Yangon: Shwedagon

Queens Park Hotel

Yangon, Myanmar

January 29, 2005


Dear Family and Friends,

On my last full day in Myanmar, I planned to visit The Shwedagon Paya (temple) once again, either at sunrise or at sunset. The guidebook says it's "magical."


Sunrise is not my time of day. And since it was Friday, I kept my promise to visit Moses Samuels at the Synagogue.

Just a few minutes before I arrived, an Israeli couple lit candles to welcome the Sabbath. I was touched by the warm glow of two small flames in the sanctuary near the bimah. I felt "at home."

I also felt sad. I was leaving Yangon the next day after a splendid one month's journey around Myanmar.

Moses and I chatted for a while. I described my itinerary. Moses provided me with a few details of the Jewish Community of Yangon, Mandalay and Pyin U Lwin. Mostly immigrants from the Near East. Some came as part of the British presence here.

As for The Shwedagon Paya, I must rely on my memory, my guidebook, my photographs and postcards to recall that magnificent temple complex.

The Shwedagon Paya. My guidebook allots eleven pages to this one spot!

"Kipling called it 'a golden mystery...a beautiful winking wonder.' As the setting sun casts its last rays on the soft orange dome of the great Shwedagon Paya, you can feel the magic in the air. In the heat of the day, the golden stupa glitters bright gold. It can be quiet and contemplative, or colorful and raucous. The Golden Dagon is the essence of Myanmar, and a place that never fails to enchant."

"For Burmese Buddhists, Shwedagon is the most sacred of all Buddhist sites in the country, one which all Burmese hope to visit at least once in their lifetime."

"This great golden dome rises 98m above its base. According to legends, this stupa - of the solid zedi type - is 2500 years old, but archaeologists suggest the original stupa was built by the Mon, sometime between the 6th and 10th centuries. In common with many other ancient zedi in earthquake-prone Myanmar, it has been rebuilt many times and its current form dates back only to 1769."

For me, The Shwedagon Paya is one of the finest structures in Southeast Asia - an example of the brilliance of Asian cultural achievement.

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