- Category: Myanmar Culture
What is a Pagoda?
A pagoda, in Southeast Asia, is cone-shaped monumental structure built in memory of Buddha. But in the Far East, a pagoda is a tower-like, multi-storeyed structure of stone, brick, or wood, usually associated with a Buddhist temple complex. The pagoda derives from the stupa of ancient India, which was a dome-shaped commemorative monument, usually erected over the remains or relics of a holy man or king.
The hemispherical domed stupa of ancient India evolved into several distinct forms in various parts of Southeast and East Asia. The finial, or decorative crowning ornament of the stupa, became more elongated and cylindrical until the stupa's upper portion took on an attenuated, tower-like appearance.
This stupa form was adopted by Buddhism as an appropriate form for a monument enshrining sacred relics and became known to Westerners as a pagoda. The Buddhist pagoda was elaborated in Tibet into a bottle-shaped form; it took pyramidal or conical designs in Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos; and in China, Korea, and Japan, it evolved into the best-known pagoda form. The latter was a tall tower consisting of the vertical repetition of a basic story unit in regularly diminishing proportions. The stories can be circular, square, or polygonal. Each story in an East Asian pagoda has its own prominent projecting roof line, and the whole structure is capped by a mast and disks. The pagoda form is intended primarily as a monument and has very little usable interior space.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the largest and the highest pagoda in the whole world. Buddhists believe that there are 4 Types of Pagodas.7
Other than the Pagodas there are some strange Buddha Images.
Buddha with eye-glasses
Buddha with a mole
Buddha as a king
Buddha as a spirit
Buddha with unidentical eyes
Myanmar Architecture of Pagodas & Temples
We are not sure why ancient monuments are mostly cone-shaped, pointed upward. The Egyptian pyramids of Africa and Maya temples of South America are about the same shape too. Pagodas must have flourished from stupa of ancient India, which was a dome-shaped commemorative monument, usually erected over the remains or relics of a holy man or king.
Let's take a look at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. It's about 30th floor high, built centuries ago.
Shwe Dagon Pagoda
The perimeter of the base of the Pagoda is 1420 feet and its height 326' above the platform. The pagoda itself is divided into different parts:
The Base, with 64 pagodas. It is 2' 3" high.
The 3 Terraces (Pichayas), the first terrace with 64 small pagodas and 4 large ones is 15' 10" high, and the second and the third terraces are respectively 38' 5" and 25' 10" high.
The Bell (Khaung-laung-pon), which has a circumference of 344' 8", is 70' 4" high.
The Inverted Bowl (Thabeik)
The Embossed Bands (Bang-yit), the twisted turban which stand to a height of another 41' has a circumference of 96' 5" at the top.
The Ornamental Lotus Flower (Kyar-lan) which is 31' 5" high.
The Plantain Bud-Shaped Bulbous Spire (Hnet-pyaw-phu) has a girth of 65' and 52' 11" high.
The Crown (Htee), which has a circumference of 45' 6" at the bottom and a diameter of 14' 6", is 33' high.
The Vane, which is 4' 8" long and about 2.5' wide at the end hinged to the shaft, tapers outwards. It turns with the wind on the shaft, which stands 15' on the top of the Crown.
The Diamond Bud (Sein-phoo), which crowns the apex of the Vane-shaft. It is a spherical globe of gold, 10" in diameter inlaid with many diamonds and other precious stones.
It is very interesting, and a bit even funny how the cement was made in the old days. But his is how ancient Myanmar kingdoms has built their palaces, pagodas, and temples.
Here are the ingredients of cement, used in building the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, in comparison with the ingredients of cement we are making. It basically is the same with patented Portland cement we use today:
Centuries ago: molasses glue
bael fruit juice
Today: calcium carbonates (found in limestone)
iron oxide (found in clay)
Pyathuts are the results of the cooperation of both artists and architects. They are also interesting.
Architecture of Ancient Times
A lot more on ancient architecture is yet to learn. Most ancient cities are still being dugged up.
Architecture of Colonial Days
Some of the existing colonial buildings were still in service. In Yangon, there are some widely known:
Yangon General Hospital
Central Bank of Myanmar
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Architecture of Modern City
So many high-rised buildings in Yangon are now designed by foreign architects, such as Traders Hotel, or the Olympic Building. However there still are some remarkable ones designed by Myanmar architects:
Building-D of Thane Gyee Shopping Center, most likely is the largest building in Yangon.
International Business Center (IBC), Pyay Road