Top 5 temples to visit in Bagan
On the eastern bank of the mighty Irrawaddy River in central Burma, lies the Bagan plain, an area of around sixteen square miles, home to the world’s most extraordinary collection of Buddhist temples and pagodas, stupas and shrines – over 2,000 in all. Mostly built in the 11th and 12th centuries by Bagan’s ruling elite and the wealthy, it would be quite an undertaking to see all 2,000 of these beautiful buildings, however there are some significant temples which merit a special visit. Here is our guide to Bagan’s Top 5 temples:
1. ANANDA TEMPLE
Known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of Burma’, Ananda Temple is thought to have been built by King Kyanzittha between 1091 and 1105 AD. Considered to be Bagan’s holiest temple, it is in the form of a cross with four devotional halls, one on each side, facing the four cardinal directions – North, South, East and West – and the main structure in the centre. Each hall houses a standing Buddha representing the four Buddhas who have attained Nirvana.
2. SHWESANDAW TEMPLE
Built by King Anawrahta in about 1057 AD, the pagoda holds a relic, some sacred hairs of Gautama Buddha. Formed of five terraces and a bell-shaped stupa, the pagoda once bore terracotta plaques showing scenes from the jalakas, but the passage of time and enthusiastic renovations have removed some of these and other art and sculptures. Once tourists and locals would gather to watch the breathtaking Bagan sunset from the terraces – which gave rise to the pagoda being popularly known as the ‘sunset temple’ – but to preserve the monument, the stairs are sometimes closed.
3. SHWEZIGON PAGODA
Constructed between 1087 – 1102 AD, the pagoda is built in the same ‘Myanmar style’ as the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and consists of a bell-shaped gilded stupa decorated with lotus petals surrounded by smaller temples and shrines. The pagoda is believed to enshrine relics of Gautama Buddha.
4. THATBYUNNYU TEMPLE
Thatbyinnyu Temple was built in the mid-12th century during the reign of King Alaungsithu. Located close to the Ananda Temple, at 61 metres or 201 ft tall, it is the tallest temple in Bagan. A big building, it boasts seven eastern-facing terraces, a four-terraced devotional stupa and internal vaulted corridors. There is a ‘tally pagoda’ on the north-east of the temple site – for every 10,000 bricks used in the construction of Thatbyinnyu, one brick was kept aside to count the total number of bricks used to construct the temple, and the ‘tally pagoda’ was built from those counting bricks.
5. DHAMMAYANGYT TEMPLE
It is thought that King Narathu built Dhammayangyi Temple around 1170 to atone for the grievous sins of assassinating his father, brother and wife. The largest of Bagan’s temples the Dhammayangyi is a similar construction to the Ananda Temple. The inner vaulted corridors were blocked up many centuries ago, but the four porches and the outer corridors are accessible. There are many legends attached to this temple, mostly relating to the ruthless King Narathu. It is said he executed one of the temple bricklayers because his brickwork was not evenly spaced! Certainly, the temple is noted for its finely- set brickwork which numbers over 6 million bricks.
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