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.
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!
Buddhas of all shapes and sizes
Among Myanmar’s many thousands of Buddhas it’s possible to single out a few that are of special note, all of which are accessible and you can see on your holiday.
Among the largest is the Laykyun Setkyar in Monywa, a standing Buddha 116m tall with an internal staircase which you can climb if you’re feeling especially fit to admire the views at different levels. There nearby reclining Buddha is a comparative tiddler at 95m long.
If you’re seeking quantity head to Koe-Thaung temple in Mrauk U. Its name means ‘temple of 90.000 Buddha images’ and although earthquakes have taken their toll many thousands remain, more than you’ll have time to count.
The most cared for has to be the gold Buddha of Maha Muni in Mandalay whose face is polished twice a day by monks to a dazzling gleam for the many pilgrims who visit. At night a cloth is placed carefully over his face to help him sleep.
In terms of location, the last thing you might expect when entering a cave complex is to come across Buddha statues, but that is exactly what’s in store at Pindaya. Not just a few but 8,000, many donated over many decades by Buddhist devotees.
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.
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.