Posts Tagged ‘Stupa

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.

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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.

15
Mar
11

Gyantse, Tibet – Kumbum Stupa and Palkhor Monastery

The Palkhor Monastery lies in Gyantse, about 230 kilometers south of Lhasa in Southwest  Tibet and 100 kilometers east of the Shigatse Prefecture, at the foot of Dzong Hill.

It is well-known for its Kumbum, which has 108 chapels in its four floors. The multi-storied Kumbum Stupa was crowned with a golden dome and umbrella, surrounded with more chapels filled with unique religious statues and murals.
The monastery was founded in 1418 by the second Prince of Gyantse, Rabten Kunsang, who was a devotee of Kedrub Je, Tsongkapa’s disciple. It became an important centre of the Sakyapa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1904, the town and monastery were attacked by British soldiers, most of the damages were later restored, but bullet holes from this attack remain there up to now. It was partially destroyed in 1959 after a revolt against Chinese ruling class and again was damaged in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), but has since been largely restored.

The compound housed approximately 15 different monasteries, made up of three different sects (Gelugpa, Sakyapa, and Kahdampa) in a rare instance of tolerance amongst the Tibetan sects of Buddhism. It is the only monastery that housed monks from different sects in harmony. Meanwhile, its structural style, enshrined deities, and murals are pretty special.

Palkhor Monastery is most famous for its Bodhi stupa (Kumbum in Tibetan, meaning hall of 10.000 Buddhist figures).

As the symbol of the monastery, the spectacular stupa (Buddhist shrine) consists of hundreds of chapels in layers, housing a hundred thousand figures of Buddha or so, Bodhisattvas, Vajras (thunderbolt symbols), Dharma Kings, Arhats (enlightened Buddhists), and disciples and great experts of different orders in Tibetan Buddhist history. The stupa also contains about 3,000 statues of outstanding figures in Tibetan history such as Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen, so it is also called Myriad Buddha Stupa.

Covering a space of 2,200 square meters, the stupa has a total 108 gates and 77 chapels, each of which has a dominant religious figure and murals. The cylinder, 20 meters in diameter, has four chapels inside. This graceful structure is one of the most visited places in Tibet.

17
Feb
11

Kyaikhtiyo, Myanmar – a Golden Buddhist Rock

Widely publicized as Golden Rock among the tourist crowd, the Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda is one of the most magical destinations in Myanmar. For the Buddhists, it is a must visit place after Shwedagon of Yangon. The Golden Rock or Kyaikhtiyo is located some 160km southeast of Yangon, on one peak of eastern mountain range of 1200-meters, deep inside the dense rainforest of Mon State. It is far enough to avoid, or take a break from the hectic city life to enjoy from the expanse rice-growing region that stretch your eyes endlessly, the scenic rivers bustling with passengers boats and fishermen, and changing of socio-economic landscapes as you entered into the land of the Mons.

There’s no solid historic record on Golden Rock pagoda except the legendary stories. However, Buddhists in Myanmar generally believe that the rock boulder and the original stupa were built last 2400-years ago, during the lifetime of Buddha. The credit goes to the hermit who kept the hairs of Buddha for several hundred years until he urged the king of Mons, Tissa to find a stone that would resemble his hermit head and enshrine the hairs in it. With the help of the King of the Nat spirits, the king, who was also a son of miracle making alchemist father and dragon mother, could manage to find one from the ocean bed and then transported to the edge of the ridge by a ship, which then transformed into a stone a few meters away from the present-day Golden Rock boulder. And there are some more fascinating stories to be heard! While Golden Rock is the main focus to visit, there are several other monasteries and pagodas in this area.

For the devote and capable Buddhists, it is more appropriate to hike up from the near-sea-level base camp to the 1200-meter top along the 19-km forest trail passing through a couple of rest houses, waterfalls, food stalls and scenic spots.

04
Feb
11

Boudhanath, Kathmandu – The largest stupa in Nepal.

Boudhanath or Boddnath is among the largest stupas in South Asia, and it has become the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. Colored white, it rises thirty-six meters overhead. The stupa is located on the ancient trade route to Tibet, and generations of Tibetan merchants rested and offered prayers here over many centuries. When refugees entered Nepal from Tibet in the 1950s, many of them decided to live around Boudhanath. They established many gompas, and the “Little Tibet” of Nepal was born. This “Little Tibet” is still the best place in the Valley to observe Tibetan lifestyle. Monks walk about in saffron robes, Tibetans walk with prayer wheels in their hands, and the rituals of prostration are presented to the Buddha as worshippers circumambulate the stupa in a clockwise fashion on their hands and knees, bowing down to their lord. The stupa stands on a three platforms, one on top of the other. Each platform is known as Vimsatikona, the platform of twenty angles. These platforms form a mandala structure with the stupa as the center. The huge, white dome of the Buddha is known as the anda, the egg, or garbha, womb, which represents the creation of the Earth. Each stupa, even the small ones skirting a larger stupa, is said to contain the ashes of a saint or to commemorate them. Boudha stupa is said to entomb the remains of the sage Kasyap who is venerable both to Buddhists and Hindus. There’re eighty small recesses at the base of the dome with a Buddha sculpture in each.

Above the dome is the four sided harmika, and each face has a painted pair of eyes looking in one of the four directions. The fashion of painting eyes on the harmika was started only in the fifteenth century. Some say that the set of eyes are that of Buddha’s below which lies the whole world while others say they represent the sun and the moon. Above these eyes is a small eye which may be interpreted as the third eye, signifying the power of the god. Between the eyes is a symbol like a question mark, which some interpret as a nose, but it is actually the Nepali number “one.” Buddhists use this symbol to indicate that there is only way out of the earthly suffering, the path led by Buddha, and others simply think of it as unity. Rising above harmika is the central spire constituted of a thirteen tiered finial, which are plated with copper. The peculiarity about the finial of Boudha to that of other stupas around the Kathmandu Valley is that the finial has four sided plates forming a pyramid instead of circular disks. The finial serves to remind people that there are thirteen obstacles to enlightenment. Only after transcending these barriers can one reach the top to the parasol, or nirvana. The pinnacle of the Boudhanath Stupa is also known as bodhi which means perfect knowledge. The whole area is rich of Tibetan culture and displays some of the finest forms of Tibetan art that can be seen in the Kathmandu Valley. Colorful thangkas, Tibetan jewelry, hand-woven carpets, masks, and khukuri knives are sold there in stalls. Smaller stupas are located at the base. Gompa monasteries, curios shops, and restaurants surround Bouddhanath, Nepal’s largest Buddhist stupa. As of 1979, Boddnath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.