The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and, with its construction completed over 2600 years ago, it ranks as the oldest historical pagoda in the entire world. In my short stay in Yangon, the visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda was an absolute highlight, and one of the favourite places I have visited anywhere in Asia, in fact.
The design of the Shwedagon Pagoda is very interesting. The base of the stupa is made of bricks covered in golden plates. Above this are a series of terraces upon which only monks can climb. Then there are three sections affectionately known as the bell, the turban, and the inverted almsbowl. Above these are the lotus petals and the banana bud. Finally, we get to the crown, which is decorated with over 5000 diamonds and over 2000 rubies, and the pinnacle of this crown is basked with a resplendent 76carat diamond.
On my visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda early one morning, I found it to be very busy, but not with tourists. Mainly I could not see anybody other than Burmese locals coming to worship. I must have been the only tourist here for the time being! Nonetheless, it made the experience all the authentic. Before I entered through the southern gate, I was made to take off my shoes, although I had a carrier bag with me in which to carry them around. Dress code is also important here, as you must cover up your arms and legs and dress respectfully. There were lots of shops and stalls selling amulets and other wooden and marble souvenirs close to the entrance gates, although I did not spend too long looking along here I was eager to get to the Pagoda itself. Admission to the Shwedagon Pagoda is 8000Kyats per person, and usually you cannot pay this entrance fee in USD, so it is always wise to have some Kyat in your pocket.
Much like at the impressive Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, it is essential that you walk clockwise around the Shwedagon Pagoda. In Kathmandu there are monks who watch over you from high above and make sure you are walking in the correct direction, although I do not know if they are as strict as that here in Yangon. It is required that you know which day of the week you were born, as this determines to which part of the Pagoda you go to worship. Interestingly, in Burmese Buddhism, there are 8 days of the week, as Wednesday is split into two parts – A.M. and P.M.
One of the amazing things about visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda is that it’s not only the famous pagoda itself that will take your attention; there are so many little architectural marvels scattered around the site – including Buddha statues most of which are gleaming with gold – that I used all of my camera’s memory card whilst visiting here!
I would suggest for a proper inspection of this amazing once-in-a-lifetime place you will need a good 3 hours or so. For further reading and some more incredible photos, check out these blogs from Now and Zenn and Wander2Nowhere. Finally, I would like to share with you the following video experience from the Shwedagon Pagoda, which includes much of its exterior: