During our stay in Yangon, we made the obligatory visit to Shwedagon pagoda which plays a major role in the lives of Buddhists there in Yangon. The historians claimed that the original pagoda was built during 6th to 10th century with a much smaller scale, rebuilt and expended over the years to what we get to see today. We visited during the full moon day coincidentally and it was very lively with worshippers paying their respect, volunteers sweeping the ground and dharma groups reciting mantras.
Although you can take the lift up at the way to the main pagoda round but we decided to take the staircase up as we can see the shops along the way and the staircase (Zaung Tan) was built to impress the visitors – multiple paintings and carvings illustrating the stories and teachings of Buddha, so we didn’t want to miss this chance.
Theravada buddhism is the main form of buddhism in Burma, with majority of the population being Buddhist; we followed many practices that were originated or borrowed from Hindu beliefs (Cosmology, Astrology, etc). An example is that each day of the week is represented by a planet – Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn being the classical planets in astrology with two additions: Rahu and Ketu). On the pagoda, you will see planetary posts each representing a day of the week (e.g., Monday, Tuesday etc) and the locals will go to the post that represents the day of their birth for praying and offering incenses or flowers.
Majority of the pagodas would have a circular path around it and Shwedagon pagoda is not exception either. The visitors would take an anti-clockwise route to walk along the the path – although it is hardly considered a path now that it is a massive pagoda. We saw numerous bells, smaller buddha statues or buildings meant for the visitors to take shelter from the scotching sun.
It was a great experience seeing how the locals venerate the pagoda and also the calmness and quietness despite having hundreds of people around. It is a moment that we were reminded as as a individual human, we are tiny and insignificant. Evening times are even more popular as the heat reduced away as the sun goes down and the lights turns on, perhaps we will get a chance on our next visit to Yangon.