Myanmar    04.03.2015    Transindus

Views of the Shwedagon Pagoda are completely inescapable wherever you are in Yangon. This is partly down to the fact that the impressive religious building sits atop Singuttara Hill overlooking the city, but also the amount of gilding and precious stones that have been incorporated into its design. They catch rays from the sun and present a glittering vista of the pagoda throughout the day.

Full moon day of Tabaung

Each year, during the full moon day of the month of Tabaung, the people of Myanmar gather to give thanks at this incredible icon of their nation. They bring offerings of water, candles and flowers to the pagoda, as well as Buddha images in a huge festival within the site's grounds.

For some Burmese people who live far away from Yangon, visiting the pagoda during the festival is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They hope to gain merit by doing so and bring gifts of food to the monks and donate money to help with the upkeep of the site.

Religious rituals

Once at the top of the hill in the vicinity of the pagoda, believers remove their shoes and embark on a circumnavigation of the central stupa in a clockwise direction. This takes them past features including the guardian nat, the Chinese prayer hall, the sacred bodhi trees, Buddha's footprint and finally, the giant bell commissioned by King Tharawaddy Min. The individual will also stop at the planetary post that corresponds to the day of the week upon which they were born and pray.

Another ritual that is carried out involves teams of weavers frantically trying to outdo each other in the amount of cloth they can make for the monks. This is then handed over to make the brightly coloured robes for them to wear.

Carnival atmosphere

While the Shwedagon Pagoda Festival is ostensibly a religious event, the atmosphere surrounding it is one of joy and celebration. This is partly down to the vast numbers of people who travel to Yangon to take part, but also the drama and dancing shows that are put on, as well as the curries containing ngapi fish paste, which are served by street vendors.

The pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda was originally built to enshrine eight of the Buddha's hairs. It was completed and opened to the faithful in 1372 and remains in its original position, stretching 110 metres into the sky. Tradition states that each king of Myanmar must add their own bodyweight of gold to its exterior. No fewer than 4,531 diamonds are encrusted on the stupa, with the largest being an impressive 72 carats.

Dress code

If visiting the pagoda, either for the festival or simply to see this incredible site up close, be sure to dress appropriately. This means wearing long trousers or skirts and covering the arms at least to the elbow. Shoes should be removed and a general air of respect assumed.