An Afternoon In Bago, Myanmar: Visiting The Reclining Buddhas

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.

Shwethalyuang reclining Buddha in Bago

Shwethalyuang reclining Buddha in Bago – panoramic view

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 –

Bago’s Shwemawdaw Pagoda: Myanmar’s Tallest Stupa

Bago’s Hintha Gon and the “New” Kanbawzathadi Palace

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.

covered entrance way to the reclining Buddha of Bago

covered entrance way to the reclining Buddha of Bago

Bago - camera fee list

Bago – camera fee list

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!

another Shwethalyuang - panoramic view

another Shwethalyuang panoramic view – click on to enlarge

dimensions in meters

dimensions in meters

Buddha head and pillows or boxes

Buddha head & pillow boxes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

front panel of one of The Buddha's pillow boxes at Shwethalyuang

front panel of one of The Buddha’s pillow boxes at Shwethalyuang

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.

the tenth and last panel of the story of who had the original reclining Buddha built and why

the tenth and last panel of the story of who had the original reclining Buddha built and why

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.

the Shwethalyaung Buddha's feet

the Shwethalyaung Buddha’s feet with the markings of Buddhahood

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.

a couple of novice monks walk by the Shwethalyaung Buddha

a couple of novice monks walk by the Shwethalyaung Buddha

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!

Shwethalyaung Buddha - face and lotus

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.

a close up of the Shwethalyaung Buddha face

a close up of the Shwethalyaung Buddha face

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

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha Bago Myanmar

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.

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - head

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – head

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - feet underside

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – the soles of his feet with all the requisite symbols!

some of the symbols on the soles of the Buddha's feett

some of the symbols on the soles of the Buddha’s feet

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - panorama view

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – panorama view

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha - statue on the side

Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha – statue on the side

elephant statue on the edge of the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

elephant statue on the edge of the Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha site

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.

the view from the top of the Mahazedi

the view from the top of the Mahazedi

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!

Next Post: Visiting Bago’s Buddhist Sites – The Tour Concluded

This entry was posted in Myanmar. Bookmark the permalink.

Your comments and questions are always appreciated, as are any suggestions on how to make this post more useful to future travellers. Just drop me a line or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s