Posts Tagged ‘South-East Asia



17
Apr
11

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet: The Panchen Lama’s seat

Tashi Lhunpo Monastery is seat to the Panchen Lama, the second most imporant leader of Tibet. It is one of the Six Big Monasteries of The Gelugpa (or Yellow Hat Sect) in Tibet.

Also called the Heap of Glory, the monastery is located at the foot of Drolmari (Tara’s Mountain) in Shigatse. Founded by the First Dailai Lama in 1447, the monastery’s structure was expanded by the Fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. Tashi Lhunpo Monastery covers an area of nearly 300.000 square meters (3.229.779 sq. ft.). The main structures found in the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery are The Maitreya Chapel, The Panchen Lama’s Palace and The Kelsang Temple.

Standing on the entrance of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery, visitors can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls. The remarkable Thangka Wall which is nine floors high was built in 1468. The wall displays the images of Buddha on the 14th, 15th and 16th of May every year following the Tibetan Lunar Calendar. The images are so humongous that one can easily see it from Shigatse City. Visitors can find The Maitreya Chapel by strolling into the monastery on the west side of Tashi Lhunpo. You can tour the upper floors of the chapel using a wooden staircase to appreciate the superb skill of the Tibetans.

The Kelsang Temple is one of the oldest and biggest buildings in Tashi Lhunpo. It is a colossal compound. The Main Chanting Hall is a place for lamas to learn the sutras and listen to the Panchen Lama’s sermon.  Besides the grand palace and gigantic statues, the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery also treasures characteristic wall paintings. Because of the variety of shapes, resplendent colors and exquisite painting, the murals are considered to be another masterpiece of Buddhist art.

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16
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 2)

Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar.

The legend of the Schwedagon Pagoda begins with two Burmese merchant brothers who met the Buddha himself. The Buddha gave them eight of his hairs to be enshrined in Burma. With the help of several nat (spirits) and the king of this region, the brothers discovered the hill where relics of previous Buddhas had been enshrined.  A chamber to house the relics was built on the sacred spot and when the hairs were taken from their golden casket, amazing things happened: there was a tumult among men and spirits… rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell… the blind beheld objects… the deaf heard sounds…the dumb spoke distinctly… the earth quaked… Mount Meru shook… lightning flashed… gems rained down until they were knee deep… all trees of the Himalaya, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.  Once the relics were safely placed in the new shrine, a golden slab was laid on the chamber and a golden stupa built over it. Over this was layered a silver stupa, then a tin stupa, a copper stupa, a lead stupa, a marble stupa and an iron-brick stupa.

Later, the legend continues, the Schwedagon stupa fell into ruin until the Indian emperor Asoka, a Buddhist convert, came to Myanmar and searched for it. Finding it only with great difficulty, he then had the jungle cleared and the stupa repaired. It is easy to see why the Schwedagon Pagoda is such a holy place for believers. Built on the site of the relics of previous Buddhas, containing the relics of the most recent Buddha, the site of miracles and of royal patronage, this is an important stupa indeed. Legend says, that the Shwedagon Pagoda is 2,500 years old, but archaeologists estimate it was first built by the Mon sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries (i.e. during the Bagan period). The pagoda emerges from legend into history in 1485, which is the date of an incription near the top of the eastern stairway that tells the story of Shwedagon in three languages (Pali, Mon, and Burmese).  It was around this time that the tradition of gilding the stupa began. Queen Shinsawbu provided her own weight in gold (fortunately she was a lightweight at 40kg), which was made into gold leaf and used to cover the surface of the stupa. The queen’s son-in-law, Dhammazedi, offered four times his own weight plus that of his wife’s in gold and provided the abovementioned 1485 inscription.

It has been rebuilt many times since then due to earthquakes (including eight in the 17th century alone); the current structure dates from the rebuild under King Hsinbyushin in 1769. After the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, British troops occupied the Schwedagon Pagoda complex, which stands high over the city like a castle. In 1852, during the second war, the British occupied the pagoda for 77 years and pillaged its treasures. In 1871, King Mindon Min from Mandalay provided a new hti (the decorative top), flustering the occupying British. As a symbol of national identity, the Schwedagon Pagoda was the scene of much political activity during the Myanmar independence movement in the 20th century. Amazingly, the huge earthquake of 1930 (which destroyed the Schwemawdaw in Bagan) caused only minor damage to the Yangon stupa. But the following year, it suffered from a disastrous fire. After a minor earthquake in 1970, the main stupa was fully refurbished.

The great Schwedagon Pagoda stands on a platform covering over 5 hectares on a hill 98m above sea level. It can be seen from virtually anywhere in the city, and the citizens of Yangon literally live out their everyday lives in its shadow. The large platform that supports the great stupa contains a variety of other stupas, prayer halls, sculptures and shrines. A number of these are associated with eight “days” (Wednesday is divided into morning and afternoon), based on one’s day of birth. Each has an associated planet, direction and animal sign. FYI, the Buddha was born on Wednesday morning. One must always walk around (circumambulate) stupas clockwise, so visitors take a left from whichever entrance to the platform they’ve chosen.

15
Apr
11

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar: The mountain of gold (part 1)

Myanmar has been called The Land of Gold, and that is not surprising at all when you consider just how beautifully the capital city sparkles. Giant, golden and glittering pagodas will take your breath away in this friendly city. Myanmar is a densely populated land with a population of approximately 48 million people. The capital city of Yangon itself boasts a population of 5 million. The people of the land are predominantly Buddhist, though there are many other ethnic groups represented. All in all, there are 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, each possessing their own proud culture and language. In the green, tree-lined streets of Yangon you will find all these hospitable people and places, and you will find other things as well. You will find food that has been described as some of the best in the world. And you will find the glittering and vast Shwedagon Pagoda, full of history, spirituality and lore.

Sitting high atop the sacred shrine of Singuttara Hill, housing relics of The Buddha and three Buddhas that preceded him, encased in gold and in jewels, the Shwedagon pagoda is a wonder to see. The beauty if the architecture and design will take your breath away, as will the sparkling, light catching jewels. This wondrous holy place, filled with history and legend, is not to be missed on your journey.

The origins of Shwedagon are lost in antiquity, its age unknown. Long before the pagoda was built, its location on Singuttara hill was already an ancient sacred site because of the buried relics of the three previous Buddhas. According to one legend, nearly 5000 years had passed since the last Buddha walked the Earth, and Singuttara hill would soon lose its blessedness unless it was reconsecrated with relics of a new Buddha. In order that such new relics might be obtained, King Okkalapa of Suvannabhumi spent much time atop the hill, meditating and praying. A series of miracles ensued, and eight hairs of the historical Buddha were, somewhat magically, brought to the hill. To enshrine the relics, multiple pagodas of silver, tin, copper, lead, marble, iron and gold where built one on top of the other to a height of twenty meters.

During the following centuries, passing from myth to historical fact, the pagoda grew to its present height of ninety-eight meters. Much of the continued construction of Shwedagon was actually reconstruction following disastrous earthquakes. During the 17th century the pagoda suffered earthquake damage on at least eight occasions. A particularly bad quake in 1786 brought the entire top half of the pagoda to the ground and its current shape and height date from the reconstruction of that time.

While much of the pagoda’s beauty derives from the complex geometry of its shape and surrounding structures, equally mesmerizing is its golden glow. The lower stupa is plated with 8.688 solid gold bars, an upper part with another 13.153. The tip of the stupa, far too high for the human eye to discern in any detail, is set with 5.448 diamonds, 2.317 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, .1065 golden bells and, at the very top, a single 76-carat diamond. Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing pre-Buddhist spirits called Nats, miracle working images, and even a wish granting stone. The entire temple complex radiates a palpable sense of beauty and serenity.

14
Apr
11

Amarapura, Myanmar: U Bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world.

Amarapura is a former capital of Myanmar, and now a township of Mandalay. Amarapura is bounded by the Ayeyarwady river in the west, Chanmyathazi township in the north, and the city of Innwa in the south. Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries, before being finally supplanted by Mandalay 11km north in 1857.

The U Bein Bridge is a 1,2 km wooden footbridge (longest teak bridge in the world) and is built by the mayor U Bein, salvaging the unwanted teak columns from the old palace during the move to Mandalay. The bridge still serves as the most important communication link for the people of his villages.

The best time to travel to U Bein Bridge is in the afternoon. The view of sunset from and around the bridge is perhaps the most beautiful scene around Mandalay. The weather is also cooler and more comfortable, with a cool light breeze blowing over the serene lake. You can sit on the river bank of Taungthaman Lake, sipping beer with fried shrimps and fishes freshly caught from the lake. Then, take a boat ride along Taungthaman Lake. Walk along the bridge until the end, and meet the local villagers coming back from work to their villages on the other side of the Lake. You will realize this is one of the best places in Mandalay.

11
Apr
11

Feel the sense of Bali temples: The Tampak Siring Temple

Tirta Empul Temple or Tampak Siring Temple is a holy spring water temple located in Tampak Siring Village, Gianyar regency and is about 39 km eastwards from Denpasar town. It is set in the dale and encircled by the hill. In the west side of this temple, there is an Indonesian President palace which has been found by the first president.

The name of Tirta Empul is loaded in a inscription which is kept at Sakenan Temple, Manukaya village, subdistrict of Tampak Siring, about 3 km from Tirta Empul Temple. In this inscription, the Tirta Empul is named by the Tirta Ri Air Hampul and then the name has changed into Tirta Hampul and finally become the Tirta Empul. Tirta Ri air Hampul is meaning the water emerge or the holy pool which is the water emerge from the land. It is believed that it is the infinite creation.

At the moment this pool water is sanctified by the Hindu society in Bali and they believe that this water source can heal various of diseases, hence every day this place is visited by a lot of Hindu people to do the ritual and sanctify them self . This place has been opened for public and became a famous tourist destination in Bali.

10
Apr
11

Feel the sense of Bali temples: The Ulun Danu Temple

Ulun Danu Temple is located in the village of Bedugul, in the Tabanan region, about 62 km from Denpasar. The temple of the Lake Goddess at Bratan is one of Bali’s most visited and most spiritually important Balinese temples.

This temple is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Goddess of the Water and the Bratan Lake. The temple was founded in the 17th century and it is the focus of numerous ceremonies and pilgrimages to ensure the supply of water. The temple sits on the shore of the lake.

The Ulun Danu Temple has a classical Hindu thatched roof ( multi roofed shrine ) called Meru. The unforgettable surround setting is typical Balinese. At the edge of Bratan Lake irises bloom in shades of yellow, fuchsia and magenta;  young girls and old men fish in clusters among the tiger lilies whilst the misty peak of a dormant volcano emerges in the distance. It’s a most picturesque view that you must experience.

05
Apr
11

Thanaka: The Burmese Beauty Secret.

A girl’s face with a yellowish paste on her cheeks will always provoke a question from a foreigner: What is that they put on their faces? That is thanaka paste, the most environmentally friendly and widely used skin lotion in Myanmar. No chemicals, no preservatives, the lotion that helps the skin retains its youthfulness. In a modern world of fashion where various makeup brands and anti-aging lotions are the essential weapons against the signs of advancing years, thanaka still stands tall with the people of Myanmar.

Thanaka is a tree (Murea exotica,) grown mostly in the semi-sandy and arid regions of Central Myanmar. A thanaka tree needs about 30 years to mature and be harvested. The bark will be thick and shows deep serrations and exudes a faint fragrance if smelled. This is the most valuable part, rather than the wood.  The thicker the bark the better the quality. It is what gives the thanaka its fragrance and the paste when ground on a slab of stone. However, it can also be confused with thee or wood apple trees (Limonia acidissima) and many unscrupulous traders will just do that for an unsuspecting buyer. But some housewives still prefer the thanaka roots to the branches or the trunks, saying they are more durable, although much harder to grind.

When the thanaka trees are mature, they are cut into small sizes and sent all over the country for sale. At home the thanaka logs are then ground on stone slabs, with water added to get a thick paste that is applied on the skin. The paste is cool and fragrant. Some girls might even add dried flowers to add to the fragrance or draw decorative designs on their cheeks. Thanaka is a versatile skin lotion. Children are made to wear this natural lotion when they are out playing in the sun and the local ‘village belles’ treasure thanaka paste on their faces rather than the expensive skin care products available to their city cousins.

Girls doing hard work under the sun like, planting paddy or harvesting crops, even on construction sites, we see them with thick layers of thanaka on their faces. This protects them from the fierce rays of the sun, an age old UV protection nature had given to us. Thanaka is also a therapeutic. A small dab of this thanaka paste on an insect bite or minor itches and sunburn will ease the pain. The best present for a visitor to bring from Central Myanmar is a bundle of thanaka logs and how they hostess will love that: a treasure she will always cherish.

Male school children can also be seen with thanaka on their cheeks too. Many of the women folks put on a thin veneer of thanaka paste after a shower, on their whole body, from head to foot. They believe it protects the skin from aging and wrinkles. A stone slab on display at the Bago Shwemawdaw Pagoda Museum is reputed to be used by a famous princess of the Hanthawaddy Dynasty to grind her thanaka logs. Who knows, even the most popular screen personalities of Myanmar might secretly have small thanaka logs at home to make them look forever young!