Previously, I wrote about a journey that I was privileged to take inside Burma (Myanmar) but I didn’t mention the incredible Shwe Dagon Pagoda which is located in Rangoon (Yangon). In part it was because I was having great difficulty finding words to describe it. My photographs are old and faded but I hope they will give you a feel for what it was like that November day in 1983.
We listened at length to the Buddhist Archbishop of Latvia, who lived at the base of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangoon (Yangon now). A friend who is from Latvia heard that we were going to Burma and asked us to look up the Archbishop.
The man seemed pleased to see us and talked for a long time. I think he may not have had anyone to talk to in English for quite some time.
Ester and I sat on the floor. Out of respect, we needed to be beneath the Archbishop and in any case, there were no chairs. I don’t remember what Tim and Joe sat on.
We shooed away cockroaches that seemed to want to inspect us periodically, but we soon became aware of other movement behind the Archbishop’s chair. Rats. Ester’s eyes went a bit round. I was happy enough as long as they didn’t come to check us out. Fortunately, they were not interested.
The Archbishop drawled on and it began to get late, as was evident from the arrival into the mix of mosquitoes, and when they began to feast on us, Tim announced that we must leave.
While we had been in audience with the Archbishop, there had been a violent tropical storm.
We climbed back up one of the wide covered stairways, past the numerous colourful stalls that sold prayer beads and buddah statues and incense, back up toward the huge stupa and we became mesmerized.
The sun was setting, turning the sky crimson between tall dark thunderheads. The great gilded stupa, bathed in the rich golden light of late afternoon, was reflected in great puddles that had formed all around the wide tiled base. It was lovely walking with our bare feet in the warm water. Earlier, the heat of this surface had made it painful to walk without shoes.
Now we joined the worshipers who made their way, clockwise around the stupa, stopping at intervals to offer special prayers to a particular Buddha image of which there were a vast number. At a couple of the temples, family groups surrounded young novitiates who were being inducted as monks, they were dressed in much finery.
All the way around the main stupa there are hundreds more stupas of varying heights, some of them also gilded, or painted white, others were carved in dark wood. Each was occupied by a different image of the Buddha. There were also a number of individual temples brightly painted with red, green and blue.
Everything seemed to be a riot of colour and life, but respectful life. There were no loud noises or voices. People moved slowly.
For a moment one had to stop and just listen to the delightful, spiritual sound of thousands of temple bells, stirred by the dwindling storm. I remember a feeling of such peace and warmth and sunshine. I’ve said before that I am not religious, but times like these stir me deeply in my soul.
The Shwe Dagon Pagoda was first built in the 6th century and is said to contain 8 hairs of the Buddha. The original stupa fell into disrepair but it was rebuilt and opened in 1372. It stands some 350 feet and is crusted with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. At the very top is a 76 carat diamond.
It is one of the most beautiful and spiritual places I have ever visited. To have seen it, as we did, just after a thunderstorm was something very special. I try to remember that feeling when I am in need.