Sunday, February 14, 2016

Yangon, Maynmar: Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda (admission $3/3,000 kyat) is one of the biggest landmark attractions in all of Yangon. A pagoda is a generic term for a religious building, and it is typically formed by many tiers stacked on top of each other. This particular one is smack dab in the middle of the city, forming a gigantic roundabout at the intersection of Mahabandoola Road and Sule Pagoda Road. In Yangon, all roads lead to Sule! This was an excellent landmark to keep me from getting lost!

Street view of Sule Pagoda at night.
The golden dome of Sule is over 150 feet (48 meters) high, and it was built by the British as a center point for their street grid in the 1880s. The central pagoda is named Kyaik Athok, translates to "the stupa where a sacred hair relic is enshrined." Apparently is the resting place for a single hair of the Buddha, and it is a sacred location that many locals visit. It's surrounded by street stalls and food vendors, and is quite a popular place to be. 

It's also a very touristy place to be. As I walked in, I was forced to buy flowers as an offering by one of the old ladies waiting by the stairs. It was only $1, so I agreed to the hustle. Be very careful in this area, because people will start chatting with you and offer to show you around for free, only to charge you a crazy amount of money for their assistance and things like gold leaf (if you choose to adorn any statues with it).  I was aware of this going in, and when someone approached me we both agreed to a price for him showing me around before he began showing me around so there were no surprises in the end.

The central pagoda has 8 sides, one for each day of the week.

I promise you, that number is not wrong.

Garuda the Bird King!
In Myanmar, there are 8 day sin every week! Wednesday is split into two days. Each day denotes a particular direction and dictates where a person goes to pray. The day on which you were born is very important to the Burmese because it helps indicate a child's personality. Each day corresponds to a particular animal in Burmese astrology: Garuda the Bird King (Sunday), Tiger (Monday), Lion (Tuesday), Elephant (Monday PM), Tuskless Elephant (Wednesday PM), Rat (Thursday), Guinea Pig (Friday), and Dragon/Naga (Saturday). I was born on a Tuesday, so my animal is the lion and my lucky direction is southeast. According to the horoscope, 
Tuesday belongs to the Mars. You want to do work with some prestige and dignity attached to it. You are a natural self-promoter. Your idealism motivates you to seek challenges and to dedicate yourself to great and worthy causes. You attract people because of your honour and strength of character. In Myanmar it is widespread that Tuesday born have a "sharp tongue"... 
If you want to find out what your Burmese horoscope says about you, check out this site.

The temple was pretty, but not fantastically impressive. Many poor students go to the pagoda in order to practice their English and try to make money by giving tourists a tour of the temple. I was guided around by a student, and he told me about the history and cultural importance of the temple in exchange for a bit of cash. It's how I learned about Wednesday being two days!

I would say that the temple is worth a visit, but the inside is not a must-see attraction. It was interesting to tour around and do the blessing ritual for my Burmese Zodiac sign, but there are other, more interesting things to see in Yangon if you're pressed for time!

I love the look of statues covered in gold leaf.

Notice the LED halo?
As Myanmar becomes more and more modern, subtle changes permeate even the most holy aspects of the culture. One of the things that is increasingly popular is the LED halo around the heads of Buddha statues. Some people love, some people hate it. Personally, I feel that it's a bit garish and cheapens the feel of beautiful holy places. I guess I'm a traditionalist!

In the picture below, you can see a man making merit. To do this, you have to find the corner dedicated to the day you were born. Then you fill a cup with water from the tap (it's red) in the middle, and pour nine cups on the Buddha statue that resides on the top part of the shrine. Next, pour five cups on the statue of your animal (mine's the lion) on the bottom part of the shrine (blessings for your family). My guide told me that it's standard to pour five cups on the animal, but others have said you should pour as many cups as there are people in your immediate family.

While Sule Pagoda itself is a nice sigh to see, simply walking around the neighborhood is also a beautiful sight to behold. The park and nearby buildings are all lit up, and the area was especially amazing because it was drenched in Christmas lights and decorations. Night time is definitely the best time to visit Sule Pagoda!

Night view of Mahabandoola Park.
Right next to the Pagoda, Immanuel Baptist Church lights up the night and offers a view into the diverse beliefs of the city.
I was there a few weeks before Christmas, so the church was covered in Christmas lights.
Very festive!

Such festive Christmas decorations!

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