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This complete guide to temples of Bagan is the result of my recent backpacking trip. In-fact, I backpacked through Myanmar and as a part of it made a trip to Bagan. When I arrived I was really confused about which temples to visit as there are hundreds of them spread across a vast area. Hoping that this backpackers guide to Bagan will help you find the famous temples and pagodas that you must see in Bagan.
Built in 1105 Ananda is the no. 1 temple in whole of Bagan and is fondly known as Westminster Abbey of Myanmar. Unlike most of the other Bagan Temples, Ananda temple is in top shape and is very popular among the devotees. The temple is particularly known for the standing Buddha statues facing the four directions. The architecture of the temple displays characteristics typical of Indian and Mon styles.
While you are inside the temple don’t miss out on the buddha statues made up of teak wood decorated and elegantly with gold leaf.
2. Thatbyinnyu Temple
Towering over 60 meters (200 feet) is the magnificent Thatbyinnyu Temple, with the distinction of being the tallest in Bagan. The temple was constructed in 1144 by then King Alaungsithu. Thatbyinnyu is located close to Ananda temple and the visit to the two can be combined. The temple however remains closed currently.
3. Shwesandaw Temple
The Shwesandaw temple was built by King Anawratha in the year 1057. The beautifully carved temple is constructed in a pyramidal shape with five terraces and cylindrical stupa at the top. A set of steep steps take you to the upper tiers, the temple is particularly popular spot for sunset as the observer gets a sweeping view over the surrounding thousand odd temples and the meandering river. This white washed temple was built to house the hair relic of Buddha.
4. Sulamani Pahto
Sulamani temple was built in the year 1183 under the reign of the King Narapatisithu
On the first glance you will find similarities between Sulamani and the Thatbyinnyu Temple, it is so as both of the temples follow more or less the same design.
The interior of the temple is known to hold precious frescoes detailing the life of Buddha. The temple suffered heavy damages in the 1975 earthquake and was much later rebuilt and reopened in 1994.
The temple is also popular among tourist for sunrise and sunset views.
5. Shwezigon Pagoda
Shwezigon temple, one of the oldest pagodas in Bagan, dates back to A.D 1076, built under the reign of King Anawrahta. The temple is very close to the town of old bagan and hence very easy to get to.
The temple is a shrine to hold the replica (one of the four in Myanmar) of the Buddha tooth in Kandy.
I admit I skipped the tooth temple in Kandy due to very high entrance fees. In-fact most of the attractions in Sri Lanka has a high entrance fees, on the brighter side if you are from one of the SAARC countries (e.g. India) you will get a good discount.
As the legend goes, if you visit all four of the temples housing tooth replicas in a day, you’ll be blessed with immense luck and perpetual prosperity.
The gold colored pagoda towers atop three terraces. The bell shape of the pagoda top has become a virtual blueprint for pagodas all over the country.
Equally fascinating are the 550 Jatakas painted on the pagoda walls which depict the scenes from Buddha’s lives across his many births.
Other interesting feature to note is the statue of the Hindu god Indra. It shouldn’t come as surprise as you across South East Asia you’ll see Buddhism has adopted many gods from the Sanatan Dharm.
6. Dhammayan Gyi Pagoda
Close to the Shwesandaw Pagoda lies the beautiful Dhammayan Gyi Pagoda. The pagoda was built by King Narathu somewhere in the late 12th century, to atone for the killing of his father and brother. The king killed them to seize the throne, and as the fate had it he lasted only for four years before he was assassinated by Indians. Guess that karma finally caught up with him.
For some unknown reason the the inside of the temple isn’t accessible, as it is completely blocked with a brick wall.
7. Nathlaung Kyaung
Nathlaung Kyaung is perhaps the oldest temple in Bagan, interestingly it’s not a Buddhist temple but a Hindu temple. It also makes one to raise a question whether Bagan was a Hindu site originally?
The temple is dedicated to Hindu god Vishnu, of the statues of the ten avatars that were once placed around the wall, seven of them can still be seen today.
The temple was built by King Taungthugyi somewhere in the year 931 A.D, almost 100 years before the arrival of Theravada Buddhism in Bagan. The temple has a very interesting backstory, Nathlaung Kyaung actually means a shrine which confines Nats(spirits).
Before Buddhism came to Bagan, Burmese followed different religions worshipping Nats along with Hinduism. Interestingly, the name Burma came from Brahma Desha, Brahma is one of the Gods of Hindu trinity.
The temple get its name from the time when King Anawratha wanted to put an end to Nat worship. He ordered to ‘confine’ all non-Buddhist deities, including the images of Nats and Hindu Gods, and placed them in the shrine. The temple is located very close to Thatbyinnyu, a visit can easily combine the two.
Complete in 1231, under the rule of King Htilominlo has a towering presence among the Bagan temples. Htilominlo temple is built with red brick and is primarily known for its plaster moldings. Also, check beautiful murals which has suffered damages but can some of it can still be admired for the imagery of Buddhism.