Bagan – World Cultural Heritage in Myanmar

Bagan is an ancient city in the Mandalay region, located on a bend of the Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwady) in the central plains of Myanmar. The Irrawaddy is Myanmar’s largest river and most important commercial waterway. The city lies entirely on the right bank of the river.

Accreditation year: 2019
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(vi)
Acreage: 5,005.49 ha with a buffer zone of 18,146.83 ha, including 7 areas

According to legend, Bagan was founded in the 2nd century AD and was shaped in the 9th century. Many other documents suggest that Bagan was founded in the 9th century AD, as one of the City Kingdoms. Pyu. King Anawratha (1044-1077) was the first ruler of the kingdom. He established a single center to rule the kingdom, conquering the entire arid region in the middle of the country by developing irrigation systems to grow rice. Here rice was not only the staple food but also the currency of the kingdom.

Bagan at that time was a prosperous city, not only large in size, but also an international center for religious and secular studies, such as Pali grammar, psychological philosophy, contemplation. astrology, alchemy, medicine, and law. The city attracts monks and students from as far as India, Sri Lanka and the Khmer Empire to study and research.

The culture of Bagan at that time was dominated by religion, which was a continuation of religious trends during the Pyu City period, where Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, Hindu schools (Saivite and Vaishana) as well as indigenous religious traditions.

Over the course of 250 years, Bagan rulers and wealthy people built more than 10,000 religious monuments (about 1000 stupas, 10,000 temples and 3000 monasteries) in a 104 square kilometer area in the Bagan plains. . At the height of the dynasty, between the 11th and 13th centuries, as many as 4446 Buddhist temples and monasteries were built in the Bagan plain. Among them, 2217 pagodas and monasteries still exist today, demonstrating the outstanding achievements of Myanmar craftsmen.

In terms of planning, the ancient town of Bagan is not like the Pyu city-states with a system of walls surrounding the kingdom, but only a wall surrounding the royal palace with about 2000 buildings and a few religious buildings. Over time, the western wall of the ancient capital was washed away by the river.

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In terms of architecture, the surviving monuments include pagodas, monasteries, halls and libraries.
Bagan Pagoda has two main forms: The pagoda has a solid, closed structure and the pagoda has an open and hollow structure.

The pagoda has a distinctive solid structure, the stupa has a solid, closed structure and is a massive structure, typically with a chamber (chaitya) for burying relics (small, round-shaped beads formed after the burial). can be cremated or the posthumous remains of Buddhist monks) inside. Bagan pagodas or stupas were developed from the pagodas at the previous Pyu town and originated from the architecture of Southeast India, initially with a hemispherical roof, then gradually becoming bell or parasol shape. Bagan stupas became the prototype for later Myanmar temple design in terms of symbols, design forms, construction techniques and even materials.

The pagoda has a gu-style hollow temple or open interior, used for meditation, worship and other Buddhist ceremonies.

Temples are usually of two types: i) A front with a main entrance, usually entering from the East with a small vestibule. Connect the spaces through the corridor system. The main hall or shrine is the place where the mascot rests against the western wall. The interior is illuminated by windows at the north and south walls; ii) Four sides with four entrances. The temple has an altar which is a square central block with 4 faces placed 4 mascots, representing 4 great events in Buddha’s life (Birth, Enlightenment, First Lecture, Death). With 4 protruding vestibule blocks, the ground of these pagodas is shaped like a cross. Some pagodas have a pentagon-shaped central shrine block, supplementing the 5th Buddha – the Buddha of the Future. This pagoda has 5 halls. This style is said to be a unique architectural creation of Bagan.

The distinction between pagodas and pagodas is not always clear. There is a work that is a combination of both the dense and closed stupa and the open and hollow of the shrine. For example, the temple has a shrine on the lower floor and a stupa on the upper floor.

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A Zen monastery (Vihara) is a place to practice for monks and nuns, which can be a room, a building in a large temple or a large complex. The missionary house, the library are works also found among the monuments in Bagan.

The architecture at Pagan varies greatly in scale, from small pagodas to giant pagodas. To create scale for the work, many buildings are built on terraces forming steps. The steps are placed on the ground and also on the roof, serving as the pedestal for the second floor or stupa. Around the main building is supported by smaller structures placed around. Most large pagodas are two stories high. Only a few pagodas were built with a height of 3 or 4 floors.

In terms of construction materials and techniques, the structures in Bagan are all built with plastered bricks, only a few buildings are built of stone or clad in stone. In particular, there are some temples covered with gold outside. The bricks to build the pagoda have an average size of 36 x 18 x 6 cm. Bricks are produced in the surrounding area and brought here by boat. Construction mortar is made from clay. It is also suggested that the mortar may be made of organic binders. This period used the techniques of building vaults and arches with wedge-shaped stones (voussoirs).

About manuscripts and books, here are preserved in monasteries manuscripts, religious books written in Pali or Sanskrit (the language of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism), on leaves, cloth, paper, lacquer and gold leaf.

In terms of sculpture, there are many wooden, stone and metal statues depicting the Buddha with many postures such as standing, walking, lying associated with the main events in the Buddha’s life. The Buddha image is mainly depicted as a symbol, not showing exact details. In addition, there are also lotus-shaped sculptures here.

Regarding reliefs, here keep a lot of reliefs made of ceramic, glazed bricks. In which, there are typical reliefs with images of the Buddha (Jataka) story. These reliefs were created using bronze or clay castings.

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In terms of paintings, the interior of the temples in Bagan has many paintings on the walls and ceilings. Paintings are made by: First coating the surface with a fine, dry mud mortar. Then paint with natural pigments on top. Repeated motifs are drawn in stencils. The content of the paintings mostly depicts the legend of the Buddha with images such as the Bodhi tree, the Buddha with his austerities, and Buddhist symbols. Below the picture boxes is a summary of the content of the scenes. In addition to the paintings on the wall, there are also paintings on canvas with the same painting style as the paintings on the wall.

bagan - world cultural heritage in myanmar

The religious monuments here are testament to the peak of Bagan civilization (11th-13th centuries), when Bagan was the capital of the Pagan kingdom (Pagan Kingdom). The monumental religious architectural ensembles at Bagan reflect the religious strength of a Theravada Buddhist empire. During this period, Buddhism became a politically controlling force with the king as its representative. The Bagan civilization gained control of river traffic, extending its influence over a large area. The traditions of making merit in society led to an increase in the construction of temples and shrines, especially in the early 13th century.

The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to Mongol invasions. Bagan ceased to be the capital in 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom (Myinsaing Kingdom) became the new power in Upper Myanmar (Upper Burma). Bagan gradually narrowed down to a small town. Despite this, Bagan continues to serve as an important religious center of the country.

Many monuments in Bagan were damaged in the 1975 earthquake and later repaired.

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