Mohana Gill’s Column 32

Wonders of Myanmar - A Letter from Aunty Mohana -

posted: November 23, 2015

There are a few better-known and very interesting pagodas and temples in Bagan that are worth mentioning and seeing.

That Byin Nyu Temple

There is a rhyme traditionally sung by the people of Bagan which runs:
‘Massiveness that is Dhammayan Gyi, Loftiness that is That Byin Nyu, Grace that is Ananda.’
That Byin Nyu Temple is the tallest in height Dhammayan Gyi Temple is the largest in massive size and Ananda Temple is the most graceful with all artistic decorations.

That Byin Nyu is one of the highest monuments in Bagan with a height of just over 60 meters. It is very majestic and towers above other nearby temples and pagodas, and is visible from much of the Bagan plains. It is one of the first two storey structures built in Bagan.
King Alaung Sithu built the temple in A.D. 1144. The name That Byin Nyu is an original name. It is one of the attributes of the Lord Buddha. ‘Thatbyinnyu’ means “Omniscience” which the Lord Buddha attained on becoming enlightened. In the Temple are circumambulatory vaulted corridors, four terraced devotional stupa, vihara (monastery) and a library. It’s a very big complex structure with seven terraces in all facing east.
On the upper terrace there is a big statue of Buddha made of brick and plaster, sitting on a lotus. In the ground floor, on the north, south and west sides are big statues of Buddha made of brick and cement. They are original; seventeen other images are later editions. Original mural paintings are found on the ceilings and walls of the vaulted corridors on the western entrance.
A pair of Buddha’s footprints and the picture of Sakka and Brahma paying homage to the Buddha are found on the ceiling. Besides there are ornamental backdrops of the throne and fine stuccos. On the northeast of the precinct is a cave traditionally known as “Tally Pagoda”.

It is said that for every 10,000 bricks used in the construction of the temple one brick was kept aside to count the total number of bricks used in the whole structure. The “Tally Pagoda” was built with the bricks that were kept aside. The Temple is famous for its neat brickwork, which is so carefully done that a knife blade can’t pass between the bricks.
An earthquake years ago has made the structure unstable, so climbing up the temple is now prohibited. The temple is visible from nearly every vantage point in Bagan. No matter which angle you aim through your camera, it will always give you a perfect picture.

Dhammayan Gyi Temple

Dhammayan Gyi Temple is noted for its massiveness. It is a cave pagoda. History says that King Narathu built it in A.D. 1170. The king resigned for only 3 years and the temple was completed in 3 years. From a distance the temple looks like an Egyptian pyramid. It has two circumambulatory vaulted corridors and four devotional halls, each at one of the four-cardinal points. But for some unknown reason, the inner vaulted corridor, its entrances, and lights wells were blocked. Evidence dhows that they were blocked immediately after the structure was completed because the bricks used in the structure and those used in blocking were found to be identical size and texture.

It is said by some scholars that since the super structure was so big, massive and heavy the vaulted corridors and chambers underneath could not bear the weight above for very long most of them had to be blocked soon after completion of the structure.

Others think that it was blocked because of some treasures secretly hidden inside. Some historians also believe that Narathu was a tyrant who had committed many political killings; his old father Alaung Sithu, his elder brother Min Shin Saw, and his queen Pe-thida were his victims. After building such a massive religious structure, repentant Narathu was so obsessed with his crimes and so overcome by remorse, he blocked the inner corridors, windows and light wells so as to rescind his sins.

Whatever the story, it is still a very massive structure worth visiting and admiring.

I think that these few articles on Bagan will give the reader an idea of the importance of Bagan both historically, archaeologically as well as its importance to Buddhism. Due to the fact that there are so many pagodas and temples to choose from, highlighting some of the more interesting and significant ones may help the reader in deciding what he or she wants to see and experience.
But going to Bagan is a once in a lifetime experience that should not be missed.


the author of the book “Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs” and the world prestigious “Best Asian Cuisine in The World” winning author.


“Myanmar : Cuisine, Culture & Customs”,

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