Bagan (Burmese: ပုဂံ; MLCTS: pu.gam, IPA: [bəɡàɴ];
formerly Pagan) is an ancient city located in the
Mandalay Region of
Myanmar. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of
the Pagan Kingdom, the first kingdom that unified 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 2,200 temples and pagodas still survive to
the present day.
Bagan Archaeological Zone is a main attraction for the country's
nascent tourism industry. It is seen by many as equal in attraction to
Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
2.1 9th to 13th centuries
2.2 14th to 19th centuries
2.3 20th century to present
4.1.2 Hollow temples
4.2 Notable cultural sites
5.3 Buses and cars
9 Sister cities
13 External links
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"). The Burmese
chronicles also report other classical names of Thiri Pyissaya
(သီရိပစ္စယာ) and Tampawaddy
9th to 13th centuries
Main articles: Early
Pagan Kingdom and Pagan Kingdom
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 AD, and fortified in 849 AD by King Pyinbya, 34th successor of
the founder of early Bagan. Mainstream scholarship however holds
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
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) 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. The city attracted monks and students from as far as
Sri Lanka and 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.
Pagan Empire collapsed in 1287 due to repeated Mongol invasions
(1277–1301). Recent research shows that Mongol armies may not have
Bagan itself, and that even if they did, the damage they
inflicted was probably minimal. 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
Myinsaing Kingdom became the new power in Upper Burma.
14th to 19th centuries
A hot-air balloon flying over a pagoda in Bagan
Bagan survived into the 15th century as a human settlement, 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. 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
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.
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
Bagan, located in an active earthquake zone, had suffered from many
earthquakes over the ages, with over 400 recorded earthquakes between
1904 and 1975. A major earthquake occurred on 8 July 1975,
reaching 8 MM in
Bagan and Myinkaba, and 7 MM in Nyaung-U. The
quake damaged many temples, in many cases, such as the Bupaya,
severely and irreparably. Today, 2229 temples and pagodas remain.
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, the city has not been so designated, allegedly mainly on
account of the restorations.
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.[citation
needed] 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.
On 24 August 2016, a major earthquake hit central Burma and again did
major damage in Bagan; this time almost 400 temples were destroyed.
The Sulamani and Myauk Guni (North Guni) were severely damaged. The
Bagan Archaeological Department has started a survey and
reconstruction effort with the help of
UNESCO experts. Visitors are
prohibited from entering 33 damaged temples.
Map of the
Bagan area showing the locations of the temples, hotels and
Bagan Archaeological Zone, defined as the 13 x 8 km area
centred around Old Bagan, consisting of
Nyaung U in the north and New
Bagan in the south, lies in the vast expanse of plains in Upper
Burma on the bend of the Irrawaddy river. It is located 290 kilometres
(180 mi) south-west 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
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
Available online climate sources report
Bagan climate quite
Climate data for Bagan
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Climate data for Bagan
Average high °C (°F)
Average low °C (°F)
Average rainfall mm (inches)
Average rainy days
Bagan as seen from the Minyeingon Temple: The Thatbyinnyu
on the left and the Dhammayangyi in the distance 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
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 proves 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)
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
present-day south-eastern India, and to a smaller extent to
Ceylon. 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.
Evolution of the Burmese stupa
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)
Ceremonial umbrellas at a
Originally, a 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. 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
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. 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).
Gawdawpalin Temple (left) and "four-face"
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
Although the Burmese temple designs evolved from Indic, Pyu (and
possibly Mon) styles, the techniques of vaulting seem to have
Bagan itself. The earliest vaulted temples in
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.
(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.)
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
Notable cultural sites
Bagan at dawn
Bagan at sunrise
One of the most famous temples in Bagan
In Pyu style; original 9th century pagoda destroyed by the 1975
earthquake; completely rebuilt, now gilded
Largest of all temples in Bagan
King Sithu II
King Sithu II and King Htilominlo
Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyi-in)
Early 13th Century
Gubyaukgyi Temple (Myinkaba)
Three stories and 46 meters tall
Smaller replica of the
Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya
"Rosetta Stone of Burma" with inscriptions in four languages: Pyu, Old
Old Burmese and Pali
Hindu temple in Mon style; believed to be either Manuha's old
residence or built on the site
Nathlaung Kyaung Temple
in Mahayana and Tantric-styles
Seinnyet Nyima Pagaoda and Seinnyet Ama Pagoda
c. 11th century
King Sithu I
Sithu I was assassinated here; known for its arched windows
Anawrahta and King Kyansittha
King Sithu II
Kunhsaw Kyaunghpyu and King Kyiso
The only remaining part of the old walls; radiocarbon dated to c.
At 61 meters, the tallest temple in Bagan
Old palace site in Old Bagan. A new completely conjectural palace has
been reconstructed since 2003.
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
Anawrahta's Palace: It was rebuilt in 2003 based on the extant
foundations at the old palace site. But the palace above the
foundation is completely conjectural.
Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the
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
Heho about 40 minutes. The airport is located on the outskirts
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
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. Between
Bagan there are two daily
services each way (Train Nos 117,118,119 & 120) that take at least
8 hours. The trains have 1st Class and Ordinary Class seating.
Buses and cars
Overnight buses and cars also operate to and from
Yangon and Mandalay
taking approximately 9 and 6 hours respectively.
An 'express' ferry service runs between
Bagan and Mandalay. Following
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
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
The population of
Bagan in its heyday is estimated anywhere between
50,000 to 200,000 people. 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 Bamar.
Bagan archaeological zone is part of
Nyaung-U District, Mandalay
Luang Prabang, Laos
Siem Reap, Cambodia
As seen from the Nanmyint Viewing Tower
Aerial views from a hot air balloon
Bagan Plains at sunset
Doorway to a temple
One of the main four Buddha statutes inside the Ananda
A hallway inside the Ananda
Inside the Htilominlo
Frescoes inside the Sulamani
Frescoes inside a temple
Buddha statutes inside the Dhammayangyi
Business: The promise—and the pitfalls
^ Than Tun 1964: 117–118
Maha Yazawin Vol. 1 2006: 139–141
^ Harvey 1925: 18
^ Lieberman 2003: 90–91
^ a b c Stadtner 2011: 216
^ a b Lieberman 2003: 115–116
^ Lieberman 2003: 119–120
^ Htin Aung 1967: 74
^ Than Tun 1959: 119–120
^ Aung-Thwin 1985: 196–197
^ Stadtner 2011: 217
^ Unesco 1976: ix
^ Ishizawa and Kono 1989: 114
^ Köllner, Bruns 1998: 117
^ a b Unesco 1996
^ Tourtellot 2004
^ "Weather for Bagan". www.holidaycheck.com. Archived from the
original on 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
^ "Weather for Bagan". http://www.worldweatheronline.com. Retrieved
2014-04-13. External link in publisher= (help)
^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 26–31
^ a b Aung-Thwin 2005: 233–235
^ a b c d Köllner, Bruns 1998: 118–120
^ Falconer, J.; Moore, E.; Tettoni, L. I. (2000). Burmese design and
architecture. Hong Kong: Periplus. ISBN 9625938826. CS1
maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 210–213
^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 224–225
^ Aung-Thwin 2005: 38
^ Ministry of Culture
Bagan flight information
Bagan train information
Bagan train information
Bagan bus information
^ Harvey 1925: 78
^ Köllner, Bruns 1998: 115
^ a b Pan Eiswe Star and Soe Than Linn 2010
Aung-Thwin, Michael (1985). Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma.
Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-0960-2.
Aung-Thwin, Michael (2005). The mists of Rāmañña: The Legend that
was Lower Burma (illustrated ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i
Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2886-8.
Ministry of Culture, Union of
Myanmar (2009). "Royal Palaces in
Myanmar". Ministry of Culture. Archived from the original on
2012-08-03. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
Harvey, G. E. (1925). History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10
March 1824. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.
Htin Aung, Maung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London:
Cambridge University Press.
Ishizawa, Yoshiaki; Yasushi Kono (1989). Study on Pagan: research
report. Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University.
Kala, U (1724).
Maha Yazawin (in Burmese). 1–3 (2006, 4th printing
ed.). Yangon: Ya-Pyei Publishing.
Köllner, Helmut; Axel Bruns (1998).
Myanmar (Burma) (illustrated
ed.). Hunter Publishing. p. 255.
Lieberman, Victor B. (2003). Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in
Global Context, c. 800–1830, volume 1, Integration on the Mainland.
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80496-7.
Pan Eiswe Star; Soe Than Linn (2010-02-10). "Archaeologists to assist
Cambodia excavations". The
Myanmar Times. 26 (509).
Royal Historical Commission of Burma (1832).
Hmannan Yazawin (in
Burmese). 1–3 (2003 ed.). Yangon: Ministry of Information,
Rao, V.K. (2013). "The Terracotta Plaques of Pagan: Indian Influence
and Burmese Innovations". Ancient Asia. 4: 7.
Rao, Vinay Kumar. “Buddhist Art of Pagan, 2 Vols.” Published by
Agam Kala Publications, New Delhi, 2011. ISBN 978-81-7320-116-5.
Rao, Vinay Kumar (2013). "The Terracotta Plaques of Pagan: Indian
Influence and Burmese Innovations". Ancient Asia. 4: 7.
Stadtner, Donald M. (2011). Sacred Sites of Burma: Myth and Folklore
in an Evolving Spiritual Realm. Bangkok: 2011.
Than Tun (December 1959). "History of Burma: A.D. 1300–1400".
Journal of Burma Research Society. XLII (II).
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Tourtellot, Jonathan B. (2004-09-03). "Dictators "Defacing" Famed
Burma Temples". The National Geographic Traveler. National
UNESCO (1976). Unesco Courier. 28. Paris: UNESCO.
Bagan Archaeological Area and Monuments". UNESCO. Retrieved
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Bagan.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bagan.
Bagan Map. DPS Online Maps.
Bagan Travel Guide
Bagan (english 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
Buddhist Architecture at
Bagan Bob Hudson, University of Sydney,
Photographs of temples and paintings of
Bagan Part 1 and Part 2
Bagan moving postcards
No national capital
Capital of Burma
23 December 849 – 17 December 1297
Myinsaing, Mekkhaya, Pinle
Coordinates: 21°10′N 94°52′E / 21.167°N 94.867°E /
Maha Aungmye Township
Main cities and towns