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See Nat Worship and Buddhism co-exist at Shwezigon Pagoda near Bagan, Myanmar

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Shwezigon Pagoda is an important Burmese temple located in Nyaung Oo near Bagan. It was built during the late 11th century and served as a prototype for future stupas that were to be built in Myanmar.

Bagan’s first king, Anawratha, founded Shwezigon Pagoda. The temple is a combination of Nat (spirit) worshipping and Buddhism, as the King converted to the Thervadha Buddhist faith during his reign. Although the king started construction of the stupa in 1060, he passed away in 1077 and the completion of the stupa was left to his son, King Kyansittha. It was finished in 1089.

Pilgrims from all over Myanmar converge to the site during the full moon festival of Nadaw (celebrated during November/December) because of its historic and religious significance. Because of King Anawratha’s affiliation with both Nat worshipping and Theravada Buddhism, Shwezigon Pagoda is one of the first stupas that allow Nat images within its compounds. Both Nat worshippers and Buddhists converge to the site side-by-side and peacefully, which eventually contributed to the general growth of Theravada.

The method used in choosing the site for the pagoda is quite interesting. A white elephant was let loose. After wandering around for a little bit, the elephant laid down and rested. The king then decided that this should be the spot to build the pagoda. Does this story sound familiar? It is similar to how Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai was founded in 1383.

King Anawratha built the stupa with the intention of housing very important Buddhist artifacts. He was able to obtain Buddha’s teeth from Sri Lanka as well as his collarbone. In addition, the king retrieved an emerald Buddha statue from China and housed it at the temple.

Shwezigon Pagoda is at the center of an enclosure wall, measuring about 230 meters on each side, with four gates allowing entrances and exits. Smaller temples and stupas dot the area within the wall, dating from different eras and are continually added. There are also two pillars chronicling the founding and building of Shwezigon Pagoda. Strangely enough, there is no mention of the king’s name.

The base of the stupa was built with sandstone blocks. Legend has it that a human chain stretching six kilometers long passed the stones from the site where the sandstones were retrieved all the way to the stupa. It is symmetrical and orientated to the east. Its bell shaped anda reaches a height of approximately 49 meters and is set on a base where three rising terraces, which are accessible from four cardinal points. Each of these terraces contains a tablet of the Jakata Tales (stories of Buddha’s past lives) while smaller stupas can be seen at the corners of each terrace.

In front of each of the stairways leading to the terraces are satellite temples with central shrines. Each of them contains a 3.5-meter high standing gilded bronze Buddha image that dates back from the 12th century.

Myanamar is a fascinating country and practically untouched by tourism. What better way to explore Burma than on a balloon? Exotissimo’s Balloon Safaris Inle & Bagan tour allows you to explore the rich culture of one of the most mysterious countries in the world. See beautiful plains, hills and jungles as well as centuries old temples and pagodas such as Shwezigon. Come see our Myanmar tours page for other memorable trips into this mystical country or contact us if you have any questions.

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