Previous Post: Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace
Bago, some seventy kilometers north-east of Yangon, makes for an excellent day trip if you are keen to spend yet more quality time with Buddhas and stupas.
Formerly known as Pegu, the city was for a quarter-century in the 1500’s C.E. the capital of an empire that included all of present-day Myanmar, as well as a good chuck of Thailand and Laos and even a bit of China. Even in the centuries before and after Bayinnaung’s reign (1551-1581), it had been an important town – with the religious architecture to match.
I had left Yangon with Yan, my driver, around 7:00 a.m. and after we arrived in Bago around 9:00 I spent the morning at three different sites on the east side of the Bago River. The following posts look at our morning itinerary in Bago –
We took a one-hour break for lunch at a huge warehouse-like Chinese restaurant (the Kyaw Swa), which seems made for tour bus groups. Then it was back to our mission – visiting more of Bago’s many Buddhist monuments and stupas and temples.
The Shwethalyaung Buddha
Our first stop was the Shwethalyaung Buddha pictured above. As with most Myanmar Buddhist sites, the covered entrance way is lined on both sides with stalls selling all sorts of items related to the site – from souvenirs to flower offerings to books and more. After the first few days in Myanmar I filed away my thought that this was somehow tacky and just accepted that my view was not theirs.
Getting the entire figure in the viewfinder proved to be difficult! Here is another attempt at getting in all 55 meters (180 feet) of the reclining Buddha. Notice the distortion present in the image!
I went around the Buddha figure in a clock-wise direction and on the back side I found the last of a series of ten panels recounting the story of how the reclining Buddha statue came to be. If you want to read the panels in the right order, it would be best to go round the back via the feet.
The construction of the original Buddha figure is connected to the conversion of the Mon king Mgadeikpa to Buddhism in 994 C.E. This was due to the magical powers exhibited by a Mon Buddhist woman with whom his son had fallen in love and who would only marry him if she was allowed to keep her religion. She was able to show the king the uselessness of his pagan gods and the superiority of Buddhism.
Down I walked past the other panels until I found myself at the Buddha’s feet – all seven meters (23 feet) of them. I went up the steps of a raised viewing platform to get the shot below.
And then it was back to the front of the Buddha and one more effort to get a decent shot that included the entire statue.
When the Mon lost control of Pegu with its takeover by Bamar Bagan, apparently the reclining Buddha was abandoned for close to five hundred years. (It does seem odd that a statue honouring the Buddha would be forgotten by the conquerors, who had also embraced Buddhism.) It would be rebuilt in the 1500’s during Bayinnaung’s reign but when his Pegu fell to invaders around 1600 C.E. it was abandoned yet again!
It would take a work crew building a rail line to Yangon to stumble upon the overgrown mound in 1881 and so began efforts to bring it back to life. Most of what we see is the result of work done in the past one hundred years – the elaborate pillow boxes, the ten panels on the back side, the very roof over the statue. I was left wondering to what extent the Buddha I looking at – his face, his hand placement, the folds of his robe – looks like the original.
I have always associated the reclining Buddha figure with the moment in the historical Buddha’s life when, at the age of 80 on his death-bed after he had eaten the tainted pork, he is about to slip into parinirvana. The youthful face of the Shwethalyaung Buddha did not convey this to me!
Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha
Not far from the Shwethalyaung Buddha (55 meters) is another even more colossal 80-meter reclining Buddha figure, a very recent Buddha installed in the early 2000’s thanks to the funds donated by local Buddhists keen to earn merit for their spiritual advancement. His youthful face and pose exude serenity and peacefulness.
Leaving the reclining Buddha behind, twenty minutes later I took the photo below while standing at the top of the Mahazedi (literally great stupa) and looking back at the outdoor reclining Buddha site we had just visited; it is on the extreme right. Also visible in the haze was the Shwemawdaw Pagoda; it is on the extreme left of the image below while the Mya Tha Lyaung Buddha is inside the rust brown structure.
Still to come are the Mahazedi stupa and the Kyaik Pun Paya, a square pillar with a 100-feet high Buddha figure on each of the four sides. A visit to Shwegugale Paya would end our hectic day of site-seeing in Bago. In would not have been possible without Wan’s expertise and the occasional refuge of his air-conditioned car! The Bago day tour ends with the post below!