The Shwedagon Pagoda from the West
The Shwedagon Pagoda is a Buddhist temple complex that lies a little way apart from the centre of Yangon, in its own parkland. Local legends suggest that the first temple on the site was built more than 2,000 years ago. The present structure is more recent – the gold plating originating with a Queen Shinsawbu, who ruled Burma in the 15th Century. In the decades following it has been added to, repeatedly to include hundreds of shrines and meditation halls.
Once I’d arrived at the west gate, a huge structure in itself, I found that I was still 200 yards and 200 feet below the summit of the hill on which the temple stands. A long climb, but this is what I saw when I got to the top
In fact, this picture is a bit of a happy accident – the place was actually teeming with visitors – quite a few European types, but mainly Burmese, for this is a country in which religion still plays a large part in peoples’ lives. In many part so the world, people circle the stupas clockwise, chanting as they go, but here people wander everywhere alone or in groups – families or friends; walking, talking, pausing to offer a prayer, or sitting to meditate.As part of their devotion, a line of people sweep around the stupa, in unison.
One of the only group devotions – a line of people sweep around the stupa, in unison.
A solitary monk meditates from one of many shrines that face towards the stupa
Shortly after I arrived, I started to hear a group of people chanting – intrigued, I went in search of the source, expecting to find, perhaps a group of novice monks at prayer. Instead I found this group of teenage girls, many in uniform, chanting but also preparing some kind of meal, and occasionally, it seemed catching a moment to swap some gossip.
I spent about an hour circling the central stupa myself, engaged in my own self-alignment exercises, before I thought it was time to go, struck by the ease with which I had been able to formulate and enact the exercise. Returning downhill I paused briefly at the side of the steps, only to catch the eye of an older local man who was limping towards me. “You are just in time”, he said but the next few words were obscured as he walked past me, pointing as he went; “…… bats ……., wait …… picture…” was all I caught. So, naturally, I stopped and waited…. and waited…… and waited….. And then they were there, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of small bats flying in a thick stream out from under the temple roofs and off into the gathering sunset. Despite it going on for nearly half an hour, I got few good pictures, but these may give you a sense of it.
The first swarm of bats flying low above the covered walkway in.
The bats heading westward
Well pleased, I eventually walked off to find a taxi back town.