The finest things in Bagan are found when you are not looking for them at all.
Across the world, there are many large places but with just one prominent monument. However, have you ever heard of a less traveled small place with more than 2000 temples in a given area? Well, that’s precisely Bagan, the heart and capital of the first Burmese Empire in the ancient Myanmar (earlier Burma). Home to around 2200 temples and pagodas (stupas), these temples were built by numerous kings and leaders in Burma from the 11th to 15th century. An ancient place with lots of remarkable archaeological sites and amazing pagodas, it not only lets one embark on a historical but also a spiritual voyage as one ventures from one temple to the other in the arid central parts of Myanmar situated on the eastern banks of river Ayeyarwady.
The ancient city of Bagan was highly influenced by Tantric Buddhism, Mahanaya Buddhism, diverse Hindu (Vaishnava and Saivite) as well as native animist ethnicity. Since, it was one of the prime Buddhist capitals, the Bagan region attracted monks from as far as China, India as well as folks from the Khmer Empire.
Between the 11th and 13th century around 10,000 temples, monasteries and pagodas were built by the Pagan Empire during the era of King Anawratha (1044). However, as of now there are only 2200 temples and pagodas due to numerous earthquakes that shattered the majestic shrines. It is not a UNESCO world heritage till now so you won’t find tourists like Angkor Wat and Borobudur. However, the place still stands with them when it comes to memorable ancient monuments in South East Asia.
Among the 2200 Temples influenced from Hinduism and Buddhism, here are some of the notable Temples in the region with Indian connection.
One of the most prominent Buddhist temples in the Bagan region, Ananda Temple earlier Ananta derives its name from Sanskrit word ananta pinya meaning endless wisdom. In Pali and Indian Languages it means “bliss”. Ananda was also the name of Gautam Buddha’s first cousin, disciple and devotee.
This Buddhist temple was built during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1113). In terms of design and architecture, it is highly inspired by the Indian architectural style seen in temples of Bengal and Odisa in India. As per archaeologist Duroiselle, the temple has been built by Indian architects. Also, it has been observed that the architecture of this temple matches greatly with the Ananta cave temple in Udaygiri hills in Orissa, India.
In the temple you will find effigies of Buddha facing various sides. Also, in the corridors, there are frescoes of Buddha’s life from the earlier days till his death.
Nathlaung Kyaung Temple
The Nathlaung Kyaung Temple (Sanskrit meaning: “shrine detaining the spirits”) is a Hindu shrine of Lord Vishnu. Built in the 11th century by King Anawratha, it is one of the oldest Hindu temples found in the Bagan region of Myanmar. The temple was mainly constructed for Hindu Burmese Indians, including Brahmins and merchants. Although, most of the structures of the original temple have been lost with time, the main hall still remains. Initially, the temple comprised effigies of all ten Avatars of Vishnu, including Buddha; but, at present, only 7 remain.
Built just like Ananda temple in terms of architectural plan and structure, the Dhammayangyi Temple is the widest temple in the Bagan region. It was constructed during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170) who built this largest temple to atone for his sins after killing his father Alaungsithu and elder brother.
Besides there are other temples like Nanpaya temple, Bupaya Pagoda, Mingalazedi Pagoda, and Payathozu Temple among several others that comprise the temples of this ancient place.
One of the best prehistoric sites in South East Asia, Bagan not only depicts ancient monuments and heritages, but cross cultural relations that thrived between India and the rest of the world. It is a live example which signifies ancient Indian glory in a foreign land.
By Deepti Verma