Although the Bupaya is not one of Bagans most impressive monuments, it is attractive because of its age and location on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
This cylindrical Pyu-style stupa named for bu (gourd) is said to date back to the 3rd century, further than any Bagan temple. It is believed that it was erected around the same time as the city walls (around AD 850).
The temple seen today-a golden stupa above a row of crenulated terraces leading down to the water is actually a reconstruction. The original temple was demolished in the 1975 earthquake.
The original temple was made of bricks but the new temple is a concrete structure and has been completely gilded.
The legend of the Bupaya pagoda.
The Bupaya is believed to have been built by King Pyusawthi who ruled Bagan during the end of the 3rd century. According to local legend before Pyisawthi became King, he managed to free the Bagan Kingdom o five nuisances, one of which was the infestation of the Irrawaddy banks by the bu, a kind of gourd plant.
As a reward he was given the hand of the King’s daughter. It is said that when he became King, he built the pagoda at the spot where the plant was eradicated.
Buddhist relics were enshrined in the pagoda. The meaning of bu is gourd and paya means pagoda so Bupaya literally means pagoda shaped like a gourd. The structure is in the shape of bulbous dome and somewhat resembles the fruit of the gourd plant.
The cylindrical stupa sits on top of a number of terraces that looks like a fortress when viewed from the river. On top is the gilded Hti (umbrella) found on almost all Myanmar temples.
Two white and gold Chinthes, Myanmar mythological lions, guard the temple grounds entrance. On the grounds are also a number of very ornate pavillions. The busy area around the temple is full of market stalls, oxcarts, and taxis. On the riverbanks are boats that can be chartered for a cruise along the Irrawaddy River.
A Chinthe is a leogryph or half lion half something else, usually a dog or human, that is often found in pairs guarding pagodas in Myanmar.
The story of why chinthes guard the entrances of pagodas and temples is that: A princess had a son through her marriage to a lion. However she later abandoned the lion and returned to the kingdom with her son. The lion became enraged and set out on a road of terror throughout the lands. The son then went out to slay this terrorizing lion. The son came back home to his mother stating that he had slain the lion. He then found out that he had killed his own father. The son then constructed a statue of the lion as a guardian of temples to atone for his sin.
The Chinthe is revered and loved by the people of Myanmar, and it is used symbolically on the royal thrones of Myanmar as well as being a precursor of money itself, a Chinthe will protect your wealth and bring you good luck to increase it.
King Anawrahta who founded the Bagan Kingdom in 1044 built the Shwezigon temple. It is one of the oldest and most impressive monuments of Bagan. The temple was built to enshrine several Buddha relics, including a copy of the sacred tooth relic of Kandy in Sri Lanka.
According to legend, a white elephant carrying the relic on his back chose the spot where the pagoda was to be built. Construction began around 1059, but the temple was completed at the end of the 11th century during the reign of King Kyanzittha
The pagoda sits in the center of a large platform, around which several other shrines and pagodas have been built. The completely gilded bell shaped stupa sits on a square base, with sides about 49 meters long. At the base of the pagoda sits a large golden lion at each of its corners. On top of the base are three receding terraces. The third one has a small stupa on each of its four corners.
The solid and completely symmetrical stupa on top of the terraces is almost 49 meters high. On top of the pagoda is a hti, a spire ornament shaped like an umbrella, which is found on almost all Myanmar temples.
Al four sides of the pagoda have a central stairway guarded by Makaras (sea creatures from Hindu mythology) leading to the top of the terraces. The three terraces contain beautiful glazed terra-cotta plaques depicting scenes from 547 Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha.
Along all four sides of the pagoda opposite the stairway to the third terrace is a pavilion that contains a large standing image from the 12th century. Two pillars with texts inscribes in Mon language from the end of the 11th century tell the early history of the Shwezigon Pagoda.
The Shwezigon pagoda is the most visited pagoda and a must for everyone who visits Bagan.It is an exhilarating experience never to be forgotten.