King Anawrahta built Shwesandaw Pagoda after his conquest of Thaton in 1057. This graceful circular pagoda was constructed at the centre of his newly empowered kingdom. The pagoda was also known as Ganesh or Mahapeine after the elephant-headed Hindu god whose images once stood at the corners of the five successive terraces.
The five terraces once bore terracotta plaques showing scenes from the jalakas. but traces of these. and of other sculptures. were covered by lather heavy-handed renovations.
The pagoda's bell rises from two octagonal bases which top the five square terraces. This was the first monument in Bagan to feature stairways leading from the square bottom terraces to the round base of the pagoda itself. This pagoda supposedly enshrines a Buddha hair relic brought back from Thaton.
There are image housing at four sides. In them are hard stone images of Buddha in the posture of Jhana mudra. the intense concentration of mind posture. On the palms and soles of the images were incised eight petal lotus flowers. Below these images are stone slabs with grooves to let water go out. It is therefore assumed that lustral water was poured on these images.
The hti. which was toppled by the earthquake. can still be seen lying on the far side of the pagoda compound. A new one was fitted soon after tie quake. The Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was renovated as needed by the trustees of the Paogda with the help of the doners. So it now look likes a modern structure. During renovation 50 bronze statues of Buddha were discovered near Shwe Sandaw forest monk's monastery. These statues are exhibited at Archeological Museum. Nine bronze Buddha statues discovered after the 1975 earth-quake took place were moved to the Bagan Archeological Museum.
Previously there were stone idols of deva placed back to back at the corners of the terraces. But they are now all damaged due to vandalism. Broken pieces are kept in the image house. Some of these idols are found to be Maha Peinhne devas (Ganesha). That is. why local people call this pagoda Maha Peinhne Pagoda. On the west of Shwe Sandaw Pagoda stands a huge reclining Buddha image of 70 feet long. heading towards south. It is sheltered inside an image house. On the walls of the house are original Bagan frescoes in a fair state of preservation.
Before when people were allowed to climb up the terrace of the pagoda. it was a great spot to view the sunset of Bagan. But nowadays. to keep the ancient monuments in good shape. the stairways have been closed down.