About Yangon

Age : 2500 years
Population : 5 Million
Temperature : Min 16°C - Max 34°C
Location : Latitude 16° 47' N, Longitude 96° 08' E

History of Yangon

The history of Yangon is intertwined with the history of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Wherever one may be in Yangon, in the busy town center, in the new towns of the east, in the industrial zone of the west, in the paddy fields of the north, the golden form of the Shwedagon will be seen on the skyline rising above the foliage of the tropical trees, and the top of high rises. The founding story of Shwedagon reaches back to the days of the Enlightenment of Gaudama Buddha when He discovered the cause of universal suffering and the way to its elimination.

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It was on the 49th day after the Enlightenment when two brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, merchants from Ukkalapa in the land of Mon people in Lower Myanmar, came before Buddha. A nat (spirit) who had been the mother of the two brothers in a previous existence had guided them to the Buddha. The brothers offered honey cakes. After Buddha had eaten the cakes, the brothers asked for gift. Buddha passed His hand over His head and, obtaining eight Hairs, gave them to the brothers. Buddha, perceiving that the three previous Buddhas had caused their possessions to be enshrined in a pagoda on Singuttara hill in the country of the two brothers, bade them to do likewise with the Sacred Hairs.

The brothers returned home and made landfall at Pagoda Point in the south-west coast of Myanmar. They sent word to king Ukkalapa of their arrival with the sacred Hairs. The King welcomed the Hairs with great ceremony at Asitanzana, north-west of present Yangon.

The king and the brothers next sought for a man who could tell them the location of Singuttara Hill. No human knew the location but Sakka, King of the nats did, and guided them to the Hill. Singuttara Hill is known by seven names of which one is Trikhumba, meaning 'three pots' and signifying three pot-shaped hills. Tikhumba became Tikun and Dagon and later Changed to Lagun in Mon.

When the brothers asked Sakka where the Hairs should be shrined, Sakka could not tell them where the earlier relics were enshrined because they were of such antiquity and he was not that old. However, Sule Nat knew where Kakusandha Buddha's staff was enshrined, Yawhani Nat knew where Konagamana Buddha's water-dipper was enshrined. Hmawbi Nat revealed that he had been assigned to guard the sacred objects. Finally, Gautama Buddha's Hairs were enshrined and stupa consecrated on the full moon day of Tabaung (March 6,c.588 B.C.). A long time after that, there that, there being no one to worship at the Lagun shrine, it fell into ruin and was covered with jungle.Tradition states that 200 years after Buddha's Parinirvana in 543 BC. Sona and Uttara, two monks from Sri Lanka brought King Asoka to the Pagoda. The King had the jungle cleared and the Pagoda repaired. In the fifth century A.D. King Duttabaung paid homage at the Pagoda. In the 11th century, King Anawratha of Bagan offered gold and silver umbrellas and built a pagoda near the town of Twante across the Yangon River. Dalla, which is now a town on the bank opposite Yangon, was then located on the Twante Ridge and was more important than Dagon. Dagon at that time lay in low lying often water-logged land. Sule Pagoda, now in downtown Yangon, stood on a small island in the swamp, to the west down to he Hlaing River and Yangon /River to the south .The Shwedagon (then called Kyak Lagun in Mon) was reached across a causeway.

The discovery of a votive of the Bagan period at Tadagale to the north of Yangon shows that the laterite ridge at the end of which Shwedagon lay was a scene of activity in the Bagan period and the ridge may have provided a road southwards to the Shwedagon Pagoda and Dagon Village beyond. After the collapse of Bagan in the 13th century and the rise of Mon power in the 14th with the capital at Bago, Dagon became a place of some importance, though not as a commercial port but as a centre of religious life. At onetime Dagon was reported to contain thirty-two ordination halls Binnya U (1348-83), Mon king of Bago created a pagoda of height 18 m. (60'). Dagon was also a place of refuge for princes who did not find Bago safe. Binnya U's son, Binnya Nwe, later King Rajadarit, who had a chronicle to himself, fled to Dagon when he ran away with his half-sister Talamidaw. Dagon at that time was not a walled city but a fort of logs. Successive Mon King of the 15th century raised the height of Pagoda by encasing earlier pagoda and embellishing the new. King Binnyayan (1426-46)cut down the hill and enlarged the base to five terraces to sustain the height but before he could finish the work he died. The work was continued by his successor, Binnyawaru (1446-50) who was helped by his mother, Queen Shin Saw Bu, the only regnant queen of Myanmar. She was ably assisted by the commander of the army, soldiers, attendants and the common people. They raised the height of the Pagoda to 90.6 m(302'). Queen Shin Saw Bu was the first to gild the Pagoda. She went on the scales and let them take her weight which was a bout 40 kg.(90 lbs). She donated that weight in gold. She dedicated a vast expanse of glebe lands which virtually covered the whole of modern Yangon. Her successor King Dhammazedi created the stone inscriptions standing on Pagoda Hill. He also donated a huge bell which a Portugese adventurer took away but which fell into the river and has not been recovered.

In 1539, Tabinshwehti, who had conquered Bago, placed a jewelled finial on the Pagoda.
Casper de Cruz, a Dominican priest, who was the country between 1550-60 said that "the Brames (Burmese) were a great people, very rich of gold and precious stones, chiefly of rubies; a proud nation and valiant. They have very rich and gallant shippings garnished with gold which they sail in the rivers; they use vessels of gold silver; their houses are of timber and well wrought. The kingdom is very great."

In 1572, Bayinnaung rebuilt the Pagoda to 360' and had it reguilded. The shrine had been reduced to rubble during an earthquake in 1564.Bayinnaung embarked from Bago in a golden barge in the form of the mythical hintha bird, surmountedby a golden spire. The barge was escorted by a large fleet of 300 golden canoes and 1000 war boats which filled the Bago River as far as the eye could see. The grand fleet floated down to Dagon. Bayinnaung repeated the trip in 1581.

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In 1583, Gasparo Balbi "came to the faire cities of Dagon, it is finally seated, and fronted towards the south-west, and where they land are twenty long steps, the matter of them is strong and great pieces of timber--After we were landed we began to go on the right hand is a large street about fifty places broad, in which we saw wooden houses gilded, and adorned with delicate gardens, after their custom, where in Talapoins, which are their Firers dwell. The left side is furnished with Portals, and Shops, very like the new Procuration at Venice; and by a street that go towards the Varella, for the space of a good mile straightforwards either under paint houses or in the open street, which is free to walk in."

Ralph Fitch wrote about the same time; "It is the fairest place, as I suppose, the that is in the world; it (the Pogoda) standeth very high, and there are four ways to it, which all along are set with trees of fruits, in such wise that a man may goes in the shade above two miles in length. And when their feast day is, man can hardly passe by water or land for the great presse thither of people; for they come from all places of the Kingdom of Pegu thither at their Feast."

By the end of the 16th century the Shwedagon Fair was attracting people not only from Myanmar but also from distance lands such as Laos and Cambodia. The Dagon Fair was one of the chief markets for overseas trade rivalling Bago and Thanlyin.

The Delta was effecting yet another change. The Bago River too was silting up off Thanlyin, and sea-going vessels were finding it difficult to navigate the reaches opposite the town. Thus, Dagon was becoming the port of choice.

After the founding of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Alaungpaya's conquest of lower Myanmar is the second most important event in the history of Dagon. May 1775 marks the beginning of the modern town when Alaungpaya, to commemorate his victory, changed its name from Dagon to Yangon, "Enmity Exhausted."

Alaungpaya's Yangon was basically a log fortress, with the river frontage in the south, the site of the present 30th street in the west, a line of about 3300' cutting across the modern Maha Bandola Garden, Pansodan and Bo Aung Gyaw street in the north, and Theinbyu Street in the east. The town lay well to the east of the Sule Pagoda. Its area could not have been more than 1/8 square mile.

The stockade was built of solid teak piles, rising to a height of twelve feet on average, but to twenty feet in some places. The stockade was protected by a ditch and it did not stand directly on the bank of the river but twenty or thirty yards away at its nearest point.

The town had three streets running east-west and two running north-south. The east-west streets counting from the river side were Strand Road, also known as Kaladan, the street of the foreigners because most foreigners lived there. then above that was where modern Merchant Street runs, also known as "Pegu Palace" to the English because the Myowun's residence was there. The northernmost street was the Mingala Bazaar. The main south-north road ran along the line of the present Seikkantha Street.

The Sule Pagoda stood on a small laterite pinnacle cut off from the town by a swamp. Yangon itself too stood on a small island surrounded by water at high tide, In 1782, it was reported that the streets were not paved but by1795 they were well paved, and because wheel traffic was not allowed within the town, the paving remained in tolerable repair.
Outside the town were three wooden wharfs, the principal one being the King's Wharf which allowed ships to load or unload without the use of sampans. Higher up the River, beyond the limits of the town, was the China Wharf where Chinese merchants conducted business.

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