Uploaded by e0036231


Post-classical Southeast Asian Forms: Shwengadon Pagoda, Yangon, Burma
Essay outline:
Description of form (plan, section elevation)
Detailed elements (materials -gold, construction/reconstruction)
Meaning and symbolism of spaces and form
Context of production (physical, material, social, cultural, and religious)
The base is called the Hpa-nut Taw, “Royal Footwear”. Next comes the 21-foot high Pan Tin Khone, a
square “Flower-placing Platform” on which there are 64 gilded stupas. There is a corridor between
these smaller stupas and the main spire where only men are allowded to traverse. In a shrine on this
corridor circling the base of the shrine is a Buddha image named Padamya Myet Shin, the “Living Eye
of the Ruby”.
The massive 99 meter high gold plated pagoda with the diamond studded spire set on top of a small hill
in downtown Yangon dominates the area and is visible from much of the city. The very impressive pagoda,
also known as the Golden Pagoda, is Burma’s most important Buddhist pilgrimage site. The main stupa
enshrines sacred relics of the Gautama Buddha as well as the three previous Buddhas.
There are four entrances to the complex, all of which except the Eastern one have either an escalator or
an elevator. All are guarded by enormous Chinthes, Burmese mythological lions with a white body and
golden colored head. The upper part of the walls at the entrances to the complex are decorated with
beautiful Burmese style depictions of the Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha.
The center of the large complex is formed by a large platform measuring 275 meters long with the main
stupa and many smaller stupas surrounding it. The main stupa enshrines relics of the four previous
Buddhas including sacred hair relics of the most recent Buddha.
Since the Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred place for Buddhists in Burma, large numbers of devotees
come to the Shwedagon every day. They walk around the stupa and make offerings to the Buddha.
At each corner of the octagonal pagoda is a shrine with a Buddha image (one for each day of the week,
Wednesday is split into two). Every shrine has a planet and an animal sign associated with it in accordance
with Eastern astrology. Burmese people pray to the shrine belonging to their day of birth burning candles,
offering flowers and pouring water over the image.
It is a massivegold covered stupa with the height of 99 meters (326 feet), and a circumference of 433
meters (1,421 feet) at the level of the main platform. The main stupa structure is octagonal in shape and
is surrounded by 64 small stupas – 8 stupas on eachside (8×8). There are four large stupas at each cardinal
point directly across each stairway (north, south, east and west). Ateach corner of these small stupas is
Manoksiha (or) Manokthiha, Burmese version of sphinx with head of a guardian spirit(dewada) and two
conjoint bodies of chinthe (lion). This is a mythological creature believed to guard religious
structures.There are also a number of chinthes guarding the main stupa.The complex structure of
Shwedagon Pagoda can be broken down into three main parts:
The octagonal base
The bell shaped dome
The conical shaped spire
The octagonal base is made up of three terraces which recede upward on each other. The first part is the
square plinthwhich is 6.4 meter high. Above this square plinth are octagonal terraces (paccaya). The four
sides at the cardinal points(north, south, east and west sides) have straight edges; while the other four
sides in between them have serrated edges. Above this structure is the octagonal dais called shit-mhaung
(eight edges).
The dome part of the Shwedagon Pagoda consists of many parts, among which the most prominent part
is the bell orkhaung-laung, above which is the inverted alms bowel (tha-beik-mhauk). The shoulder or
upper part of the bell is decoratedwith 16 beautiful petals.The conical shaped spire is made up of seven
circular bands (phaung-yit) at the base. Above these circular bands is astructure reminiscent of the “Lotus
Throne”: an upturned lotus (kya-lan) and an inverted lotus (kya-hmauk). This lotusstructure usually serves
as pedestal for some Buddha images. The third part is the elongated tear shaped structure, calledngapyaw-bu or banana-bud. The top part of the spire is hti or umbrella.
The hti or umbrella of the Shwedagon Pagoda is worth mentioning. It is adorned with 5448 diamonds, and
2317 rubes,sapphires and other gems. There are 1065 golden bells in this hti. In the middle of the hti is a
76 carat diamond.
The anda or bell-likened to the thabeik or begging bowl carried by Buddist monks – of the pagoda rests
on square and octagonal terraces. Above the bell are a series of shapes: rings, petals of the pagoda of the
lotus flower, the hnget-pyaw-bu or banana bud. Some people say the form of the banana bud comes from
the shape made by two hands held in prayer although there is no proof of this. Above the banana bud is
the umbrella or hti, and the flag-like vane. At the summitcv of the pagoda is the orb, symbol of Nirvana,
ultimate enlightenment and release from rebirth.
That was a brief history of how the Shwedagon came into existence and on the full moon day of Myanmar
calendar month of Tabaung Wednesday at ebb tide 103, the Shwedagon Pagoda was successfully built. At
the reign of Queen Shin Saw Pu, the length was extended to 302ft. But in 1768, the earthquake struck and
the body part of the bell shape body was totally destroyed. So, King Ahlaung Min Taya, the Innwa King,
son of U Aung Zeya and the Sinphyushin King renovated, repaired and rebuilt it. And the umbrella, the
new Htidaw and the height was extended to 326 ft., which can be seen to date. Moreover on the pagoda
at northeast point, a pagoda with the height of about 150 was first established with small zedis, encircling
According to tradition, the Shwedagon Pagoda dates back 2,500 years to the time of the historic Buddha,
Prince Siddartha Gautama in India. Buddhists teach that Buddha is a title given to one who has attained
enlightenment and ended reincarnation's cycle of birth and death. It is a Sanskrit word that means
"awakened one." 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. Relics from three other Buddhas also are enshrined there.
According to legend the pagoda is more than 2,500 years old dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha,
making it the oldest pagoda in Burma. Historical evidence suggests the pagoda was built by the Mon
around the 6th century. Since then the Pagoda has been enlarged and renovated many times, and
numerous smaller stupas and other structures have been added.
According to legend two merchant brothers from Okkalapa (present day Yangon) who lived about 2,500
years ago met the Buddha in India. The Buddha gave them eight of His hairs and told them to enshrine
them in the same spot on a hill in Okkalapa where relics of the previous three reincarnations of the Buddha
were buried.
The brothers returned to Okkalapa and presented the Buddha relics to their King, who started searching
for the spot. After years of searching in vain a Nat spirit called Sularata decided to help the King. The Nat
who was millions of years old hat witnessed the visits of the previous three Buddhas and remembered
the spot on Singuttara hill where the relics were enshrined. It was at this spot that the Shwedagon pagoda
was built.
Although the true history of Shwedagon pagoda is shrouded in mystery, it was already well established
when Burmese in Bagan dominated the central Burma in 11 century AD.King Anawrahta of Bagan visited
Shwedagon during one of his excavation into lower Burma. In 1372, Mon King Banya U renovated
Shwedagon Pagoda. In late fourteenth century, famous Mon King Rajadhiraj, when he was a prince, fled
from Hansawaddi to Dagon (now named Yangon) to revoltagainst his father. He went to Shwedagon
Pagoda and prayed for a successful revolt. In early 15th century, King Banya-yan raised the pagoda to 295
meters height. His successor, Queen Shin Saw Pu renovated Shwedagon Pagoda again and is renowned
for giving the pagoda current shape and form. She donated gold equal to her body weight (40 Kg), made
intogold leaves and plates and offered to the stupa. Her successor, King Dhammazedi donated four times
his body weight in gold.
In 1485 King Dhammazedi erected three stone inscriptions on the Shwedagon Pagoda’s eastern stairway.
Written in Mon,Burmese and Pali, it described the history of Shwedagon Pagoda since the time of
Gautama Buddha. These inscriptionscan still be seen near the eastern stairway. (Just recently, these
stones were removed to a small building in the North Eastcorner of the Shwedagon terrace).King
Dhammazedi also donated a large bell weighing approximately 30 tons. This bell was plundered in 1608
by aPortuguese mercenary Philip de Brito y Nocote who based in Syriam (Thanlyin). Unfortunately it fell
into Rangoon Riverand was never recovered. Many Burmese still believe this bell goes up to the surface
of Rangoon River on full moon days, and the sound of the bell can be heard during the time. The military
government in 1990s tried to find and salvage the Great Bell of Dhammazedi with the aids of French
experts but failed to find it. Another Bell donated by King Singhu of Ava weigh 23 tons and was also
plundered by British during their occupation of lower Burma during the First Anglo-Burma War (1824 –
1826). They tried to carry the bell to Calcutta but bell fell into the river. Later, it was salvaged by Burmese
and was returned to Shwedagon Pagoda. King Tharawaddy also donated a thirdbell weighing 40 tons to
the Pagoda in 1841 and can still be seen in north east side of the pagoda. Since 1852, Shwedagon was
under British military control, but Burmese were still allowed to visit the pagoda. In 1871,King Mindon of
Mandalay sent a new diamond studded hti (umbrella) to be installed at the top of Shwedagon. The
delightedBurmese celebrated with a festive procession, with more than 100,000 people coming to greet
and pay homage the new hti. During 1990s, current military government tried to renovate the stairways
donated by King Tharawaddy of Ava. However, the engineers found that the infrastructure was beyond
repair and decided to construct a new stairway instead. Current stairways seen at Shwedagon are the new
ones constructed during that time.
Bigger spires were built over time to enclose the smaller ones like shells. The first time it was gilded
over completely was in 1460, when its height had already been raised to nearly 300 feet (originally 60
feet). Queen Shin Saw Pu, known to the Mon as Queen Banya Thau, a well-loved monarch who had
reigned for seven years in lower Myanmar, donated her weight in gold, 91 pounds, for this purpose. It
was beaten into sheets and then lacquered onto the surface.
The Shwedagon now stands 326 feet high with the Hti Taw, “Royal Umbrella”, measuring in at 16 feet
3 inches. The amount of gold on the spire alone is calculated to exceed three tonnes. Several
earthquakes damaged the umbrella, which was repaired and encrusted with more jewels each time. A
number of kings have donated gold, jewels and even complete umbrellas amounting to about a tonne
of metal, most of it gold. The discarded umbrellas are encased in plaster and set up on the Shwedagon
platform as hti pagodas.
The circumference for the tip of the hti, called the “Diamond Orb”, was measured at 31 inches when
the hti was repaired in the 1970s. A count conducted at the same time found the hti decorated with
4,351 diamonds totaling 1,800 carats. The diamonds set at its peak was a 76-carat solitaire.
The diamond orb is supported by a gold staff and gold banner more than two feet wide and four feet
long. These are encrusted with 1.098 diamonds and 1,338 precious stones such as rubies, emeralds
and sapphires, most of them still set in the original jewelry on the banner alone numbered 5,390.
When a new hti was set in place in April 1999, a great many more jewels had been added. An
additional 79,659 pieces of jewellery were attached to the hti in 1999, bringing the total to a
staggering 83,850 pieces. Most people, in a more personal gesture of devotion, donated what they
were wearing when they came to the pagoda. Rings, bracelets and a total of 4,016 gold bells were
welded onto the hti or threaded through thick wired of gold and firmly tied around the support pole,
which was also replaced with one encrusted with diamonds. The new frame was also reinforced with
Each step in the installation of a new hti must be done according to rigid rules, one of which is that no
noise must be made 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.
As has long been the custom, pagodas throughout Myanmar are currently being repaired and renovated.
Work 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. The scale of renovations varies, from national shrines to regional programmes, illustrated here
by the Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe as well as other Hsandawshin zeidi in the Mon State. A series of ritually
correct offerings and ceremonies consecrate the repair or renovation while inscriptions, reports and
books record and commemorate the process.
The factors that initiate and then come together to see the renovation through to completion are also
varied. Some are rooted in historical traditions. For instance, both the Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe are
seen as sacred prior to the birth of the Buddha Gotama and both pagodas are thought to have been
consecrated with Hsandawshin (Sacred Hairs) during His lifetime. Eight Hsandawshin donated by the
Buddha on the forty-ninth day after his Enlightenment are said to have 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 thought to have travelled to
Suvannabhumi where he donated six Sacred Hairs, three of which are enshrined at Kyaikhtiyoe. Other
aspects stem from present day needs associated with each pagoda compound and the surrounding
region. In the Mon State for instance, many infrastructure improvements such as upgrading of roads and
educational facilities have accompanied Hsandawshin renovations.
At the Shwedagon, there is the continual task of managing not just the physical structures, but the
constant participation of devotees and donors in maintaining the environment that exists on the whole
of the Shwedagon hill. Numerous renovations have been undertaken at both the Shwedagon and
Kyaikhtiyoe in the last two years. At the Shwedagon, a new Htidaw was hoisted onto the summitfrom 46 April 1999 AD.3 New images were consecrated in the U Ba Yi Tazaung in the northeast corner of the
Shwedagon platform, on 9 November 2000 AD.
At Kyaikhtiyoe, new Htapanar, Shwehtidaw, Hgnyetmyatnadaw and Seinbudaw were offered to the
pagoda in March 2001 AD.5 The renovated Naungdawgyi Zeididaw in the northeast corner of the
Shwedagon platform was consecrated on 28 January 2002 AD.
On the same morning, a ceremony marked completion of repair and renovation to the four Aryongan
Tazaung, the devotional halls at the cardinal points of the zeidi base. Within these various settings, texts
are structured and may be defined in many ways. At both the Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe, there are new
inscriptions. For instance, an inscription is mounted on the new Shwedagon Htidaw, and on parts of the
Kyaikhtiyoe Shwehtidaw canonical texts have been inscribed. In the Shwedagon's U Ba Yi Tazaung and on
the Kyaikhtiyoe platform, Myanmar and English inscriptions have been installed. A technical analysis of
Kyaikhtiyoe generated in the process of renovation provides new textual material on the boulder and
zeidi. A graphic text is seen in the Nakkhata depicting links between the Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe.
As described below, both letters and numbers are central to the effectiveness of the Nakkhata. Likewise,
weights, measurements and numbers cited here are generally significant. Different dating systems are
also given in this article, to emphasise the use of alternative concepts of time with which renovations are
recorded. Text as new content is transmitted in a more abstract manner to further consecrate the
demarcated space. At the Shwedagon, this may seen in the relationship between the new Htidaw to new
and renovated zeidi and images on the pagoda platform. At Kyaikhtiyoe, one meaning of the new
Htapanar, Shwehtidaw, Hgnyetmyatnadaw and Seinbudaw is in the association of elements both within
and between these sacred parts. These examples are included to illustrate 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 and Kyaikhtiyoe.
Several points relating to the present day are also seen in the 1485 AD Shwedagon inscription of King
Dhammaceti. These include the renovation of zeidi, the propagation of the Såsanå, and the sustenance of
the Sa gha. The inscription also refers to the Mon heritage of Suvannabhumi.
"With a break in the tradition of those knowing that the sacred hairs of the Lord Buddha were enshrined in the
Shwedagon, men no longer worshipped there and the pagoda became overgrown with trees and shrubs. Two hundred
and thirty-six years after the Parinibbana (Final Release) of the Lord Buddha (308 BC), the monks Sona and Uttara
arrived in Suvvanabhumi Thaton to propagate the Religion. When the Religion was established and an Order of Monks
set up, King Srimasoka requested the two Elders thus: 'O Venerable Monks, we have received the Dhamma (Law) and
the Sangha (Order). Can you not provide us with the Buddha to worship?' The two Elders then showed the King the
Shwedagon in which the sacred hairs of the Lord Buddha were enshrined. King Srimasoka cleared the overgrowth and
built a pagoda and an enclosing pavilion with a tiered pyramidal roof. From that time onwards the people of the Mon
country went to worship there."
The Mon lands at that time included the area of present-day Yangon with the earliest recorded
reconstruction at the Shwedagon being the 1372 AD work of King Banya Oo of Hanthawaddy. Repairs and
renovations have been carried out over the centuries and continue today. In recent years these have
included refurbishment of the main four Aryongan Tazaung mentioned above, as well as other tazaung
and images on the platform. There has also been refurbishment of staircases, and installation of lifts and
escalators. In the final waxing days of Tagu 1361ME before Thingyan, a new Htidaw was hoisted at the
Shwedagon. Although the zeidi height of 43 feet remains the same, the use of stainless steel for the tiers
and supports made the new structure heavier, with a total weight of approximately 5 tons. 11 Of this,
over half a ton is gold. An inscription is mounted on the Htidaw itself, with other inscribed donatory
plaques placed on the zeidi bell below the band.
In the period surrounding the raising of new Htidaw, a Jade Image, a Gold Replica or likeness of the
Shwedagon, and a Htidaw zeidi were installed on the platform. The pure gold (thansinshwe) likeness of
the Shwedagon is currently housed in a tazaung on the southeast (Tuesday) corner of the platform.
It is 45 inches high, with a gold weight of 90 pounds and decorated with 242 diamonds, 1895 rubies, 701
jades and 400 sapphires. The image of the Buddha made of jade (Kyauksein) was consecrated shortly
before the hoisting of the new Htidaw. Carved from a single piece of stone, it is 30 inches high, simply
presented with a gold band of 18 ticals (10 oz) decorated with 9 diamonds and 91 rubies. The Jade Image
took nine years to carve and weighs 750 kilograms.
It was installed in the Chinese Merited Association Tazaung on the southwest (Saturday) corner of the
platform. The Jade Image faces east, so that while paying homage, one's back is never to the main stupa.
The Htidaw Zeidi is the only new zeidi to be built on the platform in many years. It is located midway
between the east (Monday) and northeast (Sunday) corners of the platform, close to the earlier Htidaw
Zeidi of King Mindon and the 1775 AD Htidaw of King Hsinbyushin. In the new Htidaw Zeidi, King Mindon's
Hti has been preserved in its ancient state, visible in the upper portions of the pagoda rather than
enclosed, as is the case with the other two Htidaw Zeidi. In a sense the Htidaw Zeidi set a precedent for
the historical presentation in the renovated U Ba Yi Tazaung. Despite its auspicious location across from
the Sunday (northeast) planetary post, an image had never been housed in this late 1920's pavilion.
A central Maha Atula Yazathuka image of the Buddha and figures of nine key Arahats in the sustenance of
Theravada practice were consecrated on the 14th Waxing day of Tazaungmon 1362 ME (9 November
Two large freestanding carvings flank the image of the Buddha: a Shwe Oo Daung Min (royal peacock) and
a Hintha Min (Brahminy duck). All the figures were conceived and made at the Hsandawshin Kyaikhtisaung
Zeididaw of Kyaikhtisaung Sayadaw Agga Maha Saddhamma Jotikadaja Baddhanta Panñadipa.
In the U Ba Yi Tazaung, there are three inscriptions in Myanmar: a record of the consecration, nine points
of guidance (Ovada) and wishes for lovingkindness (Metta) from Kyaikhtisaung Sayadaw. In addition,
there are ten bilingual Myanmar and English inscriptions, one mounted above the central image and nine
behind the images of the Arahats. The inscription for the central "Raja Thuka" image identifies it as the
Fourth Buddha. Three of the other figures date to the lifetime of the Buddha Gotama: Ashin Ananda who
assisted Him; Ashin Anuruddha, said to have arrived in Thuwannabhumi (Thaton) to initiate the Hair Relic
Thathana tradition, and Ashin Gawunpati who requested the Buddha to visit Thuwannabhumi and
accompanied him on his journey.
Chronologically, the next figure commemorates the start of the Pariyatti Såsanå by Maha Kassapa,
convenor of the 1st Buddhist Synod in the year after the Buddha's demise. There is then a gap until the
4th century BC with the depiction of images of Moggala Putta Tissa who convened the 3rd Buddhist Synod
in 307 BC under the patronage of King Asoka as well as the figures of Ashin Sona and Uttara who
traditionally came to Thuwannabhumi to restore and revitalise the Buddhist Såsanå. Some six hundred
years later, in the 4th C AD, is the image of Ashin Buddhagosa who brought the three Pi†akas to Myanmar.
Lastly, in the 11th C AD, is the figure of Ashin Arahan who began his propagation of Theravada Buddhism
in Bagan in 1056 AD. Thus the images span a time period of more than1500 years from the 6th century
BC to the 11th century AD. They include not only those associated with the commencement of Theravada
teachings in the Mon State but the transmission of these teachings from the southern to the central part
of the country, from the Mon State to the later capital of Bagan. As cited in the endnotes and mentioned
below for Kyaikhtiyoe, there are some differences in the Myanmar and English inscriptions in the use of
dating eras and names. However, the main reasons for describing them are to note the wide range of
traditional, historical and celestial figures cited, the alternative concepts of time mentioned earlier, and
to record the utilisation of both Myanmar and English inscriptions as part of current renovation.
(The Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe are changing in a country where Theravada practice has been sustained
for some two thousand years. Deep-rooted traditions have informed, although not constrained, recent
renovation of these pagodas. The physical aspects noted here illustrate the incremental and cumulative
effect of innovation throughout this period of time. Despite or perhaps because of the existence of many
longstanding precedents, the design and placement of forms varies greatly as each new context is created.
The Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe are two of Myanmar's most venerated zeidi. They are not just sites where
forms of legendary origin have been changed with periodic renovation. If Theravada practice was not an
integral part of present day Myanmar culture, the Shwedagon and Kyaikhtiyoe might be considered solely
as ancient monuments of national importance. This is not the case, however. People grow up hearing the
teachings of the Buddha and in various ways the principles of the Dhamma are part of a way of life. One
tangible aspect of this way of life is spaces where homage may be publicly or privately undertaken. Much
has been written about the history of pagodas and images in Myanmar but little about the details of
current renovation. Longevity has resulted in a rich and unique heritage that includes the present.
Awareness of this constant process of change forms a vital part of understanding the practice prevailing
The Shewdagon is changing in a country where Theravda practice has been sustained for some two
thousand years. Deep-rooted traditions have informed, although not constrained, recent renovation of
this pagoda. The physical aspects noted here illustrate the incremental and cuumultive effect of
innovation throughout this period of time. Despite or perhaps because of the existence of many long
standing precedents, the design and placement of forms varies greatly as each new contect is created.
The Shwedagon is Myanmar’s most venerated zeidi. It is not just sites where forms of legendary origin
have been changed with periodic renovation. If Theravada practice was not an integral part of present
day Myanmar culture, the Shwedagon might be considered solely as ancient momument of national
importance. This is not the case, however. People grow up hearing the teachings of the Buddha and in
various ways the principles of the Dhamma are part of a way of life. One tangible aspect of this way of life
is spaces where homage many be publicly or privately undertaken.
Much has been written about the history of pagodas and images in Myanmmar but little about the details
of current renovations. Longevity has resulted in a rich and unique heritage that includes he present.
Awareness of this constant process of change forms a vital part of understanding the practice prevailing
Some interesting stories of the Shwedagon Pagoda deal with its enormous bells. In 1608, a Portuguese
invader by the name of Philip de Brito y Nicote stole a bell that weighed in at around 6,0000 lbs, or 30
tons. However, as he was attempting to return home with the bell, it fell into the Bago River and was lost.
The bell was replaced in 1779. That was after a massive earthquake in 1768 toppled the highest part of
the pagoda. Once that part, the stupa, was rebuilt, King Hsinbyushin’s son Singu had a 23 ton bronze
bell cast. It was called the Maha Gandha bell. In the 1820’s, however, British soldiers plundered the
pagoda, and stole this bell.
En route to Calcutta, the bell fell overboard and sank into the sea. It was later recovered and now sits atop
the pagoda platform, on the northwest side.
Finally, in 1841 another bell was created, this one weighing approximately 8,000 pounds (40 tons) and
covered with 45 lbs (20kg) of gold plating. This bell, called the Maha Tissada bell, still resides in the pagoda,
on the northeast side of the enclosure.
A series of earthquakes during the next centuries caused damage. The worst damage came from a 1768
earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa, but afterward King Hsinbyushin (lit. Lord of the White
Elephant) of Konbaung Dynasty raised it to its current height of 99 m (325 ft). A new crown umbrella called
hti was donated by King Mindon Min in 1871 after the annexation of Lower Burma by the British.
Every inch of the 326-foot-high bell-shaped tower at the center of the temple complex is covered with
gold. No one knows how much, but estimates vary from 6 to 60 tons. (Sixty tons of gold would sell for
nearly $8 billion today.)
The lower part of the tower is said to be covered with 8,688 solid gold bars, and the upper part with
another 13,153 bars. The top of the tower is inlaid with 5,448 diamonds; 2,317 rubies, sapphires and other
precious stones; 1,065 golden bells; and a single 72-carat diamond at the very top. Set on a hill, the golden
glow of the tower dominates the skyline of this city of 5 million people day and night.
Surrounding the tower is a vast network of pavilions, buildings, golden spires and nooks housing hundreds
of Buddha statues of all sizes and shapes, many of them covered in gold; and bells - hundreds of them including the Maha Tissada bell that weighs 40 tons and is covered with gold.
In the 15th century, tradition says, a Burmese queen donated her weight in gold to the temple.
Worshippers today donate gold leaf to be added to the temple.
The main stupa is the temple’s most impressive structure. It is visible at its hilltop location from much of
Yangon city. The stupa is surrounded by 64 small stupas.
The 99 meters high main stupa is completely covered with gold plating and enshrines the sacred Buddha
relics. Its core is solid and not open to the public.
A seven spired hti, an ornament shaped as an umbrella with golden bells attached to it is placed at the
top of the pagoda. The hti is decorated with thousands of diamonds and other precious stones.
If you stand in the right spot of the pagoda platform, you will see the reflection of the rays of the sun from
the huge diamond on top of the gold plated hti in various colors like red, purple and orange.
Its main stupa alone is plated with nearly 22,000 solid gold bars, and estimates of the pagoda’s total gold
range from 9 to 60 tonnes. The official reserve of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, for comparison,
is 7.4 tonnes. During British colonial times, it was said Shwedagon contained more gold than the deposits
of the Bank of England.
According to the pamphlet given on entry to the pagoda, there is over half a tonne of gold in Shwedagon’s
umbrella alone. It’s also set with over 5500 diamonds – the largest of which is similar in size to one that
Sotheby’s auctioned for $10-12 million. Its main spire boasts 2300 rubies, sapphires, and other gems, and
4000 golden bells. And none of this includes the gold, jewels, and 21st-century LED displays that swirl
around many of the Buddhas and hundreds of other buildings on the pagoda platform.
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.
Thesis: With the usage of text as new content to further concretize the demarcated space of Shwegadon
pagoda during reconstruction, it is still historical Burmese traditions and Theravada practices that govern
these changes.
Description of form, architectural elements
History of Shwedagon
Gold weight
Change in architecture over time: due to reconstruction
o How it differs from original form
 How it differs from Burmese architecture (stupas)
The Shwedagon is Myanmar’s most venerated zeidi. It is not just sites where forms of legendary origin
have been changed with periodic renovation. People grow up hearing the teachings of the Buddha and in
various ways the principles of the Dhamma are part of a way of life. One tangible aspect of this way of life
is spaces where homage many be publicly or privately undertaken. Much has been written about the
history of pagodas and images in Myanmar but little about the details of current renovations. Longevity
has resulted in a rich and unique heritage that includes the present. Awareness of this constant process
of change forms a vital part of understanding the practice prevailing today.