Yangon: "Paya, Nat"

January 12, 2005


Yangon. A cacophony of traditional markets - chicken butchers at the ready; Christian churches - "Merry Christmas" banners flying; Mosques - young boys give me a tour; Hindu temples - colorful ornate sculptures; British colonial buildings - gazing lions atop imposing brick walls; shops, stalls, sidewalk vendors.

Sule Paya. In the center of Yangon, its 46m high golden zedi (gently tapering cylindrical cone) serving as my orientation point whenever I got lost.

In and around Yangon, I found many other excellent Buddhist sights:

One of my favorites is the Botataung Paya:

"Bo means leader (usually in the military sense) and tataung means 1000 - the Botataung Paya was named after the 1000 military leaders who escorted relics of the Buddha, brought from India over 2000 years ago. This ancient monument stood close to the Yangon wharves, and during an Allied air raid on 8 November 1943, a bomb scored a direct hit on the unfortunate paya."

"After the war, the Botataung was rebuilt in a very similar style to its predecessor, but with one important and unusual difference: unlike most zedi, which are solid, the Botataung is hollow and you can walk through it. There's a sort of mirrored maze inside the stupa, with glass showcases containing many of the ancient relics and artifacts, including small silver-and-gold Buddha images, which were sealed inside the earlier stupa. Above this interesting interior, the golden stupa spire rises to 40m."

"To the western side of the stupa is a hall containing a large gilded bronze Buddha, cast during the reign of King Mindon Min. At the time of the British annexation, it was kept in King Thibaw Min's glass palace, but after King Thibaw was exiled to India, the British shipped the image to London. In 1951, the image was returned to Myanmar and placed in the Botataung Paya."

"Also on the grounds is a nat (spirit) pavilion containing images of Thurathadi (the Hindu deity Saraswati, goddess of learning and music) and Athagyamin (Indra, king of the nat) flanking the thoroughly Burmese nat Bobogyi."

I adopted Thurathadi as my personal guide. I hope she will adopt me.

"A short walk from Botataung Paya at Botataung jetty, you can watch ferryboats and oared water taxis cross the Yangon River."

I sat there for at least on hour. The movement of the unusual boats and the scurrying passengers was just hypnotic.

Chaukhtatgyi Paya. A huge reclining Buddha: "Don't miss this colossal image."

Ngahtatgyi Paya. "It's appropriately known as the five-story Buddha." Just a huge, magnificent image in a temple complex guarded by a pair of equally huge stone lions. The monks were particularly friendly here and presented me with a multi-striped religious flag.

Na-Gar Glass Factory. Lots of hand blown glass on display. Pleasant indoor-outdoor setting. It was this place that supplied the huge, mesmerizing eyes of the reclining Buddha at Chaukhatgyi Paya. Many small unusual pieces are for sale, so naturally....

Inya Lake. A very large lake in the north of the city. Surrounded by grassy lawns and shrubs. A quiet retreat to contemplate my onward journey.


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