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Shwedagon Pagoda

Lee Wei Jia Cheryl
AR2221 AY2017-18 Sem 1 Assignment 1
Tutor: Han Rui
Tutorial Group:
Building Chosen: Shwedagon Pagoda
Post-classical Southeast Asian Forms: Shwengadon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma
The Shwedagon Zedi Daw, also known as the Great Dragon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda is a gold-plated
stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred and impressive Buddhist site
for the people of Myanmar and is a repository of the best in Myanmar heritage – architecture, sculpture
and arts, making it one of the wonders of the religious world.
While there are many records of Shwedagon’s rich history and architectural significance, there is also a
significant number of recordings of the reparation and renovation of this great architecture over the past
thousands of years, changing its form, plan and details from its original state when it was first built. This
essay aims to study and evaluate how far these changes are still due to historical traditions or influenced
by other political, economic and social factors. My stand states that with the usage of text as new content
to further concretize the demarcated space of Shwegadon pagoda during reconstruction faces, it is still
historical Burmese traditions and Theravada practices that greatly governs these changes.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a massive gold covered stupa with the height of 326 feet, and a circumference
of 1,421 feet at the level of the main platform. The main stupa is octagonal in shape and is surrounded by
64 small stupas, with 8 stupas on each side. There are four large stupas at each cardinal point which are
located directly across each of the 4 stairways. At each corner of these small stupas is Manoksiha, Burmese
version of sphinx with head of a guardian spirit and two conjoint bodies of chinthe, and several chinthes
guarding the main stupa. 1
"Complete Shwedagon Pagoda Guide," Scribd, , accessed October 04, 2017,
Fig 1: Ground Plan of Shwedagon Pagoda.
The complex structure of Shwedagon Pagoda consists of the octagonal base, the bell-shaped dome and
the conical shaped spire. The octagonal base consists of three terraces which taper upwards on one
another. The first part is a 6.4-meter square plinth, with octagonal terraces above it. The four sides at the
cardinal points have straight edges; while the other four sides have serrated edges. Above this structure
is the octagonal dais known as shit-mhaung.
Fig 2: Shwedagon Pagoda Design.
The dome part of the Shwedagon Pagoda is made up of many parts, among which the most outstanding
part is the bell orkhaung-laung, above it is the inverted alms bowel. The shoulder of the bell is covered
with 16 beautiful petals. The conical shaped spire is consist of seven circular bands at the base. Above
these circular bands is a structure that resembles the “Lotus Throne”: an upturned and inverted lotus.
This lotus structure usually serves as plinth for some Buddha images. The third part is an elongated tear
shaped structure, called nga-pyaw-bu. On top of the spire is hti or umbrella.
According to tradition, the Shwedagon Pagoda dates back 2,500 years to the time of the historic Buddha,
Prince Siddartha Gautama in India. Tradition says that two Burmese brothers visited the prince in India
and brought back some of his hair, which they gave to the king of Okkalapa, now the city of Yangon. The
king built the first pagoda on the present site of the Shwedagon Pagoda, enshrining the hair of the Buddha.
The first temple was 66 feet tall. Successive monarchs enlarged the temple several times, until it reached
its present height of 326 feet, with relics from three other Buddhas also enshrined there. 2
Fig 3: Old photograph of Shwedagon Pagoda in the 1890s
(Rowe & Co. - Typical photographs of Burma : Burmese life and scenes, Rangoon: Rowe & Co., 1900)
In 1372, Mon King Banya U made changes to Shwedagon Pagoda. 3 In late fourteenth century, Mon King
Rajadhiraj, went to Shwedagon Pagoda and prayed for a successful revolt against his father. In early 15th
century, King Banya-yan raised the pagoda to 295 meters height, by building spires to enclose the smaller
ones ike shells. His successor, Queen Shin Saw Pu similarly renovated Shwedagon Pagoda again and is
BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer, "Myanmar's Shwedagon Pagoda is covered in gold and jewels," Tulsa
World, April 13, 2013, , accessed October 04, 2017, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/religion/myanmar-sshwedagon-pagoda-is-covered-in-gold-and-jewels/article_2f6331f5-c733-5af3-bbe7-79ba2272f4ff.html
3 "Complete Shwedagon Pagoda Guide," Scribd, , accessed October 04, 2017,
famous for giving the pagoda its current shape and form. In 1768, an earthquake hit the body part of the
bell shape body, destroying it. It was renovated, repaired and rebuilt by King Ahlaung Min Taya and the
Sinphyushin King.
Fig 4: Shwedagon Pagoda under renovation, Yangon, Myanmar
(Keren Su/China Span, http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-shwedagon-pagoda-under-renovationyangon-myanmar-80058289.html)
Over the years, Shwedagon has been customed to constant changes through repairation and restoration
processes. 4 This is being carried out with the advice of the Saògha under the guidance and supervision of
the government, one aspect of official policy supporting the sustenance and propagation of Theravada
practice. 5The factors that initiate and then come together to see the renovation through to completion
are also varied, some are rooted in historical traditions. For example, Shwedagon is sacred prior to the
birth of the Buddha Gotama and is said to be consecrated with sacred hairs. Eight Hsandawshin donated
by the Buddha on the forty-ninth day after his Enlightenment are said to be conveyed by Taphussa and
Bhallika and enshrined together with relics of the three previous Buddhas of this era on the Shwedagon
Singuttara hill. In the eighth year after his Enlightenment, the Buddha is said to have travelled to
Suvannabhumi where he donated six Sacred Hairs. Other factors stem from current day needs related to
its compound and the surrounding region. In the Mon State, many infrastructure changes such as
upgrading of roads and educational facilities have been made alongside renovations.
Moore, E. 2000a. Ritual Continuity and Stylistic Change in Pagoda Consecration and
Renovation. Pp. 156-191 in Myanmar Two Millennia Conference, Proceedings (Part
3) Universities' Historical Research Centre, Yangon.
5 Shwedagon Zeidi All-Round Perpetual Renovation Committee. 1999a-c. Shwedagon
Zeidi Daw Shwehtidaw myat tin hluu khin (Thathana thamaing win Hmat tan mya.)
Shwedagon Board of Trustees Office, Yangon.
There is the constant responsibility of managing not just the physical structure, but also the constant
participation of devotees and donors in maintaining the environment of the Shwedagon hill. For example,
3 New images were consecrated in the U Ba Yi Tazaung in the northeast corner of the Shwedagon
platform, on 9 November 2000 AD. Shwedagon has also increased in height with bigger spires built over
time to enclose the smaller ones like shells. 6The first time it was gilded over completely was in 1460,
when its height had already been raised to nearly 300 feet. Queen Shin Saw Pu, known to the Mon as
Queen Banya Thau, donated her weight in gold, 91 pounds, for this purpose. It was beaten into sheets
and then lacquered onto the surface. Her successor, King Dhammazedi donated gold as much as four
times his body weight.
Fig 5: Shwedagon Pagoda
(Thettoe, 11 May 2009, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shwedagon_Pagoda_by_TT.JPG)
The Shwedagon now stands with the Hti Taw, “Royal Umbrella”. 7Several earthquakes damaged the
umbrella, which was repaired and encrusted with more jewels each time. Several kings have donated gold,
jewels and even complete umbrellas amounting to about a tonne of metal, most of it gold. The discarded
umbrellas were encased in plaster and set up on the Shwedagon platform as hti pagodas.
Thanegi Ma, Myanmar architecture: cities of gold (Singapore: Marshall cavendish, 2013
Thanegi Ma, Myanmar architecture: cities of gold (Singapore: Marshall cavendish, 2013
Fig 6: Workers busy in renovation work at Myanmar's famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon on March
20. Six months ago monasteries in Yagon city were full of monks who were at the forefront of prodemocracy protests that unfolded in September, eventually swelling to more than 100,000 people in the
streets of Yangon. Most of the monks and other activists fled a deadly military crackdown that began on
September 26.
Fig 7: Workers as they fix an element during maintenance work at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.
When a new hti was set in place in April 1999, an additional 79,659 pieces of jewelry were attached to it,
making it a total of 83,850 pieces. In a more personal gesture of devotion, many have donated what they
were wearing when they came to the pagoda. Rings, bracelets and a total of 4,016 gold bells were
attached onto the hti or threaded through gold wires and tied on to the support pole, which was also
replaced with a diamond encrusted one, and then reinforced with steel.
Each step in the installation of a new hti has been done according to rigid rules, such as having no noise
while inserting the central pole into the socket, a task that must be accomplished in one movement.
Adjusting the pole by lifting it and outing it in place again is forbidden according to old manuscripts.
New inscriptions also offer to alter changes to Shwedagon. 8 For instance, in the Shwedagon's U Ba Yi
Tazaung, Myanmar and English inscriptions have been installed. As described below, both letters and
numbers are central to the effectiveness of the Nakkhata. Similarly, weights, dimensions and numbers
stated here are rather significant. Different dating systems goes to show the use of other concepts of time
with which renovations are recorded. Text as new content is translated in a more abstract manner to
further consecrate the demarcated space. This may seen in the relationship between the new Htidaw to
new and renovated zeidi and images on the pagoda platform, illustrating the intricate process and
consequent misreading that may arise from attempting to assign singular or literal meaning to particular
aspects or the whole of the Shwedagon.
A number of points relating to the current day are also observed in the 1485 AD Shwedagon inscription
of King Dhammaceti. These include the reconstruction of zeidi, the propagation of the Såsanå, and the
sustenance of the Sa gha. There are differences in the Myanmar and English inscriptions in the use of
dating eras and names. However, it is worth noting the wide range of traditional, historical and celestial
figures mentioned, the alternative concepts of time stated earlier, and to note the usage of both Myanmar
and English inscriptions as part of current renovation.
The Shwedagon is changing in a country where Theravda practice has been sustained for some two
thousand years. Deep-rooted traditions have directed, although not constrained, recent reconstruction
of the pagoda. The physical aspects show the incremental and cumulative impact of innovation
throughout this period. Because of the existence of many long-existing precedents, the design and
placement of forms differs greatly as each new context is formed. Though there are many other new
factors that force changes onto Shwedagon, it is evident that though rooted by surrounding factors,
historical traditions still largely govern these changes – by reasoning and by method of reconstruction.
Tet Htoot. 1963. The Nature of the Burmese Chronicles. In Historians of South East
Asia (ed. D.G.E. Hall). London: Oxford University Press.pp.50-63.
Ma, Thanegi. Myanmar architecture: cities of gold. Singapore: Marshall cavendish, 2013.
Falconer, J., Moore, E., Kahrs, D., Birnbaum, A., Di Crocco, V.M. and Cummings, J. Burmese: Design &
Architecture. Singapore: Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd: 2000.
"Shwedagon Pagoda." Shwedagon Pagoda | History of the gold plated diamond studded Yangon
Pagoda. Accessed October 04, 2017. https://www.renowntravel.com/burma/yangon/shwedagonpagoda.html.
"Complete Shwedagon Pagoda Guide." Scribd. Accessed October 04, 2017.
Writer, BILL SHERMAN World Religion. "Myanmar's Shwedagon Pagoda is covered in gold and
jewels." Tulsa World. April 13, 2013. Accessed October 04, 2017.
Moore, E., Mayer, H., and Win Pe. 1999. Shwedagon, Golden Pagoda of Myanmar.
London, Thames and Hudson
Moore, E. 2000a. Ritual Continuity and Stylistic Change in Pagoda Consecration and
Renovation. Pp. 156-191 in Myanmar Two Millennia Conference, Proceedings (Part
3) Universities' Historical Research Centre, Yangon.
Shwedagon Board of Trustees. 2001. Shwedagon Pagoda, Facts and Figures by the
Board of Trustees. 17 April 2001. Yangon.
Shwedagon Zeidi All-Round Perpetual Renovation Committee. 1999a. Shwedagon
Zeidi Daw Shwehtidaw myat tin hluu khin (Thathana thamaing win Hmat tan mya.)
Shwedagon Board of Trustees Office, Yangon.
Shwedagon Zeidi All-Round Perpetual Renovation Committee. 1999b. Historic
record of the hoisting of the Gold Umbrella on the Shwedagon Pagoda. Shwedagon
Board of Trustees Office, Yangon.
Shwedagon Zeidi All-Round Perpetual Renovation Committee 1999c. Shwedagon
Zeidi Daw Bithuka bonsan mya Hmat tan. Shwedagon Board of Trustees Office,
Tet Htoot. 1963. The Nature of the Burmese Chronicles. In Historians of South East
Asia (ed. D.G.E. Hall). London: Oxford University Press.pp.50-63.
Than Tun. 1978. History of Buddhism in Burma AD 1000-1300. Journal of the Burma
Research Society. Vol LXI, parts 1&2, pp. 1-266.e current document.