"Would you like to go with my wife and I to the Shwedagon on Sunday morning?" asked the Doctor "We will leave at 4.00 a.m." The Shwedagon is, I'm sure, the most revered religious site in Burma and the chance to visit on an Auspicious Date (New Year's Day) was very attractive, even if it meant a rather early start.
Wikipedia gives a brief outline of the Shwedagon here. Historians believe it is no more than 1,500 years old but legend has its origins over 2,600 years ago. You can find quite a lot on the internet - I liked a copy of an English report from 1586 on the 'Sacred Sites' website here.
Events of Sunday, 17th April 2016
We made the brief trip from the Doctor's home to the Shwedagon by car, suffering a traffic jam in the last few hundred yards. Can you imagine - a traffic jam leading to a place of worship at ten past four in the morning? It was still completely dark but the whole area was brightly lit by electric lights. On foot, we passed between two large ceremonial lion statues - Chinthe - and climbed Singuttara Hill by one of four sets of covered steps leading to the elevated pagoda platform. Already, there were thousands of pilgrims kneeling in worship or simply promenading between the different features and there was a great sense of peace and goodwill. I was, once again, impressed by the sheer power of the ideas embodied in Buddhism to inspire the actions of its followers.
The Shwedagon on New Year's morning.
The central golden Shwedagon Pagoda, rising 325 feet above the platform and floodlit, dominated the view but there were also lesser pagodas and, I would estimate, at least fifty Prayer Halls, each with multiple Buddha images. The broad marble platform linking all these constructions was thankfully cool to my bare feet - I'd found an earlier visit in 2008 on a hot afternoon quite painful! That earlier visit was part of 'Round the World 5' and there are some pictures of the Shwedagon I took on that trip here.
On a visit to the Shwedagon, it's easy to see why the site is so evocative to the Burmese. When the military regime decided to build a new capital city at Napyidaw, they equipped it with a copy of the Shwedagon called the Uppatasanti Pagoda. I visited this 'pretender' in 2013 and was, despite my low expectations, quite impressed. Although the design was based on the revered Shwedagon in Yangon, as I commented in my post An Evening in Napyidaw "at least this young Pagoda has the good grace to be a few inches shorter".
After an inspiring early morning visit, I was given breakfast at the Doctor's home before leaving by car to the nearby lake, as on the previous day. This time, I sat on one of the concrete seats overlooking the lake whilst the Doctor and his wife did their accustomed out-and-back walk. Then, we drove to the covered market, still not fully open but with plenty of shoppers.
As we drove back to the Doctor's home, I noticed that a number of the Water Stations had been at least partially dismantled - the Water Festival was over for another year. Although it was only about 7.30 a.m., I could hardly keep awake but a couple of hours sleep refreshed me.
Tonight, we will take the overnight bus to Mawlamyine in Mon State to visit various Orphans and Vulnerable Children initiatives. I made this journey by bus in 2014, as described in the post By Bus to Mawlamyine, with links to subsequent posts. We repeated the journey in 2015, this time travelling by car, as described in the post here with links to later posts. Unfortunately, that trip was ultimately ill-starred as the car was seriously damaged in a Road Traffic Accident on the way back but, thankfully, without anyone being injured.
Next post describing this trip.
All my posts on this trip can be found here.
New Year's Morning at the Shwedagon
There are also some pictures at Burma-2016. More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.
[Link to pictures added 7-May-2016]