Architecture, Religious


Architecture, Religious
   The most striking feature of the human landscape in both urban and rural Burma is the abundance of religious buildings, which reflects the importance of Buddhism in Burmese life. Although some of these structures, such as the monuments at Sri Ksetra (Thayakhittaya) and Pagan (Bagan), are very old, construction and renovation of religious buildings continue to be major activities today. Indeed, investment of scarce resources in such projects has increased since the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) assumed power in 1988.
   Generally speaking, religious architecture in Burma includes three types of structures: pagodas, temples (pahto), and monastery buildings (kyaung). The pagoda contains a chamber housing relics associated with Gotama Buddha and is surmounted by a stupa, or spire, often with a hti ("umbrella") at its apex. Most pagodas are solid structures, but some, such as the Botataung and Maha Vizaya Pagodas in Rangoon (Yangon), are hollow. The platforms of major pagodas, such as the Shwe Dagon, are filled with elaborate and impressive shrines, pavilions, and tazaung (devotional halls), funded by prominent donors. Covered stairways with shop arcades often lead to the pagoda platform. Many of these adjacent buildings are adorned with elaborate tiered roofs, known as pyat-that, which vary in number but are always uneven.
   Pahto, of which the most important examples are found at Pagan, are hollow and built to resemble caves, containing one or more Buddha images. Within their dark interiors, the atmosphere is not unlike early Romanesque churches. Pagodas and pahto are generally built of brick or stone, and there are regional variations in design, for example, among those found at Pagan, Lower Burma (including Rangoon, Pegu [Bago] and Prome [Pyay]), Shan State, and Arakan (Rakhine) State. Huge statues of the Reclining Buddha represent a special category of religious site, the most prominent of which are the Shwethalyaung in Pegu and the Chaukhtatgyi in Rangoon. In Burmese, pagodas, pahto, and Buddha images are frequently referred to as paya.
   Monasteries, where members of the Sangha live and carry out their religious devotions, traditionally were made of wood. Among the best remaining examples of this type are the Shwenandaw Monastery in Mandalay and the Bagaya Monastery in Ava (Inwa). During the British colonial period, Western design was often incorporated in wooden or masonry monastery buildings and thein (ordination halls), good examples of which can be found in Rangoon and Sagaing. The Kaba Aye Pagoda, constructed in Rangoon by the government of U Nu in 1952, employs rather modern motifs.
   After 1988, the SLORC (after 1997 known as the State Peace and Development Council) sponsored a large number of religious building projects, including the Buddha Tooth Relic Pagoda, Theravada Buddhist International Missionary University, and White Stone Buddha complex in the northern part of Rangoon. It has also carried out renovation of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, particularly replacement of the hti in 1999. Smaller pagodas, monasteries, and other religious buildings have also been constructed by private persons with state encouragement. The new structures often incorporate traditional design with modern construction methods and materials.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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