Myazedi Pagoda

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.

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Nanpaya Temple

Close behind the Manuha Pagoda, there is a shrine mostly known as “Nanpaya”. It is said to have been used as Manuha’s prison although there is little evidence supporting the legend. There is also another story saying that the shrine was originally Hindu. Supposedly his captors thought that using it as a prison would be easier than converting it to a Buddhist temple. But also some say that the temple was built by Manuha’s grand-nephew known as Prince Naga Thaman in the late 11th century.

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Seinnyet Nyima & Seinnyet Ama

Said to have been built by Seinnyet Queen in the 11th century A.D. but the design appears to belong to the later Burmese style of 13th century. It is a square temple with four entrances through projecting porches, the main one facing west. The superstructure consists of the usual terraces and a sikhara resting on a square basement. It constitutes a dual with the adjoining Seinnyet Nyima. It is a pagoda of an unusual type. The three receding square terraces and the bell-shaped dome do not differ much from those of other pagodas. But above the dome rests a ribbed, bowl-shaped disc-the amalaka or myrobalan fruit- which makes the Seinnyet Nyima a distinctive type. Above the bowl-shaped disc rises a truncated conical finial which is made distinctive by the pronounced rings encircling it. Traditionally assigned to 11th century A.D.

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