As a World Heritage Site, Bagan, an Archaeological zone in Myanmar, is inscribed by UNESCO during the 43th session of the world Heritage Committee held from 30 June to 10 July in Baku, Arzerbaijan. Bagan is famous not only in Myanmar, but also in the world. Although is Bagan is a historic place which was the seat of the first Myanmar Kingdom, its history is shrouded with the fables. But its ancient pagodas stand witness to its historical importance.
Lying on the east bank of Ayeyawady River, the area of Bagan today’s is 13 kilometres long and six kilometers wide. According the saying, which goes, “Hle-win-yoe-than Ta-nyan-nyan” (the sound of rolling bullock-carts), the area had 4446 pagodas.
Bagan had 4474 pagodas, according the census collected during the reign of King Moehnyin of Inva period in 1427-1480, and 4445 pagodas according to the list recorded in possibly during the Konbound period.
But the survey conducted by the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library showed that the area had 2217 pagodas. Another list compiled by Pierre Pichard, a French architect, with the assistance of the UNICEF, during the years between 1982 and 1991, the number was 2834. Another census was conducted in the area after Bagan was hit by a strong earthquake on 24 August 2016. It showed that Bagan had 3822 religious buildings including the rebuilt structures that were excavated in 1997-98, and the structures still lying beneath the mounds.
Generally, religious structures of various types are divided into temples, which house a large interior space, and stupas, which are solid structures. Most of the temples including the Gawdawpalin were built by kings.
Gawdawpalin Temple, with its mysterious background stories, is located in the southwest of Old Bagan and north of Bagan Archaeology Museum. Of the ancient Bagan pagodas, Dhammayangyi is the largest, Thatbyinnyu is the tallest, and Ananda is the most beautiful.
Gawdawpalin was built by Narapati Sithu, a grandson of King Alaung Sithu, in AD 1175. According to a fable, King Alaung Sithu lost vision as he affronted his ancestors as the persons whose power was less than him. The king regained vision when he made statues of his ancestors, placed them on a throne, and asked pardon. According to the traditional belief, his grandson, Narapati Sithu, built a pagoda on the spot where the throne was placed, and the pagoda got it’s name “Gawdawpalin”. It is said that Shinpyintlin (Pagoda No. 1635) in the north of Gawdawpalin was built on the spot where King Alaung Sithu regain his sight.
Another version is that Gawdawpalin got its name from the two statues of — Gawda and Hawdaw — situated in the left and right sides at the frontage of the temple.
The temple has other stories and one of them says like this. When King Narapati Sithu ordered people to build Gawdawpalin, a monk by the name Pant-thagu, appeared and blocked the project. So the king expelled the monk. But when Pant-thagu was planning to leave Bagan for Sri Lanka, the king visited him and made an apology. The King then built the temple at the place where he paid respect and made apology to the monk.
According to the book on the historical pagodas of Bagan, Narapati Sithu died before he could finish the temple. So, his son took over the job and completed it on 26 (Friday) March 1227.
Gawdawpalin is a large temple, whose structure resembles that of Sulamuni and Htilominlo pagodas. First, Gawdawpalin was designated as three-storey temple. But the earthquake in 1975 exposed a secret corridor-like space. So, Gawdawpalin is a four-storey temple.
Gawdawpalin is counted as one of the largest pagodas of Bagan. The four-storey temple features the late style. It is square in plan with porticoes on all four sides but the eastern portico projecting further than the others. In the ground storey, images of the Buddha are mounted among four sides of a vaulted corridor running around a central block.
This site houses four Buddha images on the upper storey and 10 Buddha images in the ground floor. A stone image of sitting Buddha in a house is placed at the north-east corner of the brick platform. It is an original artwork. Due to lime wash by the devotees of later period frescoes are faintly visible. While there an octagonal pagoda with two bell posts at the south-east corner of the precinct, at the north-east corner is a zedi of later period.
In plan the temple is somewhat similar to the Thatbyinnyu-cube-shaped, with Buddha images on the four sides of the ground floor, with several refinements. It features the use of full pediments over the windows and stairways that ascend through the walls rather than from within the central cubes. The top of the restored sikhara, which toppled off in the earthquake, reaches 55 metres in height. Gawdawpalin is considered the crowning achievement of the Late Bagan period.
Built by the two successive kings, Gawdawpalin showcases the largest number of artistic artifacts of Bagan period. The architectural design of the 12th century temple was so splendid. The temple has an excellent lighting and ventilation system provided by its 32 portals. It has double ornamental backdrops, pagoda-shaped ornamental backdrops and ornamental backdrops portraying the tongue of fire. The temple was built with bricks each measuring 43 centimetres in length, 22 centimetres in width and six centimetres in thickness. Gadawtpalin is the most beautiful square-based temple in Bagan. Eighty per cent of the original works of the pyramidal spire remained till the pagoda was hit by an earthquake in 1975.
The standard of the method in bricklaying and bricking of the temple was high. Some of the remaining terracotta plaque at the walls can be seen till now. Between the decorated bars and ornamental motif in stucco depicting an ogre clutching a garland with both hands are ovolo mouldings. The halls of the temple are underpinned by stone columns. The backdrops of the Buddha statues portrayed the Bo Tree and the Throne and the temple houses and the Buddha statues, with the hand touching the ground. Most the murals on the walls of the chambers where Buddha images are placed were destroyed. Decorated stands are placed in the respective places to offer meals, flowers, water. Texts for swearing in are placed on some of the decorated stands.
Except from Thatbyinnyu, most of the temples including Gadawtpalin in Bagan have four Buddha images each on the first and second floors. (Thatbyinnyu has only one Buddha statue on the upper floor). The temple is surrounded by square-shaped double fence. The outer fence has on one archway each on all its four directions. Each archway has a pagoda on it. As the original doors are no more, they are now replaced with iron doors.
The inner fence is built with a row of three feet five inches high brick pillars. In the southeast corner of the compound are a Bagan-period pagoda and two poles to support a bell. The southeast corner houses a pagoda that was built after the Bagan period.
Many pagodas were damaged by the earthquake that hit Bagan on 8 July 1975, and Gawdawpalin was one among them. All the damaged parts were rebuilt in accord with the original style. Relics found during the time were enshrined in the Pagoda.
Of the eight pagodas built by King Narapati Sithu, Sulamuni, Dhammayazaka and Gawdawpalin were the most famous. Of the pagodas built by his son, King Nardaungphya, Htilominlo, Mahabodi, Setanagyi and Gawdawpalin were most splendid.
The 800-year old Gawdawpalin still stands as the religious edifice with the excellent architectural designs and is a must-visit pagoda of Bagan. Translated by Tin Maung Than