Bagan: The Crown Jewel of Myanmar

 

 

      Bagan, formerly Pagan, is an ancient city in the province of Mandalay in Central Myanmar.  It is predominantly a stretch of flat (plains) land sprawled on the eastern bank of the mighty Ayeyarwardy River.

 

 

      The entire Archeological Site of Bagan covers an area of just 41 square kilometers, presently with “only” 3,000 something temples left standing – some in relative;y good condition, while others are in dire need of major reconstruction.  These structures are invariable called temples, pagodas or stupas.  So what’s the difference?

 

 

      Pagodas are defined as a multi-story Buddhist tower erected as a shrine or memorial.  If it is dome-shaped, then it is technically called a stupa.  A temple on the other hand is any structure or building devoted to worship of any god or objects of religious reverence.  Therefore, it is safe to call the structures in Bagan as temples.

 

 

 

      Majority of these magnificent temples were built between the 11th century and 13th century, during the time Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire.

 

      Historically, in 1057, King Anawrahta conquered the Mon capital of Thaton, and brought back the Tripitaka Pali scriptures (akin to the old bible of the Buddhist faith), Buddhist monks and craftsmen.  They were all  used by the King to transform Bagan into a religious and cultural center for thew whole of Myanmar.  This was also the time when there was a surge of construction of the temples.

 

 

      Although Bagan has been nominated, UNESCO does not designate Bagan as a World Heritage Site.  The main reason given is that the military junta has haphazardly restored ancient stupas, temples and buildings, ignoring original architectural styles and using modern materials which bear little or no resemblance to the original designs. Worse, the military junta also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a grotesque 200-foot (61 meter) watchtower in the southeastern suburb of Minnanthu.  It will take a long time before Bagan gets UNESCO’s blessing …

 

 

      Bagan has been unfairly compared to Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.  This is like comparing apples and oranges.  Although they are both ancient cities replete with rich history, Siem Reap has only a few intricate temples that are now historical artifacts while Bagan has 3,000+ temples which are still being used for worshiping.  In fact, one has to be barefoot when one enters the temples in Bagan.

 

 

      The best way to decribe Bagan is like putting 3,000 different cathedrals, churches, chapels and kapilyas in the Philippines in the central plains of Luzon (probably Tarlac).  If you can imagine that spectacular view, then that’s what Bagan is all about. 

 

 

      Mystical Bagan, the crown jewel of Myanmar.

 

 

  

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