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Pagoda Gold

MYANMAR | Tuesday, 26 May 2015 | Views [212] | Scholarship Entry

The Shwedagon Pagoda demands your attention as soon as you arrive in Yangon. Its dazzling brilliance radiates the sun’s rays across the city, giving an impression that the hill it sits upon is ablaze in a massive bonfire. At night seemingly the entire city’s power is redirected to the large banks of spotlights that flank its sides, providing a stark contrast to the sleeping, dimly lit Yangon below. Criss-crossing the city on our journeys around Yangon and beyond it drew us ever closer, until it was our turn to make our way up the dark but lively entrance hall ascending the stairs to the gilt covered pagoda.
Emerging onto the base and outer path the light was blinding. The suns intensity magnifies off the gilded tiles onto the hordes of shoe-less pilgrims and tourists below. Heads are bowed, due to reverence or the glare I will never know. Dressed in their best outfits visitors pose in group photos or the ubiquitous selfie. Two senior auburn-robed monks record their pilgrimage on an iPad. Children burst forth, and a game of catch ensues just out of their parent’s reach. Young girls chat conspiratorial taking side-way glances at the boys. Adults escaping the heat and sun sit cross-legged in shaded areas off to the side. Others in prayer kneel on the path with legs to one side, oblivious to the crowd stepping over them. Small pagodas and stupas housing various deities provide a multitude of prayer opportunities.
Young monks move along a waist height wall encircling the Pagoda base filling thousands of small oil lamps in preparation for pilgrims to light. Stepping aside I escape the crowd finding a space to sit and absorb the atmosphere. Immediately I am impressed with the number of monks surrounding me meditating alone or chatting quietly in small groups. A voice beckons me querying my origin, predicating a conversation on our respective views on religion and spirituality. A sense of lightness flows over me. Voices seem to come from a distance. Time and place dissolves. Was it five, ten or thirty minutes? Slowly I re-join family, friends and the crowds.
Oil lamps are lit and flames flicker in the warm afternoon breeze. Two monks appear up high on the pagoda as it turns orange in the dimming light. They comb the lower tiers in search of precious stones fallen from the jewel encrusted crown above them. Finished for the day they help each other clamber down, as the golden bonfire returns to the city skyline keeping its watch over Yangon for another night.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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