Nation's Ancient Capitals
Bagan is just 193 km south of Mandalay in Upper Myanmar. It is
on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River. Known as the city of four million
pagodas, Bagan is one of the richest archaeological sites in Asia. Bagan
city covers an area of 42 sq.km. There, one can find over 2,000 pagodas,
temples and monasteries built during the Bagan Dynasty founded by King Anawrahta
After unifying the country, Anawrahta accomplished another noble
deed for the country: he introduced Tharavada Buddhism into Myanmar with
the help of Shin Arahan, a missionary monk from Thaton. It was Buddhism that
influenced the rulers of Bagan Dynasty to build innumerable pagodas and temples
in and around the city. The endless pagodas stand testimony to the rich cultural
heritage of the Myanmars and also to the beauty and grandeur of ancient pagoda.
Economy and Industry
Anciant Bagan is indeed an interesting place to visit for scholars
and tourists who have an interest in archaeology and architecture.
Visitors are required to pay US $ 10 for admission to the archaeological
zone. US $ 3 is charged for every extra day exceeding 2 days and 2 nights.
Bagan is famous for its artistic handicrafts and lacquer
wares. These are among the most popular souvenirs.
How to get there
From Yangon one can take a plane to Bagan. The trip just takes
an hour. For one who loves to have a look at the countryside, there is also
a motor-way. Bagan is accessible from Mandalay by road: Just a 3-hours' drive.
There is also overnight cruise from Mandalay to Bagan for those who love
When taking a trip to Bagan, one should not miss, among others,
Ananda Pagoda, Shwesandaw Pagoda, Shwegugyi Pagoda, Damayangyi Pagoda and
Although Bagan is not the major population centre in the
area, it is the tourist centre. There are lots of Lacquerware shops. Bagan
is situated right on the bank of the Ayeyarwady. Boats will be passing
by or pausing to unload goods, villagers will come down to the river with
oxen carts to collect water. Bagan has an interesting market, close to
An interesting small museum stands close to the Ananda Temple.
It contains a large number of images and other fine works found in temples
The ruins of the main gate on the east wall, are all that remain
of the old 9th century city. The gate is guarded by brother and sister
nats, the male on the left, the female on the right. Traces of old stucco
can still be seen on the gateway.
One of the finest, largest and best preserved of the Bagan temples,
the Ananda suffered considerable damage in the earthquake and in 1979 reconstruction
took place. Built in 1091 by Kyanzittha, the temple is said to represent
the endless wisdom of the Buddha. The central square has sides of 53
metres (175 feet) and rises in terraces to a hti 51 metres (168 feet)
above the ground. In the centre of the cube, four standing Buddhas, nine
and a half metres (31 feet) high, represent the four Buddhas who have
attained Nirvana. Only those facing north and south are original, the
east and west facing images are replacements for the figures destroyed
by fires. The base and the terraces are decorated with a great number
of glazed tiles showing scenes from the Jataka. In the western sanctum,
there are life size statues of the temple's founder and his Primate,
while in the west porch there are two footprints of the Lord Buddha, on
Its golden mass giving it an air of weight and stability, the
Shwezigon derives its name from Jeyyabhumi, "Ground of Victory". Two great
kings, noted for their patronage of the Religion, are associated with the
Shwezigon: Anawrahta (1044-1077) and Kyansittha (1084-1113).
Tradition has it that the holy tooth, collar-bone and frontlet
relics of the Buddha are enshrined in the Shwezigon, the tooth presented
by the King of Ceylon, the frontlet obtained from Thayekhittaya near modern
Prome. The chronicles relate that Anawrahta placed the frontlet relic on
a jewelled white elephant and, making a solemn vow, said, "Let the white elephant
kneel in the place where the holy relic is fain to rest!" And it was there,
at the place where the white elephant knelt, that Anawrahta built the Shwezigon,
although he was to finish only the three terraces before he died.
The chronicles go on to relate that on the accession of Kyansittha,
the royal teacher Shin Arahan urged him to complete the Shwezigon. Kyansittha
then marshalled all his people and quarried rock from Mount Tuywin in the
east to build the pagoda. Marvellously, the pagoda was finished in seven
months and seven days, and the chronicles record with some pride, "Shwezigon
is famous in the world of men and the world of spirits as far as the world
Built by Alaungsithu in 1311, this temple is an early example
of a transition in architectural styles which resulted in airy, lighter
buildings. The temple is also notable for its fine stucco carvings and
for the stone slabs in the inner wall which tell its history, including
the fact that its construction took seven months.
The highest temple in Bagan, the "omniscient" temple rises
to 61 metres (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.
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.
This six metre (19 feet) high stone image of the Buddha was built
Like the Htilominlo and the Gawdawpalin this is a prime example
of later, more sophisticated temple style, with better internal lighting.
It stands beyond the Dhammayangyi Temple and was built in 1181 by Narapatisithu.
The interior was once painted with fine frescoes but only traces can be seen
Slightly to the east of the Thatbyinnyu this is the only Hindu
temple remaining in Bagan. It was built in 931 by King Taungthugyi, this
was about a century before the southern school of Buddhism came to Bagan
following the conquest of Thaton. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god
Vishnu and around the outside wall are figures of the "ten Avatars", Gautama
Buddha was said to be the ninth. The central brick pillar supports the dome
and crumbled sikhara and once had figures of Vishnu on each of the four
sides. The temple may have been built by Indian settlers in Bagan -- possibly
the skilled workers brought to construct other temples.
One of the largest and most imposing of the Bagan temples, the
Gawdawpalin was built during the reign of Narapatisithu (1174-1211) but
was very badly damaged by the earthquake in 1975. The reconstruction was
started in early 1979. In plan it is somewhat similar to the Thatbyinnyu
- cube shaped with Buddha images on the four sides of the ground floor. The
top of the stupa, before it fell, reached 55 metres (180 feet) high. The
top terrace is still an excellent place to catch the sun setting over the
In this same temple crowded central area the Pahtothamaya was
probably built during the reign of Kyanzittha (1084-1113). The interior
of this single storey building is dimly lit, typical of this early type of
Mon-influenced temple with its small, perforated stone windows.
Right on the bank of the Ayeyarwady, this pagoda has been claimed
to be the oldest in Bagan, dating from the 3rd century AD. It was completely
destroyed when it tumbled into the river in the 1975 earthquake, but
has been totally rebuilt.
Modelled after Indian style temples, this pagoda is unique in
Myanmar. It was built during the reign of Nantaungmya (1211-1234). The
pyramidal spire, covered in niches each enclosing a seated Buddha figure,
rises from a square block.
Following his conquest of Thaton, this very graceful circular
pagoda was built by Anawrahta in 1057. The five terraces once had terra-cotta
plaques showing scenes from the Jataka. The pagoda bell rises from two
octagonal bases which top the five square terraces. Close to the Shwesandaw
stands the Lawkahteikpan Temple - small but interesting for its excellent
frescoes and inscriptions in both Myanmar and Mon.
Situated right beside the Shwesandaw, this long, brick built,
shed-like structure houses an 11th century, 18 metre (60 feet) long reclining
Similar in plan to the Ananda, this later temple is much more
massive looking. It was built by King Narathu (1160- 65). The interior
of the temple is blocked by brickwork. The Dhammayangyi is the finest brickwork
Bago is just 80 km from Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. Apparently
Mons were the first to settle at this site. The city was first founded by
two Mon brothers Thamala and Wimala from Thaton about 825 A.D. In 13th century
A.D. Bago was made the capital of the Mon Kingdom and it came to be known
as Hansavati (Hanthawaddy). Bago today is the capital of Bago Division, one
of the 14 States and Divisions that constitute the Union of Myanmar.
Economy and Industry
Bago is famous for its cheroot industry. Different brands of cheroot
are available there. Other products are rice, salt, dried fish and various
How to get there
Bago can be reached by car or by train from Yangon. The journey
takes just a couple of hours.
Famous pagodas worth visiting, among others, are the Shwemawdaw
Pagoda, the Shwetha Lyaung Pagoda and the Mahasedi Pagoda. Visitors and devotees
throng to the Shwemawdaw Pagoda Festival which is usually held in the month
For people who wish to have a glimpse of the traditional way
of Myanmar life, Bago is an ideal place to visit. People are seen going about
their business in a simple and peaceful way - unspoiled by the urbanity
of metropolitan life.
Mandalay was founded by King Mindon in 1857. Most of the monuments
there including the palace, the city walls, pagodas and monasteries were
built in that year or soon after. King Mindon planned the building of the
new capital in 1857 and it was formally inaugurated in 1859.
The fortified city is in the form of a square, each side of
which is ten furlongs in length, a battlemented wall of brick and mud mortar
has a total height of 25 feet and is backed by an earthern rampart. There
are 12 gates, three on each side, at equal distances from each other. They
are surmounted by pyatthats or pavilions of wood. These total 48 in number.
The moat surrounding the city is approximately 225 feet wide and 11 feet
deep. Four bridges spanning the moat lead to the main gates. The palace thus
occupied the central spot in the city.
The palace, with magnificent woodcarving embellishing it, was
destroyed by fire during World War 11. However, the Lion Throne survived the
war and is now exhibited at the national museum in Yangon.
Today, Myat-Nan-San-Kyaw Golden Palace in Mandalay has been reconstructed,
a monument of historical value, the glory of the Myanmar people -- embellished
and renovated -- is a testimony to the ancient culture.
The city was named after the Mandalay Hill which is situated
at the north-east corner of the present city. The hill has for long been
a holy mount and it is believed that Lord Buddha prophesied that a great city,
metropolis of Buddhism, would be founded at its foot. It was King Mindon
who fulfilled the prophesy.
Mandalay, as the centre of Myanmar culture, was outstanding in
the past; it holds the stage now; and it will continue to be a place of pride
in the future.
Mandalay is situated on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River
in central Myanmar. It is the second largest city in Myanmar. Towards the
east, there are the blue Shan mountain ranges which give the city a physical
dignity. To the west there is Myanmar's lifestream, the mighty Ayeyarwady
Economy and Industry
Mandalay is famous for traditional Myanmar arts and crafts. Two
notable ancient crafts -- carving of stone images of the Buddha and the
manufacture of gold leaf -- which continue to be pursued even today, should
be of particular interest. To the south of Mandalay, in the neighbourhood
of Mahamuni Pagoda, there is a whole street devoted to stone- carving.
Gold leaf manufacture is concentrated in the south-eastern part
of the city. It is an occupation that is carried on as a cottage industry.
Small bits of gold bullion are laboriously beaten out for days on end to
get the required film-like thinness of the leaf. The beating is done by men
and the piecing together of the films of gold leaves by girls at the approaches
of pagodas. Gold leaf is sold in packets which the devotees buy for gilding
the pagodas and the images.
Other notable arts and crafts in Mandalay include woodcarving,
ivory carving and gold embroidery. People from Mandalay excel in these arts
and crafts. These products are placed among the most popular souvenirs.
In the field of commerce and trade, Mandalay is the busiest
trade centre in Upper Myanmar. Border trade from China, Thailand and India,
as well as domestic trade from States and Divisions usually pass through
Mandalay. The city is, thus, the hub of trade and commerce in Upper Myanmar.
How to get there
Mandalay is linked by air, rail, road and river with Yangon and
other principal towns of Myanmar. One could choose any one of the four modes
of transportation one prefers. It takes only an hour to fly from Yangon to
Mandalay and if one travels by train or car, it takes 12 to 14 hours.
When in Mandalay, one should not miss, among others, the Myat-Nan-San-Kyaw
Palace, the Mandalay Hill, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Eindawya Pagoda and Mahamuni
Pagoda. One should also visit the recently-built Zay-gyo market and various
department stores. Mandalay, while retaining its reputation as the home of
ancient Myanmar culture and civilization is, today, fast moving to become
a busy modern and industrial city as well.
Besides the Mandalay hill, the palace wall, and the palace
which is newly built, many other places in Mandalay attract tourists. Visiting
the Great Maha Muni Pagoda is among them a top priority, which lies
to the south of Mandalay. This pagoda was so named after the holy image,
"Maha Muni" housed therein. Originally, this holy image belonged to
Myohaung (a town in Rakhine State, the western coastal region of Myanmar).
In 1784, King Bodawpaya (a son of King Alaungpaya who founded
the Kon-Baung dynasty) got the image brought by his son to the then royal
capital at Amarapura. It has been 210 years, therefore, since the holy
image first arrived at the central Myanmar. To the Buddhists in Myanmar,
this richly gilded Maha Muni image is not a mere representation of the
Lord Buddha but is an icon which is regarded as sacred itself. And the
image is also considered to be the greatest in Myanmar next to the Shwe Dagon.
Another celebrated pagoda is the Kyauk Tawgyi situated near
the southern approach to the Mandalay hill. It was built in the reign of
King Mindon. Also at this pagoda, there is a huge marble image of Buddha
which was carved out of a single block of marble. Situated to the east is
the Kuthodaw pagoda modelled on the Shwe Zigon at Nyaung Oo. In the precincts
of this pagoda, there are 729 monoliths on which the entire teachings
of Buddha can be seen as edited and approved by the fifth Buddhist Synod.
The Atumashi Kyaung (which literally means the inimitable monastery
) also is worth seeing. Actually, it is just the ruins partly survived
the fire in 1890. However, the remains seen nowadays obviously show that
the Atumashi Kyaung must have been indeed an inimitable one in former times.
Moreover,such places as the Eindawya pagoda, the Set Kya
Thiha pagoda, the Shwe Nandaw monastery, the old Watch Tower, King Mindon's
tomb, etc. should also be visited in Mandalay. In addition, the old royal
capitals prior to the city of Mandalay (Amarapura, Innwa, Sagaing) should
also be visited during your stay in Mandalay. And you should not either
leave Pyin Oo Lwin (May Myo) unvisited, for it may well be the most pleasant
place in Myanmar and even in South East Asia, perhaps. It is situated 69
km to the east of Mandalay, over 1,100 metres in elevation. In the colonial
days, Pyin Oo Lwin used to be the summer resort of the Governor.
Last updated on Tue, 26 Oct 1999 03:29:52 GMT