Dominating Yangon’s skyline, the Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred religious site, said to hold hairs from the head of Buddha himself and the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world. Located on the hill top of Singuttara, the Shwedagon Pagoda was plated with about 90 tons of gold and surrounded by more than 1000 single units. The large central stupa is 99 meters high and is plated with 21.800 real gold bars and has a tip encrusted with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
It is believed by Buddhist to be more than 2500 years old, but over the years it has been destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt and refurbished numerous times. The last major rebuild took place in 1789 under the command of King Hsinbyushin. No one is sure what is inside but according to some legendary tales, there are flying and turning swords which protect the pagoda from intruders. Some says there are even underground tunnels leading to Bagan and Thailand.
Around the main structures there are hundreds colorful temples, stupas, and statues, all of which have formed a microcosm of life within the pagoda, and it is surrounded by four covered walkways through which the visitors can enter. There are bells hanging along the perimeter of the temple complex with wooden mallets lying nearby and it is believed that if you make a wish and hit the bell three times it will come true. So here and there you can always hear a bell’s ringing in the distance.
The legend tells that two merchant brothers were traveling around India when they encountered Buddha and were given eight of his hairs as a gift. The brothers then carried the sacred hairs in a ruby casket back to their home where they consulted the King Okkalapa about what should be done with the sacred hairs. The King knew that certain objects belonging to previous Buddhas, the staff of Kakusandhi, the water filter of Konagamana and a piece of tunic of Kassapa, had been buried somewhere on Singuttara Hill, so he decided to build what would become the Shwedagon Pagoda complex, in order to enshrine all of the Buddha’s relics in one place. When the casket containing the holy hair was opened, the relic unleashed a flood of miracles including causing the blind to see, the lame to walk, and seeing a rain of gemstones issue from the sky. Thus, Shwedagon is the only temple in the world which holds four Buddhist relics of such high value.
During the sunset the atmosphere is magical, the last rays of the sun surround the complex with their warm light while monks start placing and lighting hundreds candles and a crowd of visitors and pilgrims come here to pray, worship, meditate or simply just gaze in awe at the beauty of the pagoda and its temples.
I suggest you to spend at least a couple of hours inside the complex (evening time is the best). The entrance fee for foreigners is 10.000 kyat, and there are many local guides in the area who will tell you more of the pagoda’s history. The complex open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. The easiest way to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda from downtown is by taxi.
The Shwedagon Pagoda Festival takes place in late February or early March and is one of the biggest festivals of the year; it celebrates the enshrinement of the sacred hair of the Buddha that resides at the pagoda.