She Myet Hna is one of the 2,200 Buddhist temples, stupas, payas and pagodas that still remain of the 10,000+ that were built in Bagan, Myanmar. While most have are in ruins or disrepair, this one has been preserved and restored.
We actually found this temple by accident. One of the modes of transportation in Bagan is the bicycle. We rented our bikes from our hotel, Thante Nyaung U, and rode off in search of some of the temples. As you can see, our hotel wasn’t too far from Old Bagan. Old Bagan is the section inside the blue lines on the left side of the picture. It took us maybe 20-30 minutes to bike back to the hotel once we were done for the day.
When we took off from the hotel we were actually looking for Shwezigone Temple, but we took a wrong turn somewhere and when we rounded the corner we found this one. There are a lot of streets not marked on maps and we got lost several times. It wasn’t too bad, though, because getting lost in Bagan just means you find more temples you weren’t expecting.
Being that She Myet Hna was the first temple we saw I figured that it should have the honor of being the first Bagan temple I wrote about.
Not much is known about She Myet Hna. The locals say it has been there as long as they can remember, but nobody knows how old it is, what prompted it to be built or if She Myet Hna is its original name. The history of it isn’t important to them, they just know it was built as a place of worship and reflection. To them, it’s just another one of the religious sites that cover the land. Another face in a crowded room that showed up one day and nobody knows why.
Maybe someday someone will unearth a hidden text that names all the temples and explains what their purpose was. Maybe one day we will know why so many religious structures were built in the same area. Maybe one day we will truly understand what Bagan really means.
We did find a placard with writing on it, but haven’t been able to find someone who can translate it. Does this tell the history of this temple? Does this explain more about Bagan? Perhaps it does. It’s actually driving me a little crazy to not know what this says. Perhaps it just explains a bit about Buddhism or maybe it just talks about the restoration of the temple. I really wish someone could tell me.
This is a dvarapala. They are guardians set to protect the holy place inside the temple. Since She Myet Hna is small and has no real interior, prayers are done from the individual doorways and this dvarapala protects from outside the temple.
One of the nice things about Bagan is that there are many places to get water. These are communal drinking basins. You just take the plate off the top, get yourself a cup of water and then place the cup upside down on the plate over the top of the ceramic basin. While it’s nice for locals, I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water from places like this. This water is usually from nearby lakes or streams and isn’t filtered or treated.
Modern day Buddhist graffiti. It’s sad that someone would deface the temple, but I do have to admit it’s a pretty good drawing.
These figure are known as deva statues. When King Anawratha was crowned in 1044 AD he began unifying the kingdom of Burma and instituted Theravada Buddhism as the national religion. In order to appease local cults and ensure peace, King Anawrath adopted nats and devas into the Buddhist culture. Buddhism revolves around the concept of reincarnation, but offshoot branches believe that violent deaths prevent a person from being reincarnated, thus their spirit roams and becomes dangerous to the living. Burmese Buddhism believes that these statues are a place where those spirits can dwell and be somewhat at peace.
These guys are known as leogryphs or chinthe. Chinthe are almost always depicted in pairs and serve to protect the pagoda. They typically appear as animals, but are sometimes found with human faces. Why do chinthe guard temples and pagodas? Well, according to legend, a princess and a lion fell in love and were married. They had a son, but the princess eventually abandoned the lion who became enraged and began terrorizing the lands. When the princess’s son grew up, he sought out and killed the lion in an effort to protect the people. It was only after the prince returned and told his mother what he’d done that he found out he had killed his own father. To atone for his sin, the prince constructed a statue of a lion to stand as guardian of the local temple and thus the tradition began.
The chinthe is revered and loved by the Burmese people and is used symbolically on the royal thrones of Burma. Predating the use of coins for money, brass weights cast in the shape of mythical beasts like the chinthe were commonly used to measure standard quantities of staple items. And ever since the creation of modern currency in Myanmar there have been chinthe on the bills and the coins.