Monday, April 29, 2013

Shoes off at Pagodas Parade

bamboo shoots
Take off your shoes. This is Buddha territory.
Bagan, Myanmar, must be the cathedral for all Buddhas. With over 3000 pagodas in 40 square miles, there are so many relics buried here (of course one rarely sees the relics no matter what religion, so it is a “faith-based” concept) that holiness flies through the air on what little breeze there is. There are also “nats” or spirits which are in you and on you to make life good or bad, and there are even holy fish which flop up on the beach, an event much revered by villagers who stuff the fish’s mouth with rice and press gold leaf on his fins and some kind soul pours water on him to keep it alive until it flops back into the sea none the worse for wear. However, woe to him who eats one of these unnamed sea creatures. Life will be negative.

3 types of eggplant
Primarily Bagan, where 55 kings are said to have ruled,  is the hottest and most humid place in which I’ve stepped. And as you meander through pagoda after pagoda, temple after temple, and oogle at the 3 stories high statues of every kind of Buddha in  bronze and gold, your shoeless feet are on fire and your head swirls with sweat.  I finally bought a much needed paper parasol (it’s cooler than silk) and became a whiz at getting through the required paths and tributes so I could dash back to the air conditioned car. 

rub this on your cheek
We departed Yangon for Bagan at 7 a.m. on a Yangon Airlines prop flight with a logo on the side saying ”You are safe with us” in English. Now that made me wonder. Going through the old timey airport was like days of yore in Africa and South America. Check in. Don’t need ID. one old fashioned Xray for the bags and everyone lines up when the flight is called. It’s a good thing the guide was going with us (Bagan is his home) because the announcement was a one shot deal and in the Burmese language. It’s a challenge in the Southeast Asian countries. Each country not only has a different language and monetary set up but each one has a different alphabet with not one recognizable letter. I try to learn to say hello, goodbye and thank you, but all the Bagan  kids and young girls who come up to beg for you to buy their wares have a vocabulary of English responses like “buy this, I give you good price.” “see you later”,“I’ll be back,” good ole tourist cons. And they can do it in various languages, it seems.

Buying a longhee
Bagan is a dusty, dry country town where motorcycle is the mode again.  Market prices are much cheaper than other areas because the Burmese natives here are agrarian and bring their produce from the fields close-by. Hot off the airplane, we went at the early hour to the real market. The selection of vegetables, greens, fish, and clothing on sale was fascinating: orange bamboo shoot, three kinds of eggplant, gourds, more garlic and shallot than a ton of gravel, tamarind leaf and bark, thanaka logs, strange green herbs, bright green tumeric leaf, manioc root, Toddy palm sugar from the Toddy palm tree, strange bitter cucumbers, beetel nuts (even the royalty chewed this bitter seed often mixed with other ingredients to give it a flavor) and more baby potatoes than rice. 
Giant Parasol on the way

 I was quickly accessed by a pair of women with the butter colored thanaka paste on their cheeks and a blue silk longhee held out to wrap me in. In ten seconds they had me dressed as a local, and believe you me, every person not foreign wears the longhee wrap skirt, man (wears cotton) , woman (wears silk), or child (same). It’s really quite appealing. Hard to turn down such confidence. Buy from one, however, and a war happens as everyone has a bargain and are sure you will crack and buy another. Finally we pushed our way out and began the day in Bagan by stopping at the enormous one to two story hotel flowing through flowering trees and small temples on the Ayeyarwaddy River bluffs.

As we drive through the ancient Tharaba Gate 849 A.D.with a “nat” spirit on each side, a brother and sister, and dedicated to Min Maha Giri, I discover that inside this gate remnant and wall all residencies had been removed for historical reconstruction needs. Now there are only four large tourist hotels nestled inconspicuously along the dusty dirt road and river. My guide’s family was one of the 6000 who were abruptly relocated - given two weeks to get out - and were placed south of Bagan near a fancy pagoda. He showed us the tree that was once in his yard. Most houses in this town are made of bamboo with thatched roofs and boats are teak wood. There is a private mansion a few yards down from my hotel, built on the river bluffs that speaks of a Bel Air magnate - huge gray concrete with green reflecting windows and more room than a Hilton. It is owned by the brother of the deeply loved political leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Shwezigon Pagoda 

Buddha at Ananda Temple
In the ancient Mon city, about the time William the Conquer was doing his feats, the first King Thamudarit established the first Bagan Dynasty about 1044 A.D. A monk named Shin Arahan came to Bagan to establish Theravada Buddhism which royalty also followed. Soon devotees were building the biggest concentration of religious structures in Burma (Myanmar). A pagoda was the best - a solid building with religious artifacts of the Buddha buried inside. A temple is a structure with an inner hall where Buddha images are kept and pilgrims can worship in its halls. The belief was to pay such tribute to Buddha earned any man merit toward Nirvana and inscriptions are on stone slabs at all the monuments mentioning who the donor was and how generous. (Reminds me of the Renaissance commissions by artists to donate to the churches for a ticket to heaven.)  These plaques also records that all farms, rice paddies and people left donations for the continual upkeep of these devotions so that their deeds could survive the 5000 years of the Buddhist Era. Building a pagoda is the highest form of merit so there are various sizes of pagodas all over Bagan. And in these worship tributes are not so much paintings and stories but huge statues of Buddha in gold. 

On the Ayeyarwaddy River
Ananda Temple
Since the people of Myanmar are Therevada Buddhist, they follow exactly the teachings of their god, as do those in Thailand and Sri Lanka.  Tantric Buddhists thrive in Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal. Mayayana Buddhist are softer, not as strict, and thrive in China and Korea.  At the Ananda Temple, a 9.5 meters high Kassapa Buddha was crafted so the facial expression changes as you move from side to side - from smiling to stern; This Buddha has a cape like outfit. Shwezigon is the golden pagoda here as well as in Yangon and contains relics - Buddha’s collar bone, frontal head bone and one tooth.
Mahbodhi temple is Hindu and is decorated in pyramid type layers with 465 sitting and standing Buddhas. Htilominlo - two story red brick temple built 1211 - contains four giant gold buddhas, each facing a cardinal direction . Two are originals, two have been replaced. There are Gothic style arches here too. The comparisons to the huge brick temples at My Son in Vietnam come to fore. In Bagan it’s more then number of the spires that cover the landscape that you can see, one right after another, some much taller than others. 

I couldn’t sweat any longer and after a stop at the parasol factory (umbrellas are a part of one’s wardrobe here to protect from the heat), we had a quick trip on a boat down the Ayeyarwaddy River, with a rain storm looming - it never showed up - and a private show of amazing Burmese puppetry (the normal kind) dressed in elaborate costumes while I munched on butter fish and the Bagan style spring roll. 
It’s good to have a foot massage at the end of the day to wipe off whatever attached itself to one’s feet in their nude moments, and maybe a moment to remove what attached to my spirit through meditation. Foot massages are good for whatever reason.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bagan,no doubt, is an interesting place, but sounds like you endured heat and other hardships to go there. Remember, next year you have to go to some exotic,luxury resort where you can be pampered every day.
Your blogs are so detailed and full of unbelievable information. You should write a book about your amazing adventure.
We'll be glad when you are home. Miss you!
Geraldean and Judge
P.S. It is 62 degrees and a beautiful day in Memphis. Supposed to be cooler this weekend.