• dhamma@shwedagonpagoda.nl

History of the Pagoda in modern times

From its foundation up to 1377 nothing is known of the Pagoda. After the collapse of the Bagan Kingdom in 1287 the Mon-speaking kingdom named Rama├▒├▒adesa was established. From 1330 it became an independent state called Hanthawaddy and covered the Irrawaddy Delta, Bago (formerly known as Pegu) and Mottama. The Mon were  one of the earliest peoples to live in South East Asia and were responsible for the spread of Theravada, the pristine form of Buddhism.

In the year 1377 king Byinyadaw of Hanthawaddy found the Pagoda in a dilapidated condition and repaired it. Unfortunately 45 years later the Hti (Umbrella) fell down.  In 1427 king Byinmyahyankhaik had it replaced by a new one and initiated a brick and mortar casing to the Pagoda. In 1444 his successor, king Byanmyataroh, continued his work and completed it in 1447.

A remarkable contribution was made by queen Shinsawbu between 1455 and 1462 as she raised its height to 129 feet and gave her weight in gold for a new Hti. Thus she initiated the gift of gold and gold leaf to the Pagoda! She also levelled and partially paved the platform and built walls around it. In 1469 her son-in-law and successor, king Dhammaceti, cast a 300 ton bell and made several small bells and paved the whole platform with stone slabs.

The Hti fell down again in 1508 and was subsequently repaired by king Hatirayah.

The earthquake of 1526 damaged the Pagoda and was repaired by king Ateitawrazah. Another earthquake in 1564 caused severe damage. Under the royal patronage of king Sinbyumyashin the Pagoda was again repaired and enlarged.

In 1608 the Portuguese adventurer Philip de Brito Nicote, known as Nya Zinka, plundered the Pagoda. His men took the 300 ton Great Bell of Dhammazedi with the intention to melt it down to make cannons, but the bell fell into the river during transportation and has never been recovered.

In 1769 a part of the Pagoda fell down. Fortunately the Hti remained undamaged. The king of Ava Sinbyushin visited the Pagoda shortly after that. He not only repaired it, he also raised the Pagoda to its present height. In 1774 he removed the Mon Hti and replaced it by a new one in the present day Myanmar style. It is said that the original 600 silver bells (some of them weighing up to 17,5 pounds!), 20 of pinchbeck and 15 of gold were re-used. One of the original gold bells was 6 pounds in weight with a golden leaf attached to the tongue, just as we can still see in the modern style.

Moreover he covered the whole Pagoda with gold leaf, equal to his weight, 77,5 kg.

As the annual tropical rains are another danger for the Pagoda has been regilded regularly from 1817 up till the present day.

In 1888, October 8th, another earthquake caused the vane to fall down. Although the precious stones were all recovered the Trustees of the Pagoda decided to put up a new one, more valuable that the fallen one. From then on more and more pavilions were built on the platform.

At the beginning of this century, the Hti was repaired, replacing the iron rods by stainless steel to secure the stability. Every couple of years the whole Pagoda is wrapped in bamboo around scaffolding in order to re-gild the outer slabs of the Pagoda. The present height of the Pagoda is around 110 meters. Though it is the second-largest it is the most important and revered Pagoda in Myanmar.