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|Founded||mid-to-late 9th century|
|• Total||104 km2 (40 sq mi)|
|• Religions||Theravada Buddhism|
|Time zone||MST (UTC+6.30)|
|Founded||mid-to-late 9th century|
|• Total||104 km2 (40 sq mi)|
|• Religions||Theravada Buddhism|
|Time zone||MST (UTC+6.30)|
Bagan (Burmese: ပုဂံ; MLCTS: pu.gam, IPA: [bəɡàɴ]; formerly Pagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma (Myanmar). From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
Bagan is the present-day standard Burmese pronunciation of the Burmese word Pugan (ပုဂံ), derived from Old Burmese Pukam (ပုကမ်). Its classical Pali name is Arimaddana-pura (အရိမဒ္ဒနာပူရ, lit. "the City that Tramples on Enemies"). Its other names in Pali are in reference to its extreme dry zone climate: Tattadesa (တတ္တဒေသ, "parched land"), and Tampadipa (တမ္ပဒီပ, "bronzed country"). The Burmese chronicles also report other classical names of Thiri Pyissaya (သီရိပစ္စယာ) and Tampawaddy (တမ္ပဝတီ).
According to the Burmese chronicles, Bagan was founded in the second century CE, and fortified in 849 CE. Mainstream scholarship however holds that Bagan was founded in the mid-to-late 9th century by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Nanzhao Kingdom. It was among several competing Pyu city-states until the late 10th century when the Burman settlement grew in authority and grandeur.
From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. Over the course of 250 years, Bagan's rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3000 monasteries) in an area of 104 square kilometres (40 sq mi) in the Bagan plains. The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur, and became a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies, specializing in Pali scholarship in grammar and philosophical-psychological (abhidhamma) studies as well as works in a variety of languages on prosody, phonology, grammar, astrology, alchemy, medicine, and legal studies. The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon as well as the Khmer Empire.
The culture of Bagan was dominated by religion. The religion of Bagan was fluid, syncretic and by later standards, unorthodox. It was largely a continuation of religious trends in the Pyu era where Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, various Hindu (Saivite, and Vaishana) schools as well as native animist (nat) traditions. While the royal patronage of Theravada Buddhism since the mid-11th century had enabled the Buddhist school to gradually gain primacy, other traditions continued to thrive throughout the Pagan period to degrees later unseen.
The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301). Recent research shows that Mongol armies may not have reached Bagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they inflicted was probably minimal. However, the damage had already been done. The city, once home to some 50,000 to 200,000 people, had been reduced to a small town, never to regain its preeminence. The city formally ceased to be the capital of Burma in December 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom became the new power in Upper Burma.
Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement, and as a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period. A smaller number of "new and impressive" religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century but afterward, new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with less than 200 temples built between the 15th and 20th centuries. The old capital remained a pilgrimage destination but pilgrimage was focused only on "a score or so" most prominent temples out of the thousands such as the Ananda, the Shwezigon, the Sulamani, the Htilominlo, the Dhammayazika, and a few other temples along an ancient road. The rest—thousands of less famous, out-of-the-way temples—fell into disrepair, and most did not survive the test of time.
For the few dozen temples that were regularly patronized, the continued patronage meant regular upkeep as well as architectural additions donated by the devotees. Many temples were repainted with new frescoes on top of their original Pagan era ones, or fitted with new Buddha statutes. Then came a series of state-sponsored "systematic" renovations in the Konbaung period (1752–1885), which by and large were not true to the original designs—some finished with "a rude plastered surface, scratched without taste, art or result". The interiors of some temples were also whitewashed, such as the Thatbyinnyu and the Ananda. Many painted inscriptions and even murals were added in this period.
Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975. The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM in Nyaung-U. The quake damaged many temples, in many cases, such as the Bupaya, severely and irreparably. Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.
Many of these damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government, which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination. However, the restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics are aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles, and used modern materials, and that the government has also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower. Although the government believed that the ancient capital's hundreds of (unrestored) temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city has not been so designated, allegedly mainly on account of the restorations.
Bagan today is a main tourist destination in the country's nascent tourism industry, which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns. The majority of over 300,000 international tourists to the country in 2011 are believed to have also visited Bagan. Several Burmese publications note that the city's small tourism infrastructure will have to expand rapidly even to meet a modest pickup in tourism in the following years.
The Bagan Archaeological Zone, defined as the 13 x 8 km area centered around Old Bagan, consisting of Nyaung U in the north and New Bagan in the south, lies in the vast expanse of plains in Upper Burma on the bend of the Irrawaddy river. It is located 290 kilometres (180 mi) southwest of Mandalay and 700 kilometres (430 mi) north of Yangon. Its coordinates are 21°10' North and 94°52' East.
Bagan lies in the middle of the "dry zone" of Burma, the region roughly between Shwebo in the north and Pyay in the south. Unlike the coastal regions of the country which receive annual monsoon rainfalls exceeding 2500 mm, the dry zone gets little precipitation as it is sheltered from the rain by the Rakhine Yoma mountain range in the west. The average temperatures at Bagan exceed 30°C year round, and over 35°C in summer months of late February to mid May.
|Climate data for Bagan|
|Average high °C (°F)||32|
|Average low °C (°F)||18|
Bagan stands out not only for the sheer number of religious edifices but also for the magnificent architecture of the buildings, and their contribution to Burmese temple design. The Bagan temple falls into one of two broad categories: the stupa-style solid temple and the gu-style (ဂူ) hollow temple.
A stupa, also called a pagoda, is a massive structure, typically with a relic chamber inside. The Bagan stupas or pagodas evolved from earlier Pyu designs, which in turn were based on the stupa designs of the Andhra region, particularly Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda in present-day southeastern India, and to a smaller extent to Ceylon. The Bagan-era stupas in turn were the prototypes for later Burmese stupas in terms of symbolism, form and design, building techniques and even materials.
Originally, an Indian/Ceylonese stupa had a hemispheric body (Pali: anda, "the egg") on which a rectangular box surrounded by a stone balustrade (harmika) was set. Extending up from the top of the stupa was a shaft supporting several ceremonial umbrellas. The stupa is a representation of the Buddhist cosmos: its shape symbolizes Mount Meru while the umbrella mounted on the brickwork represents the world's axis. The brickwork pediment was often covered in stucco and decorated in relief. Pairs or series of ogres as guardian figures ('bilu') were a favourite theme in the Bagan period.
The original Indic design was gradually modified first by the Pyu, and then by Burmans at Bagan where the stupa gradually developed a longer, cylindrical form. The earliest Bagan stupas such as the Bupaya (c. 9th century) were the direct descendants of the Pyu style at Sri Ksetra. By the 11th century, the stupa had developed into a more bell-shaped form in which the parasols morphed into a series of increasingly smaller rings placed on one top of the other, rising to a point. On top the rings, the new design replaced the harmika with a lotus bud. The lotus bud design then evolved into the "banana bud", which forms the extended apex of most Burmese pagodas. Three or four rectangular terraces served as the base for a pagoda, often with a gallery of terra-cotta tiles depicting Buddhist jataka stories. The Shwezigon Pagoda and the Shwesandaw Pagoda are the earliest examples of this type. Examples of the trend toward a more bell-shaped design gradually gained primacy as seen in the Dhammayazika Pagoda (late 12th century) and the Mingalazedi Pagoda (late 13th century).
In contrast to the stupas, the hollow gu-style temple is a structure used for meditation, devotional worship of the Buddha and other Buddhist rituals. The gu temples come in two basic styles: "one-face" design and "four-face" design—essentially one main entrance and four main entrances. Other styles such as five-face and hybrids also exist. The one-face style grew out of 2nd century Beikthano, and the four-face out of 7th century Sri Ksetra. The temples, whose main features were the pointed arches and the vaulted chamber, became larger and grander in the Bagan period.
Although the Burmese temple designs evolved from Indic, Pyu (and possibly Mon) styles, the techniques of vaulting seem to have developed in Bagan itself. The earliest vaulted temples in Bagan date to the 11th century while the vaulting did not become widespread in India until the late 12th century. The masonry of the buildings shows "an astonishing degree of perfection", where many of the immense structures survived the 1975 earthquake more or less intact. (Unfortunately, the vaulting techniques of the Bagan era were lost in the later periods. Only much smaller gu style temples were built after Bagan. In the 18th century, for example, King Bodawpaya attempted to build the Mingun Pagoda, in the form of spacious vaulted chambered temple but failed as craftsmen and masons of the later era had lost the knowledge of vaulting and keystone arching to reproduce the spacious interior space of the Bagan hollow temples.)
Another architectural innovation originated in Bagan is the Buddhist temple with a pentagonal floor plan. This design grew out of hybrid (between one-face and four-face designs) designs. The idea was to include the veneration of the Maitreya Buddha, the future and fifth Buddha of this era, in addition to the four who had already appeared. The Dhammayazika and the Ngamyethna Pagoda are examples of the pentagonal design.
|Ananda Temple||1105||King Kyansittha||One of the most famous temples in Bagan|
|Bupaya Pagoda||c. 850||King Pyusawhti||In Pyu style; original 9th century pagoda destroyed by the 1975 earthquake; completely rebuilt, now gilded|
|Dhammayangyi Temple||1167–1170||King Narathu||Largest of all temples in Bagan|
|Dhammayazika Pagoda||1196–1198||King Sithu II|
|Gawdawpalin Temple||c. 1211–1235||King Sithu II and King Htilominlo|
|Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-in)||Early 13th Century||King Kyansittha|
|Gubyaukgyi Temple (Myinkaba)||1113||Prince Yazakumar|
|Htilominlo Temple||1218||King Htilominlo||Three stories and 46 meters tall|
|Lawkananda Pagoda||c. 1044–1077||King Anawrahta|
|Mahabodhi Temple||c. 1218||King Htilominlo||Smaller replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya|
|Manuha Temple||1067||King Manuha|
|Mingalazedi Pagoda||1268–1274||King Narathihapate|
|Myazedi inscription||1112||Prince Yazakumar||"Rosetta Stone of Burma" with inscriptions in four languages: Pyu, Old Mon, Old Burmese and Pali|
|Nanpaya Temple||c. 1160–1170||Hindu temple in Mon style; believed to be either Manuha's old residence or built on the site|
|Nathlaung Kyaung Temple||c. 1044–1077||Hindu temple|
|Payathonzu Temple||c. 1200||in Mahayana and Tantric-styles|
|Seinnyet Nyima Pagaoda and Seinnyet Ama Pagoda||c. 11th century|
|Shwegugyi Temple||1131||King Sithu I||Sithu I was assassinated here; known for its arched windows|
|Shwesandaw Pagoda||c. 1070||King Anawrahta|
|Shwezigon Pagoda||1102||King Anawrahta and King Kyansittha|
|Sulamani Temple||1183||King Sithu II|
|Tharabha Gate||c. 1020||King Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu and King Kyiso||The only remaining part of the old walls; radiocarbon dated to c. 1020|
|Thatbyinnyu Temple||c. 1150||Sithu I||At 61 meters, the tallest temple in Bagan|
Bagan is accessible by car, bus, rail, riverboat, and air.
Most international tourists fly to the city. The Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the Bagan region. Several domestic airlines have regular flights to Yangon, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. It takes about 20 minutes by car from the airport to Bagan.
The city is on a spur from the Yangon-Mandalay rail line. Myanmar Railways operates a train service between Bagan and Yangon, and Bagan and Mandalay.
Overnight buses and cars also operate from/to Yangon and Mandalay.
An 'express' ferry service runs between Bagan and Mandalay. Following the Irrawaddy river the fastest ferry takes from around 10 hours. The service may run daily in peak periods and slower sailings with overnight stops are also available.
Bagan's economy is based mainly on tourism. Because of boycotts against the previous military government, the Bagan region's tourism infrastructure is still quite modest by international standards. The city has a few international standard hotels and many family-run guesthouses. Bagan is also the center of Burmese lacquerware industry, which to a large degree depends on tourist demand. Much of the lacquerware is destined for souvenir shops in Yangon, and to the world markets. Moreover, the lacquerware-making process itself has become a tourist draw.
The population of Bagan in its heyday is estimated anywhere between 50,000 to 200,000 people. Until the advent of tourism industry in the 1990s, only a few villagers lived in Old Bagan. The rise of tourism has attracted a sizable population to the area. Because Old Bagan is now off limits to permanent dwellings, much of the population reside in either New Bagan, south of Old Bagan, or Nyaung-U, north of Old Bagan. The majority of native residents are Burmans.
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bagan.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bagan.|
Rao, V.K. 2013. The Terracotta Plaques of Pagan: Indian Influence and Burmese Innovations.Ancient Asia 4:7, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/aa.12310
No national capital
|Capital of Burma|
23 December 849 – 17 December 1297
Myinsaing, Mekkhaya, Pinle