Ananda Temple Bagan, Myanmar

The Ananda temple is one of Bagan’s best-known and most beautiful temples. It was one of the first great temples to be built in Bagan and is well preserved. The temple is found near the Tharabar gate, the only gate remaining of the original 12 in the old Bagan city walls.
The Ananda Pagoda, also named Ananda Pahto and Ananda Phaya is a single-storey structure built towards the end of the Early Bagan period. The architectural style shows Mon and North Indian influence.

The temple’s most distinctive feature is the gilded sikhara, the tower-like spire on top of the pagoda. The reflection of the gilded sikhara is visible from miles away over the Bagan plains. After dark the Ananda Pagoda is lit up by spotlights creating a mystical atmosphere.
The Ananda was damaged during the 1975 earthquake, and has been extensively restored since then.

Architecture of the Ananda

The Ananda is an elegant, symmetrical structure with the layout of a Greek cross. One of the most noticeable and beautiful features is the gilded top called sikhara, which is placed on the center of the building. This tower-like structure originates from North India and shows Indian influence in the architectural style of the Ananda.

The sikhara contains five niches on all sides placed over each other, each niche containing a Buddha image. On top of that is a hti, a spire ornament in the shape of an umbrella. The sikhara and hti were gilded in 1990 to mark the start of Ananda’s construction 9 centuries earlier. Total height of the structure including the hti is about 51 meters.

On top of the square central block are six receding terraces. Each corner of the second terrace contains a smaller golden sikhara. The terraces contain numerous Chinthes, the mythological Burmese lions that guard Buddhist temples all across Burma.
In the center of the whitewashed structure is a square room containing four large standing Buddha images. A corridor runs around the central room, the walls of which contain 3 rows of niches that enshrine Buddha images in different poses. About 80 large sandstone reliefs show scenes from the life of the Gautama Buddha some 2,500 years ago.

On the grounds of the Ananda temple is a monastery building named Ananda Oak Kyaung or Ananda brick monastery. The small monastery was built in 1137, its walls contain 18th century murals depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The temple grounds are surrounded by a high wall, in which four large gates topped with a stupa provide access to the grounds.

Four 9½ meter tall standing Buddha images

In the center of the Ananda Pagoda is a large square room where four magnificent standing Buddha images are placed in arched recesses. The teak wooden 9½ meters tall gilded images represent the four previous Buddhas that have reached nirvana, namely Kassapa Buddha (South), Kakusandha Buddha (North), Konagamana Buddha (East) and Gautama Buddha (West).

The Kakusandha Buddha image and the Kassapa Buddha image date back to the early 12th century when the Ananda was built. They are in the Dhammachakka Mudra, a gesture that represents the setting in motion of the Wheel of Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha. The Konagamana image and the Gautama image are in the Mandalay style and were likely made in the 17th century after the originals were destroyed by a fire.

The Gautama Buddha, the most recent Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago is in the Abhaya Mudra, which expresses fearlessness. The Konagamana Buddha holds a small object in his right hand which looks like a pill. This Mudra might represent the teachings of the Buddha as a medicine against human suffering.

The expression on the face of the Kassapa image appears to change when viewed from different distances. While there appears to be a smile on the image’s face from nearby, from further away the smile seems to fade.