Shwedagon Pagoda, the top attraction of Yangon and Myanmar’s most sacred religious site

Dominating Yangon’s skyline, the Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar’s most sacred holy site, said to hold hairs from the head of Buddha himself and the oldest Buddhist pagoda in the world. Located on the hilltop 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.

Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda

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 say there are even underground tunnels leading to Bagan and Thailand.

Yangon, young faithful at the Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, young faithful at the Shwedagon Pagoda

Around the main structures, there are hundreds colourful 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. Bells are 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.

Yangon, temples around the Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, temples around the Shwedagon Pagoda

The legend tells that two merchant brothers were travelling 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 holy hairs. The King knew that particular 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.

Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda

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 of 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.

Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda at night
Yangon, the Shwedagon Pagoda at night

Need to Know

We suggest spending at least a couple of hours inside the Pagoda (evening time is the best and most charming moment). The entrance fee for foreigners is 10.000 kyat, and, if you need, many local guides in the area will tell you more of the pagoda’s history. The religious site opens from 4 am to 10 pm. The easiest way to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda from downtown is by taxi.

Dress code: As a mark of reverence when visiting the religious sites of Myanmar, visitors should dress appropriately and modestly. 
You should wear trousers or at least knee-length shorts or skirt, t-shirts with elbow length sleeves and you are also expected to be barefooted.

Important Festival: 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.

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