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Temples in Bagan
Temples in Bagan
Bagan is located in Myanmar
Location of Bagan, Burma
Country Burma
Region Mandalay Region
Founded mid-to-late 9th century
 • Total 104 km2 (40 sq mi)
 • Ethnicities Bamar
 • Religions Theravada Buddhism
Time zone MST (UTC+6.30)

Bagan (Burmese: ပုဂံ; MLCTS: pu.gam, IPA: ; formerly Pagan) is an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma (Myanmar). From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom's height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.

The Bagan Archaeological Zone is a main draw for the country's nascent tourism industry. It is seen by many as equal in attraction to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.[1]


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • 9th to 13th centuries 2.1
    • 14th to 19th centuries 2.2
    • 20th century to present 2.3
  • Geography 3
    • Climate 3.1
  • Cityscape 4
    • Architecture 4.1
      • Stupas 4.1.1
      • Hollow temples 4.1.2
      • Innovations 4.1.3
    • Notable cultural sites 4.2
    • Museums 4.3
  • Transport 5
    • Air 5.1
    • Rail 5.2
    • Buses and cars 5.3
    • Boat 5.4
  • Economy 6
  • Demographics 7
  • Administration 8
  • Sister cities 9
  • Gallery 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Bagan is the present-day standard Burmese pronunciation of the Burmese word Pugan (ပုဂံ), derived from Old Burmese Pukam (ပုကမ်). Its classical Pali name is Arimaddana-pura (အရိမဒ္ဒနာပူရ, lit. "the City that Tramples on Enemies"). Its other names in Pali are in reference to its extreme dry zone climate: Tattadesa (တတ္တဒေသ, "parched land"), and Tampadipa (တမ္ပဒီပ, "bronzed country").[2] The Burmese chronicles also report other classical names of Thiri Pyissaya (သီရိပစ္စယာ) and Tampawaddy (တမ္ပဝတီ).[3]


9th to 13th centuries

Bagan's prosperous economy built over 10,000 temples between the 11th and 13th centuries.
Pagan Empire c. 1210

According to the Burmese chronicles, Bagan was founded in the second century CE, and fortified in 849 CE by King Pyinbya, 34th successor of the founder of early Bagan.[4] Mainstream scholarship however holds that Bagan was founded in the mid-to-late 9th century by the Mranma (Burmans), who had recently entered the Irrawaddy valley from the Nanzhao Kingdom. It was among several competing Pyu city-states until the late 10th century when the Burman settlement grew in authority and grandeur.[5]

From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire. Over the course of 250 years, Bagan's rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3000 monasteries)[6] in an area of 104 square kilometres (40 sq mi) in the Bagan plains. The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur, and became a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies, specializing in Pali scholarship in grammar and philosophical-psychological (abhidhamma) studies as well as works in a variety of languages on prosody, phonology, grammar, astrology, alchemy, medicine, and legal studies.[7] The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon as well as the Khmer Empire.

The culture of Bagan was dominated by religion. The religion of Bagan was fluid, syncretic and by later standards, unorthodox. It was largely a continuation of religious trends in the Pyu era where Theravada Buddhism co-existed with Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, various Hindu (Saivite, and Vaishana) schools as well as native animist (nat) traditions. While the royal patronage of Theravada Buddhism since the mid-11th century had enabled the Buddhist school to gradually gain primacy, other traditions continued to thrive throughout the Pagan period to degrees later unseen.[7]

The Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301). Recent research shows that Mongol armies may not have reached Bagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they inflicted was probably minimal.[8] However, the damage had already been done. The city, once home to some 50,000 to 200,000 people, had been reduced to a small town, never to regain its preeminence. The city formally ceased to be the capital of Burma in December 1297 when the Myinsaing Kingdom became the new power in Upper Burma.[9][10]

14th to 19th centuries

A hot-air balloon flying over a pagoda in Bagan

Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement,[11] and as a pilgrimage destination throughout the imperial period. A smaller number of "new and impressive" religious monuments still went up to the mid-15th century but afterward, new temple constructions slowed to a trickle with fewer than 200 temples built between the 15th and 20th centuries.[6] The old capital remained a pilgrimage destination but pilgrimage was focused only on "a score or so" most prominent temples out of the thousands such as the Ananda, the Shwezigon, the Sulamani, the Htilominlo, the Dhammayazika, and a few other temples along an ancient road. The rest—thousands of less famous, out-of-the-way temples—fell into disrepair, and most did not survive the test of time.[6]

For the few dozen temples that were regularly patronized, the continued patronage meant regular upkeep as well as architectural additions donated by the devotees. Many temples were repainted with new frescoes on top of their original Pagan era ones, or fitted with new Buddha statutes. Then came a series of state-sponsored "systematic" renovations in the Konbaung period (1752–1885), which by and large were not true to the original designs—some finished with "a rude plastered surface, scratched without taste, art or result". The interiors of some temples were also whitewashed, such as the Thatbyinnyu and the Ananda. Many painted inscriptions and even murals were added in this period.[12]

20th century to present

The original Bupaya seen here in 1868 was completely destroyed by the 1975 earthquake. A new pagoda in the original shape, but gilded, has been rebuilt.

Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between 1904 and 1975.[13] The last major earthquake came on 8 July 1975, reaching 8 MM in Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM in Nyaung-U.[14] The quake damaged many temples, in many cases, such as the Bupaya, severely and irreparably. Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.[15]

Many of these damaged pagodas underwent restorations in the 1990s by the military government, which sought to make Bagan an international tourist destination. However, the restoration efforts instead drew widespread condemnation from art historians and preservationists worldwide. Critics are aghast that the restorations paid little attention to original architectural styles, and used modern materials, and that the government has also established a golf course, a paved highway, and built a 61-meter (200-foot) watchtower. Although the government believed that the ancient capital's hundreds of (unrestored) temples and large corpus of stone inscriptions were more than sufficient to win the designation of UNESCO World Heritage Site,[16] the city has not been so designated, allegedly mainly on account of the restorations.[17]

Bagan today is a main tourist destination in the country's nascent tourism industry, which has long been the target of various boycott campaigns. The majority of over 300,000 international tourists to the country in 2011 are believed to have also visited Bagan. Several Burmese publications note that the city's small tourism infrastructure will have to expand rapidly even to meet a modest pickup in tourism in the following years.

There is a well-known saying of Myanmar people : "If you are a real Myanmar, you must have been to Bagan." Bagan is spirit of history of Myanmar.


Map of the Bagan area showing the locations of the temples, hotels and transportation hubs

The Bagan Archaeological Zone, defined as the 13 x 8 km area centered around Old Bagan, consisting of Nyaung U in the north and New Bagan in the south,[16] lies in the vast expanse of plains in Upper Burma on the bend of the Irrawaddy river. It is located 290 kilometres (180 mi) southwest of Mandalay and 700 kilometres (430 mi) north of Yangon. Its coordinates are 21°10' North and 94°52' East.


Bagan lies in the middle of the "dry zone" of Burma, the region roughly between Shwebo in the north and Pyay in the south. Unlike the coastal regions of the country which receive annual monsoon rainfalls exceeding 2500 mm, the dry zone gets little precipitation as it is sheltered from the rain by the Rakhine Yoma mountain range in the west.

Available online climate sources report Bagan climate quite differently.

Climate data for Bagan
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 32
Average low °C (°F) 18
Climate data for Bagan
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 25
Average low °C (°F) 13
Average rainfall mm (inches) 0
Average rainy days 1 3 1 3 7 6 7 10 8 8 3 2 59


Panorama of Bagan as seen from the Minyeingon Temple: The Thatbyinnyu on the left and the Dhammayangyi in distant on the right
Bagan Plains with the Dhammayangyi on the left
Bagan Plains with the Irrawaddy in the background
Bagan Plains, as seen from across the Irrawaddy river.


Bagan stands out for not only the sheer number of religious edifices of Myanmar but also the magnificent architecture of the buildings, and their contribution to Burmese temple design. The artistry of the architecture of pagodas in Bagan prove the achievement of Myanmar craftsmen in handicrafts. The Bagan temple falls into one of two broad categories: the stupa-style solid temple and the gu-style (ဂူ) hollow temple.


Evolution of the Burmese stupa: Bawbawgyi Pagoda (7th century Sri Ksetra)
Bupaya (pre-11th century)
The Lawkananda (pre-11th century)
The Shwezigon (11th century)
The Dhammayazika (12th century)
The Mingalazedi (13th century)

A stupa, also called a pagoda, is a massive structure, typically with a relic chamber inside. The Bagan stupas or pagodas evolved from earlier Pyu designs, which in turn were based on the stupa designs of the Andhra region, particularly Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda in present-day southeastern India, and to a smaller extent to Ceylon.[20] The Bagan-era stupas in turn were the prototypes for later Burmese stupas in terms of symbolism, form and design, building techniques and even materials.[21]

Originally, an Indian/Ceylonese stupa had a hemispheric body (Pali: anda, "the egg") on which a rectangular box surrounded by a stone balustrade (harmika) was set. Extending up from the top of the stupa was a shaft supporting several ceremonial umbrellas. The stupa is a representation of the Buddhist cosmos: its shape symbolizes Mount Meru while the umbrella mounted on the brickwork represents the world's axis.[22] The brickwork pediment was often covered in stucco and decorated in relief. Pairs or series of ogres as guardian figures ('bilu') were a favourite theme in the Bagan period.[23]

The original Indic design was gradually modified first by the Pyu, and then by Burmans at Bagan where the stupa gradually developed a longer, cylindrical form. The earliest Bagan stupas such as the Bupaya (c. 9th century) were the direct descendants of the Pyu style at Sri Ksetra. By the 11th century, the stupa had developed into a more bell-shaped form in which the parasols morphed into a series of increasingly smaller rings placed on one top of the other, rising to a point. On top the rings, the new design replaced the harmika with a lotus bud. The lotus bud design then evolved into the "banana bud", which forms the extended apex of most Burmese pagodas. Three or four rectangular terraces served as the base for a pagoda, often with a gallery of terra-cotta tiles depicting Buddhist jataka stories. The Shwezigon Pagoda and the Shwesandaw Pagoda are the earliest examples of this type.[22] Examples of the trend toward a more bell-shaped design gradually gained primacy as seen in the Dhammayazika Pagoda (late 12th century) and the Mingalazedi Pagoda (late 13th century).[24]

Hollow temples

"One-face"-style Gawdawpalin Temple (left) and "four-face" Dhammayangyi Temple

In contrast to the stupas, the hollow gu-style temple is a structure used for meditation, devotional worship of the Buddha and other Buddhist rituals. The gu temples come in two basic styles: "one-face" design and "four-face" design—essentially one main entrance and four main entrances. Other styles such as five-face and hybrids also exist. The one-face style grew out of 2nd century Beikthano, and the four-face out of 7th century Sri Ksetra. The temples, whose main features were the pointed arches and the vaulted chamber, became larger and grander in the Bagan period.[25]


Although the Burmese temple designs evolved from Indic, Pyu (and possibly Mon) styles, the techniques of vaulting seem to have developed in Bagan itself. The earliest vaulted temples in Bagan date to the 11th century, while the vaulting did not become widespread in India until the late 12th century. The masonry of the buildings shows "an astonishing degree of perfection", where many of the immense structures survived the 1975 earthquake more or less intact.[22] (Unfortunately, the vaulting techniques of the Bagan era were lost in the later periods. Only much smaller gu style temples were built after Bagan. In the 18th century, for example, King Bodawpaya attempted to build the Mingun Pagoda, in the form of spacious vaulted chambered temple but failed as craftsmen and masons of the later era had lost the knowledge of vaulting and keystone arching to reproduce the spacious interior space of the Bagan hollow temples.[21])

Another architectural innovation originated in Bagan is the Buddhist temple with a pentagonal floor plan. This design grew out of hybrid (between one-face and four-face designs) designs. The idea was to include the veneration of the Maitreya Buddha, the future and fifth Buddha of this era, in addition to the four who had already appeared. The Dhammayazika and the Ngamyethna Pagoda are examples of the pentagonal design.[22]

Notable cultural sites

Bagan at dawn
Bagan at sunrise
Name Picture Built Sponsor(s) Notes
Ananda Temple 1105 King Kyansittha One of the most famous temples in Bagan
Bupaya Pagoda c. 850 King Pyusawhti In Pyu style; original 9th century pagoda destroyed by the 1975 earthquake; completely rebuilt, now gilded
Dhammayangyi Temple 1167–1170 King Narathu Largest of all temples in Bagan
Dhammayazika Pagoda 1196–1198 King Sithu II
Gawdawpalin Temple c. 1211–1235 King Sithu II and King Htilominlo
Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-in) Early 13th Century King Kyansittha
Gubyaukgyi Temple (Myinkaba) 1113 Prince Yazakumar
Htilominlo Temple 1218 King Htilominlo Three stories and 46 meters tall
Lawkananda Pagoda c. 1044–1077 King Anawrahta
Mahabodhi Temple c. 1218 King Htilominlo Smaller replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya
Manuha Temple 1067 King Manuha
Mingalazedi Pagoda 1268–1274 King Narathihapate
Minyeingon Temple
Myazedi inscription 1112 Prince Yazakumar "Rosetta Stone of Burma" with inscriptions in four languages: Pyu, Old Mon, Old Burmese and Pali
Nanpaya Temple c. 1160–1170 Hindu temple in Mon style; believed to be either Manuha's old residence or built on the site
Nathlaung Kyaung Temple c. 1044–1077 Hindu temple
Payathonzu Temple c. 1200 in Mahayana and Tantric-styles
Seinnyet Nyima Pagaoda and Seinnyet Ama Pagoda c. 11th century
Shwegugyi Temple 1131 King Sithu I Sithu I was assassinated here; known for its arched windows
Shwesandaw Pagoda c. 1070 King Anawrahta
Shwezigon Pagoda 1102 King Anawrahta and King Kyansittha
Sulamani Temple 1183 King Sithu II
Tharabha Gate c. 1020 King Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu and King Kyiso The only remaining part of the old walls; radiocarbon dated to c. 1020[26]
Thatbyinnyu Temple c. 1150 Sithu I At 61 meters, the tallest temple in Bagan
Tuywindaung Pagoda Anawrahta


Old palace site in Old Bagan. A new completely conjectural palace has been reconstructed since 2003.
  • The Bagan Archaeological Museum: The only museum in the Bagan Archaeological Zone, itself a field museum a millennium old. The three-story museum houses a number of rare Bagan period objects including the original Myazedi inscriptions, the Rosetta stone of Burma.
  • Anawrahta's Palace: It was rebuilt in 2003 based on the extant foundations at the old palace site.[27] But the palace above the foundation is completely conjectural.


Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the Bagan region

Bagan is accessible by air, rail, bus, car and river boat.


Most international tourists fly to the city. The Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the Bagan region. Several domestic airlines have regular flights to Yangon which take about 80 minutes to cover the 600 kilometres. Flights to Mandalay take approximately 30 minutes and to Heho about 40 minutes.[28] The airport is located on the outskirts of Nyaung U and it takes about 20 minutes by taxi to reach Bagan.


The city is on a spur from the Yangon-Mandalay rail line. Myanmar Railways operates a daily overnight train service each way between Yangon and Bagan (Train Nos 61 & 62) which takes at least 18 hours. The trains have a sleeper car and also 1st Class and Ordinary Class seating.[29] Between Mandalay and Bagan there are two daily services each way (Train Nos 117,118,119 & 120) which take at least 8 hours. The trains have 1st Class and Ordinary Class seating.[30]

Buses and cars

Overnight buses and cars also operate to and from Yangon and Mandalay taking approximately 9 and 6 hours respectively.[28]


An 'express' ferry service runs between Bagan and Mandalay. Following the Irrawaddy river the fastest ferry takes around 9 hours to travel the 170 kilometres. The service runs daily during peak periods and slower sailings with overnight stops are also available.


Workers at a lacquerware factory

Bagan's economy is based mainly on tourism. Because of boycotts against the previous military government, the Bagan region's tourism infrastructure is still quite modest by international standards. The city has a few international standard hotels and many family-run guesthouses. Bagan is also the center of Burmese lacquerware industry, which to a large degree depends on tourist demand. Much of the lacquerware is destined for souvenir shops in Yangon, and to the world markets. Moreover, the lacquerware-making process itself has become a tourist draw.


The population of Bagan in its heyday is estimated anywhere between 50,000[31] to 200,000 people.[32] Until the advent of tourism industry in the 1990s, only a few villagers lived in Old Bagan. The rise of tourism has attracted a sizable population to the area. Because Old Bagan is now off limits to permanent dwellings, much of the population reside in either New Bagan, south of Old Bagan, or Nyaung-U, north of Old Bagan. The majority of native residents are Burmans.


The Bagan archaeological zone is part of Nyaung-U District, Mandalay Region.

Sister cities



  1. ^ Business: The promise—and the pitfalls
  2. ^ Than Tun 1964: 117–118
  3. ^ Maha Yazawin Vol. 1 2006: 139–141
  4. ^ Harvey 1925: 18
  5. ^ Lieberman 2003: 90–91
  6. ^ a b c Stadtner 2011: 216
  7. ^ a b Lieberman 2003: 115–116
  8. ^ Lieberman 2003: 119–120
  9. ^ Htin Aung 1967: 74
  10. ^ Than Tun 1959: 119–120
  11. ^ Aung-Thwin 1985: 196–197
  12. ^ Stadtner 2011: 217
  13. ^ Unesco 1976: ix
  14. ^ Ishizawa and Kono 1989: 114
  15. ^ Köllner, Bruns 1998: 117
  16. ^ a b Unesco 1996
  17. ^ Tourtellot 2004
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 26–31
  21. ^ a b Aung-Thwin 2005: 233–235
  22. ^ a b c d Köllner, Bruns 1998: 118–120
  23. ^
  24. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 210–213
  25. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 224–225
  26. ^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 38
  27. ^ Ministry of Culture
  28. ^ a b [1] Bagan flight information
  29. ^ [2] Yangon to Bagan train information
  30. ^ [3] Mandalay to Bagan train information
  31. ^ Harvey 1925: 78
  32. ^ Köllner, Bruns 1998: 115
  33. ^ a b Pan Eiswe Star and Soe Than Linn 2010


  • Rao, Vinay Kumar. “Buddhist Art of Pagan, 2 Vols.” Published by Agam Kala Publications, New Delhi, 2011. ISBN 978-81-7320-116–5.

External links

  • Bagan in Photos
  • Pictorial Guide to Pagan. 2nd ed. Rangoon: Ministry of Culture, 1975.
  • Pagan - Art and Architecture of Old Burma Paul Strachan 1989, Kiscadale, Arran, Scotland.
  • Glimpses of Glorious Pagan Department of History, University of Rangoon, The Universities Press 1986.
  • Bagan Map. DPS Online Maps.
  • Myanmar (Burma) - Photo Gallery
  • Bagan Travel Guide
  • All about Bagan (english version)
  • All about Bagan (spanish version)
  • All about Bagan (mobile version)
  • Free travel images of Bagan
  • The Life of the Buddha in 80 Scenes, Ananda Temple Charles Duroiselle, Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report, Delhi, 1913–14
  • The Art and Culture of Burma - the Pagan Period Dr. Richard M. Cooler, Northern Illinois University
  • Asian Historical Architecture: Bagan Prof. Robert D. Fiala, Concordia University, Nebraska
  • Buddhist Architecture at Bagan Bob Hudson, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Photographs of temples and paintings of Bagan Part 1 and Part 2
  • Bagan moving postcards
Preceded by
No national capital
Capital of Burma
23 December 849 – 17 December 1297
Succeeded by
Myinsaing, Mekkhaya, Pinle

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