The Golden Roofs of Burma

The Golden Roofs of Burma

“And then a golden miracle rose on the horizon, a shining, shining miracle that shone in the sun. It was neither in the shape of a Muslim dome nor that of a Hindu temple top. This is Burma, said my companion, and it will be like no other country you know. ‘These are the lines the English writer Rudyard Kipling wrote when he came to British Burma in 1889 on his world tour. With these words Kipling described the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important Buddhist shrine of the Burmese and – if you will – their national feeling turned into stone. Whoever rules the pagoda rules the land too. That is why the British, like the present military government, endeavored to be regarded as the sponsors and protectors of the pagoda. Visit beautypically.com for Burma the unknown Asia.

The community of monks living in the Shwedagon is considered to be the highest moral authority in the country. Eight hairs of the Buddha are kept here, which he had torn out to thank merchants from Dagon, today’s Rangoon, for a present they had brought. Piety dictates that you approach the stupa barefoot, so shoes and stockings have to be taken off at the stairs. Four staircases, aligned with the cardinal points, lead to the hill, on which there is an almost square terrace. In the middle there is an octagonal temple building on which the circular golden roof rests, the top of which rises 98 meters. According to a popular saying, there is more gold on this pagoda than in the Bank of England. The stupa is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas. The Burmese are Buddhists, but this does not prevent them from still believing in spirits. 37 spirits, called nats, watch over places, people and areas of life. They are subordinate to the Buddha and are intended to help solve everyday problems, while Buddha’s laws point the future. In addition to the Buddha statues, there are always places in the stupas where the nats are venerated. A special place for the worship of the nats is in the now largely destroyed temple city of Pagan, the capital of Burma from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The 11th century Shwe-Zigon Paya stupa is still in use today and is the main center for worshiping the nats. The Nat King Thagyamin is shown as a figure in the stupa. They are subordinate to the Buddha and are intended to help solve everyday problems, while Buddha’s laws point the future. In addition to the Buddha statues, there are always places in the stupas where the nats are venerated. A special place for the worship of the nats is in the now largely destroyed temple city of Pagan, the capital of Burma from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The 11th century Shwe-Zigon Paya stupa is still in use today and is the main center for worshiping the nats. The Nat King Thagyamin is shown as a figure in the stupa. They are subordinate to the Buddha and are intended to help solve everyday problems, while Buddha’s laws point the future. In addition to the Buddha statues, there are always places in the stupas where the nats are venerated. A special place for the worship of the nats is in the now largely destroyed temple city of Pagan, the capital of Burma from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The 11th century Shwe-Zigon Paya stupa is still in use today and is the main center for worshiping the nats. The Nat King Thagyamin is shown as a figure in the stupa. A special place for the worship of the nats is in the now largely destroyed temple city of Pagan, the capital of Burma from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The 11th century Shwe-Zigon Paya stupa is still in use today and is the main center for worshiping the nats. The Nat King Thagyamin is shown as a figure in the stupa. A special place for the worship of the Nats is in the now largely destroyed temple city of Pagan, the capital of Burma from the 11th to 13th centuries. The 11th century stupa Shwe-Zigon Paya is still in use today and is the main center for worshiping the nats. The Nat King Thagyamin is shown as a figure in the stupa.

In Pegu, the former capital of a Lower Burmese kingdom, there is the Shwe Mawdaw Pagoda from the 9th century. Its roof rises 114 meters high and is thus higher than that of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. The peak at the top is set with diamonds. Around 994, the figure of the Buddha Shwe-Thalyaung, who is about 55 meters long and who is going into nirvana, was created. Burma’s most unusual pagoda, the Kyaiktiyo, is located in the mountain jungle near Pegu. The “Balancing Pagoda on the Golden Rock” is a golden stupa, only 7 meters high and studded with precious stones, on a gold-covered boulder, right on the edge of a precipice. The legend reports that the rock only lasts because a hair of the Buddha is kept in the stupa. Allegedly the King of the Nats helped get the rock for the stupa.

Secular ballads and fairy tales have also found a place in Burmese literature. Poetry was always in the foreground, prose was reserved for practical texts. Influenced by Western forms, the novel and drama found their way into literature at the end of the 19th century, and then short stories in the 20th century.

Buddhism with its ritual practices is also a firm anchor for today’s everyday culture. Pagodas and monasteries are popular pilgrimage destinations, for example in Mandalay. The most important sanctuary in Myanmar is the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon. Monastic communities are publicly present and enjoy authority on all sides. The custom is still widespread to give young people – mostly boys, but also girls – a limited time as novices in such communities.

In folk culture, especially in the village environment, elements of ethnic religions in the form of natural and dead spirits, so-called nats, play a major role. Higher-ranking nats are honored with fixed ceremonies at shrines and with feasts. Earth spirits and house spirits are regularly sacrificed so that they keep harm away from the personal environment. The three-day New Year’s festival Thingyan (hence the water festival) in April is all about cleansing water.

At the end of the 20th century, the Burmese puppet theater Yoke thé was revived as folk art. Century had flourished. In festival culture, orchestras play with traditional instruments, especially drums. The Saung gauk bow harp has been used for song accompaniment since ancient times – it is considered a “national instrument”. The most unusual instrument is a zither which, played lying down, is modeled on a crocodile (“crocodile harp”). Pop and rock music came to Myanmar in the 1970s, but it wasn’t allowed to be played on the radio. After the end of state media censorship in 2012, it experienced a strong boom.

The Golden Roofs of Burma