Shwe Inn Dein pagoda near Inle, Myanmar / Burma

The importance of Buddhism and golden pagodas

Pagodas are more than elegant, gilded buildings, they are imbued with religious significance and many are pilgrimage sites, as fundamental to Myanmar’s Buddhism as the monasteries where the country’s 500,000 monks dwell.

Shwe Inn Dein pagoda near Inle, Myanmar / Burma

© GQMarks

The power of pagodas and values of Buddhism

The silhouette of a pagoda and the presence of brightly robed monks are common sights in Myanmar, exemplifying the extent of the influence of Buddhism in the country’s past and present. Knowing a little about what you see helps you get a better feel for life in this fascinating country and might just inspire you.

  • Soar above Bagan’s temple-filled plains
  • See the 8,000 Buddha statues in the Pindaya cave temples
  • Admire austere yet beautiful wooden monasteries
  • The gravity-defying Golden Rock pagoda
  • Witness monks at meditation
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Prepare to be impressed

Pagodas, temples and monasteries are the most visible manifestations of Buddhism, from the thousands of temples on the Bagan plains and Sagaing’s 500 monasteries. Myanmar is known as the land of pagodas for good reason!

Bagan, Myanmar / Burma © GQMarks

Pagodas

In Myanmar pagoda means the stupa, a round or bell-shaped tower usually built to house holy relics and used only as a place of meditation. They vary in style from simple stone structures to the elaborate gilded pagodas topped with a spire called the hti which can be seen in major towns and cities.

Examples include the hilltop golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the famous Golden Rock Pagoda is perched seemingly precariously atop a boulder balancing on the edge of a hilltop and Indein’s ancient complex with pagodas dating back 1,000 years.

Monasteries

These are is the dwelling places of monks and contain both living quarters and communal areas. They tend to be simple in style, often built of wood, and lack the ornate decoration of pagodas as the monks lead an ascetic life, devoted to meditation, prayer and religious instruction.

As for the monks themselves, every Buddhist boy is expected to attend a monastery for at least several weeks to train as novice monk with the option to stay for longer while gaining an education and to stay on for life, which is deemed a great honour for their family.