Bagan the Ancient Pagoda and Temple City

Bagan Myanmar Temple and Pagoda

Once the capital of the First Empire located in the dry zone of the country on the left bank of the mighty Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River. When traveling in the country virtually all roads and flights somehow leads to the place. 

Sacred Mountain & Villages Tour 

Half day to Mount Popa 

Half day Bagan Temple Tour 

Full Day to Mount Popa by train 

Excursion Sale & Mount Popa 

Full day Bagan Temple Tour

It should be visited at least one time, hotels are plenty and it is reachable from Yangon, Mandalay and Heho (Inle Lake) via several airlines every day, they all use small aircraft. When purchasing a ticket for the trip try "Vegas Travel" in the Central Hotel in Yangon, they have the best prices and work fast, don't buy it from the airline direct.

Bagan Travel by Ox Cart
Bagan Travel by Ox Cart
Bagan travel and day trips are on the agenda, tourists are the new invaders and they are welcomed by almost everyone since they bring what all people like, money and work, read more.

Irrawaddy river cruise
Irrawaddy river cruise
A Irrawaddy river cruise should be made to see the monuments from the waterside. This is now a 42 square kilometer area dotted  with thousands of ancient pagodas, stupas, Buddhist shrines, ordination halls and monuments, read more.

Going shopping in Bagan, people sell their goods, handicrafts, lacquer ware, ceramics and other items and services, there are plenty of them. Especially the lacquer cottage industry is well known and appreciated for their beautiful creations, read more

On top of it the driver usually also functions as a tourist guide showing scenes along the road via a short side trip a foreigner will never see since many of the interesting places are not listed in any guide book. Such a journey is not made every day for many this is a once in a lifetime event.

Marching nuns
Marching nuns
Buddhist nuns, monks and novices are constantly "in the picture" they enrich the colorful countryside and have plenty of other mostly social function. 

Some are not real nuns but they wear the robe because they live in a monastery style environment. People are very poor and many have no place to go, read more.

No easy living
No easy living
There is no easy living in the city unless you have plenty of money the whole infrastructure and living conditions for local people is not good at all since salaries are real low, that means around $ 100,- for a normal job and who can live from that? The top hotels are charging this per night and they make good profit. Nevertheless people come from everywhere because compared to other places in the country even that is better.

This is one of the reasons why there are so many monks and novices since they cant survive otherwise. Monasteries have a high level of social function they look after the people who have no chance including kids and the old, read more.

Bagan Myanmar Pagoda and Temple City
Pagoda and Temple City

This Pagoda & Temple City 

Bagan Golf Hotel
Bagan Golf Hotel
is a must see destination. There are plenty other attractive trip possibilities in the country browse our website to discover them. 

The hotel spectrum is wide, cheap and medium price range plus high end. The main difference with them is do they have a UPS or not since power break downs are still normal every day although the government is working on it to bring a sustainable solution. There are luxury ones, cheap ones, everything is available and some are just beside the Irrawaddy river. To get an idea what's there just have a look the pictures,  read more.

Bupaya Pagoda at the Irrawaddy
The Irrawaddy brings live to Bagan although the water is not intelligently used since this is the dry zone. No need to be dry when such a huge body of water is flowing through.

This only happen when people don't know what they are doing. Anyway make a cruise, it's a great day trip to float along the banks watch how the people live and the glinting monuments in the back, read more.

How to build a Temple
How to build a Temple
Here is a description how to build a temple in the 13th Century, It's also a bit of the philosophy behind, the material used and the environment. 

Understandable only very wealthy people were able to do this and it often went on for many year. Finally so many people very involved in creating this monuments that the whole kingdom declined since they neglected all other activities, read more.

Since there are already enough websites listed at Google who have another tour program, hotel listing and dozens of monuments listed we do it different, we tell you also about the time and how Burma's people lived. Things such as Google are only quantity oriented, we are quality driven, they don't know what that is and that's the reason why you see on their first 3 listing pages just the same stuff.

Why to build a pagoda
Why to build a pagoda
Why build a pagoda? This is somehow a interesting subject worth to look into it. It is similar as to ask this days why someone buys a Mercedes, well, why? Because they want to show their wealth and in the old days this was one of the real reasons why they did it. 

Everyone is telling that was to gain merit, but this is only part of the story, read more.

Mandalay Palace
Mandalay Palace a great piece of handicraft
One of the most important wood structure with carvings is the Mandalay Palace. Despite the important position this construction held not much is known about because of frequent destruction an exception finally but it got a hit from a Japanese bomb during WW2 and completely burned down. 

It took until the end of the 198X to have the palace rebuilt, it’s a very impressive structure everyone can visit there, there are also several teak monasteries in the city, read more.
Lokananda Pagoda
Lokananda Pagoda

Some of the most impressive monuments are the Shwezigon Pagoda and the Ananda Temple. Visiting this places are highlights on every trip to this ancient city.

The Lokananda Pagoda is just beside the Bupaya and it is a interesting place to watch the life on the river, it seems there was no change in the last few hundred years.

Bagan Pagodas and Temples
Pagodas and Temples

Bagan temples and pagodas 

is what most of the visitors come for. The monuments form a surrealistic landscape in the dry and flat area. At sunrise and at sunset great visual impressions are around in particular in

Old Bagan and Irrawaddy
Old Bagan and Irrawaddy

composition with the Irrawaddy or Ayeyarwady river behind. The old inhabitants have set plenty of monuments into the plains. A reason to built them is is a usual way to accumulate merit in the current life to be in a better position in the next life, most people are Buddhist.

Thatbyinnyu Temple
Thatbyinnyu Temple is colossal

Here three versions of Myanmar art come together and form an impressive symbiosis,  this is painting (usually in form of mural or wall paintings), sculptures (usually Buddha related) and architecture (usually temples and pagodas). This is not very visible in the very early period  but from the 12th century onward this arts become more and more inter dependent.

Bagan Mural Paintings Art and Sculptures
Mural Paintings Art and Sculptures

Bagan has a special place in the history of Myanmar; this period was the “Hay Days” of the country by every means and especially in culture and art. 

Religious monuments take various forms and styles,

the monuments withstood monsoon floods and some even earthquake but not many monastic complexes resist the teeth of time, the reason is they were built from wood and fires erased them from time to time. The monuments where made from bricks now those are the remains of the glorious hay days of the city.
Gubyaukgyi Pagoda
Gubyaukgyi Pagoda Perforated Stone Window

Dhammayangyi Monument
Dhammayangyi Monument
Bagan has a special place in the history of Myanmar. This period from the 11th to the 13th century is as chronicles and other sources indicate Myanmar‘s Golden Age. 

This were the "Hay Days" of the ancient country by any means, but especially of culture and art.

One of the architectural masterpieces was the Dhammayangyi Monument a beautiful and massive pyramidal structure.

Myanmar‘s Golden Age
Myanmar‘s Golden Age 
Bagan, where came the name of this powerful empire with a glorious two hundred years long epoch. In the heart of Myanmar at the Irrawaddy, stands a partly ruined city, which is regarded by everyone in the country and elsewhere as one of the wonders of the world. Only English and US politicians always blocked the attempt to declare the city as a cultural heritage by UNESCO, for lousy political reasons since the old and the new colonialists don’t like when the others don’t bow their body to them.

Temples and Pagodas
Temples and Pagodas in the center

This city has long been abandoned as a capital, only the temples and pagodas remained, the place was also called Arimaddhapura or Pukam and was once the center of a huge state whose territory stretched over the borders of today. 

Bagan Monuments
The count of Bagan Monuments is still around 2000

Regarding the extent and size of buildings and monuments brings the city au par with the biggest cities of the Middle Age. The number of buildings were extremely exaggeration in some chronicles is sometimes far, some even write about 5 million temples which is simply impossible the total area of around 40 skm this would allow 8 – 10 sqm for each temple and they would have to build around 50 buildings per day, sometimes they talk about 5000 buildings which is probably also an exaggerated count.

Bagan Temples
Temples are plenty and some look real good

Today according to official figures 2300 monuments are still around in different condition.

 In the 13th Century the number of buildings were probably about 4000, among them stupas and temples, between the 11th and 13th century the main pagoda building period saw both small and gigantic structures. Even today  most  temples still have magnificent mural paintings and Buddha sculptures.

Reclining Buddha Sculpture
Reclining Buddha Sculpture in red color plus gold

How, why and when this unique complex of several thousand buildings come into being? Where people lived, who constructed the temple and prayed in it? What was their everyday life beside of pagoda building? Was there any basic idea of the urban buildings related to the environs   Since plenty of research went into these subjects today we have a good picture of the formation and evolution of the city.

Bagan Chronicles
Bagan Chronicles in the monastery at Saleh

Chronicles date the founding of the city in the year 850, when a ruler had the city encircled with a wall. Since at 832 the Pyu kingdom (today Prome od Pyay) and its capital Thayekhetaya  was destroyed by troops of the northern neighbor Nan Chao which belonged to the Khmer empire.
The town had a square layout and a very favorable position by any means.  The trading road from India to Indochina ran from west to east through the city.

Bagan Road was revived by the British during colonial times as the Ledo Road but abandoned after WW2. Only recently, in 2012, the prime minister of India and the president of Myanmar agreed to open this road again by 2016, which is a Hercules task since around 80 bridges must be rebuilt and the road extended since right now 2012, this is only a better dirt road. 

Stupas in the sun
Stupas in the sun

Irrawaddy River at Bagan
Irrawaddy River boats and Bupaya Pagoda

The Irrawaddy and Chindwin served as a north – south waterway

and natural wall, towards the plains  an approaching enemy could be seen from the 10km Touwa Hills to the south already far away.

The favorable climate in the area allowed growing millet and peanuts, to cultivate palms and rear cattle. There also was plenty of clay around for making bricks used as building material. Teak came down from the north using large rafts, actually many teak trunks were fixed to bamboo rafts since teak without cutting the sap wood and leaving them to dry at location is too heavy to float. 

Monastery made from Teak Wood
Monastery made from Teak Wood

Originally, the city was not a large one, total barely around 1.5skm but the fortification was gigantic. The thickness of the walls reached almost 4m and even 9m high at certain places. Who founded the city, maybe Pyu, maybe Mon or local people nobody know for sure. What is known is at the turn of 10th to the 11th Century it was already in the hands of the Burmese and famous far over the country's borders.

Bagan Monumental Buildings
Monuments with a religious purpose

But until the mid-11th Century the creation of monumental buildings not exceed the construction of fortifications, and pagoda and temple building was rather minor. Around the middle of the 11th century Bagan was an ordinary a feudal city under the protection of brick walls and moat, surrounded by villages with agricultural orientation.

King  Anawrahta
King  Anawrahta making a official tour in the city

The data specified in the chronicles of the kingdom, 1044, fall together with the year of the coronation of King  Anawrahta, who transformation of the small state into a mighty one.

The economic base of the empire were agriculture, domestic as and also by trading with other countries as well. A well-organized system of irrigation whose preservation was one of the main duties of the king in peacetime rendered twice rice crops per year and rice farming was the main crop.

Bago or Pegu
Bago or Pegu is east of Yangon, ideal for a day trip
The wealth of the state and the port cities of Pegu, today Bago, at the Gulf of Martaban and Sittwe at the Gulf of Bengal drove an extensive maritime trade with India and the countries of South and East Asia, the city was in the center of this important trade routes in Indochina. The chronicles say that the residents knew several languages ​​and were known for their courtesy and business capabilities.

All this found its reflection in the cultural development, in a relative short time a Burmese script was created, which has strong similarities to India, a literature arose and achieved a respectable level.

Bagan Empire
The Empire held for quite a long time

In the time of the Bagan Empire Burmese contributed to the grammar of Pali and with comments on Holy Books of Buddhism.

By subjugating other areas wealth grew and the increasing number of prisoners of war, who were used as cheap labor forces increased and made the building boom possible. This reminds me to the building boom at Phuket and other places in southern Thailand which is mainly fueled by workforce from Myanmar, now it’s just the other way around as it was the last three hundred years thanks to lunatic communists and military. The result of such prosperous time is always expressed by art and monumental architecture intimately connected with Buddhism. Today (2014) one more parameter is added and this is nightlife to spend money for pleasure.

Bagan Arts and Crafts
Arts and Crafts, here are wall or mural paintings

The whole arts and crafts of that time

was directly connected with Buddhism all this coincided roughly with the emergence of bigger States around the Ganges river and the victory of the idea of ​​centralism over the fragmentation of a tribal society that had cherished the Brahmanism.

Teaching Buddhism
Teaching Buddhism in a monastery
 It is characteristic of Buddhism of a centralized power as a protection of morals and the ruling elite. The creators of the first centralized Burmese government at Bagan obviously found the usefulness of this and other Buddhist teachings useful to strengthen their political power.  This helped to justify the central kingdom, for example, the raids into southern Mon territory was justified with the desire to come into the possession of sacred Buddhist scriptures, and the claim Kyanzitthas, third king of Pagan to be so because he was selected by Buddha himself.

Buddha Mural Painting
Buddha mural painting

Buddhism in this terms is a correlation with the power of the king and it sanctified the rulers power. According to the doctrine of karma of man's place was in society, his position on the social ladder is completely relative to its conduct in society and due to his good and bad deeds in the previous incarnations. 

Myanmar Buddhism
Buddha depicted in a wall painting

Therefore this can only obtain a person who had distinguished himself in his earlier existences by outstanding justice and virtue. For this reason alone the power and wealth of the king were considered deserved and indisputable. Thus, this has been placed at the service of the new Burmese empire; he united the people under his ideology and strengthened state power - the power of an almighty autocrat, to some degree this is largely a social role.

Myanmar History
History goes back a long way

The history could be divided into three periods,

the first until the 12th Century, Then the time until the start of the 12th Century the first period. It is the time of the Union of Myanmar to integrate the influence of the Mon culture. The second period until the beginning of the last third of the 12th Century was to some degree a "time of troubles" in the history of the kingdom when

Myanmar Histort Rakhine
History seen at Rakhine's Mrauk U

Myanmar History Arakan
At Arakan at Mrauk U

in the  provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim insurrection started and they were cruelly suppressed, raged as bitter power struggle between the King and the political opponents.

King of Bagan
The King at an audience for foreigners

It was also a time of growing wealth at the expense of the conquered provinces, the period of assimilation by the traditions of the Mon-Burmese. Thus, in the late 12th Century the Mon language in literature and epigraphy was completely ousted by the rulers. The third, the Burmese period began by the end of the 12th Century and lasted the entire 13th Century until the fall of the Empire.  It was a time of a relative peaceful development of this feudal state with vast resources of men and material. Particularly intensively developed during this time was building Pagodas and temples.

The Bagan Empire
The empire was not only made from pagodas

They charged the inhabitants of the conquered territories with taxes and duties to invest huge funds in the "faithful" temple and monastery. It is significant that the strengthened country, similar to ancient Rome, had no walls around, with the Romans the exception was the Hadrian Wall in England . In the 11th and 12 to the early 13th Century, it was so powerful that  there was no danger of enemy armies, and it required no defenses. 

Old Bagan and Irrawaddy
Old Bagan and Irrawaddy with big sailing ships

And then, when the decline began, lacked the resources and people for the construction of defensive walls. The first signs of decline were already evident in the first half of the 13th Century. Centrifugal tendencies and separatism of the feudal elite plus a controversy between the king and the clergy began to smash the foundations of the state.

Ananda Temple
The famous Ananda Temple is one of top monuments in the city

Ananda Temple and Shwezigon Pagoda

Shwezigon Pagoda
Shwezigon Pagoda is a splendid monumental impression

are probably the most popular, in appearance they easily can match the pyramid of Egypt, Boroboudor and the temples of the Maya, its a great exotic and monumental Buddhist environment. The monuments are optically very similar to Sukhothai and Ayutthaya in Thailand and a few places in Cambodia, but not Angkor Wat, that's more in the Hindu direction but the area is much bigger, anyway check the pagoda pictures.

The Shwezigon Pagoda is together with the Shwedagon in Yangon the most stunning implementation of a Buddhist shrine in the country. The building is incredibly impressive when you stand in front or looking from the Irrawaddy, its a great exotic and monumental environment read more.

The Shwesandaw Pagoda is another famous in the area, and one of the reason is, the building is perfectly situated to watch the sunset over the plains and the Irrawaddy, it is allowed to climb up the pyramid. Every day dozens of tourist climb up shortly before sunset to watch beautiful tropical colors on the horizon. its a real "eye candy", it needs to come a bit 
more early since the crowd is dense, more.

Earthquakes (a major one every two hundred years) and the monsoon flood, have taken their toll on some of the most important monuments, but many have been restored to their original condition. People are continuously working to renovate more of the most historically important ruins.

Ananda Temple
A other view of the Ananda in the morning

The Ananda Temple is probably the most impressive Buddhist temple structure, its always impressive to see what the people long time ago created without all this technical equipments we are used to work with today, the monument can be seen already from far away.

Ancient Bagan History
Ancient Bagan History

Some Bagan history,

Two thousand pagodas & temples on the Irrawaddy River east side, this old city is a historic treasure. Many years of waste and decay have gone by, still unforgettable views are here. The monuments are spread over around forty square miles on the eastern bank of the Ayeyarwady - river eastwards.

This city was the capital from 1044-1286 A.D. when the empire, so to speak, reached the zenith of its power for the first time. Actually the founding of the city (a group of 19 villages) took place quite early in the dim past (about 107 A.D.), but the illustrious dynasty of temple builders, which made the city strong and famous, started only in 1044 A.D. (i.e. 22 years before the Battle of Hastings in Britain). The story of the city may be told in two parts, before King Anawrahta and after. 

Rome, or any other city, wasn’t built in a day and for this city to come into being, it had taken a long time to receive the tradition and influence of three former dynasties, Tagaung, Thaton and Tharekhittaya. At the start (107 A.D.) at Yone-hut kyun it might just have been a fortress or garrison town.

The founder King Thamodarit, paid tribute to his Pyu descent by giving his fortress city the name Paukkan or Pyu Gama (which simply means a Pyu Village.) In everyday usage, the name changed to Bagan.

Two thousand pagodas & temples beside the Irrawaddy River
Two thousand pagodas & temples beside the Irrawaddy River

History is closely connected with King Anawrahta who made Kyaukse the granary of northern Myanmar. He made administrative reforms, dividing the kingdom into districts and appointing officers to look after all affairs and to collect fair revenue. For security, he established 45 out-posts along the border of his kingdom.

In religion and culture, Anawrahta did not encourage the shabby customs of Aris, nor the popular celebrations of nat-pwe's. He looked for a true faith and, in 1056 A.D.

Anawrahta's Kingdom of Bagan,

emerged, it was this King who made the city breathing and famous. Very important was that Mon craftsmen, artistes and skilled workers numbering about 30,000 were also brought to the city. Anyway, destiny seemed to have sacrificed Thaton for the coming greatness of Bagan and also for the emergence of Myanmar as a leading Buddhist country today. Shin Arahan, the scriptures, Mon craftsmen and Anawrahta, with his people together started building the city.

Anawrahtas Palace
Anawrahtas Palace was a big precinct

During Anawrahta’s reign and after, people became so well-versed in the scriptures that, it is said, even village girls could discuss metaphysics with the learned monks from a
Bagan monastery. 
Then there appeared exceptionally learned persons among the leisurely royal class King Kyaswa, Princess Thanbyin, etc. who held regular classes teaching monks in Pali and Sanskrit texts !

Bagan Myanmar Today
Bagan Myanmar Today, it's dusty and poor

Thus the place of today, with the remaining two thousand monuments, though grand and splendid in old age, is just a skeleton of the great glorious past. 

On certain places it might be useful to hire a local photographer to assist you in finding the right places for pictures taking at the right time.

Myanmar cities used to have at least two names, formal and informal. (Shwebo of the last Konbaung Period had five names.) So, in formal declarations, it was described gradual as Arimaddana Pura, meaning the “City of Conquerors”, and as the name suggested, the first group of kings had quite a hard time just taming and conquering the wild environment.
It is said that from the dense forests around the Irrawaddy River, wild beasts and fabulous birds like rocs harassed the people.

Even wild vegetation of ground bushes overran the paddy fields in the countryside. Brave knights like Pyu Saw Hti (the 3rd, king) appeared to do away with the wild ones. Thus, Hnget-pyit-taung pagoda (where the great roc was shot) and Bit Phaya (where the wild gourd was cleared away) stand Anawrahta’s Kingdom (1044-1298 A.D.)

He was the 42nd. king of the dynasty and he came to the throne in 1044 A.D. He opened the stage of his regency dramatically by fighting and killing his half-brother King Sokkate in single combat.

He was hot-tempered and did many wrongs as a young king. But at heart, he was just and straight-forward, and he tried to repair his wrongs. Anawrahta did many works of public utility, such as repairing Meiktila lake and constructing irrigations and the also the temple building started.

Shin Arahan, known to be a dedicated missionary, came from Thaton. The dedicated monk and the dynamic king met to make the historic changes. Anawrahta became a pure Theravada follower with great zeal. First of all he abolished the Ari gangs, driving some away and forcing most of them to work as lay men.

Manuha Temple Reclining Buddha
Manuha Temple & Reclining Buddha

Then to foster the true religion, he needed Buddhist scriptures. Because King Manuha of Thaton bluntly refused his decent request, Anawrahta made war on Thaton (1057 A.D.) and thus destroyed the Mon dynasty. Thirty-one elephant loads of the scriptures were carried away. Manuha and family were  taken prisoners, after he built the Manuha temple. Even the palace sites of the kings had to change four times, though all were in the same vicinity but all possibly would have never existed without the mighty Irrawaddy River.

Irrawaddy River Bagan & Pagoda
Irrawaddy River Bagan & Pagoda plus small sailing ship

The present site at the Irrawaddy

with walls and Tharaba Gate, was the fourth city built during the reign of King Pyinbyu in 849 A.D. He was the 34th. king of the dynasty and at that time the city had started to prosper having commercial relations with Shan State and Chinese in the east, Assam and Manipur in the west and the land of Pyus and Mons in the south. Bagan as regards religion, people of early times, with some Pyus and other natives of the north mixed up, had diverse interests. Horse-riding Aris (monks) with pugilistic habits and other malpractices had migrated from N.W. India and they gained considerable sway over common people. 

Then during the reign of Thin-ie-kyaung (344-384 A.D.), the 7th. king of the dynasty, Mahagiri Nats came to Mount Popa and nat-worshipping was popular among all classes.

Mount Popa
Mount Popa is the abode of the Nats a interesting day trip destination

The city started to decline before the Mongols came in 1287 because all daily life was dedicated to pagoda building. Since that areas were exempted from taxes income and revenues went down dwindled and weakening the state because not much money left for public service. 

This was only in economic  terms, monument building still went on as ever and also in the same quality, the same aesthetic and quality of craftsmanship, this went on into the mid of the next century. The arrival of the Mongols had no much effect in the lives of locals, the place remained the cultural center for several more hundreds of years until the power shifted north to Ava and Mandalay.

The Mongols

where just ignored and embraced, the exotic Mongol warriors were rather a matter of curiosity but not fiends. When the Mongols came in 1287 the city didn't really “fall” to them, naturally the local regime was politically and economically destabilized, tribute and booty must have been paid but nothing really changed well into the 14th century.

Monastic land ownership still increased and temple and pagoda complexes continued to be built and lavishly decorated. Much has changed until now with this high level of devastation over time and treasure hunting hordes.