No visit to Union of Myanmar is complete without the visit of 2,500 year old Shwedagon Pagoda. If you are lucky enough to be planning a trip to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, then you are very lucky indeed. This is a country rich in culture, history, sacred sights, scenic wonders and personality. You will surely enjoy your travels to this region. Myanmar has been called The Land of Gold, and that is not surprising at all when you consider just how beautifully the city of Yangon sparkles. Giant, golden and glittering pagodas will take your breath away in this friendly city. In the city of Yangon, you will find the beautifully majestic Shwedagon Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda sits upon holy Singuttara Hill.
To understand the reason why this hill is considered so holy, and to grasp the significance of the Shwedagon to Buddhists and to the people of Myanmar, it is important to know both the history and the legends of how it all came to be.
Over 2,500 years ago, there lived a king by the name of Okkalapa. He was ruler of Suvannabhumi and ruled over the Talaings. At this time, Siddharta Guatama was living in northern India. He was still a young man and was not yet recognized as the Buddha.
It was and is believed that a new Buddha, or “Enlightened One”, will come into being once every 5,000 years. At the time of Okkalapa, it had been approximately 5,000 years since the last Buddha, and it was considered time once again.
Singuttara Hill is important because it was the holy resting spot of the relics of three Buddhas. Their relics were enshrined within Singuttara Hill, thus making it a holy place.
But Okkalapa was concerned, as a new Buddha had not come to be known yet, and if it took too long he feared the hill could lose its holiness. He went to the hill to pray and to meditate, unaware of Siddharta Guatama’s coming into enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in northern India at the same time.
According to area legend, he appeared to Okkalapa and told him to be patient, that his wish for the hill would soon be granted.
As Guatama was reaching the end of his 49 days of meditation, he was visited by two brothers. Their names were Tapussa and Bhallika, and they happened to be from Myanmar and were subjects of Okkalapa. These two merchant brothers present Guatama Buddha with a gift of some honey cake, as they recognized him as The Enlightened One.
To express his thanks to them, he pulled out 8 of his hairs off of his head, and gave the hairs to Tapussa and Bhallika. They took the hairs and headed back home.
It was decided that a shrine place should be built on Singuttara Hill to house these newest relics. At the party in their honor, the brothers presented a casket containing the Buddha’s hairs to their king, and he opened it. At that time there were great tremors upon the earth, here was a tumult among men and spirits, rays emitted by the Hairs penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell, the blind beheld objects, the deaf heard sounds, the dumb spoke distinctly, the earth quaked, the winds of the ocean blew, Mount Meru shook, lightning flashed, gems rained down until they were knee deep, all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.
Creation of Pagoda:
A shrine was created on Singuttara Hill to house these 8 miraculous hairs, and the area was deemed sacred. An enormous pagoda was then created atop the hill to house the shrine, and it is considered one of the most sacred places in all of Myanmar. The pagoda itself is a wondrous architectural achievement. The top soars well over 300 ft into the air (approximately 100 meters or more) above the hilltop and can be seen from quite far away. The Shwedagon, which means, loosely translated, “golden hills” is magnificently made out of gold and jewels all over. The umbrella of the Pagoda is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. The top is tipped with 76 carat diamond.