Myanmar once known as Burma is in South East Asia and sits to the east of India, the south of China and west of Thailand. Yangon is Myanmar’s’ largest city with four million inhabitants and is awash with the confusion that four million people can create. The daylight hours on the streets of Yangon are like an unexpected heat wave hitting you in June. It can be hot, sticky, and uncomfortable. The streets are crammed with vendors selling books, fruit, cheap Chinese goods, tools, and umbrellas. Stumbling through the chaos of load honking cars and buses I searched for the peace and tranquility of the Buddhism is practised by the majority of Burmese people. Myanmar’s most significant Buddhist site is Shwedagon Pagoda and it is located in the middle Yangon city on the top of a small hill. The most prominent feature at Shwedagon is the massive gold covered bell-shaped structure called a zedi. When approaching the entrance gates, the zedi of Shwedagon dominates the sky line – it stands almost one hundred metres tall and is covered with over fifty tonnes of gold leaf.
My eyes wandered from the enormous golden zedi and noticed dozens of smaller golden stupas encircling the larger zedi in two rows and amongst them statues of buddhas, animals and religious idols. Around the zedi were the eight animals which represent the eight days of the week: Sunday-Garuda, Monday-Tiger, Tuesday-Lion, Wednesday AM-Elephant, Wednesday PM-Tuskless Elephant, Thursday-Rat, Friday-Guinea Pig and Saturday-Dragon. Myanmar has an eight day week because the monks had consulted the ancient astrologers and it was determined that number eight is representative of cosmic balance and resonates at a frequency of divine equilibrium. The monks then split Wednesday in half to create two days, Wednesday AM and Wednesday PM as two different days.
Worshipers and Buddhist monks arrived, taking up places in front of the scores of Buddha statues and pavilions located around the massively golden mesmerizing Shwedagon zedi. Their legs were crossed, their heads were bowed, their feet bare, their eyes closed deep in trance-like prayer, and soft soothing chants resonating from their being. The glow of the descending sun reflected off the temples, statues and marble floor while the smell of sandalwood permeated the air. The atmosphere of Shwedagon was spiritual and cold electric shivers were running down my neck and spine. The bird song added to the chorus of chanting prayers that could be heard from every corner – invocations to the Buddha and the universe.