In the geographical and religious center of Yangon, Myanmar, is a site that holds importance for both religious and political groups. It is as ancient as it is important to the Myanmar people. The site is Sule Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old Burmese Stupa shrouded in legend.
According to Burmese legend, the site where Sule pagoda now stands was once the home of a powerful spirit named Sularata. The king of the spirits, Sakka, wished to help the legendary Burmese King Okkalap build a shrine for the Buddha’s sacred hair-relic on the same site where three previous Buddhas had buried sacred relics in past ages. Unfortunately, these events had happened so long ago that not even Sakka knew where they were buried. Sularata, however, was so old that he had witnessed the past events and was able to tell King Sakka where the three previous Buddha relics had been buried. Thus, instead of just housing one Buddha relic, the Sule Pagoda site houses four.
When we visited Sule Pagoda, we didn’t know what to expect. We arrived in Myanmar, stowed our stuff at the hotel and immediately set out to explore. We got in a taxi and asked the driver what he recommended and he brought us to Sule Pagoda. He said this was one of the most important pagodas to the Burmese people.
The first thing we saw when we arrived at the pagoda was a group of women sitting on the ground with baskets. Our taxi driver told us the birds symbolize the captivity of the Burmese people endured for centuries and that releasing them is a symbol of hope for the continued peace and freedom of the people. We all know things aren’t that great in Myanmar, but it has improve and things are continuing to improve, so there is hope for continued improvement and with that thought we purchased two birds.
After paying for our tickets we took our little birdies to the furthest corner of the complex and set them free. Yes, they are most likely trained to return to the bird women, but we like to imagine our birds flew far away and remain free.
One of the interesting features of Sule Pagoda is the pagoda itself. It is believed to have been built before the other famous pagoda in Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda, making it over 2,500 years old.
The pagoda itself was constructed using the basic form utilized in Indian architecture, but the embellishments and final design are of a Mon-style Burmese influence.
The main pagoda is octagonal in shape. Each side is 24 feet long and the pinnacle reaches 144 ft 9 l/2 in.
While the pagoda itself is about 2,500 years old, none of the other structures in the complex is more than just over 100 years old.
Several image houses surround the pagoda and house a variety of Buddha statues.
There are also Buddha statues along the walls of the complex.
A few of the covered prayer areas.
There are several of these Buddha shrines surrounding the pagoda. I asked one of my students at the Myanmar Refugee School in Kuala Lumpur what the characters said and they told me that each of these shrines around the pagoda has a day of the week and a person washes the Buddha and prays to the Buddha that represents the day they were born.
Next to the Buddha shrine is a bell. There are ten of these and each one is a different size, age and style in commemoration of large donations made to the upkeep of the pagoda complex. The grey box on the opposite side of the shrine is for people to make smaller donations.
Someone saw us admiring this and told us that prayers go in the bird and are taken along the cable to the top of the pagoda where they are received and delivered to the Buddha.
There were other things we saw around the complex that we don’t know what they mean or what they are used for, but they look neat.