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LEXICON

 

 

Shwezigon Phaya (ရွှေစည်းခုံဘုရား)

Burmese. ‘Golden Dune Pagoda’ or ‘Golden Stupa Pagoda. Name of a Buddhist temple near Bagan, of which construction began during the reign of King Anawrahta (fig.), yet was only completed in 1102 AD, during the reign of the latter's son King Kyansittha (fig.). The 49 meters high, gold plated stupa reportedly enshrines some relics of the Buddha, i.e. a tooth, a piece of the front skull, and a piece of collarbone, which were placed on the back of a sacred White Elephant (fig.), which was then set free in order to determine a proper spot to built a stupa to house them, akin to the establishment of Wat Doi Suthep in Thailand's Chiang Mai, once a vassal to Burma. The White Elephant finally stopped over a dune, which was consequently chosen as the site to erecting the stupa, and which gave rise to its name. The bell-shaped, gilded stupa is built atop the center of a large platform, with a square base and consisting of three receding terraces, of which the sides at the base are ca. 49 meters long and are guarded by large golden chintha, one at each of the corners, while each of the sides of the platform has a central staircase guarded at the base by human-faced lion-figures that supports the makara-shaped (fig.) balustrades leading to the top of the terraces. Akin to Ananda Phaya (fig.), the terraces surrounding the base of the stupa originally featured 550 glazed terracotta tiles of a dark greyish-green colour, that portray scenes of the jataka, though some are nowadays missing. Around the central and main stupa there are several other shrines, pyatthat and edifices, including a small hall housing the 37 inner nats (fig.), a building topped with a sikhara (fig.), a shrine with a father and son warrior nat (fig.), a tazaung with colourful woodcarvings depicting folktales, the jataka and scenes from the life of the Buddha (fig.), an open edifice with wooden statues depicting the Four Encounters and the Great Departure. In 2016, the main stupa was under renovation (fig.), with goldbeaters applying fresh, hand-beaten (fig.) gold plates (fig.). This temple is one of four temples entwined in the Shwe Daw Lay Su legend of King Anawratha, which asserts that the King was given some tooth relics of the Buddha, which were placed on the back of a White Elephant to determine an appropriate spot to built a pagoda to house these relics. As legend has it, the White Elephant halted at four different locations and the King later had stupas built at each of them (fig.), resulting in the construction of three more pagodas, i.e. Tantkyitaung Zedi (fig.), Lawkananda Zedi (fig.), and Tuyintaung Zedi (fig.). According to popular Burmese believe, if pilgrims to the relics are able to visit all four of these holy places in a single morning, their wishes will be fulfilled. There is also a statue of a white horse, which is caressed by local worshippers as they pass it by (fig.). The horse is assumed to represent either Kanthaka, i.e. the snow-white horse of Prince Siddharta, which was born on the same day as its master and died of sorrow after it carried the prince away from the palace during the Great Departure, or the white horse that ‒according to royal chronicles‒ King Kyansittha, during whose reign this pagoda was completed, used to ride while leading the procession at the dedication ceremony of newly Buddhist temples.