Shwedagon Pagoda History

The Shwedagon Pagoda history is associated to a legendary story about journey of two brothers. The tradition reflects the establishment of the Shwedagon, as contained in the Hmannan Mahayazawindawgyi (The Great Glass Palace Chronicle). It was compiled in the early 1830s by a Royal Commission composed of learned monks, brahmins and lay scholars. The tradition is as following:

According to Buddhist history, over 2500 years ago, Prince Siddartha attained Buddha hood after the realization of the “Four Noble Truth” which are:

  1. Life means suffering.
  2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
  3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
  4. The path to the cessation of suffering.

Tapussa and Bhallika, two merchant brothers of Asitanjana in the Mon country went on a journey of trading by ship and 500 carts.

They arrived at where the Lord Buddha sat in the bliss of emancipation under the linlun tree. And it was the 49th day after his Enlightenment and then, the two brothers offered honey cakes to him.

After having eaten the offering, the Lord Buddha was asked for a gift by the two brothers. He passed his hand over his head and obtained 8 hairs to give to the brothers. The sacred hair were eight fingerbreadths long in the Majjhimadesa (Indian) measure.

After that, two brothers start the return trip by carts and ship, carrying the sacred hairs with them in a ruby casket. En route, they met the King of Ajjhatta and requested to give him two of the sacred hairs. Continuing the journey back by trip, they reached Cape Negraisat the southwestern extremity of Myanmar and met a Nage (Serpent) King named Jayasena obtained two more sacred hairs from them and carried them to the Naga country of Bhumintara.

After putting the ruby casket containing the 4 left sacred hairs in a pile of pearls shaped like a pagoda, the two brothers informed the King of Ukkalapa of the matter. The King then came with four arms of war – elephants, horses, chariots and foot soldiers and made a vow of paying reverence by making a clockwise circuit of the pagoda of pearls. Via that, the sacred hairs were restored to number of 8 as origin.

Then, with the King, the two brothers brought the sacred hairs back to to Asitanjana where Sakka, King of Devas and they decided to enshrine the eight sacred hairs on Singuttara Hill to the east of Asitanjana where also were enshrined the relics of the three Buddhas previous to Gotama – the water filter of Kakusandha, the robe of Konagamana and the staff of Kassapa.

The enshrinement took place on the Full-Moon Day of Tabaung, a Wednesday. The King of Devas, the King of Ukkalapa and the two brothers made a relic chamber 44 cubits square and 44 cubits deep. The relic chamber was then filled knee-deep with jewels of all kinds, on which was placed a a jewelled ship, on which was put the relics of the four Buddhas.

A stone slab covered with gold placed over the relic chamber and on it was erected a golden pagoda 44 cubits high. After encased in a silver pagoda, the Shwedagon Pagoda was then encased next in a pagoda of gold and copper alloy, then in bronze pagoda, then in iron pagoda, then in a marble pagoda, and finally in a brick pagoda.

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