A golden spectacle

A golden spectacle

What draws a traveller, especially one with Buddhist leanings, to Myanmar? The pagodas. They are visited by the devout, steeped-in-tradition Myanmarese, as well as hordes of tourists from all over the world.

The most resplendent of all the pagodas is the Shwedagon Pagoda, located in Yangon, the metropolis of Myanmar. Thought to be over 2,500 years old, it’s an astounding sight that takes a viewer’s breath away. Eight strands of hair of the Buddha are enshrined in a treasure chamber over which the pagoda is built.

At first, it was a small, ordinary spire. The Mon kings evinced interest in the sacred relic and assumed the responsibility of improving it. Due to their efforts, the pagoda reached its present height of 326 feet.

It is fully covered with gold. The crown, called Hti (meaning umbrella, because it is shaped like one), is decorated with jewels. This isn’t the original, though, and has been replaced several times. Set at the tip of the umbrella is an orb adorned with 4,000 diamonds, weighing 1,600 carats approximately. On top of this exquisite, bejewelled orb is a 76-carat solitaire, a spectacular display, especially on a dark night.

The southern entrance of the pagoda is guarded by two lions. According to legends, a prince accidentally killed a lion who was supposed to be his father. The penitent prince decided to atone for his mistake by having lions adorn pagodas so pilgrims would regard them with reverence.

Every decade, the trustees of the Shwedagon Pagoda added a fresh layer of gold. The funds for this expense came from devotees. It was a long and arduous undertaking. A bamboo scaffolding, an exact replica of the spire, had to be built first. To this day, only skilled artisans take up the work in a traditional way.

The planetary posts form an interesting feature of the pagoda. The posts represent the days of a week. A person born on a certain day goes to the respective post and pours water over it, praying for a peaceful life.

Floral offerings are made to the Buddha as an expression of gratitude for the Buddhist tenet — flowers fade, denoting that nothing in life is permanent. So, the trials and tribulations of life must be borne with patience and calmness.

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