Schwezigon Temple Bagan Myanmar
Noted as one of the most significant and oldest monuments in Bagan, the Shwezigon Temple enshrines many sacred Buddhist relics such as a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
The Buddhist stupa was originally built during the 9th and 11th centuries under the direction of King Anawrahta who founded the Bagan Kingdom in 1044. It was completed in the 11th century during the reign of King Kyanzittha. Kyanzittha was perhaps Bagan’s greatest king, and it was under him that Bagan became known, doubtless with a touch of exaggeration, as the ‘city of four million pagodas.’ He erected hundreds of monuments and also successfully championed the Mon Buddhist culture.
As a major national center of worship, Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism.
The Shwezigon Temple is also a major national center of worship. Pilgrims come from many parts of Myanmar for its festival held during the Burmese month of Nadaw (November/December) both because of its historic character and because of its religious significance for Burmese Buddhism. While the Shwezigon was one of the earliest symbols of the triumph of the ‘purified’ Theravada Buddhism, it was also the first pagoda to allow nat images (pre-Buddhist spirits who had the power to do good or evil) within its walls. Its original builder, King Anawrahta (r. 1044-1077), even had images of the 37 traditional nats put on the lower terraces. As a result nat worship joined for the first time with the nascent Theravada Buddhism to form a unique and vibrant Burmese religious experience that also contributed to the general growth of Theravada. Eventually the nats of Shwezigon were removed from the terraces to a small hall within the compound, but the Shwezigon Festival still brings multitudes to honor and worship the nats at Shwezigon.
King Anawrahta’s conversion to Theravada Buddhism in the mid-11th century had a profound influence on Bagan’s religious and cultural life. Anawrahta was Theravada’s first major advocate; he was also the first of the great builders of Bagan. He began construction of the Shwezigon (on a site reputedly chosen by a white elephant) as a massive and centrally important reliquary shrine to encase a variety of Buddha artifacts, including a copy of the Tooth of Kandy from Ceylon, frontal and collar bones, and an emerald Buddha image from China. Apparently he had completed the three terraces before he (perhaps) was killed by a wild buffalo in 1077; some contend that he had even completed a small stupa on the terraces and had plans to encase it in a larger structure.