landscape dotted with pagodas and temples
After my silent meditation I journeyed back to Yangon for a day and then caught a flight to Bagan. [Click hear if you missed More Silence].
Between the logistics arranging and the time spent meditating, this took up half of my time in Myanmar, so I was ready to hit the road.
What a lovely surprise it was arriving in Bagan! I felt I finally ‘arrived’ in Myanmar. The energy was noticeably different. Of course Bagan is more touristy these days, but it didn’t matter; Mingalabar Bagan! Mingalabar Myanmar!
Even from the sky you can see the difference from the hustle and bustle of Yangon with the vast number of pagodas and temples dotted across the landscape and no tall buildings! Thank goodness, this is not the city!
One of the nuns at the monastery put me in contact with a person in Bagan who I thought was arranging a driver to ‘pick me up at the airport’. Instead, on arrival, I got a full day car with guide and we set off immediately viewing one pagoda and temple after another.
Bagan is small enough that you can comfortably stroll around via bicycle. But since there was effort out into obtaining a guide, I decided why not.
A guide is highly recommended if you really want to grasp the history. My guide spent time discussing the history, architecture, life in general, and we talked a lot about Buddhism. He even gave me a Buddist chant too.
Did You Know?
Let me start with a few bits of information, as I haven’t yet introduced you to some of the basics for visiting Myanmar.
The greeting for ‘hello’ is mingalabar, pronounced min-ga-la-bar. It took me about three weeks to finally get this! Here is the Burmese spelling: မဂႆလာပၝ.
It is polite when greeting females, that you first say ‘Ma’ and then their name; for example, Ma Joanne. For men, you first say ‘U’ and then the name; for example, U John.
I had a chat about formal greetings with my guide and, let me just say, it can be complicated. For foreigners, they keep it simple so it’s acceptable to use ‘Ma’ and ‘U’. If you’re interested in other ways to address people, here’s a good site http://www.bamarlay.com/2008/01/how-to-address-a-person-properly-in-myanmar/.
Did you know that nearly all boys in Myanmar spend time in monasteries studying Buddhist scriptures and becoming novice monks? They may stay as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks.
Do you know the difference between a stupa, pagoda, paya, wat, and temple?
A stupa is a burial or reliquary monument. A pagoda is the same but evolved in design from a stupa.
A paya is the Burmese term for pagoda.
With a pagoda, you typically stop and pray in front of it, from the outside; you do not/cannot go inside. With a temple, you can go inside and pray or meditate and it typically contains a large Buddha image. My guide explained that in Bagan and Myanmar, the largest Buddha images are typically at the ‘east’ entrance.
There appear to be differences in some Buddha, temple, pagoda, practices not only from country to country but I even noticed difference from Yangon and Bagan in the same country.
A ‘Wat’ in Thailand is any place of worship, excluding mosques. So you will see may pagodas or temples called Wat..so and so.
Out of respect, you must take off your shoes and socks before entering a temple and pagoda.
Although I didn’t notice it as much here, you should also walk clockwise around pagoda in order to gain merit and generate positive karma. Not doing so is disrespectful. My guide at Shwedagon said that there, it is okay to walk in any direction after you walk around clockwise at least once [known as circumambulating]. An example of how practices may vary slightly from place to place.
Since we are in Bagan, let’s touch on Buddhism. From my limited knowledge I understand there to be primarily two schools of Buddhism; Theravada and Mahayana. It is thought that Theravada Buddhism is to be the oldest form of Buddhism. Myanmar and many Southeast Asian countries practice Theravada Buddhism. If you’d like to know more about these two schools, click here for a easy to read explanation and here for another small read.
After I left Myanmar somebody questioned in conversation why Myanmar had a reputation of being violent to Muslims. I never saw indication of this while there, but recollect reading or hearing news about this in the past so I did a little research online to see what I could find. Here is short and concise overview of the conflicts between the Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Here are some recent articles in the New York Times & CNN:
My guide advised me that at one time there were over 5,000 in Bagan. Other information indicates up to 10,000. In either case, a significant amount for an area around 40 sq. miles.
Today the numbers run between 2,000 – 3,000, all in various conditions due to time, pilferage, and mother nature, mainly earthquakes. I have about 2,000 pictures below to show you…no, just kidding!
Anybody, from your next door neighbor to the king, would build pagodas and temples. It would benefit their ‘karma’. The largest and unfinished temple was built by a king who killed his father and brother in order to become king himself, and afterward, decided to build the largest temple to build his positive karma.
One key difference of the structures in Bagan I immediately noticed is, with exception, they are made with brick / clay like materials and are not glittered in gold as I’ve seen in other places, including Yangon.
Various views of temples and pagodas:
If you’d like to know more about Bagan monuments, click here.
cattle amongst pagodas
Htilominlo Temple – est. AD 1821. Known for plaster carvings
Htilominlo Temple – est. AD 1821. Known for plaster carvings
THATBYINNYU TEMPLE – est. 12th century
Ananda Temple: Look at the facial expression, what do you see?
Ananda Temple: Now look at the facial expression, what do you see?
The above image at Ananda Temple, when looking from the front, you will see a smile, but when looking a little closer to the image underneath the hands, there is no smile.
Hot Air Ballons:
A must in Bagan is flying in and or viewing the hot air balloons. The views are just spectacular.
air balloons taking off
air balloons starting to rise
sun rising along with balloons
laquer making designs
laquer making in local village
cigarette making by hand using corn leaves instead of paper
imagine having to collect your water and carry it back to your home
material use to make clothing
making scarfs and longyis
school in session
boys will be boys
look no hands
look no hands – drivers son
Local family artist using sand to make paintings. I did not see this anywhere else in Burma.