The Shwezigon Pagoda is a Buddhist temple located in Nyaung-U, a town near Bagan, in Myanmar. The Pagoda was constructed during the reign of King Anawarahta in 1059-60 CE and was completed in 1102 CE during the reign of his son King Kyansittha.
It is believed that the pagoda enshrines a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha and thus is regarded as one of the sacred Buddhist Pilgrimage sites. At the entrance of the pagoda, we can observe giant statues of Chinthes. These structures are believed to be the guardians of the temple. Inside the premises, there are Buddha statues in four different directions.
The Pagoda had been damaged by many earthquakes and other natural calamities. Therefore it had been renovated several times. In the recent renovation, the pagoda has been covered by more than 30,000 copper plates. However, the lowest level terraces were not affected by the disasters and thus remained as they were.
History behind construction of Shwezigon Pagoda
It is written that the King Anawrahta was converted to Theravada Buddhism by monks from Thaton. After becoming Buddhist, he initiated the construction of Shwezigon pagoda. It is believed that to search the place to build the pagoda, the white elephant was used. The white elephant mounted with a frontal bone relic of Buddha was send to roam freely. It was declared that wherever the elephant will stop would be the site for building the pagoda. After roaming around the city, the elephant stopped over a dune. Since the pagoda was on a dune, the name of Pagoda was given accordingly. The name, "Shwezigon pagoda" means pagoda on a dune in the Burmese language.
As it is already mentioned that the pagoda was undergone several renovations. The latest and notable renovation was done during the reign of King Bayinnaung.
Features of Shwezigon Pagoda
There are altogether four entrances to the pagoda but only the southern and western entrances are used currently. At the entrance, we can see huge statues of guardians of the temple, Chinthes which are lion shaped glyphs.
On the outer limits of the pagoda, there is a shrine dedicated to 37 Burmese nats and a Thagyamin, king of the nats. The shrine is believed to be 900 years old. We can also observe stone pillar with Mon language inscriptions dedicated by King Kyansittha on the outer walls which surround the Shwezigon Pagoda. Around the exterior periphery of the pagoda, we can observe several temples and wooden pavilions decorated with the Pyatthat (a multi-tiered and spired roofs).
About the pagoda, the pagoda rises steeply in the form of a pyramid topped with umbrellas or chatris. The pagoda has five square terraces and has a central solid core. There are steps from the base to the terraces to provide access to devotees to go up for worship. While the devotees go upstairs, they can observe 550 glazed terra-cotta tiles inscribed with the Jataka tales and Buddhist arts. These arts are fixed on three of the five terraces of the pagoda.
At the base of the pagoda, there are containers which have gilded bronze castings of plants and flowers, with alms bowls carved in stone in between. At the lower terraces and the top-most terrace, smaller replicas of the main pagoda are placed fitted with four gilded Kalashas (vases) at the four corners.
At the four side of the pagoda, there are four Buddha statues. In the northern side of the pagoda, there is a Buddha statue of Kakusandha , eastern side- the statue of Konagamana Buddha, southern side- Kassapa Buddha and west side- Gautama Buddha. These Buddha statues have a height of 12 to 13 feet and are cast in beaten bronze. The statues are portrayed in a posture of Abhaya Mudra with their right hand. Below the Kassapa Buddha statue, there are a pair of footprints carved on sandstone slab and have engravings of a chakra at the center. The devotees offer homage to the footprints through rectangular wedge created at the rear of the stone slab. Most of the devotee reported that the placing of the Buddha footprints gives an impression of Buddha walking towards them.