The Shwei Dagon Pagoda at Rangoon
Based on a sketch by Captain H. Q. Robley, of the 91st (Argyleshire) Highlanders
Source: Illustrated London News
“A curious ceremony of the Buddhist religion was performed, two months ago, at Rangoon, the capital of Pegu and British Burmah. Close to the city of Rangoon is a magnificent religious edifice, the Shwei Dagon Pagoda, erected more than 400 years ago by the followers of Buddha. It is higher than St Paul's (image), and is covered from top to bottom with gold leaf.” [continued below]
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The top is surmounted by an umbrella-shaped framework of iron, called the Htee, which is covered with gold leaf and gold plates, and decorated with jewels. This Htee is, of oourse, an ornament of very costly manufacture; but the action of the elements gradually destroys it, and it has to be renewed at long intervals of time. The usual signs of decay had been showing themselves of late years, and it had become a difficult question how to renew the Htee. There is a superstitions but deeply rooted feeling amongst the people that this can only be done by the ruling Power.
The present King of Ava, or Independent Burmah, eager to extend his influence in British Burmah, seised the opportunity, and offered to plaoe a new ornament on the pagoda at his own expense. Hence arose a dilemma. If the British Government allowed the King of Burmah to crown the edifice, the religious prejudices of the people would be aroused, and bloodshed might ensue ; but our Government itself could not undertake the work. A happy expedient was hit upon. The King of Burmah was permitted to construct the ornament, on condition that when oompleted it should be made over to the British Government for disposal in suoh way as they might consider advisable. The King, after some demur, agreed to the proposal, and the Htee was accordingly forwarded to Rangoon. It was conveyed down the river Irrawaddy, from Mandalay, under the charge of a Burmese Minister of State, with other high officials, and a hundred followers. The British Chief Commissioner at Rangoon, Mr. Ashley Eden, gave them a courteous reception at Government House. The Htee was safely landed from the barge which had brought it to Rangoon, and was formally consigned to a deputation of the Buddhist citizens there.
It is a round framework tower of seven different terraces, each one of diminished diameter as it approaches the top. Above all is the umbrella ornament, surmounted by a metal flag of gold and jewels. The various sections of the tower are made of iron bands covered with thin gold plating. The interlacings of the bands are covered with gold plates set with jewels, while at several corners streamers of talc and other nondescript ornaments float in the air. The golden flag which is to be fixed on the summit is studded with many really valuable rubies, pearls, emeralds, and diamonds, some of which were contributed by the Queens of Ava. The height of the Htee is 35 ft. The road from the river bank to the Pagoda was laid with white cloths, and the precious burden was carried along with great care, followed by a crowd of people from all quarters, carrying flags and banners. The whole formed, it is said, one of the best managed and prettiest processions that have been seen in the East for many years past The number of spectators could not have been far short of one hundred thousand. Each of the seven portions that compose the Htee had its own group of singers and dancers, and was carried along with banners and tall white umbrellas sparkling in the sunshine. The sight wss splendid. The upper portions of the Htee were bright with pictures and golden ornaments; while the seven terraces, each like a vast golden circular basket, three or four feet in height, sparkled with gold and jewels. All the people danced and shouted; and in some of the larger pieces of the tower four boys were placed, to represent the gods of the four quarters of the universe, who were supposed to exult in the passage of the Htee. Heavy as were these great pieces of framework, they were not drawn on wheels, bat were borne by the people themselves — one piece alone needing two hundred men and women to carry it. Long bamboos were placed beneath each pieoe, and crowds flocked to support the bamboos and their golden burden. The whole performance was successfully executed, and the Htee was triumphantly erected upon the summit of the Shwei Dagon Pagoda.
We have to thank Captain H. Q. Robley, of the 91st (Argyleshire) Highlanders, for a sketch of this pagoda, which forms the subject of one of our Engravings. The pagoda is built on a site rendered sacred by the interment of some of the hairs of Gotama Buddha, or Sakya Muni, the princely anchorite and prophet of Bengal, who is worshipped as a Divine personage. The first thing that strikes the visitor on landing at Rangoon is its golden dome. In what age this pagoda was built, with its long cloistered entrance covered with pictures of the adventures of Buddha, in his endless transmigrations, and its surrounding chapels with huge statues of Gotama, is a question that defies the antiquary. In all probability it is a growth, like the great Temple of Vulcan at Memphis. King after King of the old dynasty of Pegu no doubt gave something in turn—either a great statue of Gotama, or a big bell, or a new Htee; or some portion of the edifioe was built, repaired, painted, or gilded, according to ciroumstanoes. The last time a new Htee was put up it is said to have been about a century ago, in the reign of Alompra, the founder of the present dynasty of the Kings of Ava, or perhaps by one of his immediate successors.
“The Shwei Dagon Pagoda 60 (6 January 1872): 20-21. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 15 December 2015.
Last modified 15 December 2015