When people get ready to head to Yangon (or Rangoon, depending on who you ask) the first thing they add to their itenerary is Shwedagon Pagoda.
Shwdegon Pagoda is the first pagoda in the known history of Buddhism. After two merchants from Okkalapa (current day Yangon) became the first followers of Guatama Buddha shortly after his enlightenment, they returned home and built this shining golden pagoda which quickly became one of the most important centres for Buddhism.
With the sun setting on it, the main spire looked absolutely stunning. To add to my enjoyment of basking in the golden glow, I made friends with yet another monk who showed me pictures of his travels through Thailand and Angkor Wat in Cambodia and tried to continue my Thai lessons by attempting to teach me the alphabet. (Ugggh 32 vowels… NEVER going to happen!)
Throughout the most visited middle level there is an abundance of pagodas, stupas, shrines, pavilions, Buddha’s and bells all the way around the towering middle stupa.
The importance of this pagoda quickly became apparent during my visit as many families were initiating their sons into Buddhism, with Community Shinpyu Ceremonies, which requires an elaborate procession around the central pagoda, complete with prayers and offerings to Buddha. Because of the expense required in the preparation of this initiation the family often will initiate all their sons at once. The boys were carried on shoulders by family members and done up in the most ornate gowns, make-up and jewellery, with the entire family done up in their most special finery and carrying donations for monks at the temple.
While we were in Burma, we saw this happening in most cities. In Mandalay we watched and listened as families crammed into songthaews and pick-up trucks blaring music with their children sitting on chairs in the back under golden umbrellas, prince for a day. In Nyaung U, we watched as young boys were paraded down the road on a horse and friends and family danced down the street in front and behind them.